It is quite beautiful! There was a minimal line to enter the church, which we entered.
Inside, it was hushed and dim, but not completely silent. There were many tourists in there, and we had to get out of the way for a tour group to pass us, but then Thing 1 and I found a couple of seats to sit at for a bit and just take it all in. There was currently no service that we would be interrupting. We sat in the center of the church (the nave) for a bit, before getting up to tour the perimeter of the church. Along the sides of the church, the entire way around, are small chaplets, usually devoted to a saint of some sort. There was also a statue about halfway through the church to the left of the altar devoted to St. Joan of Arc,
made a saint in 1920, and one of the patron saints of France. Since I discuss Joan a bit towards the end of the year when I cover the Hundred Years War, it was nice to see her. (We had also seen a painting of her at Versailles in the Hall of Battles, and I was able to tell Thing 1 a bit about her for reference.) The stained glass was so beautiful that it is hard to put into words to describe.
Despite the cloudy day outside, there was enough light coming through the windows that the cobalt blues and greens showed up vividly. The stained glass depicted scenes from the Bible and various saints and Biblical figures. Long ago, before most people were literate, monks and priests would have used these scenes to teach parishioners their faith. Each chaplet contained some stained glass windows, and most chaplets also had a rack of candles set up, for the saying of prayers. Thing 1 and I chose to light a candle for our family and our prayers at a chaplet for Mary (for a €5 donation).
After exploring the rest of the church, Thing 1 and I popped back outside. I was thrilled we had come early because, despite the drizzle, the line to get into the church had lengthened considerably! It spanned the length of the plaza and began to wrap around on itself. We walked around the plaza a bit, taking a snap of the large statute of Charlemagne in front and to the left of the entrance of the cathedral.
(I teach about Charlemagne, too, and there are lots of statues of him around France. He is important to France for several reasons, and I saw statues and paintings of him at Versailles, too.) I had to “stage” this photo carefully because someone thought it would be funny to put a white broom tucked into the statue with Charlemagne, and I didn’t want it to appear in my pictures! Taking a photo head-on partially obscured the broom, so I was content.
Alongside of Notre Dame runs the Seine River, and in between the cathedral and the river is a small park that runs the length of the church. It extends behind the cathedral and is named Square Jean XXIII. Thing 1 and I ambled along, taking pictures of the side and the back (eastern façade) of the church. We could clearly see flying buttresses at the back of the church,
used by engineers of the time (medieval era) to help support the weight of such a tall-ceilinged nave with thin walls. Toward the back of the Square Jean XXIII is a road, and Thing 1 and I discovered that it led to the “Bridge of Love” we had been looking for a few days earlier. I was thrilled I could take some photos of it for my dad. The bridge is actually named the Pont de l’Archevêché, and its metal grating has been covered (and then some) by padlocks.
Couples come to Paris — to this bridge! — and symbolically commit (make a grand gesture, if you will) to their relationship by attaching a lock with their names on it to the bridge and then throwing away the key into the Seine below. (Street vendors nearby sell locks for anywhere from €5 to €10.) Some locks are bike locks, antique looking ones, or ones that look like the locks my students use on their gym basket at school.
There are locks upon locks upon locks. Many in Paris don’t actually approve of the act, as the keys rust in the Seine down below, and sometimes parts of the siding of the bridge collapse under the weight of the locks. Indeed, one section of ironwork on the bridge was missing, plywood bolted together where grating once was, and on the plywood was painted “Make love, not locks!” Incidentally, Thing 1 and I also saw locks bolted to the caging on the Eiffel Tower when we visited earlier in the week. Throwing the keys off the tower would be very dangerous, indeed, to the people below, so I wondered what people did with those.
