2013: Paris


Apr. 28


Today was going to be iffy weather, so we planned to finally tackle the interior of Notre Dame, along with some museums. We got an early start after our obligatory morning croissant, walking the two blocks to the landmark. The lines into the main cathedral were short and we had no trouble getting in.

Like St. Patrick's in New York City, Notre Dame holds mass almost continually, so visitors explore the interior while services are in progress. Most people are respectful, although the snapping cameras must get tiresome for worshippers. At one point we were walking down a side aisle toward the front of the nave, examining the carvings and sculptures on the walls, when we were halted momentarily by a processional of several altar boys and the officiating priest for the next mass, all en route to the altar. A second priest directed traffic and manned the rope barrier surrounding the altar, letting them in while keeping us out. Once the small coterie was inside the rope, we tourists were allowed to continue our stroll.

After exploring the cathedral, we walked to the nearby Métro station. We were headed west beside the Seine to Les Invalides, a complex of buildings that museums and monuments relating to France's military history. But before we scuttled underground to catch the train, we lingered for a few minutes at a large outdoor flower market. Beautiful!

Our next stop was the Rodin Museum. We started outdoors in its pretty garden where you can see a number of Rodin's sculptures, including the earliest bronze casting of his most famous piece, The Thinker. A small nearby building contains many more sculptures, mostly in marble, but it just wasn't my cup of tea (as you can tell by how few pictures I took). After a somewhat brief visit, we walked across the street to Les Invalides.

The imposing building at left is the Église du Dôme, the royal chapel which houses Napoleon's Tomb. It is part of a complex of buildings known as L'Hôtel national des Invalides. The name -- National Residence of the Invalids -- reflects the practical purpose of one building as a military hospital and veterans' retirement home, but it also houses several museums, including the Musée de l'Armée (military museum).

It was gray, cold, and starting to rain, so we weren't able to see (or photograph) the exterior gilded dome of the chapel in its full shiny splendor. However, we enjoyed the equally impressive interior, with its inlaid floors, Doric columns, and marbled statuary. And then there's the inside of that golden dome.

Tomb of Joseph Bonaparte. Carolyn shoots the altar.

The first thing we saw inside was an alcove containing the tomb of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's older brother.

Also on this level is an ornate altar, rising two stories into a vaulted alcove with a painted ceiling.

Tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. WWI cannon.

Napoleon's tomb is downstairs in a round gallery, viewable from the main level above. The emperor's remains are inside six concentric coffins, like a bunch of Russian nesting boxes. All the coffins are made from different materials -- oak, mahogany, ebony. The exterior coffin is crafted from an igneous rock called porphyry.

After visiting the tomb, we moved on to Musée de l'Armée, which houses many artifacts related to the history of the French army. It was actually quite interesting, but by the time we reached it I was exhausted. I only took one picture, of this strange cannon from World War I. I spent my little remaining energy on a drawn-out hunt for a restroom; honestly, do French tourists not pee?