Another week of project-work goes by, and we decide it’s time for another jaunt into Paris. We jump on our bikes and take the train in, getting out at Les Halles, which turns out to have been not so advisable with bikes: we’re in the middle of a shopping centre, with no clear path to the exit, and stairs everywhere! A significant amount of wandering and cramming into tiny elevators later, we finally discover a way out, and emerge with relief.
Riding down past the Louvre and along the river, we make a beeline for Sainte-Chapelle, a spectacular Gothic stained-glassapalooza. It just closed for lunch, minutes ago (bloody French lunchtimes!), so we have some time to kill.
We grab a couple of spectacular burgers at a New York-style diner, and Katherine’s got a few shops marked out in The Cartographer (plug), so we head towards one of them, a shop dedicated to music boxes, old and new, stopping every now and then to check the map and make sure we’re still going the right way (and wishing I had a sat-nav holder on my bike!). We find the spot, and the shop itself is very disappointing (full of cruddy, cheap looking nonsense, sadly), but it’s right beside the Jardin du Palais Royal, we discover, a lovely expansive courtyard filled with flowers and people enjoying the sunshine. We wander for a while…
…and then, somehow, it’s past the lunchtime closing, and we make our way back to the church.
Our Lonely Planet guide (between the hyperbole) gives us a useful tip — we can skip the queue by getting double-tickets for Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie, a lesser-known neighbouring attraction. We do so, and as it turns out, the Conciergerie was worth a look anyway — we enter into a large subterranean-feeling hall, the Hall of the Guards, with vaulted ceiling and pillars receding to the back wall:
Although we descended more than six feet from street level to the floor of the hall, apparently this was once the level of the street!
The rest is mildly interesting, a bunch of cells and incarcerated dummies and the much-hyped cell of Marie Antoinette. We wander out and back around, skipping the line to Sainte-Chapelle and going around the side, tickets in hand, enter the church, then go up the tiny winding stars to the upper chapel.
It’s just as visually stunning as we’d hoped — acres of luminous stained-glass windows, every square centimetre rich with detail, reaching to the spectacular vaulted ceiling far overhead.
We wonder to ourselves at the ridiculous level of detail, thousands of tiny little scenes, each blending into noise.
Muscling through the crowds (and this is off-season!), we find some seats to park on for a while and try to comprehend the scope of the place. To our delight, the clouds part and the sun streams through the stained glass, filling the chapel with multi-hued light. Spectacular.
After a time, we cast one final, hungry look around, and amble back out, get back on our bikes, and ride off along the south (sorry, “left”) bank, in search of coffee.
On the way we stop at a chocolatier Katherine had marked out, with an immense, larger-than-life chocolate gorilla in the window. We consider getting something until we spot the mind-boggling prices, and slip out the door as discreetly as possible, wide-eyed. We end up drawn to a little side alley, lined with cafés and restaurants, and pick one teeming with fashionable young things. We order a couple of coffees and the best tiramisu ever, before wandering the streets for a while as the receding sun casts a golden light over the upper stories of the omnipresent white six-story blocks.