Monday, April 23, 2012

Day 23 - Sainte-Chapelle, Conciergerie, Vedettes du Pont Neuf, How to Become Parisian in One Hour

Wednesday 18th April 2012
The manifesto has a detailed and lengthy day of potential activities listed but I let hubby sleep until 9 oclock.  He's edging on sick and I sure don't wanting him getting any worse. I may have mentioned the manifesto before.  This is the name of our itinerary masterplan. It is ridiculously lengthy.  It is packed with hints and maps and transport details. It started at something like 60 pages with an even thicker wad of supporting documentation that has been getting progressively lighter as the trip progresses.  It is the sort of thing that you show to the family and they roll their eyes and laugh.
On a long trip, domestic concerns will persist in raising their ugly head.  Hubby is concerned about the need to wash his socks.  He wants to visit the Laundromat.  He’s checked our information book at our apartment and he’s all set to go. We loiter showering and so on and head out into the cold wet day at about 10:45. There is nothing inviting about this weather.
We struggle with the map but eventually find our target laundromat. It is not manned. The guy sitting in the corner by the door looks more like a homeless person keeping warm than an employee.  Obviously the idea that perhaps we can leave a “bag wash” to pick up later is not a goer.  We decide we’ll just wash the socks and undies in the shower ….now we think about it that is what our well travelled friend suggested we do!
Next target destination: the “real” boulangerie.  The map gymnastics resume. Perhaps they should instigate an Olympic event.  Something like that gymnastics one where the lovely nimble young girls leap and somersault while keeping the ribbon going in graceful spirals. We might need to make the event more inclusive.  Young. Nimble. Hmm.  We find ourselves at the intersection of two major roads that we can easily identify.  Now, if only we could figure out which direction is which.  We’re spinning the map like a game show wheel and bearing perplexed expressions.  Within the space of a few minutes two kind ladies who speak no English try to help us.  The second of the two is able to clearly communicate which direction is “Bastille” and which is “Nationale”.  Merci. Oh Merci! I say with a beaming smile.  We are finding Parisian people to be very patient and gracious.
With our orientation problem solved we quickly locate the bakery we visited yesterday and from there it is just around in the next street to our destination.  The boulangerie is a gorgeous shop and very busy.  We wave people through ahead of us in the line while we figure out what we want.  Two croissant is easy. 4 of these things in the basket that are like light as air choux puffs with a sweet dusting on the top.  A brioche with peel in it.  Not like any peel I’ve ever had before. This is lovely and the brioche is fresh and cake soft.  We’re after a small loaf of white bread like yesterday and don’t see anything likely. Most here looks very crusty.  I really don’t like crusty bread. We decide we’ll head back to the other place and get another little loaf from there. .. Hubby takes the opportunity to try a baba au rhum.  Too au rhum for me I’m afraid.  We have a show tonight so rather than eat out we’ve decided to eat in. For dessert we can’t resist a little tiramisu and a something or other Melba.  Then it’s back to the grocery store to get a few items including some salmon to have with the bread and crème fraiche for dinner.  Done. 
I leave hubby to it and head upstairs to our apartment to unload the many bags we’ve been accumulating.  Poor Man.  There’s a big queue forming in the market as he tests Parisian patience by failing to weigh and put a sticker on the banana.  He races back to weigh the banana and rushes back to the checkout and completes the transaction.  Glad that’s over. How embarrassing! Back at the apartment he walks in with the comment. “That was a disaster” and goes on to relate his tale of woe.  He starts unpacking the groceries.  No banana.  All that and no banana. Oh dear. He figures they’ve got it there labeled with an instruction “if anyone comes to claim this banana ban them from the shop!”
We take a leisurely brunch and eventually I’m caressing the handrail of the beautiful staircase on my way to put my shoes on and heat out into Paris. It is so cold. We’ve finally been driven to donning our thermal underwear, so we’re mostly nice and toasty warm in spite of the weather.  However our faces and lips are cold.  I think to myself that I must adopt the Parisian fashion of wearing a scarf stylishly draped around my neck.
We retrace our steps of last evening and walk across the Seine to the no 24 bus stop and again alight near Notre Dame. It’s even colder here. We head along the island and before long I notice signs directing us to Sainte Chapelle. There are lots of tourists about.  Some people I think may be locals are walking ahead of us. They are dressed well. Oroton umbrellas.  Nope. I hear them speak later. Turns out they are an Australian family.  The queue is long and it is raining but there is nothing else for it. I line up. Hubby follows. “What are you doing?”  “Lining up.”  I’m afraid it is something of family trait to both ask and answer with the bleeding obvious.  Many in the queue have umbrellas and generally people stand fairly close to the people in front. It helps keep us protected and warm.  The rain drips down over the arms of my raincoat keeping my handbag mostly dry.  We’re standing outside some black gates embellished with gold.  It would make a nice photograph, but it’s too wet. I don’t want to get the camera out in this.
I’m getting quite good at this queuing caper and am finding I am tolerating it fairly well.  After 50 minutes wait we’re stripping.  Coats, bags, metal objects. It’s an X-ray security set up here, but we know the drill and the police manning the security check do not have to issue instructions to anyone.  Beyond security there’s no more queuing. We walk through a courtyard with construction hoarding and around a corner where we show our museum pass, then it’s in the door. At Sainte Chapelle you first enter an adjoining space where the ceiling is painted in rich dark blue accented in gold with fleur de lys.  It is nothing short of spectacular. I remind myself to breathe.  Bloody Puritans.  I guess the ceilings in England would have made a somewhat similar impact before the paintings were scrubbed off in cathedrals across the land.
There is a large sign immediately in front of the doors. “SILENCE”.  People are talking, but in hushed tones.  There is a man sitting over to the side reading a newspaper.  His job is to periodically say  “SHHHH Merci” when the visitors get too noisy.  I love this man and I love the people who pay him. 
