While Day 1 in Paris allowed us to get our feet wet, our second day was a full immersion. EZ and I woke up early in the morning and grabbed some croissants and pastries at the boulangerie (bakery) on the same block as our apartment. I must note that the baked goods in Paris are astonishingly good. The fancy, expensive, gourmet delicacies that we buy as special treats in the U.S. are everyday breakfast fare in Paris, much like donuts or bagels in the U.S. Except that in Paris, pastries aren’t too costly; they are a daily staple, after all.
Our stomachs satiated, EZ and I ran to the tour office for our purchased package of Eiffel Tower/Seine River Cruise to make sure we didn’t miss our tour group. We made it just in the nick of time; within a few minutes, the tour guide led our group toward the Eiffel Tower, regaling us with its remarkable history. Then we got to skip the long line for the tower, passing through just a short queue reserved for tour groups, and the tour guide set us free.
EZ and I enjoyed the alarmingly transparent floors on the first level, where we had the queasy feeling that we were about to plunge through the glass at any moment and onto the crowds below. The second floor also had some charm with its circular views over Paris. Then we found ourselves on the glass elevator. The ride up was more exhilarating than I could have imagined; the tower really is quite high, and the rise was such a rush, especially as I watched the scenery drop down before me through the glass! Finally, at the top, the sweeping vistas of the city were spectacular. Our tour guide had provided us with a piece of paper listing descriptions and geographical locations of various landmarks, which we were able to identify in the distance. It really was a wonderful experience; touristy or not, the Eiffel Tower is not to be missed!
After the Eiffel Tower, we were supposed to enjoy our river cruise on the nearby Seine River, but we just missed the boat. So we decided to come back later, and first check out Napoleon’s tomb. EZ and I picked up some savory pastries from a nearby boulangerie for an on-the-go lunch, not wanting to waste a second of our day. But we did take care to look around us as we walked through the neighborhood, pointing out such marvels as a building completely cloaked in verdant vegetation.
Napoleon’s tomb was located at Les Invalides, a complex of buildings with museums and monuments related to France’s military history, as well as a hospital and retirement home for war veterans. The complex was imposing with its sprawling compound, collection of canons, and meticulously manicured grounds (which included a colony of bees to pollinate the plants).
The domed building containing Napoleon’s tomb boasted gilded embellishments both inside and out. I was particularly taken with the frescos on the domed ceilings. Of course, the tomb itself was quite formidable…especially considering how massive the coffin was compared to Napoleon’s diminutive figure within.
After viewing Napoleon’s comically large tomb, EZ and I headed back to the Seine River just in time to enjoy our river cruise. It was better than I expected – this is definitely a wonderful way to see Paris: Relax with a drink in your hand and a breeze in your hair as all the beautiful sights sail by right before your eyes on the emerald waters.
Rejuvenated from our time on the river, EZ and I bounded to the metro with fresh energy to head to the Ile de Cite, an island upon the river, which was home to several prominent sights. First, we visited Sainte-Chappelle, a royal medieval Gothic chapel, which turned out to be one of my favorite sights. At first we wound up on the lower level, which was nice, but frankly didn’t seem worthy of the line we had waited in (Sainte-Chappelle was one of the few sights where our Paris Museum Pass did not allow us to cut the line). There were some stained glass windows and a lovely gilded dome with a star-spangled blue ceiling.
But then we noticed a narrow staircase in the corner of the room. Once we ascended, EZ and I experienced the true star of Sainte-Chappelle: the spectacular upper-level chapel, a masterpiece of intricate kaleidoscopic stained-glass window panels. The panels featured impressive details illustrating nearly every part of the Bible. In between the panels, golden vaulted framework enriched the breathtaking display. Above the outdoor entrance was another decorative motif: a gorgeous stained-glass rose window, circular with floral tracery branching out to create petal-like frames for each colorful image. It was easy to feel reverence and grace in such a stunning place as this.
The nearby Notre Dame was next on our list, but the line was long, the crowds overbearing. So we decided to return another time.
Instead, as EZ and I wandered down the street, we stumbled upon a different Gothic church that was quite beautiful: Saint Severin Church. It may not have been as famous as Notre Dame, but it possessed its own charms, along with sharing some common features with Notre Dame (i.e. flying buttresses and gargoyles!)…AND there was no line! I particularly enjoyed the modern stained glass windows, many of which featured swarming abstract shapes and jewel-tone color schemes, along with the fine sprawling pillar-work and vaulting.
There is something very satisfying about straying off the beaten path of standard tourist attractions to make your own marvelous discovery.
Having enjoyed the luxury of exploring the nearly empty Saint Severin Church at our leisure, EZ and I began to walk to the Latin Quarter, which is known as a “college town” due to the nearby universities. At Maison Georges Larnicol, I devoured the best macaroons I’d ever tasted! Melt-in-your-mouth goodness combined with delicate, precise flavors. Of course, those polished, pastel sugar-gems are also easy on the eyes.
A few blocks away, EZ spotted The Abbey Bookshop, an English-language used bookstore. We have a great love for book stores, and we feel possessed to explore any that come upon our path. So, of course, we ducked inside The Abbey Bookshop, where every narrow hallway, rocky cellar, nook, and crevice was brimful of books. Such a quaint, intimate experience! Like a sort of cozy book cave with tunnels…
As we continued on our walk, we passed the Université Paris-Sorbonne, where students were gathering for some sort of event or activism.
After a while, EZ and I realized that we had gone most of the day without a drop of alcohol. This had to be remedied straight away. We popped into The Wall, a pub where the national flags of various countries hung from the ceiling in colorful array. Here, we swigged some beers among the students.
Thus refreshed, EZ and I made our way to Luxembourg Gardens. Rather than the lush botanical gardens I expected, the attraction was more like a large, well-manicured public park with several lovely floral/statue exhibitions. The gardens also included a cute little school of beekeeping. EZ and I enjoyed a pleasant stroll through the gardens, although at one point, some students shouted at us to “Stay off the lawn – it is forbidden!” …And so we kept to the tended paths.
As our stomachs began to rumble, EZ and I made our way toward Polidor, a historic restaurant recommended by EZ’s uncle. Polidor was founded in 1845, with many of its original decorative and culinary elements remaining intact today. The restaurant felt rustic with its wooden framework, communal tables, and checkered red tablecloths. For the first time in my life, I tried escargot…I hadn’t expected the shells to be so beautifully formed, like whelk seashells or coffee creampuff swirls. Although I was almost afraid to take the first bite, I’m glad I did – the escargot tasted almost like squid, and the hot, salty-buttery green sauce was delicious. It was quite a delightful meal…all I had to do was avoid imagining the snails alive.
EZ used the restroom after dinner, and discovered just how old-fashioned Polidor actually was: the toilet was basically a hole in the ground. How charming!
After dinner, EZ and I took the metro back to our little abode in Montmarte, reflecting on all the wondrous sights we’d seen. But there was still so much more to see! And we only had one day left in Paris…
To be continued… Read Day 3