Our Sunday in Paris

July 24, 2007

So, I finally get to the third and last day of Christina and my adventure in the vast and magnificent city of Paris. It was interesting being in Northern France this weekend and seeing how incredibly different it is from Paris.


It had been quite the night, what with the huge crowds and the adventure getting back home from Bastille Day, so we ended up sleeping a little later than we intended. But after cleaning up, dressing packing, checking out, and grabbing the fruit that we had packed to eat along the way, we were off to the Sacre Cour Basilica for Sunday Mass. It was a beautiful, clear day… but in the mid-90’s. What a change from Oxford, where it hovers around the 60’s and 70’s on the sunniest of days.

It didn’t take us long to get there, and when we did we were a little surprised to realize that in order to actually enter the basilica we had to climb, oh, several hundred steps. The Sacre Cour is on a huge hill that overlooks the whole city of Paris. This is the “hill of the martyr” for which Monmartre is named. At the entrance to the steps, we had to walk past four African men dressed in all black. At first I thought they were guards, but as we walked up to them the blocked our path. One of them actually grabbed my wrist and tried to tie some colorful string onto it. I had to say “Please don’t touch me!” and pull away rather violently. This is after he yelled “Acuda matata, man! No worries, I’m Jamaican!” Yeah, I don’t care who you are, you aren’t tying random strings onto me! I guess the idea was that they would braid them and then expect you to give them money, but they were very intimidating.

We walked up the steps that had been cut into the hillside, and when we got to the top we were rewarded with the most amazing view of Paris. It stretched out around us like a gray and green carpet… and went all the way to the horizon in every direction. And the cathedral itself- words cannot really describe the beauty of it. It is a bright, pure white and it’s style is very different than all of the other cathedrals that we had seen. sacre courOn the (many) steps up there were various buskers, specifically a harpist who drew a rather large crowd. One wonders how he got that huge harp up so many steps. There were also merchants selling fake designer purses off of blankets on the ground. Like I said in a previous post, these people are everywhere.

The service was beautiful, though of course it was in French and Latin- not a good combination if one is wanting to actually understand what is going on. But the music was great and very echoey in such a huge space. Like all the other cathedrals we had visited, the service goes on despite the constant flow of tourists. They simply block off the main floor of the cathedral and set up a couple hundred chairs. I wonder if people actually attend regular mass at the Sacre Cour. I don’t think there are any youth groups or anything like that, so you would kind of be missing out. But what a beautiful start to the day!

We grabbed some amazing Nutella-filled crepes from a stand nearby for breakfast (I had bananas added to mine- heavenly), and I finally got my three-day Metro pass re-printed at the nearest station. It had only been working about half the time all day Saturday, which was a little scary since it was really our only way around and, well, I had paid for it already. Christina and I had heard about this flea market called the “the biggest flea market in Europe”, that was only a few miles north of our hostel. It has ten miles of booths. I pictures antiques and handmade jewelery and all sorts of cool stuff.

In hope of finding all of the above, we set out on the Metro and got off a few blocks from where this flea market was supposed to be. It was a pretty bad part of town: trash everywhere, homeless people everywhere and, worse still men walking about with fake designer wallets and sunglasses approaching everyone in sight. Considering how uncomfortable it makes me when strange people come up to you wanting something, this was not good. But we ignored them all and soldiered on, following the crowd that had gotten off our train. We arrived at something very different than what we had imagined. Mile upon mile of cheap club wear, fake Nike shoes, fake American “ghetto” clothes and stripper outfits. We walked around hopefully for about 30 minutes, but it didn’t get any better. The high point was the owner of a stand selling old records saying “I alvays knew you would come to me! I haf nayver seen a girl like you! Are you staying here vid me? You must stay!” Shucks, I bet he says that to all the American students that stop by his booth.

That was quite enough of that, and Christina and I hopped back on the Metro (we were by then experts) and headed to the Latin Quarter. This was a last-minute addition to our plans, but after the horrid sweatiness of the flea market, we wanted to get somewhere that we knew would have, oh I don’t know…civilization. In our desperation we indulged in delicious frappacinos at Starbuck’s. starbucksWhile relaxing and cooling down we suddenly realized that we had only three hours before we had to get to Gare du Nord and set off for London! AHH! We quickly scanned Lonely Planet for interesting things to see in the Latin Quarter and set off. Luckily, we planned for Sunday to be an open day so that we could cram in anything we wanted to do. Pat on the back for our foresight!

Our first stop was Eglise (Church) St. Germaine, a cathedral built in the 11th century and still in use! Quite amazing actually. All the columns and walls were still painted in bright colors and gold from when the church was originally decorated. I just love old churches- they have an amazing feeling of permanence and solitude about them. Especially the huge ones, you can just imagine God filling up the whole space. The amount of work that went into these places is amazing- much more than goes into the building of a church today, with modern machines and materials. Every stone here was laid by hand, every column individually painted.