We head upstairs via a narrow stone spiral staircase.  It’s a shorter staircase than I am expecting and we emerge into a glorious confection of stained glass.  The colour is vibrant. Rich red and blue dominate, but there are figures in green and yellow and purple.  The effect is indescribable.  It is magnificent I photograph but for some reason the reds are tending not to show up.  I resort to videoing to try to get a sense of the glory of this place.  There is scaffolding where a 5 year restoration project is underway.  It will be even more incredible when that work is completed.  As we stand soaking in the the beauty I notice an Asian girl is staring at the floor.  I look down. The whole space is paved with ancient tiles in elaborate patterns. Beautiful.  Hubby finds a large plastic framed page with information about he windows and the subject matter in them. Eventually we figure we’ve had a good look and we should make way for some of those people out in the rain. We head back downstairs.  As we browse the seemingly improvised gift shop: Shhh!! Merci. Shhh Merci.  I look around. The sudden crescendo of noise has died down.  With one last Parisian glare, the Shh man is going back to reading his paper. I guess he’d think me a bit strange if I went over and kissed him.
Our entire viewing of Sainte Chapelle has taken about half an hour – not including the queue, so we have spent about double the time in the queue than we did in the chapel.  Was it worth it?  Yes it was! As we were leaving I noticed that there was an information board about tours being conducted. A range of languages are listed, but only tours in French are scheduled today.
The Conciergerie is just down the street a short way and as predicted, there is no queue.  You enter through a medieval space that was used for domestic staff and therefore is described as very plain.  It may be plain in respect to ornamentation, but it is a magnificently beautiful space with its arched ceilings.  I’m already glad we came in here.  It looks to be in wonderful condition too.  It is very well maintained.  We wander around for a bit admiring the enormous fireplaces. I try to imagine what the place may have been like all those years ago with such a large number of people coming and going. 
To get to the areas that were significant during the revolution we need to go up some stairs.  In the opposite direction is a room with information only in French. That doesn’t take long!  We admire the carvings at the top of the pillars.  Even when not trying they just had to include some detailed work.
Across at the Revolution section we stop at a large screen which gives time line information about the Revolution and the role the Conciergerie played.  There are cells set up to give an impression of the conditions that prisoners of varying means would have been kept in.  The important thing of note is that most prisoners were at the Conciergerie only a short time.  Longer detention periods were usually spent elsewhere.  Prisoners came to this site only shortly before their trial and/or execution.
The information boards in the rooms are generally in French, naturally.  However in each room here there is also a stand with large information cards in various languages, so do look for those.  They help but they do not cover all of the material that is provided in French. Even with just my rudimentary knowledge of the language I can see that the French content would be more interesting. The information cards are worth looking out for though.  One I did take the trouble to read included an excerpt from the diary of a prisoner that talked about the conditions.  This was very helpful for appreciating the women’s yard which you pass through on your way out. 
One of the last areas you reach is the recreation of the cell in which Marie Antionette was kept.  Marie Antoinette was an exception and she was locked up here for weeks. The revolutionary government was trying to use her trial to force Austria to agree to a peace deal. (Marie Antoinette was Austrian obviously). The need to recreate the cell was brought about by changes made to the building after the monarchy was restored.  None the less, the cell as it now stands does cover a good portion of the original cell.  Finally we watch a screen with a presentation about Marie Antoinette. It is basic but useful.
The most moving space of all is the last.  The yard.  As we stand in the quiet courtyard contemplating the events of the Revolution I think how incredible this place would be if they did something like is done at Hampton Court and had actors portraying the revolutionary events that would have gone on here
We’re back on the street in just over one hour. If you have a really great attitude and read every English word provided you might take an hour and a half max.
Things are running pretty smoothly and we now intend to make our way to Vedettes du Pont Neuf for a cruise on the Seine.  This works out beautifully and we arrive at the pier at 5:20pm. Next cruise departs at 5:30.  Excellent.  Despite the bitterly cold weather today, we, along with virtually every other passenger, head upstairs to the open air deck.  The skies have cleared and it’s not actually raining and we have been sensible and worn our thermal underwear, so with hoods up and raingear on, we’re ready.  Commentary along the way is provided in both French and English, but is not always easy to hear.  There are a LOT of bridges across the Seine.  Each one we pass is named and some information about it is provided.  As we pass under each bridge the large group of school children aboard raise their voices to hear the amplification of the sound as it bounces back off the bridge.  Wooooooaaaaahhhhhh starting softly and rising to a crescendo and then back down again as we emerge on the other side. It serves to make the cruise rather festive and certainly hubby and I enjoyed having them on board.  The cruise heads down and does a turn in front of the Eiffel Tower.  As we (the tourists) stand with our cameras aimed only in one direction, the sun breaks through and lights the tower. Perfect timing.
We retrace our route back along the river and notice the Calife at it’s mooring.  We will need to head there in a couple of days for dinner.  On we cruise, past our start point to do a circle around the two islands.  Notre Dame looms over all, but the view of the cathedral is not as good as from the banks of the Seine.  The stand out thing for me on the cruise was bridges.  Old bridges, new bridges, even an old bridge that is called a new bridge; fancy bridges, plain bridges. Stone bridges and iron bridges.  Bridges that were heavily ornamented when constructed and others that visitors insist on ornamenting today with padlocks as a sign of undying love. One bridge is named for a Tzar, another is made from the stones of the Bastille, while a third bears the imperial insignia of Napoleon III.  One thing Paris is certainly not short of is bridges!
As we round the islands and make our way to the pier hubby and I decide we’ve had enough of the cold and head downstairs to get warm.  The commentary is almost impossible to understand inside.  It’s been lovely to explore Paris along the river for the last hour, but now we really need to get home for a break before heading out for this evening’s entertainment.

