Saturday, February 18, Paris
We made a breakfast out of things left in the fridge, cleaned the place up a little, then went out for our last stop: Notre-Dame. We’d been walking by it at least a couple times every day, and I thought it would be nice to become visually familiar with the outside before taking in the interior. And since we’d really only have half a day (our plane would leave at four p.m., and it’s a forty-five-minute ride by express train out to CDG from the center of Paris, longer by bus), it was good to have something just seconds away.
I’d had enough of stairs, so we declined to pay for the privilege of climbing up four flights of stairs into the north tower (the south tower holds the bell). Besides, we’d already had a couple really nice views, both higher than this would afford. Instead, we just walked right in the front doors, for free.
It’s amazing and beautiful, and is a veritable monument to Christian symbolism. Every single thing, inside and outside, has meaning, from the windows shaped as rose blooms (a symbol of both Christ and his mother, Mary) to the statues of the “Kings of Judah” stretched across the front façade and the birds of paradise in the elaborate iron scrollwork on the thirteenth-century front doors. There’s so much to take in, it really needs a repeat visit.
Pope Alexander III laid the foundation stone for Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris in 1163, but it took hundreds of craftsmen 170 years to complete this Gothic masterpiece. Then, after over four hundred years of service, it was severely damaged in the French Revolution (the revolutionaries mistook those Kings of Judah for the Kings of France, for one thing). The famous gargoyles (as well as the spire) came to the building in the subsequent restoration, which occurred in 1841–1864.
I bought a book in the shop that does a pretty fair job of picturing and explaining much of the contents of the cathedral, including the three massive stone tympanums on the front of the building. I’d been walking past the thing for four days, staring at individual elements, but it was still overwhelming. Inside, I was most taken with the gilded wall known as the choir stall perimeter; one side depicts the events of Christmas week while the other tells the Easter story.
Outside, I really loved those flying buttresses that make the building look as if it could launch into space travel at any moment. The cathedral’s official Web site is here, but you can see a lot of photos here.
On the way back to the apartment for the last time, we shopped in the little touristy places for some last-minute souvenirs, then we were going to have a cup of tea and the last of our French pastries in the apartment as we waited for Giancarlo to come; he had very kindly offered to drive us to the bus stop, saying that the bus would be much easier than the train, both coming and going. And, frankly, he was right: leaving the airport, buses depart from every terminal (not just Terminal 3, as the train does), and you’ll never have to drag your luggage up out of the subway; going back to the airport the bus takes you to whichever terminal you need to be too.
So … Giancarlo arrived with his brother-in-law, an Italian, in tow. He loaded our luggage into the trunk, and drove us to the nearest main bus terminal. As I recall, the fare was a bit less than the train (which was E8, or about $9.70). We had an international carload—French, Italian, Irish, American—and on the ride we learned that Giancarlo has been to China, and that he lived in Japan for three years. This seems like a lot to know about a person, but they’re just unconnected tidbits; I bet his story is an interesting one (and I intend to interview him when next we meet!).
Back at Charles de Gaulle, we found that all those families who brought their children to EuroDisney this week were returning today! Merde! The place was chock-full of kids sporting Mouse paraphernalia. Worse, though, we couldn’t shop in duty-free—you see, you have to be leaving the country to take advantage of duty-free, and the advent of the European Union makes Ireland and France just part of one big, happy (sometimes) family.
Yes, there were signage problems again (we followed the signs to our gate number, but once arrived, could find nothing to confirm that we were actually in the right place), but they were minor. And yes, our plane was packed with families of young children. But it was a beautiful, sunny day, and upon takeoff we got the magnificent view of Paris from the air that we had not gotten on the way in: we were easily able to pick out the Eiffel Tower, and “our” island. Gorgeous view!
So this was our good-bye to a beautiful city that we both are anxious to revisit.
A little over an hour later, we got a similar gorgeous view of Dublin Bay as we came in, with the sun low in the sky. We picked up our rental car, dropped the luggage off, and said hello …
… then headed out to grab some take-home Chinese, as we were both in the mood for something spicy. We dropped by Gerry’s brother William’s place for a few minutes, where I was able to meet his wife, Gwen; so now I’ve officially met everyone in the family.
After all that excitement, I went down to the B&B for an early night.
Sunday, February 19, Co. Dublin
Lucky us! Gerry had a generous gift certificate to an upscale hotel chain, and we had plans to absolutely wallow in it! This was a day for which little was planned—probably a good thing, as I was still coughing, still walking around with a fist pressing my chest. So I slept late and then went down to Gerry’s to laze around for a couple hours (watching a string of “taped” American Idol shows, something I wouldn’t be caught dead doing Stateside, but it was oddly mesmerizing, in between the cringing), just kinda killing time until we could check in to the Towers hotel.
The Towers is attached to Jury’s (a hotel chain) Ballsbridge (which is, the Web site tells us, in the heart of Dublin’s embassy district), but it’s the upscale, exclusive, executive wing (UPDATE: the hotel was sold and subsequently closed the next year). Very quiet. The room was very nice, large, luxurious. We went down to one of the little on-site pubs to grab lunch (I had Guinness beef/potato casserole—and don’t be misled by that last word, it’s an Irish substitute for “stew”).
Let me tell you, whether we were in the Towers section, or the Jury’s section, the level of customer service was exemplary—off the scale, really. But I found it odd that in order to avail myself of Wi-Fi, I would have to pay extra. Free wireless has become routine on this side of the pond (I’d just spent weeks researching this type of information for a freelance assignment, which is why I can make that statement), not only in hotels, but in RV parks, libraries, restaurants, bars, diners, and, of course, coffee houses. (UPDATE: 2006 was early days for Wi-Fi in Ireland; ten years later, it is standard and generally free.)
We napped, watched TV, read … I even indulged in a very long and hot bubble bath, something I haven’t done in years and really should do more of. The bathroom amenities were from Molton Brown, a London-based company, and … well … I may have formed yet another expensive habit: loved the shampoo, loved the shower gel.
We dressed up for an eight p.m. dinner downstairs with Brendan and his lady friend Ruth, and Pat and his wife Brenda, an event that had been planned for weeks. Gerry and I hung out in the bar while we waited for the others; as it turned out, Pat had come down with the same flu that I’d gotten, and didn’t feel up to it, so it was just the four of us, but a good time was had by all: we didn’t get back to our room until after midnight. Brendan arrived bearing even more gifts: he’d been to the Avoca Handweavers and purchased a winter scarf for each of the women expected at the party, and for me, he also brought a beautiful white mohair/wool throw. It’s soft and gorgeous—and I used it quite a bit during the rest of the trip.
We drank wine with our meal, indulged in desserts, then lingered at the table talking until they were closing the restaurant down, so we moved out into the lobby bar (you may recall this phenomenon from my last visit, which I find very, very civilized: a section of the lobby is crowded with chairs and sofas and low tables, where you can comfortably relax and drink alcohol, as if you’re sitting in your own living room). I had an Irish coffee, and we continued our conversation until poor Ruth was just falling asleep. She had to be somewhere very early the next day too.