Every street corner shared a story, a moment, a marvel. This is Paris, the capital city of walking.
And so I set a goal to hit my 10,000 steps on Paris’s oldest streets, on the Île de la Cité. This walk presented food for the soul, the brain, the heart.
I knew it would be easy. We marked more than 24,000 steps on the first day of our visit.
The Île de la Cité is at the heart of Paris, a long narrow island in the Seine River. It’s where Paris began centuries ago when it was known as Lutece. (I learned that during this walk.)
We started our walk on the Right Bank beside the Louvre, to stroll along the Seine and walk over the Pont Neuf. We passed the Pont des Arts, the bridge that used to be famous for all the locks attached to its railings by lovers. The locks are gone there but they’re everywhere else.
Once across the Pont Neuf, Paris’s oldest bridge, we headed to Sainte-Chapelle, a jewel of a church, its walls made almost entirely of stained glass held together with delicate (and obviously strong) ribs of stone. We had a museum pass which makes getting into the city’s most popular sites much easier — but everyone stands in line at Sainte-Chapelle. The line was long so we decided to get breakfast across the street and see how the line moved.
The wait wasn’t bad at all. The crowds are carefully managed so the tiny chapel isn’t overwhelmed — and visitors can see the marvel they came to experience. The chapel, surrounded by the palace that was the city’s seat of power in the 10th to the 14th century, was built in the 1200s but continues to take away the breath of those who see the glittering glass, the painted walls, the blue and gold ceiling.
We continued walking along the Seine, to NotreDame Cathedral near the east end of the island. Made hugely famous by Victor Hugo and, of course, Disney the cathedral draws enormous crowds.
We didn’t go in this time; we were back two other times. but we stopped at Point Zero, a cartographer’s mark on the square in front of the church, and in the Archeological Crypt which lies underneath the square and tells of the city’s ancient past. Lots of ancient rock, foundations and great explanations. In English. Great for history buffs
Our walk continued beside the cathedral, through its lovely garden to the Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation, which recalls 200,000 who were killed in the death camps of World War II. It’s an eerie place, one that made me tremble as we paused inside the crypt where each point of light recalls a life snuffed out.
The next stop on the walk and our last, was Shakespeare and Company, the recreation of the English language bookstore begun in the early 20th century by Sylvia Beach. She was the first to publish the highly controversial (many said obscene) epic by James Joyce, “Ulysses.” While we were there, we found a book detailing the long road to publication of “Ulysses,” “The Most Dangerous Book.” I thought it was a great souvenir of the day.
What a way to get in our 10,000 steps! Exercise for the mind, the heart and the brain, too.
Ⓒ Text and photos by Mary K. Tilghman
The Sainte Chapelle is truly a masterpiece.