Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 21, 2011: Paris - Gare du Lyon, Airport, Cars Rouges, Aquarium, Notre Dame, Dinner, Montmartre

Today I traded traveling partners - Mark came in to Paris for the weekend, and Mom headed back home to Canada.

We started off by meeting Mark at Gare de Lyon, where he came in on the TGV (just over 3 hours - more than twice as fast as driving!). It's a huge station with more than one set of platforms, so I parked Mom on a bench and wandered about for quite some time, figuring out where he'd be coming in (and discovering the locations of the Left Luggage depot and the airport shuttle while I was at it).

When Mark arrived we got on the airport shuttle to drop Mom off. It's good that we had as much time as we did, as it was a long and convoluted walk from our bus drop-off to the actual departure desk in the terminal. But once we got there it was straightforward, and the woman at the desk had a strikingly familiar-sounding Toronto accent.

With Mom off in the air Mark and I headed back downtown. We rode about on the Cars Rouges, since I still had day 2 of the tickets available. It was hotter and sunnier than the day before, so we welcomed a chance to escape to cool darkness by visiting CinéAqua, the Paris aquarium. It's not the best aquarium we've ever visited, but it was fairly decent (and better than our disappointment with the aquarium in Washington DC).

We had time for a visit to the interior of Notre Dame Cathedral. It's such a popular site that the line-up to enter was quite long, and then visiting the inside was a fairly tedious experience of squeezing along between the crowds. But it was beautiful and dramatically huge - although I noticed that the windows were not as ornate or uniform in style as they were at Chartres. The nearby streets were fun to walk around - some of the few we'd seen in Paris with the small pedestrian-only character of other cities in Europe. Most of Paris is so grand and large that it can seem a bit alienating after a while - Mark and I agreed that it's nice to visit but not for us to live there.

We returned to our hotel where we were met by Clémence for dinner. She'd picked out a good French restaurant for us which was, happily, in another pedestrian-only neighbourhood. We ate a fantastic meal of rich French food: marrow, charcuterie, escargots, roast pork with honey, and veal. Sadly no room for desert - we were truly full.

After dinner we went for an ambitious walk across Paris up the hills of Montmartre (poor Clémence - she was wearing fabulous-looking heels, unlike me in my sensible sandals). Sacré-Coeur church was pretty amazing at night - gleaming white and lit up against the dark night sky. We had a drink at a café with a view of the church, then walked around it to take photographs. In front of the church people were drinking and partying on the steps, with a view of Paris spread out beneath them. It's one of the few places in France where permissive public drinking has backfired - there was broken glass underfoot everywhere. Ah well. We took the funicular train back down the hill (fun!) and the Metro back to our hotel.

Up close with a ray

Beautiful underwater colours

Shark nursery!

The gargoyles of Notre Dame de Paris seem particularly menacing

A coppery green spear amongst Notre Dame's statuary

Afternoon sunlight streams into Notre Dame (aided by some strategically placed spotlights)

The enormous interior of Notre Dame (note how the nave doesn't follow an entirely straight path; I learned at the National Cathedral in Washington DC that this is done to help create the illusion that it is longer than it really is)

Walking the pedestrian streets of the St Michel neighbourhood

One of the famous Metro entrances

Gargoyle of Sacré-Coeur springs out against the night sky

The tower, all in white, seems as intricate as lace in this lighting

Late night partiers on the steps of Sacré-Coeur

The view of Paris below

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