Thursday, October 21, 2010

Arrival in Paris: Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle

October 1 to October 2, 2010 (Friday to Saturday)

I woke at 5:15am on Friday, October 1, and hopped out of bed excited. The previous night I packed my carry-ons and laid out my clothes by the sink. All l I needed was to shower, dress, wake Jer, and wait for the car service to show at 6:45am.

For the trip I’d settled on Tom Bihn’s Tri-Star as my main bag and for the cameras, the Lowepro Stealth Reporter.

I carried a Nikon D700 for me and my old Nikon D70 for Jer. There was also a portable 60 GB hard drive, a flash, a couple of extra lenses, a small tripod, and a backup CompactFlash card and battery.

The car ride was nice and fast. On the way I realized I’d forgotten my jacket and then decided not to care. SeaTac was uneventful. We arrived in Dallas/Fort Worth about a half hour earlier than scheduled, which made me happy. It’s a great airport, full of light and easy seating. We took the Skylink high-speed train to our terminal and settled in at Cousins Bar-B-Q. (Beef Brisket, black-eyed peas, and mashed potatoes with gravy.)

Paris is nine hours ahead of Seattle. We arrived at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (aka Roissy) at 9am on Saturday, October 2 – about an hour and a half ahead of schedule. No bags to claim and customs was fast – a simple Passport stamp, no forms – and we were on our way. First stop, Tourist Information in Terminal 2 to buy the Paris Viste Carte (1-3 zones, 5 days) – enabling us unlimited and unrestricted travel around Paris -- and a Paris Museum Pass (4 days) – enabling us access to an array of museums, monuments, and attractions plus line-skipping at the Louvre.

A helpful woman at the tourist desk told us there was an issue with the trains, so we opted to take a taxi to our hotel, the Holiday Inn – Bastille, which was actually next to the train/metro station, Gare de Lyon, and not the Bastille.

The hotel was nicely decorated. Our room was on the sixth floor up a small lift. We were determined to stay awake and beat the jet lag, so we unpacked, got the camera gear together, put items in the safe, and walked over to Gare de Lyon to check it out. On the way I tried out my French for the first time at a boulangerie and said “Bonjour, madame. Je voudrais une jambon et fromage s’il vous plait.”

We shared the ham and cheese sandwich on the steps of the station and people watched.

The station was huge and impressive. We decided to stretch our legs and walked along the Seine river out to Notre Dame Cathedral. For caffeine we bought a Coke at a street stand. Entrance to the cathedral was free and the line wasn’t long. We walked through Notre Dame with our heads back, admiring the sheer size and stained glass and, for my part, the ceiling. Four years of studying art history made me a little obsessed with gothic architecture and pointed arches.

Outside and downstairs we used the Paris Museum Pass for the Crypt of Notre Dame de Paris. Around the 1860’s buildings were torn down in front of the cathedral, revealing artifacts and foundations dating to pre-Roman times. Among these, the crypt preserves Roman ramparts, the remains of rooms heated by a system of underground furnaces and pipes, and displays models of early Paris. It was fascinating.

From there we walked to my personal favorite, Sainte-Chapelle, a Gothic chapel. The Museum Pass didn’t allow us to line-skip, so we waited to go through security and have our bags X-rayed. It’s difficult to describe the interior of the upper chapel. You have the sense of great height, light, and air. The walls are almost entirely stained glass floor-to-ceiling full of vivid color and scenes from the Bible. This was the primary church I wanted to see in person. I sat and stared at the walls for a long time.

Hunger took us away eventually. We settled on "Les Deux Palais" across the street. I had a beef filet with pepper sauce with a glass of Sancerre and one of Bordeaux. It was a good meal.

We walked back to the hotel down a street lined with touristy shops. I bought a couple bottles of wine for the room and a waiter’s corkscrew. We got back to the hotel at 5:30pm and I promptly fell asleep.

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