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 said to 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. There are also limited spots available as they only allow a certain number of people go up the tower every hour or so. 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. We were lucky. Thanks to our pocket wifi, we ended up grabbing the last two tickets of the day.

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.