(To FINALLY wrap up my time on the continent! It is very strange to think that I left France nearly a month ago. I would apologize for taking so long in the writing, but I think most of you have learned by now that I have given up trying to keep a schedule and that posts will get completed when I find the spare time. I hope you are still enjoying them when they do show up! Now that I have France completed, next I can tell you about the amazing time I had in the north of England and the adventures I am having in Scotland.)
PART ONE: PARIS
Let me start off by apologizing to anyone who has ever dreamed of going to Paris or has been there and loves it. I did not have a great time in Paris. I did not have a terrible time, but throughout this trip I’ve gone to nicer cities and I’ve definitely met nicer people. Maybe someday I’ll get back to Paris and have a different experience and form a different opinion. For now, I lay out what I did in plain language because the city just did not inspire me.
I of course spent most of my time in that old district of the city that sits on the banks and islands of the River Seine. First stop was to the cathedral of Notre Dame. In truth this was the one thing I was most anxious to see and formed the majority of my desire to see Paris in the first place. Surprisingly, there is no entrance fee to get into the cathedral, which I appreciated, and the line moved quickly enough to get inside. The interior of the cathedral was not what I expected. It was probably the plainest church, architecturally speaking, that I have been in on this trip. The columns did not have beautiful carvings and there were almost no decorations of any kind. Even the pulpit and altar were not nearly as grand as I expected. The windows were the true glory of the cathedral. Any rumors you have heard in praise of the colored windows of Notre Dame I can confirm as true. For all the plainness of cathedral’s body, the colored glass more than makes up for it.
Sorry the details are not very clear. I could not get close enough or zoom in any better. This window is really high up.
Not far from Notre Dame is a little bookstore that is almost as famous as the cathedral within certain circles. It is called Shakespeare and Company and I encourage you all to look it up. It has an interesting little history. The philosophy of the place is so dedicated to the art of literature, that if you can prove that you are a struggling writer of any persuasion, you can petition to live on the site. Philosophy and potential perks aside, it is a very charming bookstore with an amazing selection set out in the classic haphazard style of all noteworthy old bookstores. There are even reading rooms up in the attic where those seeking a few moments solitude from the bustle of the city can curl up surrounded by a fabulous collection of old tomes. It is the ideal book lover’s paradise. There is also a small café whose service and food are quite commendable.
On another rainy day (I had almost nothing else whilst in Paris) I made the journey to the Eiffel Tower. It is indeed an impressive sight though finding a good view of it proved to be difficult. There were guards and barricades set up all over the base of the tower and blocking off a good portion of the parkland. I assumed this was partially normal and partially to deal with the increase of visitors due to the European football tournament. I was able to cross the river and stand on the raised end of another park to get a decent view of the tower. From there it was a fairly easy walk to the Arc de Triomphe and that crazy rotary road that surrounds it. I saw people standing right under the arc but I never did figure out how they got there. Paris is a huge city and walking between just the most famous monuments is very tiring. By the time I had explored this part of the city I was ready to head back to my hostel for a rest.
View of the tower while walking to the Arc. Such a classic Parisian image.
Arc de Triomphe!
Probably the most interesting thing I did in Paris was visiting the catacombs. This is an experience I can recommend to anyone. Unless you have issues with narrow tunnels, then probably best not to go. The audio guide gives a very interesting account of the history of the catacombs, how they were built and what they were used for. There are several tunnels that must be walked through before you actually reach the burial chambers that are so famous. These are worth the walk. The first impression is of mild horror and revulsion. No animal enjoys being faced with piles of its dead brethren. But after a few minutes being so surrounded as you are by the carefully piled bones, you adjust to the sight and even begin to appreciate the peace and respect of the place. The staircase at the end of the tour is a little daunting. It is naturally a spiral staircase and it takes so long to climb it that I started getting a little dizzy by the time I reached the surface. Anyone who visits Paris should definitely take the time to see the catacombs.
Creepy tunnels=best tunnels
“Stop! This is the empire of the dead.”
The remains of thousands of people line these tunnels.
