We are now on what is known as the Left Bank of the Seine — the Rive Gauche. Here along the riverbank, we would have been happily perusing the secondhand bookstalls located on the parapet if it were not for the sudden downpour a few minutes ago. Looks like nature took precedent over our itinerary which I am now pondering, telling my wife, “Let’s go find some shelter.”
This bring us to the Église Saint-Séverin, a Roman Catholic church. If you had problems locating the gargoyles on Notre-Dame, just scoot over here and you could see how ingenious the builders were. They built the decorative gargoyles as functional drain spouts. “Maybe the waters will wash away the evil spirits,” exclaimed the wife. Indeed.
Go and find the narrowest house in Paris on 22 Rue Saint-Séverin
*Tip 1: If it is raining, just duck into any churches nearest to you. Not only is it a good place for shelter, you could probably be visiting places that no other tourist would. Now wouldn’t that be great?
*Tip 2: Walk along Rue Saint-Séverin, try to find house No.22, this is the narrowest, skinniest house in Paris. Just 2 windows wide.
Light rain was falling when we left the shelter of the church, making our way in between the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter. The nearest shelter is Musée Cluny or also known as Musée National du Moyen Âge. This museum is covered by the Paris Museum Pass, how can we turn it down?
Unless you are interested in tapestries, this is the museum for you. I was actually more interested in solving the mystery of The Lady and the Unicorn. This is a series of 6 tapestries, of which the first 5 depict the five senses: taste, hearing, sight, smell and touch. It is the last tapestry that has elicited the most number of interpretations. So feel free to visit the museum and tell me what you think!
“I think it is just a simple tapestry with no hidden meanings,” I joked.
“No. I think it means a sixth sense. Since the first 5 are already about the senses, why can’t this be another one?”, the wife replied.
Noticed how we are visiting all the sights with shelter? While making our way to Le Panthéon keep your eyes open for the Sorbonne. This is the historical house of the University of Paris. But today, the word Sorbonne no longer refers to the university.
If you don’t have the time, just read on
The Panthéon was initially a church for Saint Genevieve but it is now used as a mausoleum for distinguished French citizens. “Why did we go out of the way for this?” asked the wife. “Wait till you see the inside,” came the reply.
Inside the Panthéon, lies a Foucault’s pendulum demonstrating the rotation of the earth. If you have extra time (around an hour), you should also visit the crypts. But if you don’t, just read on. Beneath the building lies the crypt of the famous dead, a who’s who of French history. At the first section, you will find the tombs of Voltaire and Rousseau, opposite each other. Further on to your left lies a couple of famous writers including Victor Hugo, Émile Zola and Alexandre Dumas.
Inside the crypt: Hugo, Dumas, Voltaire, Rousseau and the Curies
“OK, I admit it, I only know Hugo and Dumas,” I answered sheepishly. “Hugo? Isn’t he that fat guy from Lost?”
“That is Hugo Reyes. Knock knock! Who’s there? Hugo. Hugo who? Hugo jump into the lake.” “That’s lame,” countered the wife.
Last but not least, are the remains of Pierre and Marie Curie on the Northern side (right side). “I hope they are not radiating,” said the wife. “You made a pun? They discovered Radium.”
Tip 3: As you come out from the Panthéon, look towards your right. On the walls of the building are names of famous scientists, physicists, explorers, etc.
A quick walk down Rue Clovis and we found ourselves somewhere around the Métro station of Cardinal Lemoine. We took the Métro all the way to Odéon on Line 10. There are plenty of cafés around this long strip of road known as the Boulevard Saint-Germain. You can spend the afternoon here people watching. But we had another place in mind, somewhere near Saint Sulpice.
Café de la Mairie
You won’t miss this as long as you find yourself at Place Saint-Sulpice. With the church behind you, look to your right. It is situated at the corner and the front of the café is lined with small rounded tables, suitable for people watching. Because of the unpredictable weather, it was sunny when we arrived at the café, we decided that it is safer to be seated inside.
A few moments of referring to our phrasebook and some amount of finger pointing, we managed to order some baguettes
The place was almost full but we found a spot near the entrance next to their big windows overlooking the Place Saint-Sulpice. Looking around, I felt that we were probably one of the few who were non-locals, and that was proven when the waiter came over and rattled of a few lines of French.
