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This is a shot of the front of the Palais du Justice (Palace of Justice). I took it largely because of words inscribed above the entryway: "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité," which is the French national motto. I have no idea why there's a big black smudge on the right. That may have been a wall, or it may have been my finger.
The Palais du Justice is one of the few monuments we saw that is also a working administration building. In order to get into the courtyard area, we had to go through a metal detector, much like at airports. It's a weird thing: it's a clear indicator that this is a city where terrorism is a concern, in a way that just isn't true in the US (even after things like the Oklahoma City bombing). Another major, unavoidable sign of this is the lack of public trash cans -- every public trash can has been sealed closed, so that (presumably) bombs can't be hidden in them.
Note: Two days after I wrote the above paragraph, I went down to the social security building in downtown Austin, and guess what? I had to go through a metal detector. So that just shows what I know.
(Another difference, which has nothing to do with terrorism, is that public bathrooms -- port-a-potties, really -- are on streets all over the place, but you have to pay to use them. I was generally troubled by bathroom accommodations in France, which were usually small, poorly cleaned, and had low water levels. I guess I'm just used to my decadent new world fixtures.)
St. Chapelle, which is next to the Palais du Justice (if I recall correctly, we had to endure the metal detectors because St. Chapelle is in the same courtyard), is a gorgeous old chapel. These pictures completely fail to do justice to the beauty of the interior decoration. I think it was one of my favorite sights.
This stained glass window, especially, really put a sense of awe into you.
At this point, roll one ran out, and I changed to roll two in my camera. Unfortunately, while I know that I have the developed pictures from this roll somewhere in my apartment, I can't find them. So the rest of day one, and (probably) the early part of day two will remain undocumented by pictures. I still have my notes, though.
After seeing St. Chapelle, we crossed back across the Seine to the southern half of the city, and found a small restaurant recommended by Brian's Michelin guide. I don't remember the name -- my notes just say "grotto," and I think that was just a reference to the interior of the restaurant. The restaurant was below street level -- we went down a small flight of stairs to get to it, and the interior looked like some kind of fantastic grotto. I don't remember any of the details of the lunch, except that it was incredibly tasty, and that -- like civilized folk -- we had wine with it. Which was to become a pleasant and recurring theme.
After this somewhat late lunch, we went back to the hotel and became human beings. While we had checked into the hotel earlier, we had not taken time to shower, etc., and it was high time to do so (among other things, it helped wake us up a little bit, as we were coming up on our 24th hours of consciousness). None of the showers I encountered in French hotels were particularly impressive -- among other things, they had low water pressure, and the nozzle was one of those detachable types that you have hang just right in order to get water to fall on you from above. I'm grumpy about showers, so this wasn't one of the highlights of the trip.
After lunch, we trooped over to the Eiffel Tower, which you frankly shouldn't need any pictures of. It was duly impressive, and I'm glad I saw it, but... well, I already discussed the unreality of it earlier. We declined to wait in the overlong lines to go up to the top of the tower, and I don't feel that I've missed much.
My notes don't indicate it, but I'm certain that we also saw Les Invalides, which was at one point an old hospital. It now houses several museums, and was very cool. Unfortunately, that's about all I remember about it.
Finally, the last major sight of the day was the Arc de Triomphe, which I found to be particularly impressive. This is also a fairly recognizable monument, but it has such immense presence that it feels very, very real. It's situated in the midst of a giant traffic wheel; somewhere on the order of six or seven streets all come together at this point, and the Arc is right where they would intersect. There's a round road (the traffic wheel) which goes around the Arc, so getting from one street to another entails turning onto the wheel, going around it until your road comes up, and then getting off. This is not as easy as it sounds, because at any given time there are far far too many cars trying to be in the wheel, and there aren't really any lanes in the wheel to speak of (although I seem to recall cars being about four across, in terms of ad-hoc, consensually hallucinated lanes). We hiked up some hundred or so stair steps in order to reach the top of the Arc, at which point we had a great view of the insanity that was the traffic wheel. I think we sat up there for half an hour, just watching people navigate the traffic, with greater or lesser degrees of success.
Finally, after the sun had set, and we had had a full day of seeing the sights under our belts, we parked ourselves at a nice sidewalk cafe, sipped wine, and watched the world go by. At that moment, I could completely understand the tendency of early twentieth century artist expatriates to end up in Paris.
Next: Day Two, featuring Rodin and a Giant Chicken
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