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A Day in Paris

Posted on July 24, 2008 by Holly Hayes
Part of: The Great European Road Trip

West Front

On Monday we caught the 9:13 AM train from Chartres to Paris, which was incredibly easy since the train station is just down the hill from our hotel. The fare was not cheap at €23 return, but still better than in the UK. The train was clean and mostly empty and the one-hour ride was smooth and fast.

IMG_2756 Paris has many train stations; our train arrived at the Gare Montparnesse in the southern part of the city, which is where many of the TGVs (high-speed trains) leave from. As you can see above, their design strikes an odd balance between retro and futuristic. We rode one of these on our honeymoon and David absolutely loved it.

On our way out of the train station, we were thrilled to find a branch of Paul, the bakery we first discovered in London and love very much. We ordered two croissants and they were still warm. Heavenly. Surprisingly, good croissants have not been universally available in France; most often they are very mediocre. Very few have measured up to those sold at the French market in Oxford or even at Costco! I know, it's hard to believe. But these were a happy exception and a delicious, if not very healthy, way to start our busy day in the city.

The Metro line goes everywhere in Paris, but we decided to walk. It was windy and actually very cold for July; we even popped into a department store in search of a cheap sweater (unsuccessfully). But it warmed up later and became a beautiful day.

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Near the station was the first of many cinemas, and a quick consultation of the schedule showed that many of the movies are shown in the original English (with French subtitles) rather than being dubbed! This has been nearly impossible to find in Germany, Italy or France, but I knew it existed in Paris since I saw a movie on a previous visit and it was such fun. I hoped there might be time for a movie later that evening or the next day; alas, there wasn't. But I will not have such problems finding a movie in English in two weeks! Yay!!

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The first main stop was the National Museum of the Middle Ages, housed in the small palace used by the bishops of Cluny Abbey when they were in Paris. Sounds right up my alley, yes? It was, and I had a great time. As for David, once he found out there were no torture devices on display inside, he decided to skip it. We met at the Notre-Dame Cathedral later and it worked out great.

A sampler of some of the medieval goodness I found inside:

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Meanwhile, David was sampling various ethnic foods on some side street and taking some lovely photos of the Notre-Dame from across the river:

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As I headed for our meeting point in front of the Notre-Dame at 1:30, I knew it would be crowded with summer tourists, but I was still unprepared for the sheer numbers milling around and posing for pictures. They easily outnumbered the pigeons, which is usually hard to do, and I would say about 75 percent of them were Americans. I also had the privilege of witnessing a girl throwing up in the street alongside the cathedral. Ah, cities.

Once I spotted David in the crowd, we didn't stick around long. Our next stop was the Louvre Museum, which David was interested in revisiting almost as much as me. The walking route was along the Seine River, which was quite lovely as always.

xti_9800 They currently have a great setup down on the banks of the river called the Beaches of Paris, with sunchairs and potted palm trees and cooling misters. Fun stuff.

On the higher level on the left of the above photo, you can see the green boxes of the riverside vendors, which are one of the really wonderful things about Paris. Most sell some usual tourist stuff like magnets and postcards, but they also have wonderfully unique things like rare books, antique magazines, original paintings, vintage prints and such. So much fun to browse. I wanted to buy just about everything, but I bought four magnets instead.

Our route also passed Sainte-Chapelle and we would really like to visit, but the lines were just as horrifying as they were on our honeymoon and we just couldn't do it.

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The queues also tend to be very bad at the Louvre, of course, but we had a cunning plan! Most people enter in the center of the courtyard under the pyramid, but prior internet research had revealed that there is another entrance called the Porte des Lions, which is rarely used.

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We headed through the gateway, made a couple wrong turns, then put our bags through an X-ray machine and bought our tickets. There was no one in line and in fact we had the entire lobby area entirely to ourselves. Amazing.

IMG_2296 Then we were on our way!

The first section we came upon was Africa, Americas and Oceania, so we wandered in there for awhile. It was incredibly interesting, sometimes creepy, and frequently comical!

IMG_2309 IMG_2303xti_9294xti_9290 IMG_2302 IMG_2300 xti_9299 You may recognize this last fellow; he's from Easter Island.