On another grey and dreary day I climbed up the hill of Monmartre so see Sacre Cour and the view over the city. Sacre Cour is a lovely cathedral with huge murals on the ceiling and walls along with other adornments in precious stone. Photographs are not allowed, unfortunately. This seemed to be a theme for all of the most beautiful churches and cathedrals in Europe. I shall do my best to describe the interior. It has the most open floor plan I think I have seen. Churches are often described as having a womb-like feeling and this was especially true of Sacre Cour. The short entranceway immediately opens into a huge domed atrium that is directly connected to another dome that rises above the altar. There are small shrines that are tucked to the sides of these circular centers. The whole cathedral is rounded rather than angular. It feels like a giant stone embrace and though it is no less grand than other cathedrals, it has a much more loving atmosphere. I had the good luck to hear nuns doing a call and response reading. Their soft lilting voices warmed the space even more. A very lovely cathedral indeed.
After taking in the view over the city, which is one of the best to be had, I strolled down to the graveyard where Oscar Wilde is buried. The grave marker is a horridly huge block of stone with a winged figured carved into one end. It’s terribly strange. The whole stone is also surrounded by glass. There is a very specific reason for this. Local legend holds that any woman who kisses the stone will be married within the year. I have no idea how this legend started, but at one point the stone was so covered with lipstick that it had to be thoroughly cleaned and the protective glass put in place. There are even signs asking visitors not to kiss the glass since even that has had to be cleaned. Still, a few amorous marks could be found off on one corner. Not wishing to take any chances with either cemetery guardians or matrimony, I did not kiss the glass.
The very last thing I did in Paris was to pay a visit to the Louvre. I swear this museum is endless. Grand hallways lead to large chambers with small anterooms all of which have their own collections of painting, ceramics, or sculpture. There are even several atriums filled with huge and beautiful sculptures. After several hours of what felt like perpetual walking, I finally admitted that I would not be able to see even half of the massive museum. The scale of the place and its surrounding grounds is enormous. Several days could be spent in this one small part of Paris.
That most famous courtyard.
Napoleonic apartments. That chandelier was the size of a small car, there were several others in the room as well.
Such beautiful white stone throughout the whole palace.
My favorite sculpture, nymph stung by a scorpion. Loved the way she glowed and her expression is so different from most other female figures.
As a final note about Paris, I did try to go visit Versailles. However, in true French fashion, it was closed due to a strike. To correct this disappointment alone I will have to visit Paris again in the future.
PART TWO: LYON
My first stop in France was in the southern city of Lyon. The train ride from Brussels took me through some of the loveliest farm country. The whole landscape was a soft patchwork blanket of grasses, stone fences, small, shrubby trees, and very content looking sheep and cows. Lyon itself, though not in the extreme south of France, felt so much like Italy that for a moment I felt like I was back at the start of my journey. The heat, the color of the buildings, the loud, expressive people, all so vastly different from the northern Europeans I had grown accustomed to over the past few months. The connection to Italy was strengthened when I climbed up to a lookout point on my second day in the city. Lyon was a Roman town and the layout of the city so strongly mimicked Rome I nearly laughed.
There is honestly not that much to do in Lyon. There are some Roman ruins at the top of the hill at one end of town. These turned out to be a set of theaters that are still used today, with the addition of removable modern structures of course. There was a small museum attached to these ruins but I did not care to visit it. At the top of the hill there was a beautiful cathedral, whose name escapes me now, but it commanded an impressive view of the city and was a landmark you could see from nearly anywhere down in the valley.
The only other activity of consequence in Lyon was walking to the large park just outside the center of the city. There is a very nice botanical garden and a little zoo inside the park, both of which are free of charge, and I spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around in the sunshine.
The other cathedral in town that I visited. Did not look like much from the outside, but inside…
Gotta love that light!
As I said, there was not much to do in Lyon other than trying to avoid the crowds of football fans (Lyon was one of the cities playing host to the Euro 2016 football tournament). I spent the rest of my time relaxing in my hostel and making friends with other guests. Such was my experience of southern France.
Until next time!