Thursday, 25 July 2019

Notre Dame: Heart of Paris

This blog entry is dedicated to the Notre Dame. This is a special entry for me. I grew up with the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Esmeralda's independence and Quasimodo's heroism inspired me. In high school, I attended Notre Dame Secondary for a year. It was always a part of me, and on my mental bucket list, I promised myself that one day, I will visit the cathedral and climb its tower. While we were in Paris in October 2017, we had the opportunity to visit the Notre Dame de Paris. We were very fortunate to climb the towers as well. Sadly, earlier this year, on April 15, a structural fire broke out in Notre Dame. My heart was breaking as I helplessly watched the fire online. The fire destroyed the roof and the building spire, but luckily the towers were safe. It will undoubtedly take time, but I have faith that the Notre Dame will be restored to its best form one day.

The entrance to the Notre Dame is free, and can be accessed at the front of the cathedral. The cathedral is known for its magnificent facade, the beautiful stained glass windows inside, and the unique, lifelike gargoyles atop the tower. The queue to enter the Notre Dame is intimidating, it snakes around the front, and the massive crowds outside of the cathedral make it hard to find the end of the line. Don't let the queue scare you off! It does move fast. We were prepared to line up for at least an hour, but we spent less than twenty minutes in line.

Sadly, the lighting wasn't quite right for photographing the stained glass windows, and we don't have very many pictures of the windows.

We made a spontaneous decision to climb the bell towers that day. Notre Dame has a confusing booking system. It's not possible to buy tickets in advance for the Tower of Notre Dame, nor are they sold online. The best way to get tickets to the Notre Dame is to download an app to book a reservation time to purchase your ticket. You can only do so on the day of, and you must be within a certain distance to the cathedral. We had pocket wifi, so we were able to reserve a time while many tourists around us struggled to find wifi. I remember there is wifi available, but the password is hard to obtain, especially with the language barrier. However, even with the reservation, we still had to queue up outside of the cathedral (the side facing away from the Seine) to get inside the ticket booth.

The towers of Notre Dame are just under 70 m high. The climb is 387 steps up a narrow spiral staircase. We climbed about a third of the way to the gift shop to buy our tickets, then we continued to climb to the belfry. The belfry houses the biggest bell of Notre Dame, which weighs 13 tonnes.

We visited the bell before going onto the terrance for a panoramic view of Paris. From that level, there is another leg to the top of the tower, where you finally come face-to-face with the gargoyles.

There is fencing all around the balconette (as you can see in some of my photos), so tourists won't fall over or try to touch the gargoyles. It's not pretty for photographs, but it's a necessary safety measure. As history has it, the stone carved creatures were considered spiritual protectors of the church. Pictured below on the right was the beautiful spire that fell in the fire this past April.

The panoramic view was amazing. Honestly, it was a dream. I wish I could stay up there for a longer period time, but alas, our time was up, and we had to descend the tower. Going down is always easier than going up, but the tower stairs are slippery, so descend with caution!

By the time we exited, the sun was setting. The cathedral was closed, but the crowds still hadn't dispersed. It really goes to show how iconic Notre Dame is. It is not just a Catholic church, but a beloved symbol of European culture. Our visit at the Notre Dame was a memorable experience. I am so glad we decided to climb the towers, and we were so lucky to have been able to.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Paris: City of Lights II

Friday, the 13th, was our first full day in Paris. At the time, we were still engaged, and we started off our day with a Flytographer engagement shoot early in the morning. We met our photographer at Trocadero, and took some pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately with our luck, the sun didn't break through the clouds until after our photoshoot. When we arrived at Trocadero just before 9 am, the crowds were just forming. However, you can see larger crowds in the photo below, that photo was taken just after 10 am. The crowds gather fast in Paris!

We went back to our Airbnb for a quick change of clothes afterwards, and got on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. The HOHO bus in Paris is not a great idea. Traffic moves extremely slow in Paris, especially for busses. At one point, we were stuck by the Louvre for almost 30 minutes. We purchased a two-day pass, which did come in handy, but we only rode it from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower on the first day.

The HOHO bus took us to the Arc de Triomphe. We marvelled at the monument from afar, but decided not to climb it. We drove down Champ Elysees, and past Place de la Concorde - but because we had an appointment at the Eiffel Tower.

Going up the Eiffel Tower isn't for everyone, but it was something we wanted to do. Unfortunately, upon arriving at the Eiffel Tower, we discovered there was a national strike movement which restricted access to the tower at the time of our visit. Defeated, we walked through Champ de Mars instead, and towards the Wall for Peace. The monument was under construction so we weren't able to get too close. As we continued walking, we reached the bridge and decided it would be a good time to go on a river cruise.

After our river cruise, we walked around the area in search of a search of a small snack (well, specifically French pastries!), before heading back to the Eiffel Tower. We had heard the strike would end around 7 pm, so we made plans to head up the Tower that evening. Our ticket was now invalid, and we had to line up to purchase new tickets. It's definitely not recommended, and buying tickets in advance would certainly save you a lot of time, but we were in an unavoidable situation. 

