Madelyn Given visited the Sacré-Coeur basilica on her trip to Paris before the El Camino.

Onward towards the el Camino: Paris

I enjoyed my few days in Belgium, as it was the break I needed to bridge between Europe and home, and then I continued on to Paris. As I left Brussels, I took the subway to the train station. Oh my, quite a fast learning experience for me, alone. Somehow I got there and out of the station without my ticket—I soon learned you keep your ticket to exit! Then on to the train station to find the right terminal (there are many) and to wait for the right train. Next, it was time to board, then find the right car and the right seat. The express trains in France are so comfortable and clean. I enjoyed an espresso and bought a Metro ticket at the bar on the train:  a good idea as it saves waiting in long lines at the Metro station. It was quite cool in Belgium, but for the rest of my journey it was much warmer as I headed south.

I walked out of the train station and had my first glimpse of Paris. I asked for directions to my little hotel; it was a long uphill walk with twisting streets, and every so often I would stop and ask directions again. My landmark was Montmartre, high on the hill. Finally I found the little pension, a narrow building set back and squeezed between larger buildings. I signed in with a young man at a small counter; he informed me that musician Louis Armstrong and artist Toulouse Lautrec had once lived here. There were only a few small rooms on each floor and an antique elevator that would probably not pass inspection in the USA. I walked up the narrow stairs to my tiny room, dropped my pack there, and left the hotel.

I was ready to see Paris! I headed to Sacré-Coeur. As you can see from the photo I took (at the top of this post) the weather was sunny and many people were sitting on the many steps to this great cathedral, high on a hill, with a magnificent view of the city below. On the way down I passed through narrow streets with venders selling the cheapest junk heaped in piles and in great disarray; in 1969 I had walked these same streets and the venders were selling paintings and lovely art and everything was neat and tastefully arranged. I walked about until after dark enjoying the grand sights of Paris.

I took the Metro and went to the Arc de Triomphe. I climbed the 187 steps to the top for a great view, with the 12 main avenues of the city radiating out from the arch; one of the avenues is the Champs-Elysées. I walked along this famous avenue looking into the windows of the world’s fashion designers. One interesting store display was Citron, the French car company. The store was small—just large enough to put one car, on a rotating platform, on each floor level. Each car was a bright color, with the pedestal and entire floor the same color, and there were many floors. To view each level you took an escalator. It was neat!

I walked to the Place to Concorde, then on to the Louvre.  It is a grand museum but to see the Mona Lisa is an exhausting adventure. The painting is easy to find: just follow the crowd from the entrance to the right wing, through halls and rooms, until you get to the room with this famous painting. As you enter the room you are automatically thrust along by the room-size crowd, step by slow step, towards the wall with the small painting of the Mona Lisa. Some people are pushing to get back out of the room after viewing the single painting they came to see.  You are pushed until it is difficult to not fall across the restricted, corded-off area protecting the painting. At the same time, dozens of cameras are going off all around you as people take selfies with the Mona Lisa in the background. Arms are outstretched to take one last photo and you are so distracted that the least important thing seems to be the poor famous Mona Lisa. Fortunately, many years ago I saw the Mona Lisa without a single other person in the room. It was quiet and stress free. Other places in the museum are quiet and peaceful.

Later I walked along the Seine and over a bridge to reach Notre Dame. Inside the cathedral I sat and listened to Bach being played on the organ. I lit a candle in memory of my son Michael. It was very spiritual.

Although it was getting late, I decided to walk back to my little pension instead of taking public transportation. It was a good distance but I safely found my way. Before I knew it my visit to Paris was over. There are many reasons to go back to Paris and someday I may be there again.

Posted November 11, 2014