24 Hours in Paris
Our trip to Paris was unplanned. While waiting for our luggage that never came in Zurich, the wife asked where we would be attending Christmas Mass. Interlaken, I said, since that was our destination.
For sure the Protestant churches there would be having Masses too. But if you like the Catholic service then we have to cross the border to France, I added in jest. Why not Paris? she asked. Notre Dame or the Cathedral there up on the hill (she found it hard to pronounce Sacre Coeur). Okay, I said, not realizing that it was a 6-hour train ride and that we would have to give up revisiting the Matterhorn in Zermatt.
Anyway, we made it to Paris on Christmas Eve and, surprisingly, there were very few people around. The hotel receptionist explained that most Parisians stayed home to celebrate the occasion with family. So nothing would be open on Christmas Day itself. True enough, all the shops were shuttered save for a few souvenir stalls by the Seine run by Indians where we bought cheap gloves.
We attended the Mass in Notre Dame hurrying along the sidewalk from the Metro because it was windy and so cold. Security was tight with soldiers inspecting people in a queue before entering the esplanade. A tall Christmas tree swayed in the wind in tune with the pealing church bells announcing the next Mass.
Well, it was in French and there were more tourists than churchgoers but they cordoned off the area to separate the former. The choir was very good and the great acoustics of the church enhanced the voices some more. I tried to concentrate on the melody while marveling at the beautiful stained glass rose windows by the soaring transept.
We had a quick lunch at a Chinese resto opposite the River Seine (to satisfy our rice craving) and I could see that there were very few boats plying the usually busy waterway. With just a few hours to spare, we opted to go to Champs Elysees instead of the Eiffel hoping against hope that there would be shops open where we could buy some clothes and scarves to keep warm.
No such luck. The wide sidewalks running parallel to the 2-km. long boulevard were filled with people though who were out for a walk while waiting for nightfall to enjoy the dazzling lights draped on the bare trees. It really is a magical experience having seen them before and I wanted to show the wife the same spectacle but she was already freezing. So we cancelled our plan to walk to Place dela Concorde and ride the giant ferris wheel. Instead, we called it a day and hurried back to the hotel to pack our things up for the train ride back to Switzerland.
By 5:15 we were in Gare de Lyon once again to board the TGV heading for Lausanne. Exactly on the dot at 5:43, the train pulled out of the station, thus ending our short stay in Paris. It wasn’t such a great time because the City of Lights was on official lockdown with its people celebrating Christmas Day with their loved ones in their own hearth and home. Which, I think, is what the Christmas spirit’s all about – bonding and spending quality time with one’s family.
Au revoir Paris!