Part 7A, Sing the bells of Notre Dame
First up for Saturday was a trip to Île de la Cité, an island in the middle of the river Seine, the river that goes through the middle of Paris. Île de la Cité is known as the “heart of the city”, so its no surprise that it is home to “Point Zero” the place from which all distances in Paris are calculated. However, it’s a little more well known for being the home of the cathedral of Notre Dame (Our Lady). Paris tip #7 – don’t pronounce Notre Dame like the University in South Bend! (Correct: Note-re Dahm. Incorrect: Noter Daaame)
The inside of the church was plenty impressive, but it was the outside that was really awesome. It’s kind of like with the palace at Versailles: I’ve seen churches that are similar to the inside, but the outside was unlike anything I’ve seen before. In particular, it is covered with interesting gargoyles. I think I could sit and look at them all day long. Flying buttresses are significantly cooler looking than they sound. This was definitely the best outside of all the churches we went to in Paris.
Sara and I were thinking of putting out a book entitled, “Oliver pukes on the sacred relics of Europe”. It would be a picture book, maybe something nice with big glossy pictures, like a coffee table book. We certainly got a head start on this book during the course of this trip. Notre Dame was no exception.
You can climb the tower of Notre Dame for a good view (like everything in Paris) but we skipped it (as we did with Sacré-Coeur). The thought of all of those tight, cramped stairs with the kids and all of our gear just seemed like trouble. We decided to save it for the Arc de Triomphe, which we heard had a nice wide staircase.
Just outside of Notre Dame is the entrance to the Paris Archeological Crypt. I wouldn’t really recommend it, it’s sort of boring, but it is pretty quick to go through, covered under the museum pass, and has one other big advantage: buttons to push. There’s nothing Evie likes more than pushing buttons in a museum, and this was the only one in France that we went to with buttons. So she was happy.
We went to a restaurant for lunch, specifically a crêperie because we knew that Evie liked crêpes, and Sara and I wanted some authentic ones. However, Evie’s behavior convinced us not to go to any more restaurants for the rest of the trip. Her behavior was abhorrent; having fits, not listening, obsessing about desert (to the point that she wouldn’t eat anything), spitting out her food, etc. It was a pretty ugly scene (and the waitress wasn’t very nice to begin with). We got out of there as soon as possible.
To top it all off, I was getting a cold, and I was feeling pretty miserable. Specifically a nice little sinus headache was settling in.
Part 7B, Deport me from this memorial
After lunch we headed over to the Mémorial de la Déportation (we had tried to go before lunch, but it had been closed for lunch, so we came back). Basically it is a memorial to the 200,000 people deported from France to Nazi concentration camps. The pictures we had seen looked pretty cool, with a hallway containing 200,000 lighted crystals, one for each deported person.
As we approached the memorial, we saw a lady standing in front of the stairs, a little stick thrust into the bush blocking the way with a little stop sign on it. She stopped each person before they entered and lectured them on the solemnity of the memorial, reminded them not to take any pictures, and telling them not to touch anything.
When it was our turn, she told us that Evie shouldn’t go in. She made us go read the information on the side (which told us nothing we didn’t already know) and told us, after reading it, we could decide if she could go in or not. This of course caused us to reconsider going in. This was about concentration camps after all, maybe there were graphic pictures or something. So we agreed that I would go check it out first, and if it was okay, everyone else would come in.
Here’s the thing: there was nothing graphic in any way. The lady was just concerned whether or not Evie would be solemn enough for her liking. There really was almost nothing to see down there at all. It was just a little stone room with a bunch of writing in French on the walls (they did use a cool font, I will give them that). Anything of interest was behind big, locked gates, including the hallway with the 200,000 crystals! So like, the entire point of the memorial was blocked off, and you had to peek between bars to see it. And why did they close it for lunch, if there was nothing to see or touch or anything?
Well, because the gate keeper couldn’t be there to lecture you and make sure you were solemn enough. I’m sure her head is in the right place. She wants to make sure it is treated reverently. The problem is that, who says her way is the only way to enjoy it? We weren’t there to make trouble or to disrespect anything. So, in trying to make sure the monument is enjoyed “properly”, she ends up making sure nobody enjoys it at all, and misses a great opportunity to educate people (and kids!) about what the whole point of the memorial is.
So I told Sara not to bother and we left. This is probably the only thing we saw in Paris that I would not recommend. It definitely wasn’t cool enough to justify the lecturing (especially not with everything blocked off).
Part 7C, More stuff
Once that was done, we walked over to Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel). There was a long line and we smugly strolled past it, looking for the museum pass line. Unfortunately, when we got to the front, there was a clear sign that said museum pass holders must wait in the line like all the rest of the schmucks. We couldn’t skip the line. Not only did we just get done with a bad experience at the deportation memorial, we had to wait in this long line with misbehaving kids and a sinus headache. Spirits were low.