We made our way up the Eiffel Tower, and spent about an hour marvelling in the views and lights of Paris. For us, it was a toss up between going up the Eiffel Tower (280 m), and the Arc de Triomphe (50 m). We decided more height would offer us a more breathtaking view of Paris. I think the turn of events worked towards our favour. Nothing compares to the Eiffel Tower at night. The sparkle is even more magical and impressive up close.

Paris is very walkable. After our visit to the Eiffel Tower, we walked back to Trocadero to watch it sparkle from a distance, and also grab dinner in the area. At the time, it was easier for us to find an Uber to get back to our Airbnb from Trocadero. We dined at an Italian restaurant across from the square.

We got back to our Airbnb around midnight, but the night was still young. Marais is a very atmospheric and lively area for lgbtq-friendly nightlife. The restaurants were busy with live music and chatter, and the bars still had long queues around the block. We had a long day, so we were happy to go home. To cap off our night, we stopped by one of the many gelaterias for dessert. 

Time passes by quickly in Paris, even when you're moving slowly. We tried to savour every moment. In our daily lives, everything moves around us so quickly. It's nice to be able to sit back, appreciate the little things, and watch the world go by when you're on holiday. 

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Paris: City of Lights I

Our cruise was a Southampton to Southampton round-trip, however, we decided to disembark (downline) early in Le Havre to finish our trip in Paris. Paris has been a dream destination for my entire life; so I was ecstatic about our stay.

This was our first time disembarking early on a cruise. From what I've been told, downlining is not permitted on Caribbean cruises but common on Asian and European cruises.

Le Havre is a port city in Northern France; it is a three hour train ride from Paris. As soon as we left the ship, we took a taxi to the train station, and boarded the train with our pre-purchased train tickets. The trains were not meant to take luggage, as there was absolutely no room to store luggage. We felt terrible, but we had no choice but to leave our luggage in the aisles.

We arrived in the city centre and booked an Uber to our Airbnb in Marais. We got settled in our lovely two bedroom apartment. It was siesta time, so not many restaurants were opened, so we grabbed lunch at the only restaurant opened within a two block radius: a kosher Jewish restaurant. We decided to explore the area after lunch, and made our way to Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris. It was nice to walk around and people watch. Parisians were lunching, reading, and resting at the park.

We took a look at the map and discovered we weren't too far from the Louvre, so we decided to take a walk there. On our way to the Louvre, we caught the Eiffel Tower in the sunset.

The Louvre was quite quiet that evening. We were able to get some good shots in without many people around.

After the sunset, we headed back to Marais for dinner. We choses a French restaurant that happened to be quite popular, and ended up having to wait a little for a late dinner. There were many ice cream shops on the block, so we decided tried one from each shop, and called it a night. Hey, who says you can't have two ice creams in one night?

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Loving La Coruna

This cruise is running long, eh? I don't blame ya, it was a 14 day cruise - a lot of ports, and a lot of sights to see! But here we are, the last port for us.

We weren't expecting much from La Coruna. We were at the end of our cruise, and ready for Paris, so we just wanted a mellow day around town. We were happy to be back in Spain as they are known for their tapas. We discovered so much within the medieval old town in the Plaza de Maria Pita and the narrow alleyways. We found great food, beautiful coastal views and so much culture in the little, but long seafront city in northern Spain.

We grabbed lunch along the pier at a busy restaurant; fresh scallops and octopus. If we had more time, we would have spent more time in the city. Instead, we chose to walk along the pier with our ice creams.

We had two lunches and two desserts during the time we spent on La Coruna. We stopped for razor clams at another restaurant, and Spanish churros with chocolate sauce, a traditional dessert.

La Coruna reminded me why we cruise. This is what I love about cruising. We would never be able to visit these charming towns if it weren't for the cruise. It is through cruising that we find these beautiful places, and get the opportunity to live as locals for a day.

As the sun set, we sailed away and caught sight of the Tower of Hercules. It is an ancient Roman lighthouse on a peninsula at the tip of Galicia. The Tower of Hercules is a National Monument of Spain, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Next up: Paris!

Monday, 1 April 2019

Failing in Funchal

We ported in Funchal, Madeira on a Sunday. Madeira is an island of Portugal situated in the Atlantic by the Canary Islands.

We didn't have much planned for Madeira but we had read about the crazy toboggan ride down Monte, a must-do attraction in Funchal. However, because it was a Sunday, the attraction was closed! We ended up taking a bus into town, and came across a huge mall. Unfortunately, that was closed due to an emergency evacuation! There was also a marathon along the waterfront, so most of the roads in town were blocked off. Just our luck! It just wasn't a great day to port.

We ended up stopping by a cafe for pastries and cappuccinos.

As we left the port, the rain clouds had arrived, and it started to rain as we sailed away.

We had a lovely dinner in the main dining room that evening. We were served a variety of popular Filipino dishes; lechon, pancit (my favourite!) and lumpia.

Next up, La Coruna, our last port before Paris!