Day 1 (again)-Notre Dame and medieval France

I’m going to have a second Day 1 (Day 1B if you prefer) because today was really the first full day of traveling the city.  Our course goes chronologically through the history of Paris from it’s roots in medieval times, so today we traveled to Notre Dame and Ile de la Cite, the island in the Seine where it is. Notre Dame is just as breathtaking as you would expect.  Reading Alistair Horne’s “Seven Ages of Paris” before our trip,  listening to Professor Savage’s lecture outside of Notre Dame, and seeing the models and technological renditions of medieval Paris in the archeological crypt.  I was really able to picture what medieval Paris would be, with the narrow streets (we passed the narrowest street in the city), merchants, artistans, prostitutes, and the lot in area in front of Notre Dame, and large stone fortifications around the city.

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We went down to the archeological crypt first, which was not as creepy as it sounds (no skeletons on the trip..yet).  When it was a Roman settlement, there was a Temple of Jupiter, Roman baths, and stone fortifications where Notre Dame now stands.  It was really cool how they used technology to help show what the Ile de la Cite was like in Roman times.  There were giant iPad like devices where you could zoom in and out and have a panoramic view of what the settlement looked like or the progression of building Notre Dame.  They also had a simulator on the ruins where the marina once was.

they had a computer image of what the marina would have looked like
they had a computer image of what the marina would have looked like

After going through the crypt we took a break for lunch and SIM card purchasing.  Cell phone debacles were a lot more complicated than I anticipated.  The first phone store we went to didn’t support Verizon, now this one told me I couldn’t use Viber (which only uses WiFi anyway) and couldn’t give me a straight answer about if I would get a notification when my internet usage was running low.  So now I can make local calls and send local texts and use Viber to talk to people in the US when I have WiFi.  I am hoping that I am not inadvertently racking up roaming and data charges, but we’ll see when the phone bill comes!

We got lunch at a counter-service creperie in the streets between Saint Michael fountain and Notre Dame.  I got Crepe #2—Nutella and banana, which is my favorite.  There were no seats at the creperie we bought lunch at and the Haagen Daaz lady chased us away from the chairs outside her store, so we ate lunch on the curb.

Crepe #2-nutella and bananas
Crepe #2-nutella and bananas

After lunch we climbed Notre Dame.  I should preface this with saying that this was a group of ten Lehigh students who spend every day at school climbing countless stairs, so we tend to get a little competitive and show-offy when there is a staircase involved (it sounds odd, but you gotta impress others with your calf muscles and supreme stair-climbing abilities).  However, we have now been away from Lehigh for two months and my stair-climbing abilities were definitely lacking.  The stairs spiral and there are a lot of them, so my quads definitely got a workout.

We were able to go to a balcony between the two bell towers and then on top of one of the bell towers.  It’s the 850th anniversary of the cathedral this year so they are renovating the bells and we unfortunately couldn’t go see the bells themselves.  I have a video of the bells playing that I am going to try to upload to the blog later on.

I didn’t know this before, but the gargoyles of Notre Dame are not the winged creatures that perch on the balcony but the waterspouts that are shaped like monsters.  The winged creatures are actually chameras (pronounced ka-mer-as).  They were not part of the original structure but added in the 1800s.

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We toured the inside of the cathedral after walking down the spiral staircase.  I wasn’t as blown away as I thought it would be.  The stained glass was incredible but the overall cathedral is a little dark and so big that you cannot take it all in from any angle.

When walking around, I heard prayers that are said at Mass but didn’t think anything of it until I looked to the side of a frieze I was looking at and a priest was actually saying mass in English while tourists were milling around.  It was so odd that they let a mass happen while people were touring the cathedral.

After Notre Dame we got ice cream and ate it along the Seine.  The cones had a scoop of ice cream a little bigger than a ping pong ball, which you would never find in the US, but it was still more than enough ice cream (which says something about US portion sizes haha).

 

our group eating ice cream along the Seine
our group eating ice cream along the Seine

We were free to do whatever we pleased for the rest of the day, so our group walked over the bridge of locks (another post on that later) and past some vendors set up along the Seine.  Some sold hand drawn pictures of Paris and others vintage books—as in some were from the 1920s and cost less than 20 euro.  I wanted to buy one of the books and would have if I spoke more French and could have actually read the book!  I also bought my first souvenir–a small canvas that has a street near the Eiffel Tower painted on it–for 15 euro.

We also visited Shakespeare & Co., the bookstore that was once the hangout of the likes of James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.  The store is no longer in it’s original location, but was still so amazing with inspirational quotes written on the walls, old typewriters on a shelf, and a wall full of notes that people leave for others (pictures to come at a later time because the upload time is taking forever)

We headed back the Cite Universitaire after that, and had some adventures later last night (which I will be blogging about in a separate post because brevity isn’t really my thing).

 

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