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A Visit to Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

August 18, 2010 by · Comments Off on A Visit to Sainte-Chapelle in Paris 

Upper Chapel

Took three trips to Paris for me to finally get into Sainte Chapelle (sant-shah-pel’), but worth the wait. This chapel is one of the most glorious places I’ve ever seen.

Sainte-Chapelle lies in the courtyard of the former royal palace on the Île de la Cité (Central Paris). Since I stayed in a center city hotel, I could easily walk.  First I stopped outside Notre Dame to stare at the gargoyles. Just loved those medieval rain gutters!

On I walked to the Palace of Justice complex. Here, King Louis IX, later Saint Louis,  commissioned and built Sainte-Chapelle  (Holy Chapel) from 1246-1248. This became his personal church used to house his precious relics including Christ’s Crown of Thorns and the True Cross. He purchased these from the Emperor of Constantinople for the exorbitant sum of 135,000 livres. To compare, the cost of erecting the entire building was 40,000 livres.  Only on Good Friday were the treasures were exhibited to the public.

The relatively small Gothic structure, compared to huge cathedrals of the time, measures 118 feet long, 56 feet wide, and 139 feet high. It stands more vertical than horizontal, with delicate stonework and arches. Unfortunately, construction within the inner courtyard surrounded and confined Sainte-Chapelle.

I waited in line about 15 minutes, then passed through a security check. I leaned backwards to see the top of the steeple. Then I strolled around to enter the lower chapel or parish church used by non-royals who worked within the palace. The arched ceiling supports the king’s upper sanctuary and glows with gold paint between a starry sky. A statue of the Virgin Mary dominates the church to whom it is dedicated.

Lower Chapel

In the corner lies the entrance to a narrow winding staircase which leads to the magnificent upper chapel.  Even though visitors expect to see the best stained glass of its type in the world, almost everyone entering drops their jaw in a gasp.  The translucent reflections of colored light and golden hues beam down and surround in rare beauty. The wall of windows soar to great heights producing a twinkling ambiance of tranquil light. A 15th century rose window adds some contrast. Benches allow people to sit and meditate or read the biblical story told in the window panes.

An amazing two-thirds of the predominantly blue and red stained glass is authentic. The others were created by artisans during a painstaking twenty year restoration begun in 1840.  The building suffered during the French Revolution. Fortunately, the chapel was converted to an administrative office and the windows were largely obscured, which likely saved them. They were removed briefly during the early 19th century and again during World War II to protect them from harm. They were painstakingly reinstalled after the war.

As for the prestigious relics, they disappeared or were melted down with the reliquary. Well… some prefer to believe they mysteriously survived and are saved as the “relics of Sainte-Chapelle” stored at Notre Dame. Of course, it seems  if all the pieces of the cross displayed in Catholic churches were assembled together, we might have a forest. Fraudulent relics aside, Sainte-Chapelle is a Parisian must-see.

If you go:

I highly recommend choosing one of the hotels in Paris city centre for ease of visiting the Louvre, Notre Dame and Sainte- Chapelle.

Winding Stairway to Upper Chapel

I Love Paris…and a room with a view

August 10, 2009 by · Comments Off on I Love Paris…and a room with a view 

debi-in-paris-6-x-4.jpg

Debi in Paris, 2009

I love Paris and have the urge to sing that famous song while there. But, truthfully I stifle myself. Anyone who knows me can attest, I have the worse voice in the universe.

So here I was, strolling down the streets of Paris humming until my daughter protested, “Stop, Mom.”

But I continued; I was the child, the one filled with glee. Chock it up to lack of sleep from the flight, my joy of actually being in Europe or simply the magic that is Paris?

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais

We arrived via an overnight plane from Boston, connecting to Paris through Heathrow. A taxi took us to our little boutique hotel, Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, in the afternoon.

We stepped in the hotel’s small lobby dominated by (what I learned later) a rare 1792 piano-forte. Candles and chandeliers created the charm of a private home, circa Mozart. The English speaking staff welcomed and assisted us with luggage. And “yes,” they assured us, the hotel offers free WiFi.

Our hotel room

Our hotel room

We took the elevator up to our room on the third floor- twin beds draped in white spreads, a desk or make-up area and by European standards a large, shiny, modern bathroom with a shower/tub and decorative tile. White hand towels were fresh and emblazed with the hotel logo.

Room with a View

The View from my room in Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais

Best part of our room was the window with a view, which I immediately popped open, stuck my head out and took this snapshot. I saw shops and a multitude of restaurants and cafes, including many ethnic varieties. Mmm. Was that croissants I smelled?

After a short rest and we took off, happy to discover Caron de Beaumarchais was only two blocks from the Seine. The city sizzled, not from the heat but with activity. A Sunday afternoon crowd included couples smooching, tourists checking guide books, booksellers standing by their wares and artists at work. Numerous roller skaters zoomed by, not many joggers; perhaps they are more abundant in the early morning hours. How romantic I thought; even if your spouse or love is missing, this city is enchanting.

