My Favorite Parisian Haunt

3 Feb

An iconic Parisian scene.

We arrived in Paris on a Wednesday morning. Before we even got to the hotel I realized that if I had cherished any hope of “fitting in” then I had been optimistic to a fault. The truth was, I stuck out not like a sore thumb, but more like a beaten down, paraplegic thumb.

My favorite place in Paris - at a distance.

As I was packing, back in small-town Minnesota, a thought crossed my mind: I wonder…do the French still wear black all the time and do they really still smoke in this day and age? I decided that I ought to pack a lot of black clothes, just in case, but I wasn’t willing to take up smoking just to fit in.

Love this shot.

As we stepped out of the taxi in front of the Hilton hotel, (the only time we used a cab at all was going to and from the airport…it’s a heck of a long way out there, especially when laden down with suitcases) the truth hit me: yes, the French still wear black. Yes, they still smoke, and yes, I am blatantly, obviously, without a doubt, an American tourist.


Not only was I not smoking or dressed in black from chic coat to high-heeled toe, neither was I wearing boots. (Even worse: I wore tennis shoes!) And my hair wasn’t dyed reddish. And my coat was pale blue, Minnesota-wear (in other words, North Face and warm). To top it all off, my French language skills STINK and so even if I could dress the part, (and instantly loose about 30 pounds) I would still not fit in.

The outside of my favorite building.

I decided to embrace my bad tourist-self. (“Bad” as in “good”…not bad.) No, I did not wear a fanny pack. I didn’t sink quite that low. I wore my lavender hat. I wore my tiny paisley purse across my chest. I stood in front of the Metro ticket booth with my husband for quite a long time, while he figured out what tickets we needed. And I didn’t even blush.

The front gate.

We headed straight away to my favorite place in Paris, odd though it may seem for a protestant. I was so excited to show my husband this Cathedral. No, not Notre Dame. Sainte Chapelle.

I love architecture. Again, the outside of my favorite building.

I adore this building. It was built in the 13th century to house the (supposed) crown of thorns. I first came to St. Chapelle when I came to Paris with my mother when I was in high school. Then we had to stand in a long line, as the weather was warm and spring had sprung.

In February, the lines aren’t nearly the issue that they are in warmer weather. (At the Louvre we didn’t have a line at all, and at the Musee D’Orsay we just had a short one.) I prepared my husband as best I could for St. Chapelle – but no one can really be prepared for this magnificent place.

As you walk inside the lower chapel...aka, the crown.

As you walk in, it is as if you are entering the crown of the Queen of England. My pictures do NOT do this place justice. The arches are gold and the dark blue walls are decorated with golden fleur de lis. It is tiny and breathtaking. The downstairs chapel was built for “the people” but the upstairs chapel – up a tiny, narrow, stone staircase which millions of feet over time have worn down so that the center of the steps are smooth and concave – was built for the royal family so they could worship apart from the hoi polloi.

Inside the "crown".

I said that the downstairs is breathtaking. The upstairs, by contrast, is breath-stealing. Truly, it will leave you speechless. The walls – on three sides – are solid stained glass. You feel like you are in a jewelry box. When I was there with my mother, all those years ago, I saw something in that room which has forever remained with me: a flock of birds flew past the glorious windows, their shadows traveling across the glass like living art.

This just doesn't do it justice. The room is phenomenal.

There were no birds this time, but still the room enfolded me with its beauty. I love, love, love this place.

More magnificence.

The Rose Window - the fourth wall of the upper chapel.

We visited Norte Dame that day too, which I like better on the outside than the inside. (I’ll post those pictures another day.) We took the subway back to the hotel, our feet already tired, and napped before our jaunt to the Champs Elysees which I wrote about yesterday. Later in the week we did the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay – but, as one can’t photograph the insides, those stories are best told by guide books.

I might have to tell you about my meal at the Musee D’Orsay, though…but that’s another post.


14 Responses to “My Favorite Parisian Haunt”

  1. ashleypaige4 February 3, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    Great pictures! I also liked Notre Dame better from the outside. I had high expectations of the inside, and was a little let down, but Saint Chappelle blew me away! Thanks for reminding me of my time in Paris, and sharing these beautiful photos!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

      Absolutely and thank you! I’m so glad that you came by. Yes, St. Chappelle is amazing – it’s just simply the more gorgeous building I’ve ever been in. I am heading over to your blog right now!

  2. hotlyspiced February 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    All I can say is ‘Wow’. What an amazing holiday for you and your husband. I have a dream to get to Paris – one day! I would love to see all those amazing sites. I hope the trip is still going well Gretchen.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 3, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

      This was actually one year ago, exactly! But since I wasn’t blogging then, I figured that I’d post about it to celebrate the memory! It’s actually a great way to remember it all. It was a fantastic trip. And as for traveling dreams, I’d LOVE to get to Australia some day! Like you say…one day!

  3. bitsandbreadcrumbs February 3, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    Stunning photos, Gretchen, and what a fantastic vacation! I’ve only been to Paris once, and I was 8 years old, so I’d love to go back some day as an adult. For now, thanks for letting me travel vicariously through you!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 3, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

      I’m so glad you could come along with me! Yes, it’s a place to see through adult eyes – it’s hard to appreciate things like hours and hours of art museums when you’re small, isn’t it?!

  4. Marti Smith February 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Hey, Ged, I’ve never been to Paris but there are a couple of books set in Paris that I really enjoyed and think you would, too. Both are by Adam Gopnik. “Paris to the Moon” is a collection of essays about an American family living in Paris (his, of course) and “The King in the Window” is a young-adult-ish novel, also about – yes, Americans in Paris. Check ’em out.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 3, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

      Thanks for the recomendations, Moose! I will definitely check those out. I saw a blog a few months ago that reviewed a British (or was it Australian? I forget.) family living in Paris – it looked marvelous, but turns out I couldn’t get it in the US – and wasn’t willing to pay for overseas shipping. Maybe I’ll be able to find it someday.

  5. cravesadventure February 3, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    Beautiful photos – thanks for sharing:) Have a Great Weekend!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 3, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

      Thank you – they don’t do it justice, but at least it gives a taste!

  6. whatimeant2say February 4, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    What beautiful pictures. I am so jealous! I can’t wait to see more!

  7. Laura February 5, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

    This past summer my sister and I spent a couple weeks in Germany, Austria, and Czech Rep. By the end of it, we’d visited so many old churches that I thought I would be content to never go in another beautiful cathedral. This church though – SO gorgeous. Wow. I would happy stand in there and bask in the light coming through that incredible stained glass.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 5, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

      You are exactly right – it’s above and beyond all others! I think the small size of it adds to the beauty. It was cold inside, so I didn’t sit and bask for too long, but yes – that’s the perfect word for what a person should do there!

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