Friday, March 16, 2012

Week Forty-Five and a half: Day Two: Morning in Paris

Day Two: The Morning Half

Goodness Gracious, it was a good thing I had a good night's rest! After a French breakfast of a fruit bowl and croissant for myself, we left the hotle at 8 am to head to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Yes. That one. THE Notre Dam. I was a little excited. By which, I mean a lot excited, but not squeaky excited, not yet. So, the very first thing that you absolutely must realize is that the Notre Dame Cathedral is, in fact, still an active church. It's not just a tourist trap, just a very famous church worth the visit. There was, in fact, a service beginning as we left. It opened with singing nuns. I felt like I was in the Sister Act before Whoopi spiced the nuns singing up a little. Absolutely brilliant!

But let's not go too quickly past this beautiful church. We did have to be quiet in side, which meant figuring out how to silence my noisy camera. It is a church, after all.

Inside, lay the mortal remains of several apparently great men, along with giant frescos detailing either biblical scenes of scenes with saints. These are three of my brother in law high and of course the statues were all larges than life. But it depended on the statue as to how much larger!

Combined, it was an awe inspiring experience. There is a main chapel area in the middle, what my baptist roots tell me must be the sanctuary. It's semi-partitioned on three sides. Surrounding this were several prayer areas dedicated to two different saints. Now, normally when I'm in these churches I do light a candle and pray. I'm not Catholic, so I'm probably doing it all wrong (it didn't help I dropped my candle this time) but I like the gesture.

This time, I lit a candle for my mom at the virgin Mary, as there was no Mary Magdalene. This is is in reference to our middle name of Marie (Mary), and I figure she's a saint we share a name with so she works out well. I prayed for my family's health and happiness and for the health and happiness of my siblings and my sister's family.

Touchy feely feelings out of the way, I have got to tell you about this church. Giant beautiful windows look like they are nothing more than dark glass on the outside, but oh! Inside! A beautiful scenes in every window, stained glass artfully arranged into beautiful green blue and gold patterns with a single medallion in the middle with a gorgeous scene in it. There were the colors of this otherwise drab stone church. Even the paintings paled in comparison to these bright bursts of color.

I managed to snap pictures of rose windows from the outside, but not the inside, apologies. but don't worry, I snapped over 1500 pictures while in France. I just have to go through them all. Give me a few weeks on that one. I did snap a pic of Joan of Arc who is everywhere in Paris, and the baptistry, which, to my not Catholic mind, reminded me of a drinking fountain at first. Whoops.

This is a gorgeous example of baroque architecture with devils, angels, and gargoyles decorating the outside and giant peaked arched everywhere. Beautiful, and with stories all around it. Over each door a different biblical story presented in stone relief.

So we arrived at like 8:15, so not so many tourists, and we didn't stop right at the cathedral. Instead, we stopped at this protest square where Parisians can protest and be noticed for it. This doesn't mean that the tourist sharks of Paris were not there. Beware, the persistent souvenir vendor! That early, they're still waking up, but later in the day? They spread out in arcs of 'vendors' and try and hawk wares that the police and many posted signs inform you are from underground networks. No joke. Underground networks of souvenir vendors are out to topple the Parisian tourism industry. How dare they charge one euro for five cheap keychains, when the official price is not less than 3,50 euro for that cheap tin painted keychain that you can probably buy in mass quantities online for even less. I mean, I'm just saying. They'll sell you a 35 Euro scarf for 5 Euro also, and a 25 Euro statue of the Eiffel Tower for 7 euro.

They are outside every single monument, near it, but not inside. Once you are inside, in the patrolled area, you are safe. Also, Paris police won't go after the vendors for hawking these counterfeit goods. They will go after the purchaser. At least a 500 Euro fine for buying them ladies and gentlemen, if the police decide to go after you.

There's something wrong in the Force, Luke.

Right, so one to our next stop with some sight seeing on the way. As we left the Notre Dame by the way, there were like 20 alter kids all over the plaza in front of the church. They were taking photos with tourists as they poor things shivered. One hadn't pulled the robe over her head yet, and I saw her and her mother slip into a nearby shop for a quick bit before hand. She had shorts and a tank on under a white slip. No wonder they were all freezing.

