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Monday, December 28, 2009

Sacre Coeur

My first stop for my second day in Paris was the Sacre Coeur, a five minute walk from my hostel, but I had to return to the Gare du Nord to make train reservations first. I get up, get dressed and head downstairs to see what's for breakfast. It's pretty pathetic. Some rolls, a couple pieces of bread and what I think is peanut butter (Halleluliah!) but it isn't (God damn it!). No one is downstairs so I throw 6 rolls in my bag and head out to the train station. At Gare du Nord there is no wait at the ticket windows and the attendant speaks English pretty well. However, I experience great shock and awe at the fees that accompany specific trains I must make reservations for (look for a future post on the European train system).

After dealing with the ticket reservations I head back to the hostel in desperate need to use the expensive internet. I quickly send off a warning email to Anne (my sister) about our meeting time change in Rome, push all the stress from the situation to the back of my mind and finally head out to Sacre Coeur. The Sacre Coeur is a very large church at the top of the highest point in Paris called Montmarte. With no other hills around, Montmarte is quite noticeable from lookout points such as the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame. The church is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Paris and was built quite recently (finished in 1914) compared to other ancient Parisian sights.

The hike up to the church is fairly steep but not horribly difficult as there are steps built into the hill the entire way up. The worst part of the climb are the obnoxious, persistent people at the bottom of the hill trying to sell you woven bracelets or something. The outside of the basilica is very plain with a few statues of men on horseback and some religious ones. No intricate carvings like many of the Roman churches I will later visit. I really like the metal lion heads with the door handles in their mouths.

The inside of the church is just as simple as the outside. The dome is really cool to look up into and the stained glass is very interesting. As this was the first European church on my trip I was extremely impressed by the architecture and appearance but if I had seen it after some of the others I probably wouldn't have thought so. After visiting the interior I walk around the side and into the entrance to the dome and crypt.

It's a one way trip to the top up a VERY narrow spiral staircase and it's very easy to get dizzy while climbing up. This stairwell doesn't actually lead to the central dome. Instead it's one of the side ones and you must climb along the roof of the church to enter the stairwell for the main dome. This part is really fun and I like being close to the different towers, seeing the roof up close and there is a really steep, tiny stairwell I have to climb.

I make it to the top of the central dome eventually and the view of Paris is very nice. The only problem is that it's early in the morning and the sun is still low against the horizon, shining through all the haze and making it very difficult to see specific parts of the city. You can make certain things out, but it might have been better later in the day. Because of this, I plan out my days in the other cities to include tower climbs mid-day.

After soaking in the view for a little bit I head down to the crypt. For the descent you take the exact same set of stairs except on the other side of the church and it is just as narrow as the first one and takes more effort to not get dizzy. A technique I figured out to help is go slow and don't look where you're stepping. Seeing the stairs go in a circle is more dizzying and looking at the wall. When I get to the crypt I'm disappointed to find it's closed. I go out front to the church and admire the facade some more before heading back down the hill to the Metro station. Next stop: the Concierge.

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