The sidewalks along the river felt comfortable because they looked familiar; I’ve experienced Paris so often through movies, TV shows and books. I pinched myself; the sights, sounds and smells were everything I wanted them to be.

Laura and I crossed a bridge heading for Notre Dame. We entered through the arched doorway framed by statuesque columns of saints and found the unexpected—a prayer service in progress. To think a historic cathedral over 850 years old was still in use. I liked that.

Mass Celebration in Notre Dame

Mass Celebration in Notre Dame

Notre Dame Saints

Notre Dame Saints

We spied a little diorama showing the medieval construction methods used to build the church. The exhibit of tiny workers, oxen, ropes and pulleys should not be missed if you’re traveling with children.

Sunlight poked through the famous Rose window (stained glass) and outside,the gargoyles kept watch as they have for centuries. We didn’t have time to wait in the queue of tourists snaking round the corner. They were ready to climb to the top of belltower, however, Laura and I moved along feeling the city under our feet.

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Laura loves Paris, 2009

We crossed back over the river on a different bridge and were astounded by the hundreds, and I do mean hundreds, of policemen dressed in SWAT gear. What in the world was happening? A major demonstration planned?

No. Later it was explained that the date, June 21st, is the longest day of the year and is celebrated as a city-wide Music Fete.

Lisa, an American friend who lives in Paris met us at our hotel. She navigated the subway, getting off at the Louvre. We dined with abandon at the fashionable Le Cafe Marley overlooking the Louve’s Pyramid and courtyard. (See my restaurant review at my food blog: www.bylanderseafood.blogspot.com .)

View of the Louvre Pyramid

Glass Pyramid in the Louvre Courtyard--Paris

To start, we tasted a traditional French appertif- Kir Royale (champagne and cream de cassis.) I was so taken with the location I cannot remember what type of fish I ate. However, I can remember dessert. Laura and I indulged in a chocolate lava cake- oozing a molten center and Lisa chose a raspberry macaroon.

Carr0usel Triumphal Arch

Carr0usel Triumphal Arch

We strolled past the Pyramid, through the gardens, an arch and into Place de la Concorde. We continued up the Champs Elysees all the way to the Arch de Triumph to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. On the stroke of 11:00 PM, it light up like a huge sparkler, a burst of energy in the distance. We oohed and aahed but feeling totally exhausted, caught a cab.

However, the taxi couldn’t get us close to our hotel because of the massive street party. Fortunately, I recognized the shops we passed on our ride from the airport and maneuvered through the fete back to our hotel. We squeezed through crowds like New Orleans during Mardi Gras. I hugged Laura and my camera close, but the Parisians were a happy crowd.

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Eiffel Tower at night

Needless to say our little room with a view no longer remained a quiet retreat. All those cafes were now rowdy with revelers. We were so tired we fell asleep despite the boisterous noise out the window. Funny, but when the crowd dispersed around twoin the morning, I woke up to the silence. Oh, how I love Paris.

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I chose Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais on the recommendation of The Provence Post (a wonderful blog) and paid for my own room.

Mimi’s Back: June Round-Up and Home for the Fourth of July

July 5, 2009 by · Comments Off on Mimi’s Back: June Round-Up and Home for the Fourth of July 

Avignon Papal Palace

The Papal Palace in Avignon, France

Mimi has returned from Europe concluding her roundabout travels of local, national and international destinations. She explored Georgia, Tennessee, France and Germany by boat, train, airplane, auto, taxi, van, bus, bicycle, ATV, helicopter, zipline, raft and on foot.

Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle in Paris

She hiked a trail in the Smoky Mountains, descended into Forbidden Caverns and strolled the Champs Elysées. She was drenched by the swirling StormChaser and snoozed on a bed at 35,000 feet. She discovered the wonders of the medieval Papal Palace in Avignon and Sainte Chapelle in Paris built by French King Louis IX to display Christ's crown of thorns.

She savored apple fritters in a restaurant encircled by orchards, French croissants still warm from the oven and barbequed ribs that were finger licking good. She lingered at sidewalk cafés tasting escargot and pâté and sipped robust Chateauneuf du Pape wine. She drank beer in Munich's famous Hofbrahaus where she met a complete stranger from her hometown.

Lavender Field

Farmhouse in the Lavender Fields of Provence, France

Debi in the lavenderShe photographed lavender fields by day and cathedrals at night; farmer's markets; mountain streams and her two month old grandson's feet.

It was a month on the move and Mimi is tired. She's glad to be home to watch fireworks and celebrate the Fourth of July. In upcoming blog posts she will share her recommendations on hotels, restaurants, activities, places of interest and compelling reasons to visit.

Feet

Family Feet--Jonah, Mommy and Daddy

Photo of Mimi (AKA Debi) in the field of lavender by Susan Bowen.

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