Just before we reached the pits of despair, a security guard pulled us out and skipped us to the front of the line (I guess because we have kids? He didn’t really explain, at least not in English, and I can’t think of any other reason why we would get to go first). As we got up there, we quickly saw that the line was for security, not to get into the chapel. The chapel shares the building with the court house, so the security was really for the courthouse. There was a separate line to get into the chapel, which we *could* skip with our pass.
Security in Paris is so funny. They peek in your bag, but they don’t dig around or anything. In many cases we happened to have a blanket or something on top, such that you couldn’t see anything in the bag at all, and they waved us through. On top of that, if you set off the metal detector, they just wave you through anyway. Like, “Ah, go ahead, you have kids and about 100 bags, you’re fine.”
Anyway, our mood was perked up a little bit by the unexpected line jumping. Once we were inside, we were standing off to the side to collect ourselves a little bit, and Evie just started jumping off a low stone step. Oliver thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen in his life. Every time she jumped, he would just start laughing his head off. We probably stood there for 10 minutes with her jumping. This was just the mood-lift that we needed.
Sainte-Chapelle is kind of an un-church, almost like an unexpected, nondescript little building in the middle of a bunch of unrelated buildings, as opposed to the big gothic structure of Notre Dame. And yet, it had (probably by far) the best stained glass windows of all the churches. I was pleasantly surprised, it was better than I expected. I would recommend a stop here, although I think it is the only church we went to that you had to pay to see (unless you have the museum pass!)
Sainte-Chapelle is just like two rooms, so we were quickly on our way to the Conciergerie, which also ended up being better than I expected (another use of the museum pass here). Conciergerie is an old prison for guillotine victims, most specifically Marie-Antoinette, but it’s actually pretty cool looking inside (at least compared to what I thought a prison would look like). Specifically the vaulted entrance hall is cool and makes good use of lighting. I think maybe it started its life as a palace, so that could explain it. We were hoping maybe to see a guillotine, but there wasn’t one. There was, however, a series of mannequins in cells to demonstrate what life was like in the prison, and Evie liked that a lot. And plenty of talk about guillotines, of course, so she was pretty happy.
Part 7D, Parlez vous espagnol?
When we were leaving the Conciergerie, Evie was again having a fit, strapped into the stroller and yelling “No! No!” One of the guards started laughing and shouted, “Sí! “Sí!” back at her. This was the 3rd day in a row that Evie was mistaken for Spanish. Why?? Does she look Spanish?
I continued to notice that French babies are ridiculously decked out, and everybody judges us ahard core for 1) freezing oliver, 2) putting Evie in the stroller and not making her walk (and/or having a crappy stroller), and 3) when she falls asleep every day people think she has a condition.
Part 7E, Boats and home
Next up we caught a Bateau Mouche, which is like a big flat boat or barge that takes you on a tour of Paris via the Seine river. The tour was okay. It would be good if you had less time in Paris, or if you did it at the beginning of your trip to sort of orient yourself. By this point in the trip we had pretty much seen everything that we saw on the boat tour. I will say this, there were a few good angles for pictures that you couldn’t get any other way than on the river. Still, in our case, it was just okay.
The one thing we saw that we hadn’t seen before was Pont Neuf or “new bridge” which is, ironically, the oldest bridge in Paris. I really liked all the faces or masks around the edge of the bridge.
We got a little turned around coming home and ended up in a fancy chocolate stop, Le Maison du Chocolat. Evie was going to have a fit, but the man swooped in and gave her a chocolate. He’s like a chocolate superhero! We bought the cheapest thing we could find because everything was so expensive, but it was wonderful!
So we somehow ended up being a nice day despite my bad head cold and some of the worst behavior I’ve ever seen on Evie. It was just a long, long day and it’s really not surprising that Evie was due for some bad behavior. We were so far out of our normal routine, and we were pushing long days with a lot of walking and fresh air, every day for (at this point) a week. So I can’t say that I blame her for that. Plus, we usually require good behavior outside of the house, but we can relax when we are at home. Here, we were worried about the thin walls/ceilings of our apartment, so we were requiring better-than-usual behavior, even at home. I think it was a lot to handle for a little girl.
As for Oliver’s part, between his horrible rash and his growing dislike of the ergo, he was declared the saddest boy in France. He wasn’t really naughty (can babies really be naughty?), just very, very sad. But of course his crying didn’t help anything. Again, not really his fault, and being declared the saddest boy in France is something of an honor.
Still, at the end of this day, I was ready to go home.
Thursday meant more work for me, so I again slept on the couch to avoid waking everybody in the morning. The meeting was at a French company and I was the only one who didn’t speak French. So I was sort of useless here (I prefer to think of myself as eye candy). I did have this moment where I was like, “Whoa, I’m here in a country where I don’t really speak the language on business. I’m an international businessman!” but it passed quickly.
My meeting was close by the Château (castle) of Versailles, where the Sun King, Louis XIV, built an enormous palace and moved the French court. So Sara took the kids on the train and we met there for a picnic lunch (the sandwiches sat in my backpack at my fancy schmancy international business meeting). We spent the rest of the day there, which meant I was stuck in my suit. I shed the jacket and tie, but my shoes weren’t exactly the greatest shoes for tromping around in.
