The Ones We Had on Our Wishlist
08.10.2013 - 23.10.2013
Part of the reason why I love visiting Paris is because it has so many layers.
As I mentioned in an earlier entry, on our first visit we saw some of the iconic places in Paris, but as we left we were acutely aware we had barely scratched the surface. So there were a heap more places to go visiting on this trip. I thought you might like to hear about some of the others we went to see. BTW the closest we got to the Tour Eiffel, was on a bus ride and at a distance. And as for the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees, never went near them!
Last time we couldn't get into Sainte Chapelle because of a strike. I was peeved no end because it and Notre Dame were on my small list for that trip. Sainte Chapelle is a two-levelled gothic chapel built by one of the French Kings especially to house the relic of Christ's Crown of Thorns from the Crucifixion. The upstairs Royal Chapel contains the most amazing 13th century stained-glass windows and was where this "relic" was held. Even today it is a sparkling golden space. The photos sadly don't do it any justice.
When we were there, about a third of the windows were blocked off for renovations. Despite the limitations and a meagre bit of sunlight on a cold and dreary day, what was visible was still just as stunning as I'd been told. Most people who walked through the small opening at the top of the stairs, said "Wow" or some other similar exclamation, because of its eye-popping beauty. I was intrigued by some people there who were obviously approaching the "altar" area as if on a pilgrimage; taking careful steps up the "aisle"; standing on particular patterns in the mosaics; and meditating at each step. Others, like me, were just lost in the beauty, shaking our heads in wonder at such dazzling splendour.
Others, who seemed uninterested in what it was all about or its story, were just taking photos and moving on to the next thing on their tour, seemingly impervious to the beauty. Now I know first-hand that you can get all churched, or chateaued out. I've talked about that already! But still, even when I'm in art overload, I can't stop myself from admiring the work of amazing artisans, engineers and builders, and the stamina of some European buildings to survive and still be showing us their treasury of beauty centuries later.
I can only imagine how beautiful Sainte Chapelle would be lit by lots of candles flickering in that golden space. So next time we're in Paris, it will be on the list again, but this time I'd like to attend one of the concerts that are regularly held there. It would be an intimate and wonderful experience I am sure.
Right near the Chapelle is the Conciergerie. All the buildings in the area were palaces of varying ages and the area is now called the Palais de Justice and includes the courts right next to the Chapelle! The Conciergerie was so-called because when the royal court went off to live in Versailles, the concierge was left in charge of the building. It became a prison and housed the thieves and harlots and the traitors etc. It's famous because it's where the Revolutionary Tribunal held its inquiries though I don't think justice was part of the package back then, it was more revenge on aristocracy and their supporters. Marie Antoinette was supposedly kept in the building, though her real cell is long gone, and taken from there to her beheading with a guillotine with a blade like the one in the photo, in what is now the Place de la Concorde. (And you do know she never said any of that crap about eating cake, don't you?)
When we arrived in Paris the Conciergerie had closed for some exhibition and the fact that we couldn't go there (and we passed it many times as it was right near our apartment) made it somehow more alluring. When it did eventually open again, it had some other art installation in the space, and some of the areas of interest couldn't even be seen. So all round, I found it all a bit too touristy and twee for words. Wouldn't go back again can guarantee that. However here's some photos of how Marie A's cell may have looked like. She certainly was kept away from the harlots and in a cell of reasonable proportions as cells go, but it was pretty pissy in comparison with the lifestyle she'd been living!
Another tourist spot we hit was the Pantheon. Now, there's a Pantheon in Rome that is another amazing feat of Roman engineering, with an oculus or enormous circular opening in the roof.
The Pantheon in Paris was originally a church dedicated to St Genevieve and was rebuilt based on the Roman Pantheon in the 18th century. The building is now a secular space that still contains frescoes about St Genevieve and other Christian themes but is also a place to honour French victories and acts as a mausoleum for more modern famous French people. People like Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Marie and Pierre Curie are now interred in a massive crypt under the space. Normally, it also holds Foucault's Pendulum which is a simple but massive ceiling to floor device conceived as an experiment to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. But like so many places in Europe, it was in the middle of refurbishment and the pendulum was in mothballs. Sad!
So I'm afraid I found this one a bit ho-hum too, unlike my enjoyment of the beautiful Roman one. See these pics of the Roman one that I don't think I shared earlier!
We also visited La Madeleine, still a Catholic church but built like a Roman temple, which faded a bit beside some of the other amazing churches in Paris and Europe. However Sacre Coeur which is a beautiful white basilica at the top of Montmartre (the only really hilly part of Inner Paris) was fascinating and has the added benefit of the BEST VIEW of a large part of Paris. Of course it's also the sight for so many of the most unsavoury trinket sellers and pickpockets who all gather up their gear in less than 2 seconds and flee at the sight of a policeman.
My friend Claire and I visited Opera Garnier one night in the audience for the French Ballet performing La Dame Aux Camellias. In the process, we also saw another amazing Over-the-Top building which had us endlessly muttering "no wonder the peasants revolted"! BTW, the ballet helped us realise just how fantastic the Australian Ballet is. As regular subscribers to the Oz Ballet, we instantly realised how lucky we are, because our dancers would have left this lot for dead!!!! But the Opera Garnier was amazing.
One delightful spot we found was beside the Canal St Martin, which is also one of those canals with the locks so that the flat boats can pass along the canals. It's obviously a spot the Parisians love meandering. In fact, I noticed that promenading on Sundays (when most shops are shut) is a Parisian habit! As is playing with remote-controlled yachts!!
In another post we'll focus on the quirky, or should we say MORE quirky?