April in Paris:Notre Dame et l'ile de la Cité
The Seine boasts what the Thames cannot - a central island in the centre of town. L'ile dela Cité is the site where the city's first inhabitants settled, the place where Caesar set up camp and the point from which all distances to Paris are measured. The most famous spot on the island is the cathedral of NotreDame, thankfully not yet turned into a Disney theme park but there was still a hunchbacked woman sat begging outside. The cathedral is much larger than Sacre Coeur, much more angular, and much busier. It reminded me of a gothic Anglican cathedral in the UK, not surprising given that both would have been Roman Catholic at the time of construction. Again the building is a staple on the tourist trail, making the interior an uneasy mix of reverence and irreverence. It felt very wrong to see half the visitors kneeling in worship, many offering prayers to new pope Benoît XVI, while the rest of the so-called congregation ambled round taking flash photographs of every chapel, statue and window. When the tourists had stopped being disrespectful they headed across the sparkling Seine to wander the narrow lanes of the Latin Quarter. Most didn't get as far as the university, tiny galleries and arty antiques shops but were instead lured inside one of the many dodgy-looking restaurants offering €10 fixed menus. I'd recommend a walk along the riverbank promenade instead, along the edge of the Rive Gauche, out of sight of all the mucky commercial activity above.