A few moments of referring to our phrasebook and some amount of finger pointing, we managed to order some baguettes and 2 cups of hot chocolate. I forgot to mention that it was freezing outside, not because of the temperature but because of the wind. A few sips of the hot chocolate and we were drawn to the famous French pastime of people watching.
The art of people watching is not something new, we have probably done it once in awhile
People watching is not something new, we have probably done it once in awhile but here in Paris it is more evident. Even the coffee tables and seats are arranged to face outwards rather than inwards! Don’t get me wrong, this is not voyeurism. This is an innocent activity of observing people around us. For instance, there is a family of 4 French adults sitting across us, they are talking excitedly with someone, I’m guessing, who is the family friend. Probably about their holidays. An American lady is sitting on our left with her afternoon wine and a book in her hand. She doesn’t seem to be enjoying people watching hence the book. Next to her are probably 2 university students after class, trying to escape the cold weather outside, this I gather from the thickness of their coats, probably twice the size as compared to ours. After serving us, the waiter is chatting with his chef outside, they are the ones who are oblivious to the cold, but then again, they are smoking. Smoke and enclosed areas are a big no-no here.
Surprisingly, there isn’t much activity going on outside, the Place is almost empty. The people walking past the front of the café appears to be mostly university students or the occasional white-collar French. Seems like the unpredictable weather has everyone staying at home or inside cafés similar to ours.
Sorry for the lack of names, I have misplaced the payment stub that you see next to my cup of hot chocolate. Once I find it, I will update the caption. The food arrived quite promptly and maybe partly due to our simple lunch earlier, we finished them pretty quick while in the process of people watching.
It seems that this café is also a famous haunt of Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Talk about in the company of the high and mighty.
“Why is the name so familiar?”
“This is the Saint Sulpice church made famous by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.”
Unfortunately for us, the church was already closed when we finished our tea. If not, we would have been able to see the gnomon and the famous brass line on the church floor. Maybe some other time, perhaps. I did specifically mention Dan Brown’s and not Tom Hanks’s version because the church did not allow them to film.
We just had to be content with the fountain located at the Place Saint-Sulpice, also known as Fontaine des Quartre Evêques (Fountain of the Four Bishops).
Jardin du Luxembourg
Actually, my main aim of visiting this huge piece of greenery in Paris was to locate the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately for me, the statue is under restoration. So we had an hour to kill before the final itinerary for the day. If you happen to have time and in the area, pack yourself a picnic and enjoy the gardens. Yet again, I was admiring the well-manicured lawn and squarish trees.
Finally we made it to the ‘ugliest’ building in Paris, the building that horrified the town planners so much that they pretty much banned all tall buildings within the vicinity of central Paris. It is sometimes said that the view at the top is the most beautiful in Paris — because you can’t see the tower itself.
It is sometimes said that the view at the top is the most beautiful in Paris — because you can’t see the tower itself
The ticket is not covered by the Paris Museum Pass and because of renovation works being carried out at the restaurant level, tickets currently are selling at a discount, because you only have access to the top floor (58/59th floor).
Having not been on the top floor of the Eiffel Tower, we had nothing to compared with. But from what we experienced, it is indeed the most beautiful view. You get a 360-degree unobstructed view of Paris including certain landmarks pointed out. Be there before sunset to enjoy identifying the various landmarks peppered around Paris.
Be warned though, it is very very very very cold up there. We were there in late April and even though it was not raining, and we were in our coats, it was still too cold. There wasn’t much of a crowd which was quite comforting, considering the crowds at the Eiffel Tower.
Day 2 Verdict
The unpredictable weather after our trip to Versailles put paid to most of the itinerary near Notre-Dame. We also failed to enter the famous cathedral, not to mention getting wet and seeking shelter in a park. Tour Montparnasse was too cold for us to wait for the sunset which was the initial plan. If you are planning to use the Métro at Gare Montparnasse, be prepared to walk a long distance. I think it was a good 400m of walking, maybe more.
But we had a great time people watching coupled with good food. Versailles was also pretty much worth it despite being there for only half a day. Actually, the day’s best food is coming up, in the next post!