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.

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