Paris France. October 11, 2006. (Easily our busiest single day, the writing for this one never seemed to end. Sorry for the long posting time. Ã¢â‚¬â€œed) We woke to a misty morning in Paris, and rather than go out to find breakfast we decide to have it brought up to our Westin room. The food was on a par with every other bit of room service IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve ever had with one exception. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve traveled all the way to Paris for the best orange juice either of us has ever tasted, and not just a little bit better, this is like a different league. This is like fresh squeezed vs. Tang. This is orange juice that gets its own paragraph. I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fly to Paris just for this, but still, quite good.
Our juice swallowed, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re down to our Paris coach and off to our first stop, the Pompidou Center. Or rather the parking lot of the Centre Pompidou. It seems that motor coaches arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t allowed near our real destination: Ile de la CitÃƒÂ©, the home of Our Lady of Paris, known to us as the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. On the way we got our first look at a standard morningÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s traffic in Paris. It would seem that there are no specific traffic laws here, only some rather vague suggestions. The chaos is amazing, but then you begin to see that they seem to have some set of inner rules that governs what car goes where next. I never did quite understand the rules, but everybody seems to get where theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going with a minimum of sheet-metal damage.
The walk down to the cathedral was actually quite short. It was an extremely foggy morning, so the pictures are a bit gray, but even in the fog Paris is still a lovely city, with its cobbled streets and terrace lined buildings. We crossed Pont Neuf to Ile de la CitÃƒÂ©. Literally Ã¢â‚¬Å“New BridgeÃ¢â‚¬Â, Pont Neuf is actually the oldest bridge across the Seine. Its name refers to the fact that it was the first stone bridge in Paris, and was named New Bridge by the people when it was first built. No matter what its name, the views up and down the river from the bridge are enchanting. In this instance weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re looking up the river toward Ile Saint-Louis.
When we reached the cathedral we discovered that right out front is the official center of Paris. A small brass plaque of the Sun King (Louis XIV) marks the center of Paris, so when youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re on the road from Le Mans to Paris, and you see a sign that says Paris – 187 km, you know exactly where that 187 km ends: About 30 meters in front of Notre Dame de Paris. We spent a bit of time taking pictures and learning the history Notre Dame, and then we were taken around to the side of the cathedral and ushered through a tiny door and into a very steep stone circular stairway. 387 very warn steps later we had made it to the top of the Galerie des ChimiÃƒÂ¨res, which is the level that connects the two bell towers. Unlike most US cities, Paris is a city of Classical height. There are few buildings higher than 5 stories and even fewer higher than 9 or 10. The cathedral is one of those, rising about 16 stories above the river. The view is spectacular, and if you can stand the climb I highly suggest it.
The inside of the Cathedral is spectacular also, but not in the same way as Westminster. Notre Dame is fantastically beautiful, but lacks the insane number of historical references that Westminster can claim. For hundreds of years, the Kings of France were crowned in Reims, to the North East of Paris. It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t until Napoleon was crowned Emperor of France that Notre Dame was used for a coronation.
From Notre Dame we crossed back over Pont Neuf, this time with the sky turning blue as the morning fog burned away. Just down the river, still on the Ille de la CitÃƒÂ© is the Conciergerie, the last home and prison of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Once we got back to our bus we headed north toward Montmartre, home of two fantastic churches, a winery, an artistÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s colony, and one of the coolest neighborhoods in Europe. We parked at the bottom of the hill as there is just no way to get a bus up the narrow roads of Montmartre. So after a short walk up a little market street we were provided tickets up the funicular railway to the top of the hill. Once there we found ourselves in very cool little square that would be our base for the afternoon. We started off by wandering over thru the neighboring square full of artists. Some of the people in our tour got their portraits painted, others joined Beci and I in a search for food.
CrÃƒÂªpes are one of the classic street foods of Paris, and theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re simply brilliant. I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t recommend them enough. And so I got a fromage et jambon crÃƒÂªpe (ham and cheese) and Beci got a sandwich (it was good, but she admitted later that my crÃƒÂªpe was better). We then shared a chocolate crÃƒÂªpe with four of our fellow travelers, Jenni, Mickey, David, and Amber. We also learned to order Diet Coke. From this point forward calls of "coke-a-lite" could be heard at every meal, sometimes to the consternation of our French hosts who drink wine with meals, and Coke as little as possible.
After our improvised lunch Beci and I decided to go see the two churches. We started with the smaller and older of the two, Saint Pierre de Montmartre. From a visual standpoint it was probably my favorite, with a slightly older heavier look to its construction, it looks like a place where important things occurred in the history of the Catholic church, and indeed they did. Saint Pierre is where the order of the Jesuits was founded.
The Basilica of the SacrÃƒÂ©-CÃ…â€œur is literally right behind Saint Pierre. It is one of the most recently completed cathedrals in Europe (Barcelona has one still under construction) having been finished less than 100 years ago in 1914. Cameras and noise are prohibited in the Cathedral, so I have no pictures of the interior, but I assure you it’s worth the visit. The outside is quite distinctive, and reminds me of a cross between a Russian Orthodox church and a mosque.
We met our entire party back at the square. Several were just finishing up the tiring task of sitting for a portrait. Once the 16 of us were back together Alex and Roni lead us down the side of the hill to meet a member of la Comanderie du Clos MontMartre, the wine makers of Montmartre. A short walk from their hall we discovered a hidden gem of Paris. A vineyard hidden on the back of the hill. The wines of Montmartre are sold at a very high price, and the proceeds given to charity. I don’t drink wine at all, so I can’t tell you how the tasting went, but Beci seemed to think it was good, and nobody dropped from acute wine poisoning.
After we finished our wine tasting we headed back to the hotel. Montmartre was easily my favorite bit of Paris to this point, and whether you’re in Paris with Disney or on your own, I suggest spending a day up on Montmartre. The bohemian ambiance is something you can’t find anywhere else.
After a short nap we were back up and dressed in our Paris best for a night out at the best known tourist attraction in France. Our coach made quick work (OK, not so quick, but impressive still in a giant coach) of the traffic. After a quick stop to take some romantic pictures with the Eiffel Tower in the background we proceeded to the Tower for dinner. This was also the first time we saw any sort of an armed military, with a few smartly dressed French commandos walking around under the tower. After a few minutes wait we were ushered thru the standard Disney back door line passing about an hours worth of people who now wish they had traveled with Disney, but didn’t. At the top of our short elevator ride we made it to the first terrace level of the tower, at the 95 meter mark. Here we would have dinner at Altitude 95.
After dinner Beci (just slightly terrified of heights) agreed to go up to the very top. This is not a short building, and Beci on a small metal platform nearly 300 meters above the ground was something of a miracle. Indeed, until the Chrysler building and it’s radio tower was finished in the 30s the Eiffel tower was the tallest building in the world. Its still the second tallest building in all of France, and easily the tallest in Paris.
once we made it to the top (even for me the ride up the elevator was a bit alarming) we stepped out onto the walkway outside. With some coaxing Beci even made it to the edge for a picture or two, and then it was back down to terra firma.