Monday, September 14, 2009

Paris, Day 11: Notre Dame & outer neighborhoods

We opened Day 11 with a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral, which wasn't a far walk for us, considering it was the same island.

We missed out on free breakfast but managed to grab some croissants and coffee on the way. We knew we were in for a lot more stair climbing, because the towers of Notre Dame were included on our museum passes. We knew we wanted to go up the towers, and we also knew that the lines move very slowly, as they only admit 20 people every 10 minutes). So, we opted to do that first.

However, I wasn't sure where to g
o, so we stepped inside the church first, where a guard informed me that I had better get in line outside tout de suite. Thus were we able to nab a spot in line as the first group to enter Notre Dame of the day. (By the time we were admitted, the line was ridiculously long.)

Several hundred steps later, we were at the middle viewing level, where you get up close and personal with Notre Dame's gargoyles.

We climbed all 422 steps up the south tower and got to check out the 13-ton bell. Once you get up there, you have 365-degree views of Paris, which is really impressive, even on a semi-cloudy day like ours. We even got to see our hotel from there!

When we descended back down to ground level, we finally got to walk around in the cathedral itself. One of the things you notice about Notre Dame is how dark it is. The windows let in some light, but the church definitely gives "gothic" a new meaning.

The church is also immensely old, as are its windows. Tons of interesting historical things happened here, including the coronation of Napoleon and the funeral of Charles de Gaulle. It even claims to hold the original crown of thorns. Yeah, that one.

Then we stopped for some crepes, bought some fun trinkets at Pylônes, and hopped on the Métro to the outer northeast arrondissements of Paris. It was three line changes to get there, but it was worth it.

Our first stop was Parc des Buttes Chaumont, a ver
y dramatic park in the 19th arrondissement.

Before we could go into the park, we h
ad to find more delicious food for a picnic. Our usual choice was to find a grocery store, and indeed I was able to sniff one out not too far from the park. We grabbed more sandwiches, salads, cheeses, fruits, and chocolates. Not too shabby.

We set up our littl
e picnic lunch on a sloping hill, where we enjoyed our various tasty goodies. I had one of the best pears I've ever had in my life, and Mike enjoyed more figs. We sat near some pot-smoking teenagers, whom Diane called "hooligans," to our general amusement.

The park, built in 1867, consists of many beautiful hills and paths. It's unbelievable to think that it was once a quarry, but at least it explains all the hills.

One of the most famous sights in the park is the Temple of Sybil, at right. We visited the temple for some lovely views and photo opportunities.

On our way up to the temple, we took the photo below; see if you can find us in this Where's Waldo shot.

The park is also home to a lovely waterfall, unbelievably enough. I have never visited a tropical country, but for the briefest of moments, I felt like I was in Hawaii.

The green quiet of the park was a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. We strolled the paths and bridges, and even got to feed some duckies.

Look at this little guy, eagerly jumping into the pond. I like to remember his little tail wiggling as he steadied himself on the ledge.

We left the park and got some postcard stamps, then got back into the Métro for a visit to Paris's largest and most famous caches of dead folks: Père Lachaise Cemetery.

The cemetery is like none I've ever seen before. American-style cemeteries are rolling, green hills punctuated by tombstones and monuments. In P
ère Lachaise, the dead have raised tombs, effigies, mausoleums, and other monuments. There is no grass to be seen, giving the streets an eerie "city of the dead" feel.

We set out to visit a specific set of tombs. You've got to have goals in a place like this, or you'll get lost (and end up a permanent resident). Our goals were to see the following tombs, and we did, though not in this order:
We even saw one more on our journey: Frédéric Chopin. As you can see, the cemetery contains many of the rich and famous, hence why so many Parisians want to be buried here.

Estimates of the dead here range from 300,000 (the number of tombs) to 1 million (the estimate of total bodies). And then they throw out people if you haven't been visited in 10 years. So much for eternal rest.

After we got back into the land of the living, we took the M
étro back downtown for some nice happy hour drinks at Le Fumoir. The group had two rounds of various drinks, including cosmopolitans, white Russians, vodka with caramel liqueur, and Cuban daiquiris. I myself had Cuban daiquiris in both rounds, because frankly it was the best and most wonderful drink I've ever had in my life.

Then we had a nice dinner at a restaurant that I didn't get the name of, and then walked over to some jazz clubs. The jazz shows were a little expensive, so we decided to call it a night, but then it started completely downpouring on us (and me without an umbrella). We tried to shelter for a bit, but there was nothing for it - we ran home in the pouring rain for a few blocks.

At first I was pretty mad, but then Dave yelled something like, "Come on guys, there's no shelter here!" At that point we just started laughing and making fun of Dave, a.k.a. Captain Obvious, and we dried off in the hotel.

The bad weather ending to this day worried me immensely about our next day: outdoors in Versailles. But, as you will see, it turns out that we were OK and actually had some pretty nice weather.

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