I also learned that the Pont de l’Archevêché was just one of the bridges in Paris to receive this dubious “locking” honor. Another bridge to suffer the locks is the Pont des Arts. A recent L. A. Times article detailed a collapse of part of the parapet of the bridge due to the weight of the locks. According to Wikipedia (so take this with a grain of salt),
In recent years, many tourist couples have taken to attaching padlocks (love locks) with their first names written or engraved on them to the railing or the grate on the side of the bridge, then throwing the key into the Seine river below, as a romantic gesture. This gesture is said to represent a couple’s committed love.The City of Paris has not yet adopted a definitive policy on how to deal with this new fad. The French police have been known to patrol this bridge to stop keys from being thrown into the river.In March 2014, two American women living in Paris launched an online no-love-locks campaign to remove the padlocks from the bridge. They say that the bridge became physically damaged by the weight of the locks (93 metric tons of metal), by the rust that passes onto the River Seine and by the environmental damage to the river from the keys that are thrown in and rusting. The campaign received more than 1600 signatures in one month.
There are locks upon locks upon locks . . . upon locks upon locks . . . you get the idea.
Earlier in the week I promised Thing 1 I would take him to a great ice cream place I read about nearby on the second of the islands in the Seine, called Île Saint-Louis. It is called Berthillon. We walked the very charming Rue de Saint Louis en l’Île looking for the shop. Once we found it, we went inside and Thing 1 got some vanilla ice cream while I got a mushroom and cheese omelette with some salad and pommes frites.
(I didn’t ask for the fries; they just came with it.) The ice cream truly was as good as the guidebook made it out to be. And after that, we went back up the street stopping in a few of the shops to look for little gifts we could bring home to our loved ones. There was an amazing marionette shop with truly awesome marionettes in the window, but we stopped instead in a shop where I got a gift for Auntie Susu. We also visited a candy shop to get some caramels to take home to share with family after our shared Sunday dinners and two peppermint suckers for Thing 1 and I. Next stop was the Conciergerie.
The Conciergerie served as a prison of sorts during the French Revolution. It is very old, construction having started in the 1300s. Various kings made their home there throughout its history because originally it was a palace (the Palais de la Cité), and then later became known as the Palais de Justice. We entered into a great, dimly lit hall that at one time had housed guards and arms, the Hall of Guards.
From there we viewed various cells, some delegated to poor prisoners (pistole) or very poor prisoners (oubliettes) who would have only been given straw to sleep on, and others reserved for the aristocracy, complete with a bed, table, and some other creature comforts. (This did cost them.) We saw a reconstructed cell in the area Marie Antoinette had been held before she was taken off to the guillotine to be beheaded.
(The Conciergerie had been modified since her internment there, and historians have tried to recreate as accurately as possible the conditions of her room and her cell.)
The chapel of the old Palais de la Cité, the Sainte Chapelle, was our next stop before heading back to our hotel. The Sainte Chapelle is an amazing church with breathtaking stained glass windows. It was consecrated in 1248, and originally commissioned by King Louis IX to house holy relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns and parts of the True Cross. There are actually two chapels inside, one on the lower level and the amazingly beautiful one on an upper level. The upper level chapel is accessible via a very narrow circular staircase, and it is the one that contains all of the stained glass.
The stained glass, as with other medieval churches, retells scenes from the Bible from both the Old Testament and New Testament, depicting moments from Jesus’s life and the life of John the Baptist, in particular. The chapel and its glass was damaged during the French Revolution but, despite this, nearly two-thirds of the glass is original. When we visited, there was scaffolding set up for restoration work. Twenty-first century pollution and large numbers of visitors throughout the ages have taken their toll. Despite this, it was awesome to see. As with Notre Dame, its being a dismal and dreary day did not dampen the impact of the glass in the chapel. Colors still appeared vivid and sharp.
Alas, we had to keep to a schedule, though, and it was time to head back to the hotel to pick up our bags. We were going to take a taxi from the hotel to the Gare du Nord, which is the big train station that the Eurostar uses. Supposedly, it is the busiest train station in Europe. That is where we were going to catch the “Chunnel” train to London. It is a high-speed train, reaching speeds of up to 186 mph! We were looking forward to our trip, if anything because we knew we would be entering a country where we spoke the language! There is something very comforting in that.
