After our tasty lunch at Café Beaubourg, we decided to walk down the street and across the Seine to Notre Dame. On the way, we stopped at Hôtel de Ville, where the city's municipal functions are located. The square in front of the Hôtel de Ville was turned into a viewing area for the 2012 Olympics. A huge screen was set up on one end of the square, where the Olympic games were being broadcast live; and in front of the screen was astroturf, outdoor umbrellas, and seating (which looked like beanbags). All of this was organized by the British embassy in Paris in conjunction with the Paris Plages (Paris beaches), and there were red telephone booths scattered around the square advertising the Olympic broadcasts.
While we were in the square we watched a little bit of skeet shooting, but we were mostly watching the crowd, who seemed very enthusiastic about the sport. As we walked through the sea of people, I somehow lost Brandon and ended up in step with a little French girl who mistook me for her mama. We took a quick look at each other and realized that we were both in the wrong pairing. I looked behind me, and somehow the little girl and I had changed partners. Her mother (and Brandon) caught up with us, and we giggled as we switched walking partners again.
We left Hôtel de Ville and walked up towards the Seine River. We stopped for a few minutes at Pont Notre Dame to look at happy people lounging on beach chairs on the Paris Plage, and then walked down the Marché aux Fleurs on the Île de la Cité to the Conciergerie.
Walking into the Hall of the Guards on the main floor of the Conciergerie is simply amazing. To think that the structure was first erected in the Middle Ages blows my mind. Although a few of the medieval towers remain, most of the Conciergerie's structure is still a few hundred years old.
The Conciergerie is famous for being a prison during the French Revolution; and one of its most famous prisoners was Queen Marie Antoinette, whose cell is now a chapel.
Only a small part of the Conciergerie is open to the public, so we took a quick tour through the open areas and saw models of what prison cells might have looked like during the French Revolution. It's hard to imagine this place holding thousands of prisoners on their way to the guillotine.
After our tour through the Conciergerie, we walked next door to Sainte-Chapelle, which was also built in the Middle Ages as part of the royal palace grounds. It shares the same gothic arches as the Conciergerie and surprisingly has most of the same stained glass that was first created in the 13th century. Today, the stained glass is being cleaned, repaired, and reinstalled. The project started a few years ago, and I think it's expected to be completed around 2014.
We lucked out with our visit to Sainte-Chapelle. The gate was already locked because they let in the last visitors of the day, but a guard let us in anyway. Plus we didn't have to stand in the queue once on the grounds because we had museum passes in hand. [Tip: Buy the Paris museum pass! Most museums allow special entry to pass holders. Definitely worth every euro.]
There is a lower chapel (which is smaller and has the souvenir kiosk), which is still gorgeous and full of ornate details. But the magic is in the upper chapel where you can find the extremely tall columns of intricate stained glass art on the walls of the chapel and the awesome Rose Window that tells the story of the apocalypse.
It was already late in the afternoon by the time we left Sainte-Chapelle. As we headed towards Notre Dame, I'm sure I sounded like a broken record telling Brandon how amazed I was at the architecture of Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie and the fact they were both built in the Middle Ages. In fact, I know I was a broken record because I said the same thing about almost every building, palace, church, and museum that we visited over the next ten days.