Timeline: July 24th – 30th
We determined that Monday was going to be full day with Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower on the docket whereby we’d start to utilize the Metro and Bus systems to more efficiently move around town. Having noted the lines at Notre Dame on Saturday, we resolved to get there first thing in the morning, taking advantage of the free entry into the Cathedral itself at 9am in order to be in line for the climb to the top of the Towers which opened at 10am
It all worked to plan, taking the bus straight down to the Hotel de Ville, then walking the three blocks or so to Notre Dame. Little or no line was present and we pretty much walked right in. Let me say here that this is my fifth or sixth visit to this magnificent edifice, a place so full of associations that just to see it checks off a number of boxes on most folks bucket lists. With the initial sense of wonder gone though (no long wondrous descriptions of its interior this time around), the beauty of these palaces of God is that each visit is unique; you bring to it whatever load you carry, good or bad.
As mentioned with Sacre Couer, a few moments in a pew connects you to the hundreds of years of worshippers who have preceded you, the centuries of history that these places have witnessed and endured. When you see them more than once, they become milestones that mark your life as you recall where you were the last time you visited.
Such a milestone was a quest for Joanna and I that day. In 1982 on our “lets take the honeymoon before we get married tour” someone shot a picture of us at the top of the towers of the Cathedral. Whenever I see that picture, I marvel at the time that has passed, the events of our lives, and how innocent and unaware those two young newlyweds are of the future that lies in front of them. We tried to visit the Towers in 2007, but arrived too late in the day to do so. This would be our chance to relive the milestone.
We waited in line fifteen minutes or so for the Towers to open, grabbing a quick coffee and chocolate croissant from a nearby vendor, then went inside and made the climb up the narrow winding stairwell to the top. One of the first things you notice is that the walkway you traverse to walk the edges of the Towers is now enclosed in a mesh fence, dramatically reducing the experience and the view.
It was also really congested up there, crowds now a big part of any July tourist activity it being the height of the season. After some time spent viewing the cityscape and then jostling for a space near the edge of the rampart, Joanna and I were finally able to recreate that picture from 1982. I’ll leave it to the discerning reader to determine if they can see a difference between the two.
Exiting Notre Dame we made a left turn, crossed the Seine, and entered the heart of the Latin Quarter. I spent a futile 15 minutes or so trying to locate the Who’s Bar which should have been easy to find given how many times I’ve visited there with Francois, and then grabbed a lunch to go from a crepe shop; two baguette sandwiches accompanied by the Fanta Zero and Danon pudding (a recommendation of Jessica’s, the pudding that is) we’d picked up across the street at a Franprix.
We hopped on the Metro for what we thought would be a quick trip out to the station near the Eiffel Tower only to discover, as would happen more than once to us while in Paris, that it is the time of the year when they repair and make improvements to the system often resulting in scheduled or unscheduled and not very well advertised shutdowns and alterations of metro lines.
What should have been a painless and quick 10 minute or so trip turned into 30 minutes of bewildering shuttling about between metro and RER stations. Make it we did though and approached the Tower as we had so many times before. I stopped in front of the same tree I’ve seen each time there and pretty much took the the same picture I take each time creating yet another milestone moment.
We’d try to purchase tickets on line a week or more out and were unsuccessful, so standing in line became the only option. Joanna volunteered while Bev and I sat down on a stone planter wall not far from the line (the south tower) and ate our portions of the sandwich and pudding lunch. Bev took off to go find Joanna in line and by the time I followed, had caught up to Joanna and they were about to begin the ascent, we having agreed in advance that only Joanna or I needed to go up with Bev.
That decision made for us, I returned to the room for a relaxing afternoon working on the computer and enjoying a little down time before what would be a fun night, meeting Francois, his daughter Lisa and son Axel in Les Halles for dinner. Lisa now lives near Geneva and was coming into town to see her Dad and us. She’d lived in Les Halles in prior years (Jessica stayed there with her the summer she graduated from High School) and was quite familiar with the area.
About an hour before we needed to meet Francois and family at 8pm, Joanna and Beverly made it back to the room, giving them a few moments to relax and get composed before we set off for dinner. A short metro ride and walk away, we became confused upon arriving due to the large amount of construction going on, finding it difficult to identify the landmarks Francois had cited as our reference points, a McDonalds and a statue.
We wandered around a bit, a survival tool for the intrepid tourist, received a call from Francois that they were running late, and were about to give up hope of finding the landmarks when who should appear to rescue us once again but Axel, as if from nowhere. The four of us walked over to a corner café to sit down and wait for Francois and Lisa (he by car, she by train) and got to watch an interesting interaction between Axel and the waiter.
We’d moved two small tables together in anticipation of the other two joining us when the waiter, a young fellow, took some offense at our being so bold. He and Axel had an interesting verbal exchange that Axel laughed off commenting on the waiter acting in a stereotypical (my words, not his) fashion. We then passed the time, enjoying our drinks on a fine Parisian eve until Lisa and Francois joined us.
In due course we begin walking through the neighborhood observing suitable dinner spots. When we passed Baan Thai, a restaurant that Lisa was familiar and all agreed it was a good spot, stopped to sit outside and enjoy a very nice meal.
But that wasn’t the end of it. As we were nearing the close of the meal, Lisa stated that she had come to Paris for a number of reasons, the main being to announce to her family that she and her boyfriend Adrien were to be married next year.
Another milestone, the best kind shared with people you know an love. I will not soon forget that warm Parisian evening, a satisfying outdoor meal late at night with friends and family and being there for a momentous announcement, the stuff that dreams are made of.
Notre Dame Cathedral: http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/-English-
Notre Dame Towers: http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/spip.php?article477
Latin Quarter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_Quarter,_Paris
Eiffel Tower: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiffel_Tower
Les Halles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Halles