Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Adventures in Paris, Day 4: Epic Times

Day 4 was, condensed into a single word - epic.

Husband and I got things started by visiting the Chateau de Vincennes, accessible by both our metro passes and our Paris museum passes.  I recommend passes, Mesdames et messieurs!

The Chateau de Vincennes is one of the oldest royal residences in France, and it is home to the tallest medieval keep (meaning lookout/stronghold tower) in Western Europe.  What’s that?  You just can’t picture the keep?  BOOM!

We snapped this photo ourselves, and we even caught the tricolor flag in the breeze.  Yes, it is that epic in person.  And the keep is accompanied by castle and chapel, seen here and here:

Looking inside the chapel was incredible.  The lightness of the stone and the airiness of the arches, combined with the quiet of the relatively deserted surrounding estate, made for a spiritual setting.  Check out this stained glass and the ceilings for yourself:

Also – tell me, does it get any more epic than this? – someone had set up an army of pigeons in the chapel.

We couldn’t divine their significance, but I just assumed the French equivalent of Boo Radley was hiding in one of the oratories, obsessively adjusting the plastic birds whenever a tourist bumped one askew.

Now, onto the keep.  A certain dear friend of mine is working on a brilliant epic fantasy novel, and my mind was flooded with thoughts of her setting as we examined this building.  It is moated (there’s a MOAT!), with a drawbridge (a DRAWBRIDGE!), and the only original entrance to the center tower was across a narrow bridge from the second floor.  See below.  We were also able to run around inside, like it was a giant playground.

This place seems to be little known, but if you find yourself in Paris sometime, don’t miss it.  Chateau de Vincennes is easily accessible, costs nothing if you’ve gotten metro and museum passes, and it’s a magical place, one where you could easily imagine knights crossing swords while the king watches from the tallest tower.  You could probably even come DRESSED as a knight if you wanted.  The staff seemed very unruffled.

Anyway, after Vincennes, we returned to town (our camera battery was dying, because we forgot to recharge it!  Alas!).  While our trusty digital companion re-juiced itself, Husband and I grabbed a late lunch.  Then we reconvened and set off for the Paris Opera House, the epic, legendary home of the Phantom himself!

Unfortunately, we were justthisclose! to catching the last tour of the afternoon, but missed it, because a rehearsal was happening.  Hopefully we’ll make it back to the Opera House for a proper tour after we return to Paris from London this weekend.  In the meantime, here’s a picture of the statue outside.

Right by the Opera House is one of the most epic shopping experiences imaginable: the Galeries Lafayette.  It’s a French department store mixed with architectural marvel.  The main store is circular with a domed ceiling:

Yeah.   That’s how the French shop.

To cap off the day, we metro-ed our way up to Montmartre, the famous district where you’ll find the Moulin Rouge, the Sacre-Coeur, and plenty of artists.  Husband and I hiked and hiked our way up hundreds of stairs – literally, for Montmartre is on an enormous hill – and stopped in a well-known square full of street painters and cafes. 

Also, we seem to have caught a leprechaun on film.

But then we kept walking up, until we reached the highest point in Paris – the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Isn’t it beautiful?  It is breathtaking in person (not least of all because you have to slog up a mountain to reach it).  Since the Sacre-Coeur was built in the late 1800s, a continuous vigil of adoration (prayer) has been kept day and night within the basilica’s walls.  Someone is always praying there, no matter the time of day or date of year.  THAT is truly EPIC.

The Sacre-Coeur is so highly respected and revered that photography is not allowed inside.  You’ll just have to go see it for yourself.  And you should.  We arrived right in time for a service, and nuns were singing from the altar as we made our way around the sanctuary.  Their voices were just pure enough to be calming, and just warm enough to not feel haunting.

Then we discovered, to Husband’s delight and my chagrin, that we could take a tour of the dome of the basilica.  From the outside.

That means on the roof.

Setting aside my dislike of enclosed spaces, my discomfort with heights, and my pre-arthritic knees, I followed Husband up the 300 stairs to the summit.  It was a mix of claustrophobic spirals,

And narrow steps behind a guard rail as we went past the bell tower and roof ridgepoles.  In the end, though, the view was worth it.

I got over the heights thing after a bit – at least, enough to enjoy the experience.

And Husband was LOVING IT.  He was beaming even as we descended the creepy doom spiral at the end of the tour.

We returned triumphantly to the square in Montmartre for dinner.  Though the cafĂ© we selected for our dining pleasure that evening was surprisingly unimpressive in terms of cuisine, we did get to observe a group of “fellow” American tourists (a term I use warily).  They used just about every bad American-tourist-ism in the book, from calling the waiter “garcon” to asking why they couldn’t get French fries with their food, since they were in France and all.

But there was this.

Heinz condiments!  A spot of Pittsburgh had followed us to Paris!  AWESOME!

Have we reached the paramount of Epic-osity?  Tune in next time, mes amis... and in the meantime,

Paris, je t'aime!

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