24 Hours in Paris on Christmas Day

Churchgoers on the way to the Cathedral.
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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.

Queueing for security check at the entrance to the esplanade of Notre Dame.
Queueing for security check at the entrance to the esplanade of Notre Dame.
Bare trees around the statue of St. Michel.
Bare trees around the statue of St. Michel.
24 Hours in Paris - Churchgoers on the way to the Cathedral.
Churchgoers on the way to the Cathedral. 24 Hours in Paris

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.

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Though there were few commuters, the Metro still ran on time.
Though there were few commuters, the Metro still ran on time.
Galleries Lafayette was closed but their animated window displays provided entertainment to passersby.
Galleries Lafayette was closed but their animated window displays provided entertainment to passersby.
The pipe organ above the entrance of the Cathedral.
The pipe organ above the entrance of the Cathedral.
The Infant Child at the altar after Mass.
The Infant Child at the altar after Mass.
L'Opera de Paris which was the site of Vicky & Hayden's grand wedding reception.
L’Opera de Paris which was the site of Vicky & Hayden’s grand wedding reception.

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.

A tall Christmas tree stands outside Notre Dame's front facade.
A tall Christmas tree stands outside Notre Dame’s front facade.
One of the few boats plying the River Seine.
One of the few boats plying the River Seine.

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.

Empty ticket turnstiles in Gare de l'Est.
Empty ticket turnstiles in Gare de l’Est.
One of the animated Christmas window displays.
One of the animated Christmas window displays.
Arriving in Gare de Lyon from Basel, Switzerland late at night.
Arriving in Gare de Lyon from Basel, Switzerland late at night.

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.

Paris Notre Dame along the Seine.
Paris Notre Dame along the Seine.
The usually busy shopping area on Avenue Haussmann is completely devoid of traffic.
The usually busy shopping area on Avenue Haussmann is completely devoid of traffic.
There was nobody around except some soldiers patroling the station when we arrived on Christmas Eve in Gare de Lyon.
There was nobody around except some soldiers patroling the station when we arrived on Christmas Eve in Gare de Lyon.

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.

Street entertainers performing their dance routine in Champs Elysees.
Street entertainers performing their dance routine in Champs Elysees.
Leaving Paris for Lausanne on the TGV.
Leaving Paris for Lausanne on the TGV.
The Arc de Triomphe at the end of Champs Elysees.
The Arc de Triomphe at the end of Champs Elysees.

In the 19th century, the Orient Express trains departed from Gare de l'Est for far-off Istanbul.
In the 19th century, the Orient Express trains departed from Gare de l’Est for far-off Istanbul.

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!

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