Notre Dame and Other Lovely Places

I’m sitting on a train somewhere near Brussels as I write this. We’re on our way to Amsterdam this weekend which is both thrilling and terrifying considering that I know far less Dutch than I do French, which is to say I don’t speak it all. I think I decided to go to Amsterdam this weekend because I studied the Netherlands in second grade as part of “Around the World Day” our school did every year, and one of my life goals is to visit all those countries we studied in elementary school. So the Netherlands is first. I lost track of how many trains I’ve taken in Europe so far. How odd that when I get back I’ll have to drive in my car to go anywhere instead of comfortably reading while someone else does the work. Still, I’m excited to go home and be reminded of what personal space is like. Speaking of personal space (or rather, the lack of it), we’ve had an interesting few days in Paris. 

We spent most of Tuesday walking around Paris on a tour. After making sure our feet had not fallen off somewhere near Notre Dame, we had a welcome dinner at a local restaurant. Interestingly, it’s been the only proper French meal I’ve had here (apart from all that bread I’ve been eating). 

Wednesday was one of those days that makes you so grateful to be in a new place. We (as a class) spent most of the day at the Lourve. I’m not going to list all the paintings and sculptures we saw because there were so many and there’s definitely one that was the most important: Mona Lisa. 

There’s so much to say about this painting. But instead of just re-typing my notes on it from my Italian Renaissance class, let me tell you about seeing it person. Because seeing other people see Mona Lisa is so much fun. They keep her in a room with some other paintings that I don’t think anyone really looks at. They could probably wallpaper the room with money, and no one would notice. Mona hangs on a partition toward the back of the room behind bullet-proof glass. If that’s not enough, the viewers stand behind a rope three feet back. And by “viewers,” I mean small mob. Seriously, I’ve never been in New Orleans during Mardi Gras but someone once told me that if you faint on Bourbon Street, you won’t hit the ground because it’s so crowed. The same is probably true in the Mona Lisa Mob Zone. But what the hell? I’m at the Lourve in Paris. What’s a little claustrophobia? Do I really have to have Beyoncé and Jay-Z kind of money to see this thing without the crowd?  We did eventually make it to the front and took the appropriate photos. Totally worth it. (Fun fact: the Lourve refuses to restore Mona Lisa. That’s why it’s so dark- no one wants to be the person that *explative* up Mona Lisa. ) 

After going all over the Lourve (and getting lost, of course) we went to Notre Dame. I know Notre Dame from photos, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know most of the interior decoration from the Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Mass was happening in the nave, and it kind of weird to be more concerned with snapping photos of the rose windows than what was happening. But I’m planning to go back to Mass sometime next week. Because of Catholic guilt and art history geekiness. 

There is no way that I’ll be able to describe how beautiful this cathedral is or how much fun it was being there (looking ahead to grad school, my research will probably be in gothic cathedrals) so I’ll let these photos speak for themselves. 

After that we went to Shakespeare & Co. across the way which is the famous bookstore where people like Hemingway used to hang out. Upstairs they have a few cots which seemed weird until I read on Pinterest that night that you can stay overnight there in exchange for 2 hours work at the store and a page-long autobiography. Yes, please. The store was really cool, but while I was browsing, I suddenly felt someone drape their arms over my shoulders. I figured it was one of my friends being funny. Until I looked and realized it was just some random stranger with his head one my shoulders. I pulled away, and when he saw my face, he looked mortified. “I’m so sorry, I thought you were someone I knew,” he sputtered out and backed away. His dad (I’m assuming) gave him  a look like “What the hell are you doing?” I thought it was funny until I realized my shirt smelled like his sweat. 

That night (having rested our smelly, sore feet) we bought some champagne at little grocery store and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle at 11. Absolutely incredible. We drank the champagne from plastic cups to reinforce the collective European opinion about how classy Americans are. But we didn’t care. 

The next day the museum we’d plan to visit was on strike so we went back to the Eiffel Tower instead. This time we actually went up and toured both the middle and top platforms. Then it was just a long, hot metro ride to Saint-Denis to see that cathedral. (This cathedral trip was actually not my idea. But I didn’t, like, protest it or anything.) We couldn’t go into the nave since an orchestra was rehearsing for the music festival, but we did get to see the apse and th crypt. Apart from being the birthplace of the Gothic style led by Abbot Suger, Saint-Denis is also the burial place of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. They also have prayer sculptures in the nave which are probably based on the representations of them during their lifetimes, but I kept picturing them as Kirsten Dunst and Jason Swartzman who played them in the Sofia Coppola movie. Because apparently that’s the best I can do after 3 years of art history. 

I have no idea where this train is now. My excellent sense of directions strikes again! After five days in Paris, I’m exhausted. Which is wonderful since it’s proof of the marathon of things we’ve seen this week. I think next week, I’ll spend my free time tracking down locations from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. (Is anyone else starting to notice the movie theme happening on this trip?) But for now, on to Amsterdam. 

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