So on our way to the Luxembourg Gardens, we say the oldest hospital in Paris, which was, apparently, also the first, and is still a working hospital today. This is all on the city isle by the way, in the middle of the Seine river in the middle of Paris. The area is known as the city center. We passed the national library of France, a construction from the 80s meant to look like four books facing each other around a plaza. Not so much to me.

It looked like a confusing maze to find any of the first edition books (all of them since 1945!) in the confusion of that maze. I mean really? The architect did not keep in mind the purpose of the building, apparently. They also made them entirely of glass, because faded books are cool things. So it's an expense heat sink with electric bills out the wazoo that, according to our guide, no one in France really approves of. Apparently, they could have built several more with the money that goes just to heating in, since it was built.

We passed the final resting place of Marie Curie and Alexandre Dumas. It's a building based off the Greek pantheon, and was originally meant to be a church, but is not a mausoleum/Hall of Fame. We're in the Latin quarter for most of this part by the way, and it's a gorgeous place, named for the fact that when college all spoke Latin, the students live in this area.

So. Luxembourg Gardens. In early spring. Before the final frost. They weren't very garden-ish. In fact, while landscaping was clearly underway, and the ground prepared for flowers, there were no flowers, bushes, or tiny trees in pots. They were all in their winter home of the Orangerie, which is basically a green house not made of glass. A green house by any other name Paris, a green house by any other name.

Interesting fact: The original resident of the attached palace never moved in. Other interesting fact: All the statues in the gardens are female, and they all have metal antennae.

Okay, yes, I know it's rods to ground lighting, I do. But it looks like someone stuck a crown of antennae into every single statue not on a fountain and it makes me laugh. So basically before we could take a breath, we were walking on to our next stop where the bus driver would pick us up. Obviously, not far.

The next stop was a so called 'secret' church, whose name escapes me, but I can look up easily enough. This had considerably less tourists than most places, though it did come fully equipped with a stray yorkie that marked eery third post in the ground. This church was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and we did go inside as well. It is, though, and incredibly mismatched church. With a design the mimics the Notre Dame, it has considerably less oomph thanks to a long building time and six different architects. It was also in the process of being cleaned, so was half clean and half dirty.

So in the Da Vinci code, this is the church where the cornerstone was kept, if that means more to you than it does to me. I was more interested in how they measured the solstice and equinox there, so could calculate when Easter was. They used an obelisk with a copper sphere on top. When sunlight struck this, it was winter solstice. From there, there is a copper strand in the floor, heading straight to a copper oval in front of the altar. when the sunlight strike this opal it's summer equinox. Using this, they can calculate Easter. Totally primitive, but super effective!

So now we'ere on our way to the famed Opera house. On they way, I saw lots of little girls in coats that were shaped to be dresse, a fountain made of sidewalk tiles that looked like a pipe had blaste them up from teh ground (but was obviously mid burst, thus done on purpose), the olderst Parisian church and an awful lot of high end clothing stores with gorgeous outfits. We also passed by the Louvre which is long, and saw Sphinx everywhere.

On the way, we even passed by Louis XIV's medical herb gardens. There was an attached menagerie where we could see an ostrich.

One the trip was a planned photo op of a column commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his victories. This is a giant metal thing cast from over 1200 cannons. I snapped a few quick pictures, but they aren't swell ones. There was apparently a protest, and a police blockade. Our guide assured us this is fairly normal as Parisians like to go on strike.

So then the opera house to see and eat near, and some free time to shop. I had a nice French lunch of a sandwich whose name I couldn't pronounce, some melon and a chocolate mouse. It was lovely, but I didn't see anything that caught my eye to purchase.

So. This opera house.

You know the Phantom of the Opera, as in Christine and the Opera Ghost and Raoul? That Phantom of the Opera? This is that Opera house. The one for the basis of the story. It's huge, it's gorgeous, its sigh worthy, and going inside to poke around cost too much and took too much time. I didn't have that much free time left after all, having gotten myself lost. Still I stepped inside and glanced around in curiousity.

This house was commissioned by Napolean the Third, Boneparte's nephew. Surrounding it was the busts of famous composers and choreographers. Of course said nephew had a bust and a statue as it was his Opera House. The style was baroque stone work, over top of, get this, a steel skeleton. Wow oh wow. Not what I expected, but hey!

