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.