We woke up to sunshine…lots of sunshine. The cooler temperatures that we enjoyed all week had given way to summer – 80 degrees +. Suddenly, everyone was wearing skirts, shorts and maxi skirts with sandals. No more tights or coats!
I took the opportunity to see one of my “to-do” list items while she stayed in bed. To climb to the top of Notre Dame, you have to get there an hour early and wait. I stopped at a boulangerie and brought several croissants and an espresso that I enjoyed while waiting in line.
The great thing about traveling is the random strangers you meet. The young man behind me was very friendly and we exchanged Paris stories. I was able to tell him about the Musee DÓrsay 5th floor secret (see my previous blog post) and the backstreet tour by electric bicycles. He kept me entertained with his travel stories and the time passed quickly.
After we bought our tickets and enjoyed the gift store, it was time to begin the climb. 300 steps inside a small, curved staircase made of stone. Small windows kept pace as we trudged up…and up…I started singing the “Happy” song just to pass the time!
When we emerged on the upper landing and walked out the narrow door, there was sweet Paris, laid out at our feet. The Eiffel Tower kept watch to the left, while the Seine flowed through as the liquid heart of Paris. Sacre Coeur stood proudly to the right, set on a hilltop and majestic even from this distance.
Suddenly, a hundred small voices made us look down. A tourist boat had just passed under the bridge next to Notre Dame. The children all had their hands in the air and were yelling loudly, to hear the echo of their voices off the ancient stone bridge. Everyone who stood on that parapet looked down and laughed. We waived gaily but we were too small for them to see us.
The Notre Dame gargoyles are famous for their fanciful expressions and medieval ferocity. I captured many photos of different gargoyles, looking down on their city. But I discovered a little known fact about several of the statutes that I never read about in a guide-book. There is a statute of two most unlikely subjects tucked away in a corner of the roof that few people notice. (To find out what it is, keep reading).
We enjoyed the view of Paris and could see many details. Taking other people’s pictures became my job, as one group after another passed me their camera or phone. We finally started walking toward the other side, and discovered an open door with another staircase. Taking it up brought us to the top of the tower, and another spectacular view.
I missed a small step coming out of the doorway, and the young Frenchman who minded that part of the Tower helped me. We started talking and he explained that he was born and raised in Paris. He was now a student at the Sorbonne but did this job in the summer to make some extra money. He agreed with me that he has the best view of the entire city! I wish I had asked for his name, because I will always remember his kindness and friendly demeanor (who said the French were always nasty?). This young man proved that general statement to be utterly false.
I could have stayed at the top of Notre Dame forever, but the next small group of tourists were waiting on us to leave. They have to time the groups, because the area where you walk and stand is so small. I thanked my new French friend for his kindness and he thanked me to letting him practice his English! My walk back to the apartment was leisurely, because I knew we had to leave this wonderful city in less than 24 hours.
Le Bon Marche
The rest of the day we went shopping. Bon Marche is a wonderful Parisian Department Store that can be slightly intimidating. Each section is set up by Designer, not by the type of clothes. We kept walking and stumbled upon a boutique named “Maje.” A wonderful sales person named Nicole offered to help find a Homecoming Dress. She had so much fun trying on dresses, modeling them for other customers and finally discovering “the One.” Our trip was successful and we found our way back to the apartment.
For our final night in Paris, we walked down Rue de Saint Beaux Arts then turned down a side street that was much quieter. We found a wonderful Italian restaurant that carried its own stories. As we sat at our sidewalk table, a young mother stopped by with her two children, a girl about 3 years old and a toddler. As we watched, she went over to one of the waiters and they began an animated conversation. The girl quickly grew tired of being ignored and said loudly, “Papa!” He turned to her and picked her up, he smile lighting up the room. Now it was clear – this was his family!
They ended up sitting across from us. The girl was distracted by counting money and her sing-song cadence of “un, deux, trois, quatre…” was a moment I will always remember. She stopped after “quatre” and asked her mom the obvious question, and she answered patiently “cinq.”
Later, as more people came in, it became apparent that this restaurant was popular for pizza take-out. Our waiter was the delivery man, and whenever someone came to pick up their pizza, he would saunter out with the box on his head. It was very effective to capture the attention of other people, and several stopped to eat here because of his antics. So French!
What a marvelous way to end our adventures in Paris – to enjoy a waiter with his family while enjoying a marvelous meal. Tres bon!
What I love about Paris is her many faces. She is proud, aloof on the surface, but warm and friendly underneath. Beautiful architecture and graffiti exist side by side. A sense of place and the urgency found in every city compliment each other. Paris asks to be accepted for who she is…the contradictions and the beauty all join together to form her heart.
And the discovery of the various aspects of her soul can take a lifetime of study.
I promised to reveal the mysterious gargoyles that I discovered in a corner on top of Notre Dame. Look closely at each of these photos and see if you can’t spot the two statutes that seem ordinary and out-of-place next to their gargoyle cousins. Instead of fanciful, they are lifelike and from the natural world.
Paris will continue to haunt my dreams. Her allure is wrapped in history + romance + mystery. Her ambiance is enticing and hypnotic and her attitude will always be, “Joie de vivre.”