The Soul of the City

“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’s
The toll of the bells
The bells of Notre Dame”

When your alarm goes off before 7:00 AM – no matter where you are – there is a small part of you who thinks about turning over and sleeping a little longer.  However, I love Paris early in the morning.  Before the tourists flood the streets and the locals flood the metro cars.  Notre Dame is a site of immense beauty.  In the 1100’s construction on this Catholic Church began – a church whose name literally translates as “Our Lady of Paris.”  She has experienced much construction, destruction and restoration over it’s almost 900 years.  Famous for the stained class rose window and timeless architecture, Notre Dame is a gem, inside and out.

We had a reservation to climb the tower to the top that required us to be there by 9:30 AM, but the front doors open by 8:00, and you need to arrive that early to avoid the quick forming lines.  Ile de la Cite is beautiful in the morning – the square hidden by a shadow, and the birds for company.  We gave the students an option – get up early and get a chance to go inside – or sleep in, and meet us there at 9:30.  I was happily surprised that 24 of our 26 teens were more than willing to get up early and share in the peaceful morning in the heart of Paris.  After the 25 minute metro transport from our hotel in Montparnasse we arrived right in front of the church – just as a bride and groom were wrapping up their wedding photos.  What a beautiful site!


At 9:30 our 2 remaining students (and chaperone) joined the rest of us at the Cathedral – just in time to climb 387 steps to the top of the south tower.  When climbing Notre Dame is comes in 3 parts.  You climb from the entrance to the gift shop/ticket office, inside.  Here you can buy your ticket to the top, or a souvenir.  The line up to get into the building in order to get to this level is LONG (unless you are a group with a reservation – yay!) – even with a pre-paid Paris museum pass.  When we were here in 2013 (and again now), I would say 1 – 1.5 hour wait to get in.  Even at 9:00 AM, an hour before opening, the line up runs half way down the building.  But it’s worth it.  Some of the best views in the city.  The second part of the climb brings you to the base of the towers.  This is the level of the BELLS!  You can get up close and personal with a gargoyle and say hello to Emmanuel – the largest of the 10 bells, which was installed in 1681 (and is tuned to F#).  Now part three is not for the claustrophobic at heart (though I did it!) – the last 147 stairs are narrow, and spiral (in a fan orientation) in a close chamber.  These take you all the way to the top of the south tower – the highest point on the cathedral.  The views of the city are beautiful from the top.  And while I didn’t love the narrow stairs to get there – I was glad I faced my fears and did it (opposed to my first visit, where I very quickly chose the exit).

Following the climb to the top, my students adventured off on an Ile de la Cite Scavenger Hunt, and I enjoyed one of many French desserts (because dessert for lunch – why not!) and soaked in the atmosphere.  All in all, a wonderful morning in Paris!

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