Disneyland for Grown-ups (Paris, Day 1)

So, I would say the reason why everyone loves Paris is it’s like Disneyland for grown-ups. There are rides to go on, and all sorts of things to see. There are people selling knicknacks and drawing your picture. The first metro I got on, a pair of musicians got on right after me and started playing on the train right next to me. What a way to be welcomed to the city!

Façade of Saint-Denis Basilica

After I finally arrived at the youth hostel and dropped my bags off, I went to Saint-Denis, the beautifully constructed church that officially started the Gothic architecture movement (although there were Gothic rumblings well before Saint-Denis). Many famous French people are buried there. Although austere and simple by comparison with the (Baroque) churches I visited in Germany, the groin vaults were indeed impressive. Looking up at them, I had to wonder how medieval craftsmen had managed to plan and construct them and be impressed. The stained glass was also incredibly impressive, but they were so detailed that I didn’t bother to take many photos specifically of the glass. I think you’d need a more specific lens and lots of patience to get cool photos, and I was more impressed by the architecture anyway. I thought it was neat though when I noticed the zodiac symbols worked into the floor leading up to the altar. Unfortunately Pisces was under a row of chairs… :(

 

Afterwards I went to Sacré-Cœur at the top of le Butte Montmartre, which was very impressive. The square layout (plus apse) is unusual, but stepping inside was perhaps more impressive than being inside Saint-Denis, since there are only four columns supporting the huge dome. The resulting curved triangles (pendentives) that join the ceiling to the domes are a genius of invention in church-building, stemming from the Byzantine church, the Hagia Sophia. Circling the ambulatory behind the altar, I felt rather like a medieval pilgrim (albeit much less spiritual), since the tourists were making use of the ambulatory for the same purpose that pilgrims had done. Namely, to see the church without disturbing the people in the pews. Unfortunately there were no photos allowed inside, so I just have this photo of the portico.

By the way, church architecture lesson: Churches are built in the shape of a cross. The long part where the pews are is the nave. The cross arm(s) are called the transept(s) The altar is in the apse. If the church was built for pilgrims, the apse will have an outer aisle called an ambulatory, where they could pray at shrines to different saints without disturbing people in the central church.

I had a look around for my meeting place with Diana and bought some little prints of watercolors of a couple of major landmarks in Paris. Paris is obviously the place to be if you’re an artist. There were performers, painters, sketch artists, and artists of accosting people to get tourists’ money at Montmarte. Perhaps because this is a favorite place for painters, the streets around Montmartre all looked very, well… Parisian. There was even an accordion player. Also, Michael Pitt, if you’re ever looking for a place to work, this contact juggler had a huge audience captivated…

Eventually I found Diana, and we had dinner at one of the outdoor cafes I had passed in my search. Dinner was excellent – I had a seafood salad with shrimp, muscles, and lox, and Diana recommended a white wine to go with it which was very good (of course, this being France :P). We wandered around and chatted for a while afterwards and had ice cream, and at about 10:30 we realized it was getting quite late and we really ought to get to bed since we both had things to do early in the morning. First instance of Paris transportation hating me: they’re doing nightly construction on the track along my line, right at the place where my stop is, which means I have to get off a stop early and walk the rest of the way home after 10pm.

One Response to “Disneyland for Grown-ups (Paris, Day 1)”

  1. Angus
    | Reply

    I love the view from the steps of Sacre Coeur (if you can see over the heads of all the other tourists, buskers, pickpockets, etc who also are enjoying the view). I agree that the church architecture is cool there. But you can surely spend the whole time in Paris seeing beautiful churches. It’s a must see city with fabulous culture and attractions. Right up there with Washington DC and London for one of the best cities in the world to visit in my opinion.

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