May 9, Paris

Hallo mes petits. I truly wore myself out today doing my aerobic touristing, so apologies in advance for however late this finally gets posted. I tried. Really.

Eloisa and her husband left today for some meetings in NYC, so I’m on my own again. It’s more fun being with someone who already has seen a lot, not to mention someone who Knows How to Get Somewhere on the first try. Trying to get from the restaurant to the Seine proved almost impossible for me this afternoon. The upside was that I wasn’t hungry, but rather, trying to walk off some calories.

The morning highlight was the Musee Carnavalet. It’s located in the Hotel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau, another huge family home in the middle of Paris. Like the museum yesterday, the building is distractingly gorgeous, and as interesting as the collection. It’s primarily the museum of Paris history, and is divided into various epochs. The section dealing with Medieval Paris was closed, alas, for rennovation. I spent time with the pre-history of Gallo-Roman Paris. Interestingly, they put the Merovingian Kings in with the Roman era. I’d always thought they were Medieval. I also spent time on the Revolutionary Period, and the era of Henri IV, my favorite French king. In the former, they blamed the totaly collapse of the French economy on the money spent helping the Americans fight the Revolutionary War. Ah, that was a factor, but I think things had been going South for a long time before then. Both sections were totally enthralling, and I suspect all of the collection was as well chosen, presented, and explained, sometimes in English. The cool thing is that the museum, except for the special exhibits, is free, so you can go there frequently to absorb it in smaller bites. It was quiet when I went there, and busy when I left, so go early.

Lunch was at the Bistrot des Vosges. The blackboard boasted it had the best onion soup in Paris, which seemed like an excellent suggestion. I had that and eggs en cocotte. The waitress was too well-trained to ask why I was having two starters, both rich and cheesy. I still haven’t been able to buy a glass of cidre, the mildly-alcoholic apple cider that’s so easy to find in the north. I really enjoy the crisp taste and the small buzz it provides. I ate outdoors, but, thankfully, with no smokers. Some English college-age British girls sat near me as I was finishing up. It was pleasant to hear some unabashed English. I recommended the onion soup, but they were determined, gorblimey, to eat some escargots.

Then I got lost, horrendously, even by my sympathetic standards. Eventually, I made my way to the Seine, to embark on a whirlwind tourist walk. I took so many photos early that my camera was full half-way through. It was pleasant to just absorb the scenery, rather than recording it. So apologies for the lack of photos to accompany the text. I crossed the Pont de Sully, and walked down the Ile Saint Louis, then crossed the Pont St. Louis to the larger Ile de la Cite, the historic heart of Paris, and site of its earliest settlements. Within each island development is so entirely dense that it’s impossible to sense you’re on an island. A smaller island that was joined with Ile Saint Louis used to be known, I think not that long ago, as Ile aux Vaches (Cow Island) indicating its not-that-distant rural past.

The Big Deal on the Ile de la Cite is, of course, Notre Dame, blessedly recognizable from a distance to guide me on my journey. It was completely overrun with tourists, who were coralled into big lines pouring into the cathedral. I decided to pass on that, though I looked longingly at the folks who had climbed to the top of the church for the most spectacular view. Even just looking at its exterior, the size, magnificence, grandeur, perfection, etc. is obvious to the casual observer.

Walking past Notre Dame, I finally found something I looked for an missed last time around–the Archeological Crypt of Notre-Dame. The photos don’t look like much–almost random-seeming piles of the ubiquituous white sandstone dug from the quarries that became the catacombs of Paris. What’s so amazing is that well into the 18th Century people were recycling the stones of ancient buildings for new ones, and building new houses among the ruins. Then, I suppose, it stopped, and was lost, until excavations began in the late 19th Century. The funniest inscription, from that time, was a note about an archeologist who had found a marble head, and was storing it at his mother’s house.

From there it was a short walk to my favorite place, the tiny Gothic jewel box of Sainte Chapelle. It’s in the middle of the huge Palais de Justice, so one has to go through several layers of police security to even get to the church. It’s worth it. I only got a couple photos, but it gives you an idea. The church is also in the middle of a five-year stained-glass renovation project, so the magnificence of the main altar region was completely under wraps. It’s not used as a church, sadly, and tourist gather in huge numbers, collapsing in the folding chairs placed as a line of defense to prohibit any contact with the church walls. Conversation expands too much, and folks are sushed by the guard sitting in their midst. Photos are allowed, and people dance warily avoiding cameras, all blinded by repeated flashes of other tourist cameras. Despite all that, it’s more than worth the trip. I took lots of photos last time, and if you want, I can put up a few here.

I completed the walk down the island to the Pont Neuf. Amazingly, there was a slightly-futuristic painting from the second half of the 16th Century in the Carnavalet that showed a Paris crossed with elegant, low-sided bridges that had no houses on them. The king was utterly taken with the idea, and ordered plans to be drawn up for the Pont Neuf, and subsequent bridges that were modeled after it. From there, I walked past the verrry looong Musee de Louvre (which I still haven’t been inside) and the Tuileries gardens, the Place de la Concorde, which I read was named as such by the chastened Revolutionaries, appalled by the Terror they brought on, past the Opera, and finally, home. whew. I think I might have missed something, the tall column Napoleon brought back from Egypt. You’ll have to find a photo in Google.

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