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Saturday, March 12, 2011

St. Denis

It has been been a few years since Mrs T, myself and friends Steve and Jewel traveled to France.
For my spouse, it was the fullfillment of a promise I had made to her upon her retirement. Our tour took us through Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley. Then there was the City of Light - Paris.When we entered the city on the final leg of trip, Philip our tour guide, was pointing out the fact that people of Paris were rightly proud of their city. Also, that the millions of people who lived in the suburbs surrounding the city, were not considered to be "true Parisians." He noted that living in the city and some of its suburbs was quite expensive. Also , that there were areas where unemployment, crime, decay and other social problems were endemic. One of them was the suburb of St. Denis. I noted that last point but didn't catch the name.
That evening, we had dinner at a sidewalk cafe, alongside the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame. There, we had an important decision to make. We had a "free day" in the city the next morning. Our choices were optional tours, including the Louve or the studio's of several famous Impressionist painters or launching out on our own for the day. Three of the four of us had previously been to the Louve. Mrs T. hadn't but opted anyway for a day on our own. We left quite early the next morning by taking the underground to the end of the line, St. Denis. St. Denis is the location of a famous cathdral. I had proposed visiting there because in the long history of France, it turns out to be the burial place of all but three of their kings and queens. During the train ride we struck up a conversation with a young university student from Ghana. Upon arriving at the station, he pointed out the direction of the Cathedral and said it was about 8 blocks away. He also strongly advised us to wait and take the bus to the church because their were "drug dealers and gangs in the area." After a brief conference, with the women voting "yes" to take the bus and men voting "nay", we bravely stepped off toward the cathedral. The women were not overly impressed with this "macho decision", as they called it. It turned out to be 8 blocks of closed shops (things don't open till ten apparently)and very few people. There were some beggers, a few young men hanging on the street corners and about a dozen vendors sitting on rugs on the sidewalk with their wares spread on the ground. From the outside, the cathedral itself was not overly dramatic, compared to Chartes and some of the others we had seen. Still, when you stepped inside, you automatically look up to the rafters and can't help but being impressed. I tried to imagine solemn ceremonies, going back a thousand years, when the rulers of France were put to rest.We looked at the side chapels, memorials and the altar. Then we descended into the crypts. There were Louis XIV The Sun King, Eleanore of Aquitaine's first husband Francis and on and on including (pictured here) Louis the XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette.
I think we must have spent more than two hours there, including a walk around on the outside. Then we returned the way we had come. What a difference! The stores were open The street was jam packed with people. For a moment,I felt like I was on the Midway at the State Fair. Naturally, we had to check out some of the stores and make some purchases. There was also some big rugby tournament going on that week Finally we went back to the heart of the city and a walk down the Champs Elysees to a sidewalk cafe.
That evening, we rejoined our tour group for dinner on the Monmarte and a show at the Moulin Rouge. During the bus ride to the restaurant, Phillip had to ask where those that had gone that day on their own spent their time. We had already talked to him on this point. He prefaced his question though by pointing out that "the intrepid and daring travelers from Minnesota" had gone that morning to St. Denis. "I have led tour groups here in France (he was British by the way) for 16 years and I also talked to other tour guides and "NO ONE HAS EVER HAD ANYONE GO UP TO ST. DENIS BEFORE." They all looked around at us. There were a few giggles and then a small round of applause. We looked at each other not knowing whether to be proud or embarrased. Ok, so I had missed the part about the areas that might be unsafe for tourists!!! The country bumpkins from rural Minnesota . Hey... Troutbirder likes history. Can't you tell?


Montanagirl said...

Fun post, TB. You're much braver than I would be! That's a wonderful trip you went on.

Arkansas Patti said...

I was screaming at you "Take the bus" but you didn't listen and it seems you did quite well on foot. Thanks for taking us along.

Shanae Branham said...

Thank you for stopping by and letting me know more about your blogs. I hope that you decide to share your story.

PC said...

Well done. As someone of French-Canadian ancestry, I enjoyed your recollections of France, and your willingness to take a chance in St. Denis.