We arrived at the station, made our way to the Eurostar ticket kiosks, and I prepared to enter in our reservation information while Thing 1 found a restroom to use. I had a momentary panic because I couldn’t find my email from Eurostar (or a printed copy of it in my bags) with my reservation number on it. Without the reservation number, I could not print out our tickets. I tried putting the credit card I used to secure the reservation into the kiosk, but I knew it probably wouldn’t work because of my previous experience with trying to purchase Métro tickets with a U. S. credit card. I thought, “It’s Eurostar, not regular Paris Métro . . . it might work?” But it didn’t. Meanwhile, Thing 1 came back without having used the restroom because it cost a few Euros to even get into the restroom, which he didn’t have in his pocket. I began to tear my suitcase apart looking for the paper email, which I found, thankfully, but not before I started breaking out into another stress sweat. I entered in our reservation number, printed out our tickets, and then proceeded to visiting the immigration services for both the French and the British governments. Having gotten our next stamps in our passports, Thing 1 and I proceeded to the Eurostar waiting area of the station. In this part of the station, Thing 1 was able to use a restroom for free (yay!) and we caught a bit of the Tour de France on television, which had just started that day in England. We had a short wait before we boarded our train, which was so much nicer than traveling in a cramped Métro train! There were assigned seats, nice and roomy, with outlets near them for charging our devices. We were served a nice meal, most of which Thing 1 did not eat because he was so picky.
Most of the Chunnel train route is in France. It is only for a small amount of time that the train is actually under the English channel (about 10 to 15 minutes?), and then the rest of the route travels through the English countryside until it gets to St. Pancras International station in London. The French countryside is full of rolling fields and small villages. It looked as if various grains were being grown or had recently been harvested. Some of the fields were green, and some were golden, and the weather had cleared a bit to become dry and sunny, with large cotton clouds in the sky. Before we entered the channel tunnel, there was a small announcement on the train, and then a few minutes later, the lights went on as the outside became black. We emerged into the English countryside, which was just as rolling and beautiful, if a bit more green. It wasn’t much longer after that when the train pulled into the station in London. We grabbed our bags, got off the train, and emerged into the very busy St. Pancras International.
I had promised Thing 1 a shopping trip to the Harry Potter Store at Platform 9 ¾, which is in Kings Cross Station, located right next to St. Pancras. We wheeled our suitcases over to Kings Cross and began to look for the store. It is located (duh!) right between platforms 9 and 10 in the station. The thing about the large London stations is that they are a place to shop and eat as much as travel. Kings Cross had nice shops in it like a Kiehl’s store and a Starbucks, as well as an American Apparel and a Boots, which is sort of like a CVS or a Walgreen’s. We found the Harry Potter store, but my heart dropped when I first saw the Platform 9 ¾ sign because there was a huge line beside it. I said, “Thing 1, I think that is the line to get into the store!” Thing 1 grimaced a bit, but then it became clear that it was just a line to take a picture next to the Platform 9 ¾ sign! Fans dressed up in a scarf and Harry Potter-ish glasses, stood next to a pile of luggage, and had their picture taken (for a fee, we discovered, when we entered the store). To the left of the line a bit, tucked behind a column, was the actual store itself which did not have a line to enter — though it was packed.
I waited outside with our suitcases while Thing 1 went inside to look around and make a small purchase of Bott’s Beans (really Jelly Bellies with icky sounding names).
We got checked in, got settled a bit, and went down to the lounge below to get Thing 1 a personal pizza to eat for a late dinner (and me a relaxing drink!). Our hotel room was nice and spacious with a great view.
Across the street from our hotel was the Burberry headquarters and we could see the tower for Westminster Palace peeking behind that. There was construction going on directly across the street from us, but it caused no excess noise or disruption. We were located just a few doors down from the Tate Britain, and not far from the Thames River. Thing 1 and I tucked ourselves into bed . . . we had a busy day tomorrow. On our agenda: Greenwich (and the Prime Meridian line) and Madame Tussaud’s (for some touristy fun).