Monday, June 26, 2006: Today, our family leaves Washington, D.C. bound for two weeks in France. This is the first time we take our sons, Alex, 15, and Adam 13, to Europe. My mother-in-law drops us off in the pouring rain at Dulles International Airport.
I’m wearing black knit gauchos, a white stretch lace-top cami and a gray knit hoodie; it’s just like wearing pajamas!
Our flight is relatively uneventful. We sit in row 44 in the back of the plane; I sit squeezed between the two boys. I sleep fitfully for maybe 2-3 hours, probably helped by the Valium I often take while flying. Before going to sleep, we watch Failure to Launch with Mathew McConneghy and Sarah Jessica Parker, which is just okay.
On flight, the flight attendants serve dried-up ravioli. Adam refuses to eat at all. He also refuses to eat breakfast. Alex, on the other hand, eats everything heartily.
Tuesday, June 27: After arriving in Paris, we take the shuttle bus to the hotel, where we meet a guy who works with a friend of ours at the U.S. Geological Survey. We leave our luggage in the luggage room at our hotel, Grand Hotel des Balcons, and head out for brunch. We’re starved! Alex, Adam and I eat omelets and Mike has rarebit. Luckily we only have to walk around a short while because our hotel room is ready by 1:00.
We check in, take naps and showers, then we venture out to explore Paris, heading first to the Île de la Cité, one of two remaining natural islands in the Seine, in the city’s fourth arrondissement.
Our first stop, Notre Dame de Paris, also known as Notre Dame Cathedral or simply Notre Dame, is a historic Roman Catholic Marian cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité. Widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, Notre Dame is the cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Paris. The cathedral treasury is notable for its reliquary, which houses the purported crown of thorns, a fragment of the True Cross, and one of the Holy Nails — all important relics of the Passion.
Notre Dame de Paris is often reputed to be one of the most prominent examples of Gothic architecture in both France and in Europe as a whole. The first period of construction was from 1163 into 1240s. During the radical phase of the French Revolution in the 1790s, much of the cathedral’s imagery was damaged or destroyed. An extensive restoration removed remaining decoration, returning the cathedral to an ‘original’ Gothic state (Wikipedia: Notre Dame de Paris).
We want to climb to the top of Notre Dame, but sadly we just miss the cut-off to climb.
Since Mike and I came to France three years earlier without the boys, I don’t take any pictures of the outside of Notre Dame on this trip because I had taken many photos during our 2003 trip. Sadly, at the time of this trip, I wasn’t so much into photography as I am now. I don’t take advantage of the many photo opportunities offered by Paris. 😦
The South Rose Window, a central element of Notre Dame that looks over the transept façade, was constructed in 1260 as a counterpoint to the North Rose Window, which was built in 1250. Like its north sister, the South Rose Window reaches 12.90 meters in diameter and, if you include its bay, a total height of nearly 19 meters. This rosette is dedicated to the New Testament (Notre Dame de Paris: South Rose Window).
We stop for an early dinner at The Brioche Cafe, where we have pizzas and wine. 🙂
After going to Notre Dame, we head to Shakespeare and Company on Paris’s Left Bank (Shakespeare and Company). Having been an English major at the College of William and Mary and having attended an exhibit on Hemingway’s life at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, I was keen to see the place where Hemingway and other famous writers from the 1920s gathered to share ideas and get inspiration.
The original Shakespeare and Company was opened by Sylvia Beach on 17 November 1919. During the 1920s, it was a gathering place for writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford. It closed in 1940 during the German occupation of Paris and never re-opened.
In 1951, another English-language bookstore was opened on Paris’s Left Bank by American George Whitman, under the name of Le Mistral. Much like the original Shakespeare and Company, the store became a focal point for literary culture in bohemian Paris, and was frequented by many Beat Generation writers.
In 1964, after Sylvia Beach’s death, Whitman changed his store’s name to Shakespeare and Company in tribute to the original venture. He described the bookstore’s name as “a novel in three words,” and calls the venture “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.” Customers have included Henry Miller, Richard Wright, and Anaïs Nin. The bookstore includes sleeping facilities, with 13 beds, and Whitman claims as many as 40,000 people have slept in the shop over the years. Regular activities that occur in the bookshop are Sunday tea, poetry readings and writers’ meetings. Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, now runs the shop. George Whitman died at the age of 98 on December 14, 2011. (Wikipedia: Shakespeare and Company (bookstore))
We happen upon a store, Diwali, where I bought scarves the last time we were here three years ago. This time, I buy two pink scarves. We also buy a lot of postcards and stamps and a phone card at the post office.
We then head to The Eiffel Tower, built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, which was to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the French Revolution. It was constructed in 2 years, 2 months and 5 days, a great technical achievement. It was a feat of French engineering personified by Gustave Eiffel, and a defining moment of the industrial era.
It was only intended to last 20 years, but Eiffel encouraged scientific experiments that saved it, in particular the first radio transmissions, followed by telecommunications. Since the 1980s, the monument has been regularly renovated, restored and adapted for an ever-growing number of visitors.
The Eiffel Tower is France’s symbol in the world and today it welcomes nearly 7 million visitors a year (around 75% of whom are foreigners), making it the most visited monument that you have to pay for in the world (La Tour Eiffel: The Eiffel Tower at a Glance).
We have to wait in line for nearly two hours to get to the top level, where we eventually have grand views of Paris. The second level would have been fine, because the top level is indoors and extremely crowded. There are lines to go up and lines to go down at each level. It’s frustrating! Alex says all along he doesn’t want to go to the top, and then he keeps saying, “See, I told you it wouldn’t be worth it!”
Because of our long wait, we’re able to see the monument all lit up after dark, which is something different for Mike and me. Some of these pictures are taken by the boys, who have fun taking artistic pictures.
When we return from the Eiffel Tower, we find Creperie des Arts on rue Saint-Andre-des-Arts, where we have dessert crepes topped with ice cream, chocolate and Chantilly (whipped cream). After this, it’s quite obvious that the French beat Spain in the World Cup soccer game. Everyone is in the street celebrating, yelling: “Allez! Allez! Allez!” People are honking, dancing in the streets and singing. So much unleashed energy!
Even after we return to our hotel and get into bed with our windows open, we can hear the celebration. I fall asleep to a cool breeze and joyous honking on the streets.