2013: Paris

Wandering Around

Apr. 30


On this date we're going to visit the Eiffel Tower in the evening to take in the light show, so we wanted an easy day. It's gray and cold again. We started out with a stroll in the nearby Latin Quarter, where we stumbled upon the Church of Saint-Séverin. This sprawling old structure was built and rebuilt several times over the 14th and 15th centuries; many of its exterior stones are stained and darkened from the ages. It's closely hemmed in by narrow streets and nearby buildings, making it difficult to photograph from the outside.

The inside was quiet and serene, a contrast to the bustling Notre Dame. We had a very pleasant, unhurried time admiring the vaulted nave, the enormous ornate organ, the stained glass, and the palpable sense of history. I was learning a lesson, too late, that Paris has far nicer things to offer than the best-known tourist destinations.

It was time for lunch. Guess what we found another one of?

After eating, it was off to the Métro again. Our destination was the Catacombs, an underground mausoleum which holds the skeletal remains of about six million people. I know that sounds depressing, but it's supposed to be a rather haunting experience. Unfortunately when we arrived there was a very long line waiting for entry, so we decided instead to move on to the nearby Jardin du Luxembourg, the second-largest garden in Paris after the Tuileries.

Even in the gray overcast light, the beds of tulips in full bloom were glorious. The park was far too large for us to explore it all, but we got as far as the Palais Luxembourg -- home of the French Senate -- and its circular basin with model sailboats. I was surprised at the number of people enjoying the park on a cold, gray Tuesday afternoon.

We went home to the apartment for a good rest, then back to our favorite local place for a meal where we met an American lady who was traveling alone. She had been in Spain for a month (!!) and was visiting Paris for a week before returning home. She talked about how much things have changed in Europe since she first visited in the 1960's, how crowded everything has become. She mused that in those days, many people couldn't afford air travel, but over time it has become less expensive and that has been a major factor in greatly expanding tourism. Our experiences at the Louvre and other landmarks certainly validated THAT theory!

Tonight we wanted to make a final visit to the Eiffel Tower, to see it lit up at night. The tower lighting happens shortly after sunset, and then there's a sparkly light show every hour on the hour. It would make for a later-than-usual evening for us; the spring days in Paris are long, sunset would be after 9 p.m., and thus the first light show occurs at 10 p.m.

It was definitely worth the trip. We went to the Place du Trocadéro, the elevated plaza across the Seine from the tower. It affords a perfect view and many tourists gather there every evening to see the show. There was a feeling of camaraderie and celebration as the clock ticked down and the anticipation grew; everyone watched the lighted tower intently.

Then at exactly 10 p.m., hundreds of lights on the tower started to twinkle; a cheer went up from the crowd. It was truly a magical Parisian moment.

I decided I had enough energy to take the Métro a couple of stops to the Arc de Triomphe, to see it lit up at night. After snapping a few photos, we headed home, stopping to admire the lights on the Seine.