It was our first full day in Paris, and there was so much to see and do in this magnificent city. It seemed appropriate to start our explorations in the center – at the heart of Paris – to start where Paris did on the big island in the middle of the river Seine. Standing proudly at that center is the famous Notre Dame cathedral.
Because of the horrendous fire that recently ravaged this iconic treasure, it was totally encased in a protective barrier wall, and therefore, we couldn’t get very close, let alone inside.
While standing near it and looking first hand at the damage it sustained, I felt grateful I had the opportunity to visit it a few years ago and had the chance to see what it looked like inside before it burned. What a shame! What a loss!
At the same time, however, it was comforting to see all of the construction efforts they were making to restore it to its former beauty and that they were already making such fantastic progress.
We wandered around the building, gaping up at the majestic ornate exterior. Eventually, we reached the south end of it where Pont Neuf juts out into the Seine at the southern end of the island that Notre Dame is perched upon.
I noticed that a river cruise boat was boarding passengers below us at the dock, so I suggested we also climb aboard, take a one-hour cruise, and see a little bit more of the sites of the city from the vantage point of a boat. The girls liked that idea.
We enjoyed views of Paris’ famous attractions as we glided along the water, passing by the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and of course, Notre-Dame Cathedral. We also saw a lot of the details of the statuary and carvings on the bridges that you can’t see very well from the street level, if at all, without passing underneath them on the river.
From the boat, we could also see Parisians enjoying all kinds of activities along the bank, including a lively swing dance. It looked like a whole lot of fun, and I secretly wished I could join them!
Following the river cruise, we began exploring the Left Bank area. To start with, the river is lined with many vendors selling artwork, old posters, photographs, books and maps, and a few typical types of souvenirs in the permanent wooden housings. Each one is like a closet that they can throw open the doors and have everything on display instantaneously. They are chock full of attractive and artful curiosities.
At the end of the block, we spotted a small park with a rose garden setting and agreed this would be the perfect spot to enjoy our picnic lunch. The park, called Square Rene Viviani, is a welcome oasis in the middle of the city. We enjoyed eating our sandwiches amongst the locals and delighted in feeding the crusts to our sandwiches to the local pigeons as well.
After our respite, we wandered further through the square away from the river to continue our explorations.
Being the gardener that I am, the curiosity of the place was undoubtedly the oldest tree of Paris, an acacia planted in 1601. It is kind of a sad, tired-looking old tree, and it has to be supported with cement pillars, like an old man on crutches, but it’s still growing by golly! Imagine being that old…
Just beyond the tree near the exit of the garden is another ancient specimen, a tiny church. Like Notre Dame, it is one of Paris’ oldest religious buildings.
The old church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre was located on the Pilgram road to Santiago de Compostela. The church was at the intersection of two Roman roads and was built during the 13th Century. The Gothic facade of the church has disappeared, but it remains an excellent example of the transition between Romanesque art and Gothic art.
At this point, the old twisty lanes of Paris meander through the marketplace beyond tempting us with all sorts of yummy things to eat. It was buzzing with activity and exciting things to look at in the shops. Errin even spotted a pirate along the way!
We crossed back over the bridge to start making our way back to the Metro Station we had emerged from earlier that day. Along our route, we passed Saint Chappelle with its stunning stained glass windows, the Palace of Justice, and the massive building next to it, the Prison where Marie Antoinette was held until her execution in 1793.
There is a striking feature on the outside face of the imposing Corner Tower of the Prison – a massive, fancy, and commanding clock.
Since 1371, the Clock Tower has housed this extraordinary clock. Initially, its primary purpose was to help the people regulate their activities during the day and night. A couple of 100 years later, it was enhanced by gilding, and a multicolored face was also added and surrounded with allegories of Law and Justice.
A Latin inscription is found below the clock, which when translated, says, “This mechanism, which divides time into perfectly equal twelve hours, helps you to protect justice and defend the law.” It’s a fine specimen of a clock, that’s for sure.
Just across the street from the clock and the Palace of Justice is the plaza leading to the Cité Metro station, where we had emerged a few hours earlier.
In the morning, when we first arrived, we had wandered through stalls that were set up as a marketplace that had all kinds of cute little birds for sale. Grace is enamored with animals of any ilk, so naturally, she was drawn to these sweet small avian specimens that were so close and approachable.
In the early evening hours, once we were back at our hostel and rested a bit from our adventure, we went back outside on the lively streets of Montmarte in search of a gluten-free creperie we discovered was nearby. Just as the map stated, it was only a block or two away, and we were soon cozied up to a sidewalk cafe table, ordering our dinner crepes and enjoying a refreshing smoothie.
Absolutely stuffed after consuming those lovely crepes, we slowly sauntered back to the hostel, admiring Sacre Coeur and some entertaining graffiti artwork on buildings along the way.
Yet another satisfying day of discovery in a new environment and culture, just what traveling is all about, the experiences!