"Huh. I guess we should get up then." My well-laid plans for an early start to the day had vanished while I was still dreaming.
Neal slid back the black-out shades and opened the window. Paris was waiting.
We pulled on the stale and sweaty clothes from the night before and stumbled down to breakfast.
Now, it's common knowledge that Parisians don't eat breakfast...at least not in the American sense of the word. A croissant and a tiny cup of coffee at the neighborhood cafe and they are on their way. So, hotels like the Hilton try to make up for this by offering a fairly large continental breakfast. On the buffet each day was a variety of freshly diced fruit, a sideboard of meats (including smoked salmon, turkey, ham, and an unidentified white fish...basically a Cavegirl's wet dream), scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, stuffed tomatoes, hashbrowns, baked beans (yeah, I never understood that either...nor could I bring myself to eat baked beans before noon), cereals, oatmeal, crepes (with a healthy dose of toppings), and 2 tables of pastries and breads. On day 1, I stuck to my Hunter/Gatherer diet...fruit...eggs...meat...a little smoked salmon..all washed down with a cafe au lait. Approximately 30 minutes later, I realized that au lait is French for Hey lactose-intolerant lady....that's WHOLE milk in there!
Our first stop after breakfast and...er...les toilettes...was Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cite...or the island between the left and right banks of the Seine. Let me stop and say that when you look at a map, the right bank is north of the river while the left bank is south and in my tiny, American brain, rive sud and rive nord make a lot more sense than rive gauche and rive droit....but apparently they are named according to the direction the river flows...which I guess is as good a reason as any.
Technically, our first stop was at a souvenir store a block north of Notre Dame to buy Neal a hat. He started shaving his head in Iraq when the contracted barbers packed up shop and left town. In the breezy, misty Paris mornings, the dome de Neal was exposed and cold. We settled on one, said our s'il vous plait's and au revoir's and headed to the spires in the distance.
"You read The Hunchback of Notre Dame in high school right?" I asked Neal on our way past the Hotel de Ville.
"I don't think so. I don't remember. There was like a short, ugly guy as the main character?"
"That's not very politically correct."
"Oh...and wasn't it like a love story or something?"
"Never mind." My apologies to all of Neal's high school English teachers as he seems to have retained nothing.
The line to climb to the top of Notre Dame stretched down the side of the cathedral, approximately 50 people deep. We weighed our desire to climb stairs and get a 3 story-view of Paris against our desire to stand in line after eating smoked salmon and diced pineapple.
We did not climb to the top of Notre Dame.
We did, however, cruise right on past the line with our Museum Pass. There are not a ton of inside photos from the big camera because most were, unfortunately, taken with our other smaller Sony Cypershot (the one that seems to have crawled out of my purse on the metro). But here are a few...
As you can see just over my right shoulder, there's a dome. Neal captured it in this photo although I think it was by accident. After lunch, we strolled on with Rick and my iPod, twisting down streets and passing famous landmarks (the Sorbonne, anyone?) all along the way...until we emptied out into a intersection, or place. And there sat the Pantheon...which just happens to be the dome behind me in the photo.
As we were preparing to leave, they opened up the 15' doors at the rear of the chapel, the doors leading to the passageway the royalty used to enter the church. The palace and passageway are long gone, but the effect from standing outside, looking in, is still inspirational.
If you go....
- Notre Dame, we've heard, can have some wicked long lines. We went at 10 AM on a Wednesday morning and walked right in. But this is not something to save for the weekend.
- The audio guides are 5 euros each. They don't take credit cards or break large bills. There is a Rick Steves podcast that covers Notre Dame under the Historic Paris Walk title downloadable on iTunes.
- Climbing to the top (400 steps) is covered by the museum pass, but you don't get to skip to the front of the line.
- The church still holds mass and you will not be allowed to take pictures during the service. Also there is an understood "dress appropriately and use your inside voice" guideline here.
- Included in the Historic Paris Walk is a stop at the Deportation Memorial behind Notre Dame. It is a memorial to the 200,000 French victims of the Nazi concentration camps. It was under renovation when we went, but I would highly recommend stopping for a few minutes if it's open.
- St. Severin, another stop on the Steves walking tour, has a lovely playground behind the church. It is a perfect pause in the day...as long as that day isn't Sunday, when the gate is locked, we discovered.
- St. Chapelle offers concerts throughout the summer and fall. Although the posters and brochures hung all over Paris to advertise them may mislead you, know that the tickets are about 30 euros each and you need to make reservations in advance.