Gwen had arranged a sort of "itinerary" of places that we just needed to go. And she was great at finding our way through their "Metro" system. I rode more subways during this trip than I have in my entire life! No kidding!
Our first stop was, of course, the Eifel Tower. This was one of the most crowed places we visited. And because of the crowds, we didn't even attempt to go up to the viewing area. There was a very long line just for security to actually get near the tower and then another very long line to purchase tickets. And then another very long line to actually go up the tower. We opted for an outdoor cafe with a stunning view of the tower, instead of waiting in all of those long lines. A funny side note about this picture that Steph took is that it was raining! Looking at the blue sky you would never know that we were getting rained on. In some of the pictures you can see other people with umbrellas, but it was seriously just a very light mist that actually felt good! And that was the only short (the rain lasted less than 15 minutes) bad weather we had the entire trip.
On our last day in Paris, Gwen asked me my favorite thing about the trip. It didn't take me long to answer. It was Sainte-Chapelle, which is in the courtyard of the royal palace (which now houses administrative offices).
The original building was built in 1250 and is mostly now "restored". But the 1100 stained glass panels that depict Bible stories are simply fantastic. I could have stood there for hours just looking at each individual pane of glass. It was a holy place and you could almost feel the generations of people who had stood in that room and prayed and worshiped. We also visited Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur. Somehow we managed to visit both of these while Mass was being held. Again, these were holy places that have been places of worship for many years. Notre-Dame was actually built in 1163! We visited so many other buildings and museums and it was awe inspiring to put your hand on a pillar that was from 40ad. To see evidence of the Roman presence at Musee de Cluny as you are surrounded by Roman baths which were built around 200ad. For me, one of the biggest take-aways from this trip is that there is nothing OLD in the United States!
And then there was all of the art. And statues everywhere (even in the subway!). So wonderful, so amazing. Again, we saw so much in a few days that it is hard to actually comprehend it all. And the gardens are amazing. We took a boat tour on the Seine, viewing most of the famous sites from the vantage point of the river. The bridges are fantastic also. Each one seems to be just a bit different. We found the bridge famous for the "Love Locks" which was totally cleared of locks in 2015 and is now almost full again.
We ate every meal at outdoor cafes or in the gardens and usually had a spectacular view along with amazing food. We ate lots of breads (which were fantastic) and crepes made right in front of us, that were just heavenly.
Our last day in Paris was just Gwen and I since Steph had to fly back to Spain. We didn't have much to see on that day (with the exception of one art museum) and we spent the entire day in Gwen's favorite spot - Tuileries Garden. In a way, it reminds me of Central Park in New York City. It is right in the heart of Paris, surrounded by all that you want to see when you visit. The garden is filled with small fountains and there are rows of chairs lining every walkway. People sitting and chatting or eating (which we did often) and the most obedient dogs I have ever seen! Most dogs were not on a leash and there were no dogs running away or chasing other dogs or causing any problems at all! It was wonderful to see families greeting each other - even the little children - with kisses on both cheeks. Wonderful to just sit and look over the Seine at the Eifel Tower.
Yes there were stark differences between Paris and Chicago. But there were also so many times that I felt totally at home. Walking through a church and seeing a women with her hands raised in worship. And seeing another young lady with a journal, filling the pages with her thoughts and prayers. The presence of God was clear and strong.
It was fitting to visit Paris in November. I came home feeling so thankful for the the opportunity to share this experience with Gwen and Steph. I am thankful for the newest aircraft that made a long trip really not so bad. I am so thankful for the preservation of these old structures and the many, many artifacts that they contain. And I am also grateful for home, for family and friends. It was a great way to count my many blessings in the month of Thanksgiving.
Jesus, thank you for your abiding presence with us, wherever we go. Holy Spirit, help us all to see our similarities more than our differences. Keep our eyes open to ways that we can relate to others, even when we are far out of our comfort zones. Thank you Jesus for opportunities to see another culture first hand. Keep us all aware of your presence. Amen