After a pretty decent 24 Hours of Cramped but Ok Crossing the World (aka Emirates flight Sydney-Dubai-London), the bestie and I landed at Heathrow feeling pretty seedy (a combination of intermittent sleeping on the plane and a fair few wines) but happy to be on European soil. By the way, the A380 is pretty cool, even though all we got to see of first class was their fancy stairwell to the heavens. Alas, the travel was not quite over; we still had to get from St Pancras to Paris, so after some creative problem solving to our communication plans (when Telstra tell you they’ve unlocked your iphone, don’t believe them!), we zoomed across the channel on the Eurostar, negotiated Gare du Nord and the Metro, and found our way to the apartment that we have been generously given to stay in by friends of Sar’s. Only trouble was, finding the caretakers proved something of a challenge, even with Sar’s pretty good french. Just as we were both about to disintegrate into full-blown delirium induced tantrums, enter Jemma, a saint, a God-send, a rescuer-of-weary-travelers-Canonize-the-girl-right-now Australian who lives in the building and found the cranky caretakers and our apartment…. (Pause in the story on account of I was so freakin’ tired I have no recollection of anything after this point until my humanity was restored the following morning by my first ‘pain au chocolat’. Yep, for those who don’t know, it is basically a chocolate filled croissant.) Thus began a whirlwind day of utter amazement and heart and mind overload.

Stop 1: The Notre Dame
Ok, so most of what I know about Notre Dame comes from a particular Disney movie. I had been warned that I might find it all a bit ostentatious and overdone, but too be honest, I thought it was absolutely beautiful. Surrounding the nave are carvings of Gospel images; the nativity on one side and the Resurrection appearances on the other. I found the walk around the choir perimeter very moving and was struck (not for the only time during this amazing day) at the sheer beauty, creativity and devotion that have been poured into sacred art over the centuries. If only we were still so compelled to display our gratitude to God! I also lingered a good while at the statue of Saint Joan of Arc – what a remarkable lady (and one of my most favourite saints!)

Stop 2: The Sainte-Chappelle
It hardly seems fair that Paris should have two such beautiful churches within one street of each other, but she does. The Sainte-Chapelle is positively breathtaking. Apparently at the time it was built, medieval Europe was looking to France as the ‘New Jerusalem’. You can sort of tell. It is designed to look like heaven. There is light and glass and colour absolutely everywhere. I could have stayed there forever.

Stop 3: The Conciergerie
The architectural wonders of this city never cease… To my Mama, I missed you when I was walking around this palace-turned-prison; we will have to watch ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ when I get home! I even took a photo of Robespierre’s portrait for you. Marie Antoinette’s cell might have been small, but not for lack of space – how on earth did they make such high ceilings???

Stop 4: The Pantheon
Over to the Latin Quarter for a stroll past Sorbonne University… I would totally go back to uni if I could go here! Then to the Pantheon.
Background note 1 – the patron saint of Paris is St Genevieve. Background note 2 – there were LOTS of King Louis’ and they all seemed to like building churches! So when Louis XV attributed his recovery from a serious illness to prayers made to St Genevieve, he went ahead and built a church for her. Isn’t that nice? The architect’s job was to build a basilica that would rival the church of St Peter in Rome. Apparently it has turned out similar to St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Not that I’ve been there yet, but a pretty impressive couple of comparisons, yeah? It’s name? Well, originally it was the Abbey of St Genevieve, but it was only just finished in time for the French Revolution. Enter the National Constituent Assembly… Being such humble chaps as they were, and so amenable to matters of faith, they decided to turn it into a mausoleum for the great men of Paris, hence ‘Pantheon’. Thus the somewhat imposing statue of the National Convention where presumably the sanctuary would have been, and the quite mesmerizing Foucault’s Pendulum in the centre. At least the recounting of Genevieve’s life in images still grace the wall. In BIG. Wow. We also meandered through the Luxembourg Gardens before heading back to the Metro and on to…

Stop 5: La Tour Eiffel
So, obviously I’ve seen plenty of picture of the Eiffel Tower before, but they don’t really convey just how TALL it is, or how beautiful. Talk about a photographer’s dream (and I took plenty). The queue was well worth it, though how anyone anyone is insane enough to take schoolchildren up to the top is beyond me. Also, I thought I was afraid of heights. Apparently not! Yes we walked back down from the second level – that is a LOT of stairs!

