At some point during the week Nathan became less sick and Amy increased in sickness. But we pressed on because a 4-day Museum Pass called and we had greatness to see.
We got up pretty early for us (8:00) in order to buy the passes across from what many people told us was their favorite cathedral in Paris… Sainte-Chapelle. That’s right, not Notre Dame. We had to see what all of the fuss was about and if they were right. Sainte-Chapelle is hidden behind the walls of the Ministry of Justice, though it was constructed in just 6 short years between 1242 and 1248 for the pious French King Louis IX to house the Crown of Thorns. Okay that’s a lot of build up. Was it as amazing as everyone said? Yes. Stained glass makes up 75% of the wall space. It is luminescent and spectacular. Because we got there first thing in the morning the lines were very short and the light was soft and beautiful.
Nearby there was an archeological crypt with ruins from various layers of historic Paris, spanning back to Roman times. They had cool interactive maps showing what Paris would have looked like at different points in history, leading you through the growth of Paris from a pre-Roman Celtic fishing tribe (Lutetia) through the Middle Ages.
Our last stop of the day on the Ile de la Cite was the Deportation Memorial commemorating the 200,000 French victims of the Holocaust. This was a powerful remindered of the cost paid by the enemies of Hitler. All over Europe there are lasting scars of war, but specifically in Paris there are only a few signs of the devestation left by World War II, namely a few bullet pockmarks in the walls of the Ministry of Justice.
How is this so? Amazingly Paris itself was spared from the utter destruction experienced by many other European cities. France was overrun by Germany very easily in 1940, with more than half of the country under occupation and the other half under a puppet Vichy government. When the Allies successfully stormed the beaches of Normandy in June of 1944, Hitler decided that if he couldn’t have Paris, then no one should and ordered it to be bombed out of existence. The man he ordered to carry out this task disobeyed in order to save his own legacy, not wanting to be the “man who destroyed Paris.” A few strategic things were bombed to create a cover of smoke causing Hitler to believe Paris was burning. Meanwhile the Allies were contacted and told to hurry up, or Paris really would be destroyed when the smoke cleared. They did and so Paris was saved.
Unfortunately, the reality of the Deportation Memorial tells a different story for many French citizens. The Vichy government was complicit with the Nazis in deporting over 200,000 citizens; more than 75,000 perished in concentration and extermination camps. However, today France has the third highest Jewish population in the world behind Israel and the United States.
After seeing these amazing sights we were ready for a break and bought some food to have a little picnic on the neighboring island called Ile Saint-Louis. Down by the water of the Seine we relaxed and ate and watched tour boats pass by and waved to the people on them. Then we went to get ice cream at Berthillon, also on the little island and known for its wonderful flavors of ice cream, sold all over Paris from little stands and restaurants. Amy tried lemon verbena mint (delicious but very intense) and Nathan tried praline and coriander (amazing).
We crossed back over to the mainland and headed to the Pompidou, a modern art museum. The Pompidou has an impressive collection of work, but we found ourselves underwhelmed and rolling our eyes more than once, in front of white canvases, black canvases, blue canvases, red canvases, and stolen canvases. We’ve included photos of some of the more interesting work as well as the eye rollers (to us, of course). In addition to the art, the Pompidou is worth visiting because the building itself is quite interesting, and there’s a great view from the top floor.
Sorely in need of a nap, we headed back to the apartment, rested, then did some laundry, grabbing a beer at l’Assassin while the laundry was running. We had dinner at the apartment, watching a few episodes Dr. Who (in English with French subtitles) for the first time – we both enjoyed its quirky humor and cheesy end of the world scenarios.