As we alight from the bus, foot weary and craving some down time, I notice some waist high bushes in the Jardin des Plantes. Rich red and luscious pink frilly confections. Are they tree peonies.  Hubby stands bewildered as I delay our nap time yet again.  Just a quick look.  I have to see the peonies. Spectacular, but I'm as good as my word and admire them briefly, take photos to show mum. Mum would so love this. Then we return to scheduled programming.

Dinner tonight is rather casual: bread, crème fraiche and smoked salmon and the two little desserts we picked up thismorning.  Remember the something or other melba and the tiramisu?  Oh my god, they were sensational! They come in a cute little glass cup.  We figure it would be handier to have 6 than two. Shame we’ll have to eat those again a couple of times to get the glasses.  Tough job, but someone’s got to do it.
We rest as usual until beyond the last minute and race out the door, still in the cold and rain, to find the Theatre de la Main D’or.  I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise that we miss turn for the theatre and walk slightly too far. Turn up.. oh.. it is up the little alley way that looks like it’s way to small for a theatre to be on it.  We are just in time and are shown to two individual seats. Not SO far from eachother but… well… sigh.  Luckily as it becomes apparent an American fellow seated near us took the initiative and rearranged people so that we were together. :o)  Thanks so much :o)
The show was titled How to Become Parisian in One hour.. but it actually takes an hour and a half… not that I’m complaining you understand.  Over the evening Olivier Giraud proceeds to tickle our funny bones with impersonations of both American tourists and Parisians interspersed with entertaining explanations of the two.  Hubby is chuckling away, I alternately chuckle and cringe.  It’s a great night’s fun.  As we laugh and chat leaving the theatre we agree: It must be true. Somewhere back in my ancestry I must have French people… obviously they must have been Parisian. I would have no trouble at all with the required behaviour and attitudes! Clearly more of the world should be Parisian!

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