Ah, Paris- the city of love. There are undoubtedly a million billion guides on what to with your time in Paris. There are definitely too many things to do and see in just one visit, which is overwhelming when I think about it too much. Thankfully, we have classes, so the pressure of delegating our time is, for the most part, out of my hands.
Our first full day in Paris has been an exciting one! It was our first day of classes on the continent.
For our classes, we visit a new church or art museum every day, and learn about medieval art and architecture, and then write reflections on the different artistic styles that we see. It’s such a nice path of study because every time we go to a new place, I leave feeling like I appreciate the history behind the places we’re visiting in addition to the place itself!
It’s also been really helpful to be able to go back through my notes and remember everything I’ve done during the day 🙂
For class today, we visited Notre Dam and Sainte Chapelle, with a trip to the Sunday Bird Market in between. Then we got some free time, so we went exploring around our home base in Le Marais district to enjoy as much of Paris’s delightful parks, architecture, and food as possible during our time here!
On the Hunt for Breakfast
After getting ready, I crept down the stairs nervously to go get some breakfast. I’d tried to memorize a few phrases in french, but I knew that if they asked me a question, I’d be toast.
So I poked my head around the corner, desperately hoping I wouldn’t be the only one there.
I praised the lord and the stars that my professor was sitting right there, and that he was willing to help me stammer out what I wanted. I got croissants with a little jar of apricot jam, a glass of grapefruit juice, and then they brought me a carafe of delicious french coffee. A whole carafe! I could get used to this!
Since today was a church-visiting day, we absolutely had to see the legendary Notre Dam!
My first view was from one of the bridges across the river Seine. It really is a formidable looking structure, rising over the river on its own little island, the Île de la Cité. Still, she remains elegant despite being covered by scaffolding from the fire a few months ago.
Because of that aforementioned fire, we crossed the bridge to get a good look at the front facade, but couldn’t get any closer or go inside.
I’m determined to return when repairs are finished!
The Sunday Bird Market
Seeing as we just happened to be in the right part of town on Sunday, it was just too perfect to not visit the Sunday Bird Market, also located on the Île de la Cité.
The bird market first took root in Paris because people living in urban areas can only keep the smallest pets available. This is why birds became such popular pets among the Parisians, and you can find hundreds of them on the stalls lining the streets. It’s so much fun to walk through the stalls for a closer look, and listen to the little birds hop around and sing.
They’ve got other small animals here too, like rabbits and hamsters. But if animals aren’t really your thing, no need to worry! there are also some garden stalls, with plants and seeds.
If you can’t make it to the Bird Market on Sunday, there’s also no need to fear! It’s a flower market on all other days of the week.
Our final stop on the Île de la Cité was the Sainte Chappelle chapel.
By the time we arrived, it was cold, rainy, and windy; I couldn’t wait to go inside.
Sainte Chappelle was added on to the medieval King’s Palace to house the relics of Christ (which ended up going to the Notre Dam), but the intention behind the chapel’s construction is still reflected in its architecture. On the ground floor, you get a feel for the rectangular space, where the ceiling is vaulted and indigo, littered with golden stars and little Fleur-de-lis. At the end, there are a few statues and holes in the wall where the relics probably would have gone.
I could have taken a nap in there, it was elegant, dark and peaceful.
I was truly unprepared for the upper floor. I’ve never audibly gasped upon entering a room, but when I entered the chapel portion of the building, I could not contain the immediate and incredible feeling wonder that the chapel punched right into my soul.
My professor had compared walking into Sainte Chapelle to entering a jewelry box, and I would agree that this comparison is absolutely correct. Stained glass windows line every single wall, and when the sun came out from behind the clouds, you could tell because the room is cast in a prismatic glow. This is the most ethereal building I’ve even been in, and I sat in the benches lining the walls for over half an hour just taking in the hundreds of biblical scenes depicted in the glass. I could have stayed for even longer.
Eventually though, I had to leave this kaleidoscope room, but not before telling myself to tell you all that when in Paris, you HAVE to visit Sainte Chapelle! Especially with Notre Dam closed, this is an incredible church to visit, even if you’re not religious.
Exploring more of Le Marais
Our walk was so pleasant yesterday, we decided to spend the rest of the day exploring more of the area around Le Marais.
Historically, Le Marais district housed the aristocratic population, and subsequently, much of Paris’s finest architecture and parks can be found around here. One of the first places we happened upon was the Hôtel de Ville.
Despite its name, it’s not actually a hotel, but the seat of local administration. The mayor currently resides here! It’s a beautiful building, with lots of statues lining the facade, and a metal clock tower on top. We came back around nighttime, when it was lit with red, blue, and white to look like the french flag!
We came upon several small, circular parks situated in the middle of squares, all with signs that read “stop the rats!”, and visited most of them. They have benches and are lovely little places to rest for a moment. The Square of Saint Jacques was a stand-out.
The gardens in this park were a bit taller, so it blocked out the city noises well. We sat for a minute and watched some birds splash around in the water fountain.
The main feature of Saint-Jacques is the giant, square shaped tower rising from the center of the park. I’d wondered if you could go up for some sweet views of Paris, but after a bit of research, found that it is actually the only remaining feature of a church destroyed during the french revolution, and has some serious cracking on the inside.
A Fabulous Dinner at Les Deux Magots
After spending the whole day walking, my friends and I decided to get wine and dessert for dinner at one of the world’s most famous cafes in the world!
Les Deux Magots first opened its doors in the mid 1800s, and rose to fame by serving as a meeting place for incredible artists and writers, like Ernest Hemingway and Picasso!
As to be expected with such a touristy spot, it was completely full inside, but thankfully, the outdoor patio was open. The patios in Paris are perfect for people watching because all of the chairs face outwards to the street, something I haven’t seen anywhere else. It was raining, but thankfully, heating lamps kept us nice and toasty.
Since I still don’t know anything about wine, I picked an affordable red, and we all shared a chocolate souffle and ice cream.
A healthy, responsible choice? No.
But was it one of my favorite experiences in Paris yet? Yes.
And was it delicious? Double yes and absolutely.
After my first full day, I’m really enjoying Paris. Big cities are always a little intimidating for me, but having classmates to navigate the city with made relaxing and just taking it all in so much easier.
Paris is also a very pleasant city to explore by foot. It seems like everywhere I turn, there’s another monument or beautiful buildings to look at, and whenever I get tired, there always seems to be a park or square with places to sit down and relax.
Tomorrow, class is at the Louvre, and I’m so looking forward to seeing some iconic art, and to make my way around more of the city outside Le Marais district.
To read about traveling to Paris yesterday, click here!
See you tomorrow! WTB