Last post, I was finishing up my third day in Paris. The next day was Palm Sunday. I split off from the group in order to visit Versailles and Chartres, the former with my pledge-brother Rob Dyer. After attempting to find each other while simultaneously making our way to the proper train station, we and Rob, along with his fiance, boarded the suburban Paris train to Versailles. Versailles is close enough to be served by the suburban line, so it only cost 3 euro. We sat next to some older couples, one of whose daughter goes to ND and studies in London.
Versailles was a zoo. We got there at 10:15ish, and after some initial confusion about where to get our ticket, and further confusion about where to go after that, we joined a gigantic winding line in the outer courtyard of the palace. But the line moved briskly and we were inside by 11. The main area, or Chateau, is incredibly ornate and outright gaudy. There was a ton of Neoclassical imagery, so all the mythic gods and heroes kept me interested. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the gardens, as I would have to pony up extra. Instead, I walked through Versailles to get to the train station that would take me to Chartres. I had to go to the bathroom and considered jumping on a stopped train for a minute, but after much observing, I realized most of them left after 30 seconds or so, which would have spelled a logistical disaster for me had I been caught on a train leaving for I-don’t-know-where. Of course, there was no bathroom in the station. I ended up shelling out a dollar at a local bar for an espresso and using theirs. The station, like the actual city of Versailles, was small. I like the feel of the smaller towns while traveling, they’re so much less intimidating,
Chartres was another hour away from Versailles, and on another, faster, more expensive, but nicer train. It was Palm Sunday, so I was hoping a Sunday evening mass would be celebrated at the cathedral. Efforts to investigate online had proved fruitless, so I was going on faith. I arrived in Chartres at 5:30. You can’t miss the cathedral. Unlike Notre Dame, the Cathedral at Chartres, for the intents and purposes of travelers like myself, is the town of the Chartres. I made my way through the town, discovered, fortunately, a Mass at 6:00 PM, and made my way into the Church.
However, I forgot about the Palm Sunday readings. So I stood through those in French while wandering around the portions of the church accessible to me. I regret coming at a time where I couldn’t be more of a tourist, but the Mass was great. Apparently Catholic college students from the Paris area walk to Chartres during the week beforehand, and Palm Sunday evening Mass is their sending off to go back to Paris. So I was surrounded by tired-looking French college students with hiking backpacks. Tired, but lively. And then after Mass was over, we all piled in the same train back to Paris. It was standing-room only. I felt sorry for the “other” passengers suddenly overwhelmed on their quiet train by tsunami of college students and their gear.
The next morning, the rest of the Bernardi group left, two to Lourdes, and the third to Lisieux. I was left by myself, which meant I was switching to a new hostel on the city’s northern periphery. I then spent another good five hours in the Louvre. That day was spent mostly pouring over the Greek and Roman sculpture exhibits, and then Medieval and Renaissance Italian art. I didn’t get the audio guide, since I figured I had enough experience looking at those two categories to understand the significance of the works without help. But even without an audioguide, you can only look at works of art for so long. So I left, strolled down St. Germain street on the Left (South) Bank, tried my first crepe, and eventually made it to another museum–the Cluny Medieval Museum. Unfortunately, my student ID only got me a meager 50 cent discount, not the generous free admission I got at the Louvre. Still, Cluny seemed to be worth it. Admission came with a free audioguide that covered many of the objects, to the extent that I wasn’t able to finish the guide. I got to get up close to stained glass from churches around France as well as statues from the exteriors of churches, including some from Notre Dame. The crown jewel of Cluny is the “Unicorn Tapestry,” which depicts a woman, a lion, and a unicorn demonstrating the use of the five senses. Part of the tapestry’s intrigue is the mysterious sixth tapestry, in which the lady offers up a scroll with a message about her sole desire, in contrast to the senses. A fitting theme for St. John of the Cross.
Then, I walked through the hip Rue de Cler neighborhood, stopping at a more proper creperie than the stand I ordered at earlier. I had a ham and egg “dinner” crepe and then a dessert crepe. I’m a little glad I didn’t discover crepes sooner, as I would have spent all my money on them. I then strolled northward and walked down the Champs Ulysee, which spans from the Concorde Place to the Arc de Triumph.
It’s almost 3 AM here. I leave for Athens tomorrow from the airport at 12:30. I’ll hopefully blog twice before then: once to finish Paris, and again to talk about Easter.