Laura, Gail and I started our day at 7:30 AM and we all ended it well after midnight. The plan was to try to outsmart the crowds today for both the Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower.
We were up very early to get in line at the cathedral before it opened and ended up being 3rd, 4th, & 5th in the line that was forming. A couple from Australia was first in line and we jokingly said, “We wanted to be first in line this morning.” She turned around with a smile and said, “Just try it!”
I highly recommend bothering to get up early to see Notre Dame if you are ever in Paris. By the time the doors opened there was a small line forming, but nothing like you’d see later in the day. It was wonderful to walk peacefully through the cathedral without being elbow to elbow and echoing with noise.
Notre Dame means Our Lady of Paris. Construction was begun in 1163 and it wasn’t considered complete until 1345. Can you imagine working on something this spectacular knowing you wouldn’t live to see it finished? The exterior was originally painted a different color, but the paint has worn off, leaving the stone to speak for itself.
Notre Dame did not remain unaffected by historic events. The Huguenots (again!) damaged some features of the church in 1548. A large statue of St. Christopher (from 1413) was destroyed in 1786. The French Revolution (1793) found the cathedral being rededicated to the “Cult of Reason”. Many treasures of the church were either stolen or ruined during this time. There was a time when the Virgin Mary was replaced on some of the altars by a statue of the “Goddess of Liberty”. It was a place where kings were married. Napoleon and Josephine’s coronation was held there in 1804. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is published in 1831. It eventually ended up being used as a warehouse.
Finally in 1845, they decided to restore it – taking 25 years to complete.
The church has a massive organ and 10 bells. The largest bell is named Emmanuel and is original to 1681. It weighs a bit over 13 tons. A neat story from WWII: In August of 1944 the Ile de la Cite was taken by an advance team of French and Allied troops and it was the tolling of Emmanuel that alerted the city that the liberation was under way.
Between myself and Gail (especially Gail) a lot of good photos were taken during our time in the Cathedral. Here is a short slide-show for more Notre Dame pics:
As soon as we were done there, we walked back to our hotel’s café and met Elton for breakfast. Then it was time to put on the skates.
Our hope was that if we got to the Eiffel Tower a bit before it opened, then we might have a chance of getting up there without spending half the day doing it. I had tried to book tickets in advance on-line, but none were available.
We decided to try using the RER train because it would get us there the fastest. The receptionist at our hotel said that the Eiffel Tower was just a few stops down the line. Easy, I thought…let’s do it! There was an entrance to the RER train just across the street. So we bought tickets and ran to the part of the station the ticket agent told us to… and jumped on what we thought was the right train – (according to the signs I think it was). We had gone a couple of stops when, fortunately for us, a very nice young lady overheard us discussing our destination and explained that at the next stop we’d need to switch trains. News to us! She saved the day…and we got to the tower around opening time. Evidently, about ½ of the world’s population had the same idea. Utter chaos –and stressful for people (like me) who don’t like crowds.
We stiffened our upper lips and went to stand in line. From the time of arrival to actually getting near the elevator to ascend the tower it was over 2 hours! Just as I was (finally) stepping up to buy my ticket…the ticket person put a sign in the window notifying us that the summit was closed. That meant we could only go up to level 2, not all the way to the top. We figured it was better that than nothing -so up we went.
The next thing on the list for the day was the Place de la Concord. Plan: Hop on the tour bus, drive around the route, and hop off when we got there.
The Place de la Concorde is a massive square that is located with the foot of the Champs Elysees on one side:
and the gates to the Tuileries Gardens on the other.
If you walk through the Garden, you will arrive at the Louvre. It is difficult to explain how big the Place de la Concorde is. Here is a link to an aerial view picture: Place de la Concorde
Like many other places in Paris, the Place has gone through many historical events. It was originally called Place Louis XV because it was created as a setting to display a large statue of King Louis XV.
In 1789 the French Revolution came to town and the Bastille was stormed. In 1793 the king, queen and the mayor were guillotined (along with 16,000 others in France) during the Reign of Terror. During this time, it was the Place de la Concorde that was the location of the guillotine and is the site of the deaths of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette -as well as many other important figures.
Eventually it was renamed the Place de la Concorde and in the 1800’s it was redesigned as it appears today. Traffic is allowed through (several lanes in each direction) so the fountains, the Egyptian obelisk, and other statuary are arranged either on a center island or around the edges.
There are two fountains -each meant to celebrate the waters of France. One is dedicated to the oceans and one to the rivers. Ironically, they were dry when we were there.
The nickname of the obelisk is Cleopatra’s Needle. It is more than 3,000 years old and is from the tomb of Ramses II. It is 75 feet tall. It was a gift to France in the 1800s.
There are 8 of these statues/structures placed around the corners of the square representing major French cities. One of them obviously had broken doors and it looked like a homeless person had made a camp inside. New twist on the tiny house craze.
For Laura and me, there was an added interest here – the Tour de France route for the final day of the race crosses a corner of the Place de la Concorde to connect to the Champs Elysees. To end the Tour, the riders complete a loop course 8-10 times that includes riding up the Champs Elysees, circling the Arc de Triomphe and passing back toward the Louvre and around again. From this point on -we were definitely basking in the knowledge that we were able to experience a portion of the loop the riders will be riding in just a few weeks.
The pick up point for the Hop On/Hop Off bus was conveniently located next to the Place de la Concorde and the bus was ready to take us to the next stop – The Arc de Triomphe.
Again – crowd mayhem. There is an underground walkway you take to get to the Arc. It is essentially a big traffic circle and there are 12 roads coming together here! We walked around it and enjoyed seeing it close up –but didn’t want to climb up it.
The radicals from the French Revolution controlled Paris until 1799, then Napoleon Bonaparte seized power. Napoleon erected many military monuments including the Arc de Triomphe.
The Arc was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806. It was built between 1806 and 1836 (with a work stoppage for awhile in the middle) in honor of those who fought for France, in particular the Napoleonic wars. There is a tomb to the Unknown Soldier from WWI underground with an eternal flame. It is 162 feet tall, and 150 feet wide.
By then someone (and I mean me) was “hangry” so we wandered a short way along the Champs Elyssees and randomly walked up to a restaurant.
I love it when a random pick turns out to be really enjoyable. Gail has pretty much been batting clean-up on whatever Laura orders, so he went straight for some ice cream on the menu rather than order a sandwich and proceeded to make us all jealous while we were having our lunch.
Of course we all had to have some ice cream for dessert after his rave review (too busy eating it to take pictures). We all agreed it was some of the best ice cream we’ve ever had. It came with a scoop of chocolate, caramel and vanilla. When Gail was ordering, he wanted to ask the waiter how to pronounce “crème glacée” . The waiter didn’t blink an eye when Gail pointed to the words and asked…He responded: “Ice cream!” We got a pretty good laugh out of that.
Next we all had some ATM business to attend to and afterwards found ourselves near another convenient Hop On/Hop Off stop…so we did (hop on). Unfortunately the Hop On/Hop Off bus can seem like an eternity when all you want to do is get back to your hotel and you’ve already been around the circle more than once.
One last history snippet for today:
The Restoration was from 1815 (when Napoleon was defeated) to 1830. The bridges and squares were returned to prerevolution names during this time. In 1830 the July Revolution ushered in Louis Phillipe I as a constitutional monarch. He was later overthrown in 1848 in an uprising. Louis Phillipe was replaced by Napoleon III who is considered the first President of France. His was a time of major public works –making wider streets, a new market, aqueducts, parks and sewers. Around 1860, Napoleon III annexed a wide area around Paris creating the boundaries it knows today.
To be continued!