Next we stopped in at the Village Voice, a famous little Anglo-American bookshop. It was founded in 1982 as a place for Anglophiles and expats to get the best in English-language literature and media. It has two employees plus the owner. As we went through it I thought to myself, what a life. What a wonderful life to own a small, vibrant bookstore in a beautiful city and have it all to yourself. To live for books! How wonderful.

It was only a short walk to Eglise St. Sulspice, another beautiful church with the distinction of being where the murder scene in the movie The Da Vinci Code was set. The whole thing was lovely, and huge. And there were rose petals on the ground around the door, which makes me wonder how one goes about getting married in such a beautiful place. Oh, wait, one needs to be engaged before one is married…and a boyfriend before that. Oh well, St. Sulspice is going to have to wait until I care about things like that! Haha. This cathedral was home to a cool obelisk that is used as a sundial. It is apparently very accurate, and works because of a small hole in a stained glass window way across the church and 20 yards from the floor. When we were there there was cardboard over the whole, so there is no telling how good of a sundial it really is. But it plays a large role in the book upon which the movie is based, so that was neat.

The next stop on the route that we planned in Starbucks was the Pantheon, France’s great burial place for her most famous and treasured citizens. Its residents include Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Marie Curie. Sadly, we didn’t make it in time to go inside. Too bad because from the pictures I have seen it is simply breathtaking. On the way there we got sidetracked by Eglise St. Etienne, yet another beautiful cathedral. It’s cool how they are all so different yet all so intricate. The Pantheon was just right across the street, and it was huge! We took a bunch of great pictures (scroll up and click on the link) and then decided it was time for dinner.

For our very last meal in Paris we sat down at a cafe called Le Luxembourg after the lovely Jardin du Luxembourg which is right across the street. In Paris all the cafe chairs are turned the face the street- the street is the theater, the cafe patrons are the audience. dinnerIt’s fantastic because there really are very interesting people walking about in Paris. Christina ordered a panini sandwich and I had a crepe with fried egg and salad. Our meal was tasty and filling, the weather was sunny and crisp- all in all it was a fitting end to what had been a very pleasant and full weekend.

We got back to the hostel as quickly as we could to retrieve our luggage from storage, and set off for Gare du Nord to meet the Eurostar. This time we actually knew how to read our French tickets and got the right seats. It was a long and uneventful ride back. There were actually several other SMU-in-Oxford students on the train. For the ride back to London the Eurostar had 17 cars and two restaurant cars. On the way to Paris it had only had seven cars.

We arrived in London at the Waterloo station, and needed to get to the Paddington station in a hurry to catch the train to Oxford (which we had already paid for). But as soon as we went to buy tickets to Paddington we learned that the whole Bakerloo line (the line we needed) had been canceled! We had no idea what to do: though we had recently mastered the Paris subway system, the London underground seemed vast and confusing. We took a chance and got on another line that we hoped would get us to Paddington in time, but with only two minutes and 5 stops to go we cut our losses and got off at Victoria, where we knew we could catch a bus to Oxford.

The only problem? We were on the underground, not a bus, so we got out at an underground station. Everyone we talked to worked for the underground, not the bus, and so could not tell us where the coach station was exactly. This led to us walking several times around the huge downtown London block in different directions at midnight, carrying what felt like 50 pounds on each shoulder. Everyone we asked pointed a different way. When we finally asked someone who seemed to actually know, we ended up walking several blocks on an abandoned downtown street. It was very frightening- there was no one about and it was very dark. Plus, I had no idea where I was in relation to anywhere else that I had been in London. We were trying to catch what was the very last bus of the night, and as we walked past the underground station and eventually into the coach station, the information counters and ticket stand were being closed and locked up. So there was a very real chance that we could have missed the bus and spent the night in downtown London.

Fortunately, we ran around the coach station fast enough to catch the last coach right before it left. We had to buy tickets right from the bus driver, but were two pounds short of enough money for two tickets. I was that much more bitter because we had already paid for tickets for the train that we missed. A really nice girl on the bus gave us the money we needed and we sat down. It was the most stressed we had been the whole weekend, and it was the very last leg of the whole trip.

I then stayed up several more hours to begin writing a paper that was due at 11am the next day. What an adventure! The weekend went so well (London doesn’t count!) and it was just a great, great experience. This is the last time I detail a day in such a long-winded way, I think! You can see how we really did see so much. Thanks for reading along.


One Response to “Our Sunday in Paris”

  1. Kato said

    stop making me jealous its not fair. btw im really jealous. sounds great though, I’m glad that you’ve got to go to paris.

    have you been to the camden market it london? its supposed to be the biggest artsy craftsy market in the country.

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