Cities / Towns Visited: 2
Countries Visited: 2
Steps Taken Today: 17,673
Steps Taken Around the World: 366,884
All too quickly our final day in Paris snuck up on us, but as it was Easter Sunday we decided that, instead of chocolate, we would treat ourselves toan alarmless morning. We woke up leisurely, and had quite a few places left on our list but decided to do the only one we were really interested in doing, then go from there. If we were inspired and energised we would fit in others, if not…well there’s a reason it’s called lazy Sunday.
Where was our destination, you may ask? La Conciergerie. Part of the former royal residence that housed King Louis IX, sitting beside Sainte Chapelle it is grand and forboding. It has been used as a home for the French judicial system since its inception, and was used at a major prison and courthouse, especially for high profile cases, throughout the French Revolution. It rarely held anyone long though, and those who entered were swiftly sentenced and escorted from their cells to the guillotine. Most of the building is still used as judicial courts and administration, but some of it has been historically preserved and is open as a museum. Upon walking in you are delivered into a stunning room with vaulted ceilings, mostly underground, with only a few small windows at the top for natural light. A massive space, it is imposing, but striking in its appearance. Throughout the room runs an art installation of a water feature which pours water from the river Seine from a well inspired fountain, into a series of wooden gullies which wind around the room, through a side room which used to be the kitchen, and out of the building once more. It was inspired by an historical event when water from the river flooded into the building, some marks if which can be seen at around shoulder height on some of the original pillars.
From here, we moved through the exhibit, seeing the office where the prisoner’s names were recorded, the jailer’s office, and the small room where the condemned had their hair cut before their execution so it didn’t hinder the guillotine’s blade. The museum is full of displays and information about the revolution, the events that led up to it, and its result. Which in short was:
-The masses were starving while the aristocracy lived tax free lives of leisure, while simultaneously holding all of the power.
-The masses, and a few forward thinking aristocrats, then becane upset and demanded a parliament, a constitution, and a change to a democratic monarchy.
-The king allowed them to start a parliament.
-The parliament became too powerful and then started a revolution to oust the royals and the aristocrats.
-Everything got a bit out of hand and that led to a long period of anyone who even remotely looked like they didn’t like the revolution being condemned to death.
-It eventually got to a point where they were even killing of their own revolutionaries.
-Then it all fell apart, and in the aftermath Napoleon swooped in and became emperor.
The most high profile prisoner to grace the halls of La Conciergerie was Marie Antoinette, who’s cell now houses a shrine to her and a chapel just outside. I must say I find it somewhat ridiculous that they paint hers as a sad story to be commemorated, when she actively encouraged King Louis not to allow power or equality to his people, and allowed them to suffer and starve while she swanned round in her three palaces having life-size villages constructed in her city sized backyard. Don’t build shrines for sociopaths, we don’t have shrines for nazi’s; commemorate history sure, but don’t have pity for those who had none for anyone else.
After having our fill of beautiful architecture and morbid history we tumbled back out into the hustle and bustle of the street. Given that we were relatively exhausted and the other attractions we had considered visiting were a sizable distance away, we decided to forgo them and head east to Ile Saint Louis, the small island, just next to Ile de Cite (the island in the river that houses La Conciergerie, Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, and a few other buildings). As we crossed over the bridge, we strolled by a group of people doing roller-skating tricks for money (to be fair it was pretty impressive). At the other end of the bridge sat an old man playing the kind of accordion music they use in every idyllic Paris scene in movies. With the tunes creating the soundtrack for our leisurely stroll, we wandered of in search of Berthillon ice cream, a company we’d read was quite good, and considering every restaurant and cafe on the island seemed to sell it, we were wont to believe the hype. We eventually found its home, an understated wooden facade with a cafe on one side, and a take away store in the other. We wandered into the latter and ordered two scoops each from their extensive list of flavours. There was so many interesting and enticing flavours to choose from, I was glad the line was significant so I could take my time to choose. In the end my partner, true to form, came away with blood orange, and salted butter caramel, while I went for flavours I, tried and true, know complement each other; roasted pineapple and basil, and gingerbread.
As we finished our ice creams and continued our walk we came to the conclusion that because we’re adults and we can, and because we reasoned it was Easter Sunday and eating sweets to excess seems to be acceptable, we would wash things down with crepes; one salted caramel, and one dark chocolate (it was Easter after all). Now if you are going to travel with a partner, or a friend, or a family member, my best advice is, do as I do and find someone who will happily order two dishes with you which you can swap halfway. You get to try twice as many things, without breaking the bank or your waistline.
The rest of our lazy Sunday simply involved waddling home, cooking dinner, and packing. Tomorrow we were to be on the move again, as the adventure continued south-west into Normandy.
Side note (as I forgot to mention it in my last blog): because planning ahead is important, on our way to Notre Dame yesterday we happened to walk past the market in Vanves on our way to the station, and reasoning that nothing would be open for us to buy groceries the following day, we tentatively wandered in to gather the provisions for two days of home cooked dinners. Now for two introverts who do not speak the language, and with my vague knowledge of some French foods, this was going to be a challenge, but who were we to shy away. In the end, we bumbled through buying some vegetables, a couple of paupiette de veau (small, trussed, seasoned veal mince balls, wrapped in thinly sliced veal) and some saucisson aux herbs (herb and pork sausages). Once the mild panic and anxiety had subsided we came away with not only food, but a sense of achievement. Don’t be scared to get out of your comfort zone, there will always be a few rude people who seem to be personally offended that you dare come into their country without being able to speak their language fluently or at all, but most will appreciate it if you try, or will happily speak in any amount of English they know. Regardless of their reaction, just take it on the chin and smile, say your pleases and thank yous in whatever way you can, and carry on. I have much respect for anyone who can speak two or more languages, because it’s at least one more than I can, and I send out a universal thank you to everyone along the way who has and will speak to us in English, willingly and without annoyance, please know it is greatly appreciated.