Stop 6: Montmartre and The Sacre Couer
Across town again for a lovely dinner in Place du Tertre and a wander around the artist’s quarter, Montmartre. The final stop of the day was the Sacre Couer, a truly beautiful church that overlooks the city. With no photos allowed inside and an impressive observance of quietness by visitors, this place made for a beautiful and reflective end to an extraordinary day. Prayers are maintained in this church 24 hours a day. Pretty impressive, huh?!

AND THAT WAS JUST DAY 1!!!!!

Day 2 was a little less hectic, probably because 14 hours solid of walking can really compound the jetlag! Back to the great patisserie and the fresh fruit shop for breakfast and on to….

Stop 1: L’Arc de Triomphe
For those who live in Newcastle… You know how Jesmond roundabout is just itching to have something cool on that expanse of grass? How about a miniature of this??? In short, the architecture is tres impressive, the stairs are MANY and the view is fantastic. Must be the biggest roundabout in the world!

We wandered from L’Arc de Triomphe down the Champs de Elysee, the shopping avenue of the world… Sar brought clothes, I wistfully looked at windows to Cartier and Swarovksi and kept walking! It is a long walk, but a lovely one, punctuated with a lovely lunch and culminating in:

Stop 2:
The Louvre
Nothing in Australia goes anywhere near preparing one for the sheer size of this place. The MAJOR downside to visiting on Wednesday is that on Tuesday, The Louvre is shut, so the crowd doubles the following day. Notwithstanding my serious dislike of large and discourteous crowds, I could have spent days, probably weeks, looking at the many wonders contained there. For those who think the Mona Lisa is disappointing, I disagree. Like a typical tourist, I had to work my way through the crowds just for a glimpse. She is a gracious lady in person. Respect.

Two asides:
(1) I loathe and detest people standing in the way of beautiful artworks to pose for photos. It is a different matter when you are outside and there is plenty of architecture to go around. But do not disrespect a work so awe-inspiring as, say, Veronese’s The Wedding of Cana, by sticking your face in the way. You are not an apostle. You do not belong in this scene!!!!
(2) I thought the French Revolution was about giving it back to the people??! Clearly the decorators at Napoleon’s Apartments never got that memo. Oi Vey.

Though entirely amazing, the Louvre is pretty overwhelming. Home to our apartment for a nap to rest the fraying nerves.

Day 3
Stop 1: The Museum of the Middle Ages
This stop meant a trip back to the Latin Quarter, on account of the museum had been closed when we had been on Tuesday. I swear, the French have more holidays than we do! It was well worth going back to this converted Abbey-Mansion (can I say, I could totally have coped with being a religious in France back in the day – the faithful masses build you beautiful homes and only expect you to pray for them and make pretty stuff all day – check!). Those who know me well know the middle ages through to the Renaissance is pretty much my favourite time in history, and I’ve oft wished I’d been born a few centuries ago. Two words: The Tapestries. Oh my, the tapestries. Again, could have stayed all day, but had to make our way back to the Eiffel Tower for….

Stop 2: Bateau Parisian Boat Trip along The Seine
So by this time, I was pretty tired (have I mentioned it is daylight until about 11pm and the sun is back up by 6am? It is not doing wonders for my sleep patterns!!! Plus I still wake up with that horrible feeling that I’m late for morning prayer!). As such, the combination of sun and sitting down didn’t help me keep my eyes open, but it is still a beautiful trip down the Seine to see Paris from her riverbank. Lots of romantic bridges and towering edifices of churches, gorgeous apartments and the many magnificent buildings that make up the city (in particular the Hotel Invalides, the burial place of Napoleon. Compensating much???). With not much time, we raced back to the apartment, only stopping for baguettes and pain au chocolat for lunch… It’s a hard life in Paris!

As I finish this, we are back in London… Stay tuned for the next update!

PS – sorry no photos – they don’t download well! Those who want to see them when I get home will find facebook flooded with them!

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