For the rail journey back to Paris from Versailles, it is my opinion that you should be sitting on the left side of the train. This will allow you a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty on the Île des Cygnes. The view of the statue is not that spectacular from the train but at least it will save you a trip to the small island. It was raining while we were on the train, not a good sign. Take the time on the train to plan out your journey, the RER C do stop at various touristy sites, including the Eiffel Tower and the Musée d’Orsay. Or you could follow me and stop at Notre-Dame.
Sit on the left, to have a view of the smaller Statue of Liberty on Île des Cygnes
Due to the rain, we had to make our way into Sainte-Chapelle, it is part of the complex known as the Palais de la Cité, which includes the Conciergerie and the Palace of Justice. This is a time when the Paris Museum Pass came in pretty handy. Most of the crowd were queuing in the rain, but with our Pass, we skipped through them and kept ourselves dry.
“Anyone with claustrophobia should stay away from Sainte-Chapelle’s narrow winding stairs,” I muttered. Luckily, they have one each for going up and down. Please do not mistake the 1st floor (the one with the gift shop) as the main chapel, it is instead the lower chapel, one used by the palace staff. The upper chapel is where you should be heading, which is located on the 2nd floor.
The stained glass windows tell the story of mankind from Genesis through to Christ’s resurrection
“Thank the lucky stars that the sun is shining outside!” my wife exclaimed giddily. The sunshine highlighted the scenes depicted on the 15 stained glass windows as the whole chapel was suddenly bathed in a multitude of rainbow colours. The scenes are not merely just there to beautify the chapel, it is actually made up of 1,000+ scenes telling the story of mankind from Genesis through to Christ’s resurrection.
You are supposed to read the story from the left to the right, from bottom upwards. This is true for the first 14 windows, just when you are nearing the stairs to exit the chapel, you will be facing the final window. This particular window is supposed to be read boustrophedonically.
“Boustrophedonically. Bottom upwards BUT alternate rows are read right to left, then left to right,” I replied.
Word of the day: boustrophedon
We soon found ourselves in the rain again after exiting from the chapel. The drizzle did not stop us from making taking a brisk walk to the entrance of the Conciergerie. It it were not for the rain, I think we would have given this place a miss. In case you do not know, this was once the prison during the Reign of Terror — a period in French history between the fall of the monarchy and late 1794.
In fact, the weather was not the only factor in our decision making. Unless you have not been reading my Paris report for the past few weeks (unashamed plug), you would have realised by now that by virtue of having the Paris Museum Pass, I have been entering all these tourist sights easily without having to queue for the tickets.
Besides the doom and gloom associated with prisons, La Conciergerie is also famous for being the place where Queen Marie-Antoinette spent her last few years.
Photography at Sainte-Chapelle would be a challenge for most photographers, most of the time relying on the sunlight outside the chapel, including trying to fend off the multiple flashes from other non-tech savvy tourists from spoiling your photo. Not to mention the strain on the neck to ‘read’ the story depicted in the scenes. If you have the time, while trying to avoid the crowd at Notre-Dame Cathedral, do drop by and check out this chapel. I bet you will be having neck pain by the time you are done with the tour.
Make sure you take a photo of the reconstituted prison cell of Marie-Antoinette and the small chapel where she used to pray. There is also a plaque with the names of more than 2,000 executed by the guillotine, including that of Marie-Antoinette and Robespierre.
Behind the Palais de Justice complex lies a quiet plaza filled with trees and benches — the Place Dauphine. Someone up there probably heard our prayers and gave us about half an hour of warm sunshine. After all the walking, it was time to rest our legs and do some people watching. Maybe it was the rain, most of the benches were empty and people were just coming out from the cafés. We had the whole place to ourselves (pardon the pun).
“I don’t feel like I am in a city the size of Paris and this is right in the middle of it,” mutters the wife while she massages her feet. This place does really have a small village kind of feel, the place is surrounded by rows of shops so all you could see is a small opening at the end of the square, in the direction of Pont Neuf.
“We could do with something like this back home.”
“Probably our own home garden. After some massive replanting and landscaping,” I interjected.
The clouds were gathering when we arrived at the entrance of Notre-Dame. The square in front of it was filled with tourists, tour groups and because of the soon-to-be-held Presidential elections (now over), there was a political gathering of some sort. “I doubt we would be able to make it inside before the rain comes,” I told my wife. So we whipped out our cameras and started snapping.
There are a couple of interesting things about the façade of the cathedral besides its gargoyles. Standing in front of the cathedral, look towards the lower left hand corner. Try to find the statue of St. Denis, it is easy — he is holding his head. Legend has it that he was beheaded for his beliefs, but he just would not die easily. He picked his head up, washed it and walk until somewhere thereabouts near the current cathedral before dying. Because of this miracle, they built the church.
Try to find the statue of St. Denis, it is easy — he is holding his head
There are 28 statues of the Kings of Judah all lined up too if you are prepared to count each and every one of them. We did. In fact, their real heads are not currently on their
body bodies, they are located at the Cluny Museum. Right at the centre of the cathedral is Mary in her Rose Window and below her is the carving of the Last Judgment. Pay attention to the demon, he appears to be cheating by pushing down on the scales!
Now, after you have feast your eyes on the façade, look towards your feet and try to find Point Zero in the square in front of the cathedral. It is slightly off centre if you are standing with your back facing the cathedral. It is hard to miss. But quite commonly missed by all the tourists standing nearby. I think we were the only ones taking photos of it. This is the centre of France and also the centre of Paris, in which all distances are calculated from.
Just as we predicted, the skies parted and rain fell heavily. Everyone ran helter-skelter across the square. Luckily we came prepared and within minutes we were both in our raincoats. It was a dampener that we could not pay a visit inside the cathedral. We walked across Pont au Double and took shelter at Square René Viviani. This square pales in comparison with Place Dauphine but for the moment, it played an important role.
This was not the Paris that I had planned but what could we do? Man against nature?
The rain lasted for 15 minutes before slowing down to a drizzle. This was not the Paris that I had planned but what could we do? Man against nature? Right next to the square is the world-famous Shakespeare & Co. book store and as we were inflicted with the same disease as most tourists, a complimentary photo is required as proof of attendance. A modern ‘I was here’ graffiti.
(to be continued)