Picking up where I left off in my last post, our American Business Class flight from Philadelphia to Paris landed nearly half an hour early, and contrary to what I expected, my wife and I found ourselves with our bags claimed and ready to go by 5 minutes to 7 in the morning. The “problem”, as it was, was that our onward flight to Prague wasn’t until 1:20 in the afternoon. Of course, the flip side of all of this was that we now had time to sneak into Paris itself for a little bit before returning for our onward flight. I’ll take that kind of problem any day.
The first order of business was finding a place to store our bags. CDG does have a convenient left luggage facility, Bagages du Monde, in Terminal 2 directly above the airport railway station (between Terminals 2C/2D and 2E/2F). For short stays, charges are €7 per bag for up to 6 hours, and €14 per bag for 6-12 hours; hours are 6 A.M. to 9:30 P.M. daily. Naturally, I made the rookiest of rookie mistakes and failed to stick our laptops inside our larger bags before dropping everything off, resulting in an unnecessary waste of 14 euros. Hey, it was early, and I was operating on a combo of a bit too much wine and 4 hours of sleep, so give me a break. Drop-off was quick and easy, and all we had to do from there was head down the elevator to the train platform. €10 one-way/€20 round-trip will get you a ride on the “RER” B-line (metro) to the city center and back in about 35 minutes each way. And with that, we were off for a morning of adventure.
I really had no particular plan or idea where we were going, so we decided to get off at the Saint Michel/Notre-Dame station and just walk around. A little before 8, we arrived at the station, and were greeted by this wonder of architecture as we made it up to street level.
That’s the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris, the marvel of French Gothic architecture dating to the middle of the 14th century. And as you can see, astonishingly,it’s almost completely devoid of people. Keep this in mind the next time you visit Paris; on a Sunday at 8:00 in the morning, you can walk right in to the Notre-Dame and have the place mostly to yourself. Just an hour and a half later, we walked by the courtyard again, and it had become a zoo full of tour groups and regular parishoners arriving for Sunday mass. On the other hand, the joy of finding a deserted Notre-Dame was overshadowed by the realization thad I’d left the famous #wheresupgrd hat on the plane.
Anyway, before heading inside, Prita and I spent some time admiring the outside of the cathedral. The front entrance features ornate arched doorways and stone and woodwork, along with numerous gargoyles on the second story balcony and on the cathedral spires.
There was no line at all to get in, and so we took a quick look around the interior. The massive main hall can accomodate more than 6,000 worshippers. With not many people around, and the tall, arched ceilings and walls all around you, you can really get a sense of just how enormous the cathedral is.
The interior is also home to several stained-glass windows and works of art. However, most of what you say are actually replicas installed in the mid-19th century. The cathedral was heavily desecrated during the French Revolution, with much of its religious damaged or destroyed.
Also inside – a model replica of the entire cathedral and the surrounding grounds.
There is a staircase you can take to the top of the bell tower, which is supposed to offer spectacular views of Paris, but we didn’t think we’d have time to do that, so we headed back outside instead. Heading east away from the cathedral, the streets were incredibly quiet and peaceful. It made for quite a romantic morning walk, actually.
We eventually crossed a small pedestrian bridge connecting the Ile de la Cite to another small island in the Seine, enjoying the views of the river, the old city, fall foliage, and the back of the Notre-Dame as we ambled along. From the back, you can see the “flying buttress” style of construction that makes the cathedral unique.
Next, we crossed the Pont de la Tournelle bridge to the south, and zigzagged our way to the Latin Quarter and the Panthéon. Though it looks like the original Pantheon in Rome, this building dates “only” to the late 18th century, completed in 1790 as a church. Later, it was repurposed as a mausoleum containing the remains of famous French citizens. Ironically, the ruins of a Roman amphitheater, the Arènes de Lutèce, lies a short distance to the east, which I didn’t realize at the time.
In close proximity to the Panthéon are two other notable Paris landmarks, the 15th century Saint-Étienne-du-Mont church and La Sorbonne, one of France’s premier universities, and the successor to the University of Paris, the world’s second oldest academic institution. The church, meanwhile, houses the shrine to Paris’ patron saint (it is not at the Notre-Dame, as you might expect).
Next, we doubled back to the Notre-Dame to get a couple of cafe au laits at a coffee shop next to the cathedral (desperately needed, since I didn’t get offered any coffee before landing). With my caffeine fixed now satisfied, we crossed to the north side of the Seine and found ourselves in front of the regal Hôtel de Ville, which today is used as Paris’ City Hall. Though the initial structure was built in 1357, the French Renaissance exterior you see today was completed in 1628. The interior was destroyed by a fire in 1871 (later reconstructed by 1892), but the exterior survived intact. You’ll notice a number of policemen and police cars outside, but there wasn’t a problem of any kind. Some sort of event honoring the police was about to get started.
It was now a little after 10, and we needed to start heading back to the airport. I did get one last shot of the Seine and the city center before heading back to the metro station, though.
With that, we hopped back on the RER by 10:30, and were back at CDG Terminal 2 by a little after 11. Total cost per person: 20 euros for the RER + 14 euros for bag storage + 4 euros for coffee = 38 euros total. Not bad at all, and keep in mind that 7 euros could have been avoided if I were paying attention.
Timewise, the final tally was 3 1/2 hours out of the airport, and about 2 1/2 walking around the city center. Is that enough time? Of course not, and aside from the Notre-Dame, we didn’t have time to actually go inside any of the sites we saw. But hey, a short time in Paris is better than no time, and the fresh air was very, very welcome after the long flight over. The amazing thing is, even though we were able to see some really good stuff on our short walking tour, we’d barely scratched the surface. There’s at least a dozen other historical sites and museums just in the general area where we’d spent the morning. If you have a long layover like we did, I’d highly recommend spending the 20 euros on an RER ticket and enjoying some time in town.
Next week, we hop aboard a short flight on Air France to the City of Magic, Prague, where our European adventure is really set to begin.
This post is part of my trip report series about our trip to the Czech Republic and Romania in October. Click here for the introductory post and trip report index.