Then we consulted our museum map and attempted to head for what I really wanted to see - Decorative Arts: Middle Ages - which involved going up another floor and around to another wing of the huge former palace. Along the way, we passed some of the museum's most famous inhabitants, with attendant hordes.

IMG_2318 Mona Lisa (the tiny painting just left of center).

IMG_2322 IMG_2327 Winged Victory of Samothrace (one of David's favorites)

IMG_2334 Also a nice palatial room.

Then, we made it to my Middle Ages section. It was AWESOME. Huge! It went in chronological order as you progressed down the corridor, and geographically from side to side. We spent most of our time with the oldest stuff, mainly from the 10th to 13th centuries. Like most of the exhibits in the Louvre, the collection was beautifully displayed in impeccably clean glass cases, with lots of room to move around them. David even enjoyed himself - he especially likes the ivory stuff - and got some really nice photos for me. What a guy!

xti_9545 xti_9398 xti_9416 xti_9334xti_9337xti_9498 IMG_2392 xti_9345 I really, really wanted to take this little bird home with me.

About halfway through the collection, we were ready for a break and my stomach was growling (not having been with David for his earlier food explorations). And wouldn't you know it, there was a cafe right next to the Middle Ages collection! It's called Cafe Richelieu and is one of several throughout the museum, but it's the only one with a terrace that overlooks the courtyard and pyramid! I think it is pretty clear by now we had an awfully good time in the Louvre. David had a cold drink and I ordered a pasta salad, which was vinegary and delicious.

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Then we went back to "work" in the Middle Ages section awhile longer, until around 5:15 they began to make announcements that the museum would be closing soon. Sad! But it doesn't actually close until 6:00, so we had just enough time to rush over to the other section on the to-do list - Early Christianity and Late Antiquity, somewhere in the "Greek, Roman and Etruscan Antiquities" section.

This was harder to find, but much smaller and more manageable than our previous section. It has some really great stuff and it was friendly to see again, because we had visited this part on our honeymoon. And it was pretty fun to realize that I now have a master's degree in this part of history! Yay!

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Then the announcements became more insistent and ropes began to go up, so we had to head for the exit. But on the way, we got to see a few more interesting things in the "Pre-Classical Greece" (somewhere around 3000 BCE) section:

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Finally, we joined the herd down the escalators and back up some stairs into the light.

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Behind the Louvre on the way back to the Notre-Dame is the church of St-Germain-l'Auxerrois, which was the chapel of the Louvre when it was a royal palace. More importantly, it's where Eva Longoria and Tony Parker got married. We made a quick stop for a couple of architecture photos.

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Then we made a beeline along the Seine back to the Notre-Dame, because I was hoping I might be able to manage some photos of the stained glass windows before it closed at 6:45. We didn't make the deadline, but fortunately they were having a service so I was able to slip in, join the wandering crowds in the side aisles, and listen to some more beautiful singing.

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After the service was over and everyone was shooed out of the cathedral, I rejoined David outside to enjoy the west front in the evening sunlight. The crowds had thinned out a bit by then, too.

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And finally, it was time to leave the churches and museums and Seine behind, and call it a night.

IMG_2663 IMG_2723b xti_0027 On the way we passed an outdoor poetry reading in English at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

We were absolutely exhausted by this time and it was a long walk back to the train station, but we stopped for a dinner of noodles at a Chinese restaurant, which was cheap, delicious, and really hit the spot.

xti_0047 Then we dragged ourselves the rest of the way to Gare Montparnesse to meet the 9:25 PM train back to Chartres.

The train ride was once again smooth and quiet, and even faster this time! It was not a TGV, but it definitely hit some high speeds - somewhere around 120 mph, we think. It actually became rather alarming at times, rocketing like a runaway train in the dark. But we made it home safe and sound, and I took my tired self to bed pretty much immediately. It was a very, very good day.

And now I am writing from Amiens, our last stop in France. It has a very nice Gothic cathedral, the largest one in France, but is otherwise not an especially pleasant city. Tomorrow we go to Belgium! France has been a wonderful experience, but we've been here for awhile and are excited to be in a new country.