Paris: Gothic Gods

So, you want to have an easy first day in Paris? You woke up at 2am and didn’t fall back asleep until 5am, and while you know you need to push your body to stay awake, you don’t want to kill yourself on the first day?

Saint Paul (?) be all like "Whatevs, yo, I'm tired and on the other side of the planet right now..."
Saint Paul (?) be all like “Whatevs, yo, I’m tired and on the other side of the planet right now…”

Easy – start with Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris. My advice is to take Ligne 1 (yellow) to the Hotel de Ville stop. You will need to cross the river, but it’s so easy to navigate from this particular metro stop, almost more so than the actual Cite stop which is on the dang island! It also has the benefit of being at l’Hotel de Ville (a beautiful building), and just down the street from the Centre Pompidou, if you like modern art. On the Rue du Rivoli, it’s also a pretty walk down to the Louvre – though that will be about a twenty minute walk.


Notre Dame is a Gothic cathedral, perhaps the most famous Cathedral on the Mainland. (I guess the Vatican is more famous, but it’s also it’s own principality and the Seat of the Catholic Church, so it has more claim to fame.) It has its own block, surrounded by overpriced tourist stores and brasseries. You’ll find many things in Paris to be overpriced, but it’s really obvious at the larger tourist attractions.

Entry to Notre Dame is free, but if you want to climb up to the top and see the gargoyles that costs extra. It’s a nice view, and a heck of a climb, but my advice is to save your money and just go into the Cathedral. If you are not particularly faithful, then go for the architecture. It is impressive – you can feel the desire to fill the hall with souls, the desire to build up to Heaven itself. I love it. When inside, it’s like I can sense all 840 years passing by under those arches. The stained glass is famous throughout the world, and there are statues to Joan of Arc, tombs, and other interesting relics worth seeing.

Just allow yourself to be awed already. Leave all cynicism at the door.
Just allow yourself to be awed already. Leave all cynicism at the door.

If you are faithful, then there are masses throughout the days, especially on Sunday. It’s pleasant even if you don’t speak French, because it’s a good opportunity to experience the importance of the ceremony. The ceremony is universal, so any language can participate. It’s also a fun test to see if you can remember how the Mass goes – when was the last time you actually participated within the Mass, and didn’t just mumble along when cued?

I usually go to confession at Notre Dame, and I try to do so in French. I find that if I have to think about my sins in another language, I have to really focus on what I want to say. It makes my confession feel more concrete and less nebulous. I also get to address my conflicts of faith with really patient priests. These guys hear it all and then some, in myriad languages. They’re adept at identifying problems and providing vague but pretty advice and guidance. So I go and tell them I’ve lost my faith, that I’m angry with the Lord, that I no longer feel joy in the house of God. They, in turn, encourage me to pray and reflect, pointing out that wishing to fix a relationship with God is a step in the right direction. Round and round the rosary goes…

Also on Ile de la Cite, and worth your morning visit:

– Saint Chapelle – if you like stained glass, you must go to Saint Chapelle. It’s 9 euros to enter, and they are just finishing up the restoration of the glass. The exterior looks bulky in stone, but inside it looks like the walls are made of glass. It’s an impressive feat, and if you’re lucky and go when the sun is out, the upper chamber practically glows. Gorgeous.

A hall of stained glass.
A hall of stained glass.

It should be lunch around now, or getting close. Grab a café or a dejuner at one of those overpriced brasseries. They’re not all bad, and it’s a great opportunity to do some people watching.

For our day 1 afternoon, I walk everyone over to the Cluny Museum. Because the goal is to stay awake, I suggest you walk. It’s actually a very simple walk. If you start at Saint Chapelle, you’ll see St. Michael’s Square across the Seine in the opposite direction from Hotel de Ville (it’s the four story alcove fountain featuring the Archangel Michael beating on Lucifer). Walk towards it, then keep walking past it on the left. Walk up that street for about three blocks, and you’ll see the old fortifications on your left.

Yes, though Paris has many side streets and coupe-gorges boulevards, if you start at Saint Chapelle on Boulevard du Palais, and continue walking in a straight line towards the fountain, you will will get to the Cluny Museum.

There is also a metro stop near the museum – Cluny / La Sorbonne.

Anyway, the Cluny Museum deals with the Middle Ages, and is home to a modest collection of medieval artifacts and sculptures. Think lots of church relics, which is appropriate for a time when the Church was singular and full of power. The most famous object at the Cluny is the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry collection. Six large tapestries get their own room, as well as detailed information guides. They are impressive, and while the guides speak to mystery and hidden messages, I think they’re just very nice to look at.

What, exactly, is her only desire? Which sense, if any?
What, exactly, is her only desire? Which sense, if any?

Technically, you are close to/in the Latin Quarter, so there are going to be plenty of fun things to see in the area. Second-hand music stores, cafes, shopping – if you have the energy explore some of those side streets and see what you find! Just remember the main roads and where they lead – if you can get back to the Seine, you’ll be near several metro stops.

Depending where your hotel is, you might have some nearby tourist stops you can walk to in the evening. For example, if you are near the Champs Elysees, you can walk that street up and down, see the Arc du Triomphe and all the richest stores. There are gardens, churches, and the like dotted all over the city, and that is what you’ll want to do for the last couple of hours before/after dinner – walk. You’ll be tired, but you’ll need it for the night’s sleep you must get.

Got it? Well then, allons-y!

Dinner: We went to one of Dad’s favorite restaurants – l’Alsace on the Champs-Elysees. As you might expect, being on such a famous street the prices are a little high, but not beyond belief. The Alsace region of France borders Germany, and this restaurant specializes in that region’s cuisine. The house platter is a collection of pork bits – blood sausage, hocks, weiBwurst, served with sauerkraut and potatoes. I recommend the strudel for dessert. If you don’t have much of an appetite – or the prospect of ham hocks or rock lobster doesn’t interest you – they also do a very fine quiche.



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