Up even later, making breakfast at about 9:45 then off to the Metro. We wisely purchased a book of ten tickets. This works out cheaper and is more convenient. I recommend it for anyone thinking of using the Metro.
We took the train to Pont Neuf, emerging by the river, not far from St Chapelle, our intended destination. Naturally we had to sit and have a coffee within viewing distance of the Tai Chi group. Mirinda insisted we try at the restaurant but were quickly turned away towards the café. Here we settled down to a mid morning cup.
It was odd watching a group of older people try to copy a man dressed as a waiter as they swirled and dipped in slow motion but it was somehow slightly soothing. As they stopped for a break, we settled our bill and left.
St Chapelle was originally built to hold the relics of the passion. Louis IX founded it in the 13th century, building a parish church on the ground floor and a magnificent stained glass chamber above. It stood beside the royal palace on the Ile de la Citie, the original starting point of Paris.
Originally such relics as the crown of thorns and a fragment of the true cross were deposited in the chapel. A lot of gold and silver objects were collected over the years and the chapel must have looked fantastic with glinting metal. Then the French Revolution happened and the precious metals were melted down, the other relics were moved to other places.
The guide book claims that the actual crown of thorns was moved in 1793 to an antiques cupboard and then handed to the archbishop of Paris in 1804. It is still, supposedly preserved in the treasury of Notre Dame. It is displayed every Good Friday. I find this hard to believe. Not that it’s displayed, of course, but it’s a bit rich to expect a crown made of thorns to last 1200 years without turning to dust.
Anyway, that’s all by the by. You enter the chapel by the small parish church at the bottom. This room is richly decorated with painted columns and some lovely religious paintings of various heavenly hosts. It also houses the shop. This isn’t as tacky as it sounds and it’s a nice introduction to St Chapelle itself.
The top floor of the chapel is a magnificent room full of the most intricate stained glass I’ve ever seen. The walls are all coloured glass. The room is also full of tourists making too much noise and taking flash photographs with digital cameras that make that annoying little electronic click because they have no idea how to turn it off. This all creates a sort of strobe effect, ruining the true and natural effect of light on glass. A shame. Most other places have a ban on flash photography – actually the evolution museum did yesterday – why not here? The photo is ruined with a flash anyway. And these people don’t actually experience the glass or the space, they just click and whirr around it then leave.
I must say that I found a St Sebastian. Around the walls, beneath the stained glass are quadrifoils, pictures painted in small areas in the form of a four leaf clover, and one of them is of his martyrdom. I didn’t need a flash to take a pretty good photograph.
We left the chapel and wandered next door to the Conciergerie. It was part of the royal palace up until the end of the 14th century. Charles V’s father had a few advisors who were the victims of assassination and this freaked out Chuck so much, he fled the island and settled in the Louvre – that’ll be before it was an art gallery. When this happened he appointed a steward to look after the place. This guy was the concierge. He was in charge of keeping the place looking good as well as lording it over the prisoners in the jail.
A lot of famous prisoners have been incarcerated here at one time or another but it’s most famous was Marie-Antoinette who spent her last few days here before going off to meet Madam Guillotine. Her original cell is no longer there but it has been reconstructed on part of the actual site. The place is rather sobering when you consider it was used by the French Revolution for its tribunal and more than 2,700 people were tried before Fouquier-Tinville until he was also tried and executed. The Terror was a crazy time. In one room, there is a list of over 2,000 victims.
The place is a lot more sober than the chapel next door. There are no bright paintings or stained glass windows. Fewer flashing cameras. The original buildings above ground have been removed and all that is there now are reconstructions. However, it does not stop the women’s courtyard from having its own feeling of poignancy. In one corner of this courtyard is the ‘Corner of Twelve’. It was here, in groups of 12, that prisoners would wait before joining the cart that would take them to the scaffold.
As we left it was with great relief that we spied the huge and growing queues for both St Chapelle and the Conciergerie. There’s a lot to be said for getting out early on a Paris weekend!
We sat across the road in a brasserie and had a simple lunch of omelette (me) and chicken (Mirinda) with the famous Parisian frites (we call them fries…or chips). We spent most of the time watching the oddly dressed groups wandering by. It was with interest that I noted the new Japanese fashion for young girls. Having already given the world the shorts over tights thing, they are now wearing wrap around dark skirts over three quarter leotard-like cut off tights and ballet slippers.
We sat opposite an interesting family group. At a glance you would think they had stepped right off a trailer park. He looked a bit like Earl, but without the moustache, she was a brunette version of his ex-wife. The son had a wonderful mullet and looked every bit the hick red neck. What made the image all rather confusing was that they were, firstly in Paris, and secondly drinking red wine. They were a jolly threesome, nonetheless, and enjoying each other’s company enormously.
Apres dejeuner, we set off down towards the Ile de Louis as, apparently, this is now a tradition. A huge queue was lined up waiting to climb the tower at Notre Dame while being entertained by a mime artist in a rubber mask. Or perhaps it was the other way around. Suffice it to say, we walked on by with merely a chuckle.
Two lovely ice creams were purchased in a parlour where the ice cream is fashioned into gorgeous flowers upon cone stems. I had pistachio, Mirinda hazelnut. Both were wonderful.
Rather than suffer like yesterday, we hopped on the Metro at Sully-Morland and were back in the hotel in time for a rest before dinner.
A delicious dinner was had at an Italian restaurant just up the Blvd Gobelins called Romains. Lovely pasta, lovely Chianti, very high pitched but lovely waitress. Unfortunately they were out of baba so my limoncello sorbet was sans baba. I think it made all the difference. It was very refreshing.
I should state that it has been very hot in Paris this time. I’m talking sweaty hot not your English warm. Farnham Park in the wind is looking pretty damn pleasant at the moment. Mirinda wishes she was a bird. Presumably a swallow as there’s a few about at the moment.