Even if you are waking up early to go to Paris, you are still waking up early. Even though you know you will see the Eiffel Tower and have mass at Notre Dame, you want to roll over and fall back asleep. Sleep is an amazing thing, but sometimes it just gets in the way. Begrudgingly, we woke up early the fifth of June and made sure everything was packed. We put on our backpacks and started the walk to St. Pancras Station.
I loved that little walk. Very little traffic on the streets from either wheel or foot. You get the feeling that no matter how big this city is, you own a little bit of it at this time. It is a feeling of total comfort and safety. The only other time I felt this way was in New York City in the financial district on a Sunday morning. And every time I’m in New Orleans.
Security at the Eurostar was smooth and efficient. It was easy finding our seats and the journey was smooth. So smooth and easy was this trip that we didn’t realize that we where under the Channel. There was no announcement just a very long tunnel. When we arrived in France the only thing different was the announcements were made in French first instead of English. We enjoyed some croissants on the train and soon arrived in Paris.
After a potential scam at the train station, but one easily avoided thanks to Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door, we took the metro to our hotel. I keep having an argument in my mind of what underground system was better: London or Paris. Both were amazingly easy to use and with my MetrO app we never had to really travel to get from place to place. Except this time when I did everything wrong.
Emerging from the underground, I made a mistake at looking at my directions. Usually I’m even better than Magellan at directions especially since he never made it back alive. However, I was off my game this time. It sucked at the time, but in hindsight it was actually kind of nice. It was a cool, sunny morning and the Parisians were out and about. Our hotel was in a very residential neighborhood far from the maddening crowds. They were at the boulangeries, the patisseries, and the butcher shops. They were carrying the groceries they just made home. Yes, our backs and legs were screaming at this time but it was a happy mistake.
However, exhaustion from waking up early and previous days adventures was creeping on us. We wanted to see Paris now, but we knew we were useless in our current state. We took a brief nap and showered. We were feeling refreshed enough to visit the Moulin Rouge. On the Metro ride, I did my best not annoy Cristina with my pitchy rendition of “Come What May.” I think she appreciated this. We thought about seeing a show but the prices were just way too much for our budget. We did take some pictures and then walked down the Boulevard de Clichy. If were ever home sick, this was the perfect street for the cure if the cure is Bourbon Street. Bars and sex shops lined the streets. Some guidebooks talked about how racy it was, but for people who have lived near Bourbon it was no big deal. Now, I’m not sure if I would want to go there at night. Starving, we just went to first street café we saw called the Omnibus Café. This was nice little touristy place. Our waiter was fast and friendly. I ordered a salmon and cheese sandwich; Cristina got a chicken and cheese sandwich. It was tasty and filling, so I don’t have any complaints.
We then looked at the time and started to wonder if we could make Notre Dame in time for mass. The restaurant was across the street from a metro, and we made it to the cathederal in no time. My thought when see Notre Dame for the first time was “Jesus Christ” which on further review is an appropriate response. The building is gorgeous. Cristina started singing a certain Disney tune which made me reconsider my refraining from my earlier solo. But come what may. We got into the tour line but then worked our way into the mass.
Mass in Notre Dame was almost an out of body experience. First of all, they don’t stop the the tourists from visiting. While I’m genuflecting, some guy from Iowa with a camera is taking pictures to post on his facebook. Then you realize that you are too acting as tourist while you are supposed to be contemplating the mystery of faith by looking at the stained glass rose and the gold cross that adorn the building. Even though they give you the readings in English and German, the mass is in French so during the homily you really have to fight the temptation to act like a tourist or just go with it. I’m sure it’s a small sin; I’ll have to check my iPad app to make sure though. All the while, you keep reminding yourself that you are taking part in a mass held at the Notre Dame Cathedral. Cristina told me she almost wept thinking about it. After mass, we decide to inspect the flying buttresses that our history teachers made such big deals about. Also, we wanted to get nice views of gargoyles. We sat on a park bench behind the church and enjoyed the view of the Seine for a little while.
Finally, we wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and specifically at night. I feel bad for the Eiffel Tower. It is the symbol of Paris and it truly photographs well. However, I don’t think it lives up to the hype on first viewing at least for me. I had, and so did Cristina, the same reaction that most Parisians had when it was first erected: it’s not very attractive. It’s brown and metal, yay. But it’s power is seductive. You keep looking at it as if it will tell you a secret. You look around looking for the lovers kissing. You try to avoid all the men swarming like bees selling miniature towers. You avoid the friendship bracelet scam (again read Steves’s book). Then you notice there an amazing number of people here. Not just in line, which are very long, but around the tower as well. Everyone is trying to have their Paris moment. That perfect picture followed by that perfect kiss.
We had ours a little farther away. We sat on a park bench and waited for the tower to light up. And we waited. The clocks turned nine and were racing to ten. The damn earth’s tilt was having a laugh at us. We took a short nap earlier, not a long one. We were exhausted. Louis XIV’s opulence was calling us to Versailles the next day. One day we would see the tower light up in that city of lights. Just not on this trip.