Part 5A, Versailles
The château itself was pretty cool, but I’ve seen palaces before, and this wasn’t a lot different. But the grounds, on the other hand, are flat out amazing! This Louis XIV was immensely rich and powerful, and he kept a huge staff to keep his grounds constantly beautiful. The palace is situated on about 200 acres of land which includes fountains, flowerbeds, decorative hedges, statues, and even an area with a forest of orange trees in containers so that they could wheel them inside during cold weather. Even now it must take a huge staff of people to care for all of this, but imagine what it would have taken before modern conveniences! I imagine there was a grumble or two about hauling gallons of water up to water those stupid orange trees. I guess it’s no wonder the French revolution came just a few generations after.
Evie and I used the “free” bathroom, and I gave her some coins to give to the bathroom attendant. In Europe it is pretty common to pay to use the bathroom (it seemed common in France, but not as common as it was in Italy). Often there is a bathroom attendant who does nothing all day except clean the bathrooms, and your money is sort of a tip to him (it might even be his wage, I don’t know). I saw the bathroom attendant working his butt off all day, and I saw the coins left by others, so I figured we’d toss some on as well.
After she gave him the money, he asked me (in French) if Evie was from Spain. When I answered that we were from the United States, he gave a big booming laugh and clapped me heartily on the back. I don’t know if it was because I answered him in French, which is probably not very typical of Americans, or if it was because we actually paid for the bathroom, which is also probably not very typical of Americans (or maybe just because Evie was dressed so stylishly), but he seemed to find us quite amusing.
Evie and I mostly spent the time pretending we were kings and princesses, respectively. Like, “Oh, I think I will use this room for dancing. What do you think, Princess?” “Oh yes, will you invite me to the dancing, King?” Evie’s favorite parts were the bedrooms. I guess there’s something particularly exciting about seeing where a King/Queen/Princess actually slept. Maybe it’s because the tour covers a lot of rooms that don’t mean much to a kid (dancing rooms, sitting rooms, drawing rooms, meeting rooms, war rooms, etc.), so a bedroom was sort of the only tangible thing she could understand.
Speaking of things that were confusing, when we were walking through the château, we kept encountering very, very strange pieces of art that didn’t belong. Next to some beautiful old ornamental candle holder, you would see a giant fiberglass man-eating plant, or *ahem* a generously proportioned anime babe (whose clothing was not generously proportioned). As it turns out, Versailles had apparently teamed up with famous anime-style artist Takashi Murakami to put some of his art on display. It definitely added a weird, surreal aspect to the tour.
We also took the little train out to the Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, and it was surprisingly cool! The story goes that Marie-Antoinette wanted to “live as the peasants did” so she built this little estate on the grounds of Versailles. I thought, okay, who needs to see a farm? However, that’s not what it was at all. Marie-Antoinette was so rich and protected that she was completely disconnected from reality (this is the “let them eat cake lady, after all), and her “peasant farm” was sort of how you would imagine such a thing if you had only had it described to you through fairy tales (and if you had an army of loyal servants to do the upkeep an make it seem nice). It was actually a really cool place, and definitely worth checking out (at least it is if you have the museum pass and don’t need to pay anything extra to go see it!)
We really liked Versailles. Sara and I both agreed that it was our favorite part of Paris. If you’re considering going out there (it is a day trip from Paris), I would say you should definitely do it. It was well worth the trip.
Part 5B, A long day
After a stressful train-ticket-buying experience, we managed to get back on the train to Paris. It was packed and we had lots and lots of bags. We were getting a lot of dirty looks from people for taking up so much space, but I don’t know what we could have done about it. We had to sit in two different seats with a kid on each of our laps and our bags, stroller, etc. pooled all around us. When it was time to get off the train we had to gather all of that up, manage the kids, and push past everybody to get off of the train before the doors closed. We barely made it on time. This, of course, was followed up by a long walk home loaded down like a pack mule. We were exhausted.
We weren’t the only ones who were suffering. Oliver had developed a bad rash over his entire body, especially his chest, back and face, and he was just sort of not in a great mood. As I said he wasn’t really digging the ergo anymore, and didn’t really want to be carried around all day.
This was the first day we started bribing Evie with a coin for her “collection” if she made it through the entire day without causing any trouble. There’s nothing Evie likes more than money (including, as it happens, foreign money), so this was a pretty effective motivator.
For my part, I spent a lot of the day silently congratulating myself on how excellent my French was. It’s been more than 10 years since I took French, but I found myself able to read most of the signs and understand most of what was said to me. Sara, however, was not impressed. This was mostly due to the fact that 1) I wasn’t great with answering her specific questions about menu items, which are full of idiomatic expressions (for example, you might be able to understand English perfectly well, but still not understand what “over easy, scrambled, or sunny side up” means in terms of eggs), and a lot of times I would freeze up when I actually needed to speak. There were numerous occasions where I understood the person perfectly well, but still couldn’t respond. Then, after the situation was over, I could think of all sorts of French I could have said. Oh well.