Paris, France: Visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral
"Morning in Paris, the city awakes, to the bells of Notre Dame. The fisherman fishes, the bakerman bakes, to the bells of Notre Dame. To the big bells as loud as the thunder, to the little bells soft as a psalm. And some say the soul of the city is the toll of the bells. The bells of Notre Dame." — Disney, from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
When I was a young girl (particularly in my first decade of life), I watched Disney movies with rapt attention. I especially loved this song, the one about Notre Dame and its beautiful, tolling bells. As I grew older, I had a special interest in my heart of seeing the Notre Dame Cathedral myself and hearing the bells toll their music across the city ... so of course, when we went to Paris, I made sure we stopped by to visit.
And wow, I wasn't disappointed.
On our second day in Paris, we wandered our way toward the Ile de la Cite after spending our morning touring the Louvre Museum. It seemed like a close walk; we slipped down inviting streets, grabbed a delicious lunch of bread and cheese at a lovely little cafe, and crossed the bridge over the Seine River to the island.
I saw the top of the Notre Dame peeking out above a variety of shops and stalls before I could register how quickly we were approaching. There were a LOT of people out; if I squinted, I could see several smiling faces peering over a railing at the top of a tower, right next to the bells. There were also people packed close like sardines along the sidewalk—some of them had apparently waited over an hour just to get inside.
We all experienced a small moment of panic over the wait time until we realized they were waiting to climb the stairs, not go inside the cathedral itself. As it turns out, the entrance to the tower is outside. Makes sense with the amount of traffic I'm sure they experience there. Still, I'd love to climb those stairs to see the South Tower. Maybe someday, although I hear it's roughly 140 steps to the top. Whew!
Circling around to the front of the Notre Dame, I stood back and looked up ... in complete awe. A feeling perhaps only secondary to seeing Big Ben in London right after coming out of the subway.
The Notre Dame was a place I'd only ever seen in pictures. My entire childhood, it'd been a distant dream, a fantasy, to stand where I stood and see such a unique place of architecture, religion, beauty, and history. And now? It was a reality!
There were a lot of tourists and travelers there that day (as you can see), so we spent some time just standing at a distance, enjoying the view and people watching. My travel companions wanted to go inside after getting a few pictures, but I didn't let them. I was waiting for something.
And then it happened. The bells started to sing.
We were extremely lucky to arrive just before 4 p.m. that day. The bells tolled a song, then checked off the hours (four beats). I can't describe how incredible it was to be there, hearing the bells so close, seeing everyone else stop what they were doing and glance up ... as if hoping to catch sight of the bells swinging merrily from their perch.
Being quick as a whip, I managed to stir from my awe and grab a video. I don't usually like to ruin special moments like this by snapping photos and videos, but I knew this was a memory I'd want to cherish forever. No regrets.
After the bells faded to a distant memory in my ears, we walked around—and I took some photos of the gorgeous architecture. Can you believe it took under 200 years to complete this masterpiece (started in 1163 and finished in 1345, so it's over 800 years old)?
Did you also know both men and women worked hard to make this cathedral a reality? Labor was divided by individual strengths and knowledge, so women were invited to contribute as well. Pretty cool!
I mean, look at all the small touches put into the exterior of the cathedral. Statues, carvings, glass windows, masonry, columns, and more. Even the doors are made with incredible craftsmanship.
You could honestly spend hours exploring every facet of detail of the Notre Dame Cathedral and still not find the complete list of unique things about it.
After we got our fill of the outside, we decided to head inside and see the famous rose window (hopefully one of many we find; rose windows are beautiful pieces of art, and they're in churches all over the world!).
Many people were inside, sitting in pews or lighting candles. We (and many other visitors who walked in with us) quickly fell quiet ... struck by the peace and calm around us. Words, and even the pictures we took, can't give the interior of the Notre Dame justice. I only wish we'd had more time to look around (or visit the crypts, which we only learned about after we left Paris).
Quick Tip: If you want to visit and take pictures, a real camera with better exposure is necessary. I took photos on my iPhone and, as you can see, the lighting wasn't great.
Mr. Nerd went off to bless a coin for his mother in a bowl of holy water near the front of the chapel (she wanted a special souvenir), and I decided to light a candle in honor of my late great grandfather. There were glowing beacons of love and remembrance everywhere, lining the walls and pews in several different forms (full candle or tea candle).
I lit a tea candle, but in order to do so, I had to use someone else's candle and almost caught my sleeve on fire. I'm such a klutz. I promise no one was hurt in the end!
If I recall correctly, they ask for a donation if you want to dedicate a candle to someone special, so keep that in mind if you feel the same need (or curiosity) to light one as I did.
Finally, we came upon the rose window—and it definitely lived up to the hype. I would 100% return to see it again (hopefully with a better camera in tow).
After seeing the window and taking a moment to commit it to memory, we left the Notre Dame and got some fresh made ice cream across the road to commemorate our time in Paris. We ended up doing and seeing many other things in Paris afterward, but this memory sticks out at me as one I won't forget for a long time.
If you're planning to visit Paris anytime soon, I highly recommend you stop by the Notre Dame Cathedral and see it for yourself. It's 100% worth it.
Costs: The cathedral is free. Visiting the tower costs €8.50 for adults.
Hours: 8 a.m. - 6:45 p.m. M-F; 8 a.m. - 7:15 p.m. Sat & Sun
Address: 6 place du Paris Notre Dame, 4e, Paris, France
For more information, visit the official Notre Dame website.