Friday, September 4, 2009

Paris: Part Trois

On our final day, Monday, we went to Notre Dame's Cathedral.  The architecture was beautiful and the grandness of the interior was more than I imagined.  Evan seemed thoroughly bored with that exploration.  As he said, "I've seen dozens of European churches and they are all basically the same."  It sort of sapped my enthusiasm, but to be fair he hadn't had his coffee yet and is generally much perkier once that happens.  We contemplated doing the hike up the stairs to the bell tower, but our guide book said it was a "claustrophobe's worst nightmare."  When we saw the line leading into the narrow staircase I knew that would give me a panic attack so we passed. 

Next on the "Paris by Keith" travel suggestions we walked over to Isle St. Louis to browse the shops.  The narrow streets and little shops were beyond quaint.  We conveniently came upon a little cheese shop next to a little bread shop and that pretty much sounded like lunch to us.  The very nice cheese shop owner let us taste a delicious cow's milk swiss (we think, swiss) and we bought a small wedge of that a wedge of very stinky brie.  Next we stopped at the bakery and bought some very dark and chewy loaves, as well as a slice of broccoli quiche and the token croissant.  We finished our little walk on the island, found some very small cups of coffee, and then set about having a  picnic on the river.  Notre Dame is spectacular from every angle and we had a great view of the cathredral while enjoying our bread and cheese lunch.  Evan was right, the bread in Europe is the best I've ever had.  Chewy, crusty on the outside and full of flavor.  It paired perfectly with the cheeses, but the brie was a bit too pungent for me. Evan liked that one though.  

Next on Keith's tour suggestions were to get pastries from one very particular pastry shop called Pierre Herme.  We took two trains to get there and when we did, oh boy!  Keith doesn't kid around about pastries. This was a pretty upscale shop and everything looked so decadent. We were so full from our lunch that we ordered a lemon tart and a flaky, creamy caramel filled delight, the name of which I cannot recall, and we took them with us.  

Evan had a call for work to do, so we went back to the hotel and I took a much needed 20 minute nap.  Next we were off to the area called Montmarte to the Basilica de Sacre Coeur.  We wandered in the wrong direction for 20 minutes before we finally figured out where to go.  This area was very touristy and full of junk shops, artists, and tourists.  The Basilica overlooks the entire city as it sits up on a hill top.  First we looked around inside. Now, I am the sort of person that rebels against rules that I deem arbitrary and this is the only place we entered where pictures were not allowed.  So of course, in a little snit of rebellion, I shut off the flash and took a few because the stain glass was really something to be seen.  Thank goodness for tourists who don't follow rules or the one little man in charge of yelling at said tourists wouldn't have a job. He rushed over and started scolding me in French, I think, but it sounded more like Spanish.  I agreed to put away the camera and within seconds he was rushing off to yell at someone else.  He must have really been sent into a tizzy when someone's cell phone started going off obnoxiously.  I admit breaking rules because I think they are dumb is the last little bit of teenage angst still left in me.... But I have the contraband photos... mwah ha ha...

Next we explored the crypt below the church where I learned from Evan that there are plaques on the floor that one should not step on. Whoops...I didn't even see them.   It was dark and a wee bit eerie but nothing too impressive.  Finally we paid the small fee to climb the tiny spiral staircases up to the top of the basilica.  I managed to get through it with only a few small panic attacks when going up what seemed to be a never-ending amount of stairs. 288 to be exact.   It was disappointing to see all the graffiti up there as the entire city has relatively little but this tourist trap area was completely scarred.

Dinner was next and both of us were getting pretty desperate for fresh vegetables, a salad of any kind. One can only live on bread and cheese for so long and this whole trip was lacking in fresh, live foods and I was really starting to crave them.  Our guide book led us to a little cafe in neighborhood known for their big salads.  So with a glass of wine and a beer for Evan we enjoyed our vegetarian salads, which were covered in potatoes fried in garlic.  That was an interesting twist, but yummy nevertheless.  

I'm sad to say that by the time we got back to the hotel, the last thing we wanted to do was head out again to see Paris at night.  Eight hours of walking and sightseeing really wears me out. Paris at night is a treat that will have to be saved for another trip. Our last evening in Paris was spent relishing the unbelievable pastry we picked up earlier that day. I've never tasted anything like it.  There was moaning involved. As Keith said later, their pastry is sort of a spiritual experience.  Amen to that!  Thanks for telling us about this place Keith. 

We had big plans to get up early on Tuesday to go see Napoleon's tomb and the catacombs. However, parents on vacation need to balance their need to sleep uninterrupted with sightseeing and suffice it to say we slept until 10 am and decided to skip Napoleon's tomb.

The catacombs were the farthest away, but ever since hearing about them in junior high school, I've always been intrigued by the concept.  So off we went. When we arrived we decided to stop at a cafe to get the morning coffee and get our bearings.  It turns out we were kitty-cornered from the entrance to the catacombs as evidenced by the long-line.  Without looking at the menu, we ordered 2 coffees. I stuck to decaf all weekend and I am happy to say that I was served actual decaf because I have not suffered a headache since being home and coffee-less. This is more than I can say for the rare occasion I order a decaf in the U.S. and usually get regular and have to deal with migraines for a few days.  The bill came and it was  8.30 euro!  That is about $12 for 2 cups of coffee. RIDICULOUS!  I admit I am not very conscious of money spending with foreign currency as it all feels like monopoly money to me, but this hit home. I couldn't believe it...and it wasn't even the best cups of coffee for the whole trip either.

After the expensive coffee we waited about 45 minutes in line to the catacombs.  This was our first rainy morning in Paris so I was forced to wear my vibrams as all my other shoes were sandles or flip flops.  I was dreading that a rat was going to run over my feet while down there. Once in we decended down almost 100 steps and walked through a maze of caves and corridors. This was the creepiest part because you never knew when you might come face to skull with some departed soul.  I had to work hard to ignore the upwelling of claustrophobic panic I could feel boiling just under the surface of my being, knowing there was no quick exit.  Finally we came upon a sign that read, "STOP: You are now entering the Empire of the Dead." In French, of course..

And then we entered the series of caves with walls of artfully and neatly arranged femurs, tibias and skulls. It occurred to us that someone's job was to build walls out of human remains. How macabre.  There did seem to be some mortar used to secure the elaborate displays. Room after room after room....all the anticipation of how creepy it would be was quickly desensitized and by the third or fourth room I was actually bored and hoping for the exit.  But overall it was an interesting, if not unusual, ending to a romantic weekend. And, there were no rats. 

After this we gathered our things from the hotel and set off for the airport for an uneventful flight home. Evan was off to Dusseldorf, Germany for business.

Needless to say, I loved Paris.   I could see us living there for a time, as there is so much more to explore and what a lovely home base Paris would be for other adventures in Europe.  Plus, I hope to expose Ian to different cultures of the world while he is young and Paris is so rich - so much to see, contemplate and enjoy.  I plan to learn the language more fluently and hope to continue on with our lessons at home.  Our fifth anniversary went by without much acknowledgement in May, so this trip really was like a second honeymoon.  Thank you for the beautiful time in Paris my love!  I look forward to more exciting adventures with you.

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