Also, the architect? The Third knew he wanted a place designed specifically for Opera, so held a contest. One hundred seventy architects applied. The winner was this unknown new guy who no one had ever heard of. Talk about talent.

So there were styled metal lamps surrounding the Opera house with four ships in the four cardinal directions on each one. One of them had eyes on each ship, but each lamp had different shops. I think I may have seen the muses up in the front, and I know that above each window I saw a different face of drama.

Next up, we loaded ourselves back onto the bus for a bit of sight seeing on our way to the Arc De Triomph. We saw the half cleaned Madeline church. Parts of it were shipping white colums. The other have was nearly black.

You know how the mausoleum earlier started out a church and became a hall of fame. This is the opposite. the Madeline church started out a Hall of Fame and became a church. As a result, it only had itty bitty windows along one wall.

We drove past the Plaza de Concorde, where in the Reign of Terror, the guillotine stood. Now there is a fountain where the guillotine was placed, and an obelisk form Ramses II to show that France and Egypt are friends. On our way to the Arc, we passed the French President's home.

Quick, who can name this guy?

Not me.

Our tourist guide told us his name, which, okay, I don't recall at all, but I do know his nickname now: President Bling Bling! After becoming president, he divorced his first wife to marry a super model apparently. Bling Bling indeed! Aroudn this time about half the bus decided they wanted a cup of wine. I was amused.

We pulled to the side and walked to the Arc De Triumphe, which is in the middle of a super busy intersection. In order to get to it, you have to go under the street then up. It's also possible to get tickets to the top, but a combination oh heights and lack of time meant no go for me. Maybe when I go again.

This thing is huge. By huge, I mean absolutely huge. So everyone knows about the arch and how it looks, but I didn't know that underneath they have the French tomb of the unknown soldier, whos flame gets relit every single day. Seriously solemn.

The entire thing is, of course, a monument to Napolean's victories. On it, he had carved the names of generals. Those who died in battle had an underline beneath their name. He also had many battle names carved on there that he had won, and scenes around the top. He even had himself garbed as Caesar in statue form there.

From here we went on to the big ticket deal of this day. That's right ladies and gentlemen. We went to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower. World Fair, giant metal construction, centerpiece of Paris! That one.

Okay, here is squeel time. It's the Eiffel Tower! We had reservations for the elevator to the second floor at two. I was excited, we were ready to go...

And when we arrived we discovered the elevator reserved for those with reservation was, in fact, down. As in broke. There was only one working elevator, which is nothing short of a disaster when your on a tight schedule, they don't let anyone know this, and a ten minute wait suddenly becomes an hour wait when you only have a thirty minute window of opportunity. Curses! Foiled!

Or not.

There are, in facts, stairs to the first and second floor. To the first floor is about 360-370 stairs from the ground. To the second floor is exactly 690 stairs from the ground. To the third floor, well, there an elevator and the ladder. No stairs. Predates fire safety standards what? Hm? Oh well yes. Plus there's no room for stairs. However if you get permission to, and really want to take the ladder, I suppose it's only 1000 rungs, following the elevator shaft. Hopefully no one will come down.

Yeah, no. I didn't got all the way to the top. I'm a bit more sane than that.

Still, I did walk.

To the second level.

Six hundred ninety stairs.

These stairs don't let you lose count by the way. They're marked every ten steps, so you always know how far you have, in fact, climbed. I'm sure this is bother blessing and curse.

The view from the tower though. That made ever single step worth it. Every step, one hundred and two thirds percents.

The Eiffel tower is visible in so many parts of Paris, in so many views. From a distance it looks black, but up close, it's brown. It's huge, it's beautiful. It's definitely a required part of the visit and the highlight of the day.

The elevator line down is much smaller by the way, and I took that down. We were due an afternoon break at the hotel before the evening festivities. We did take a break at Les Hommes Invalides, the first home for disabled soldiers built by Louis XIV. This is the first of it's time, and now hold the mortal remains of Napoleon, along with his Hat and Uniform. There is, in front of this place, a copper statue of Athena on a pedestal, surrounded by soldiers in WWI uniforms. We passed by the back of the Thinker statue, and Louis XIV's herb gardens once more, down the Champ L'Elysses, than then back to rest and recharge my camera.

One Final Byte: The most important thing to do: Charge Camera.

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