The alarm goes off at 7:30 A.M. We shower and pack quickly to check out of our hotel. After paying the bill, we walk briskly in the direction of the river and towards Notre Dame. It’s a beautiful sunlit morning with white clouds dotting the sky and although Art and John wish for a leisurely breakfast at our usual café, I am set on getting to Notre Dame before there are any lines. When we arrive at 9:00 A.M. we walk straight into the majestical cathedral and as in the past, all my senses are stirred. I inhale the scent of frankincense and candle wax and my eyes follow the soaring lines of the gothic arches, splashed with rainbows of color from the stain glass windows. Immense lighted chandeliers illuminate the interior and we circumambulate the cathedral more quickly than I would like.
We have a 12:23 train to catch and the gargoyles beckon from above. The tower climb opens at 10:00 A.M. and when we exit the cathedral at 9:40 there is already a significant line. We scurry quickly to the back of the line and within a matter of minutes the line extends beyond my view.
We sit impatiently on the stone wall encircling the cathedral, leaning back against the iron rails of the gated enclosure. Tourist cafes across the street sell coffee and crepes and with our spaces held, I bring three scalding cups of café crème back to our place in line. My next foray is for ham and cheese crepes and we eat and drink and wait in line for the tower to open. When the tower opens the line moves up but stops abruptly. At 10:07 it hasn’t moved further and I walk to the front to investigate. The attendants explain that they let 20 people in every 5-7 minutes. I walk back to our position in line and shake my head glumly telling John and Art that there is no way we will make it to the front of the line in time to catch our train. John goes forward and counts and tells me that there are exactly 60 people ahead of us. Another group of 20 is let in and we count again. It is 10:20 and we are now number 37, 38 and 39. I wait anxiously and then suddenly they let 36 people in, cutting the line off just before Art. Art tells the “gate keeper” that we have a train to catch and amazingly, she lets the three of us in!
There are 400 stairs to climb but the climb is surprisingly easy since it is orchestrated into three stages. I forget to count but estimate that the first part of the climb is about 150 steps up to the ticket counter and the gift shop. We watch the clock, waiting in line patiently to buy tickets with our group of 39. We are subsequently ushered onwards and upward to the gargoyles. We climb another 150 steps and emerge at the bell tower level and step out on the extremely narrow, wire enclosed promenade where all the Gargoyles sit watching. After 20 minutes of perambulation and bonding with the Gargoyles, we have the option to descend or to take an additional flight of spiral stone stairs to the very top view tower of Notre Dame. I am watching the clock and mutter that it might be best to descend, but Art and John start to ascend the stairs and I follow reluctantly behind. It’s a short flight of less than 100 stone steps but the spiral staircase is narrow and as much as I want to explore, I am anxious about the ticking clock. The view is more dramatic from here but just as on the previous level, one is not allowed to ascend or descend when one wants. This tower climb is so popular that in order to accommodate the hordes of tourists, access to the stairs is carefully timed and orchestrated with groups ascending and descending at precise times. We circumnavigate the tower taking photos from all directions but it is now 10:55 A.M. and I am no longer enjoying the experience. Our group is finally allowed to descend at 11:00 A.M. and we race down the ancient spiral stairs, emerging on street level at 11:05. A.M. (Although we have paid our hotel bill, our bags are still in our room and check out is at 11:00 A.M.) The first leg of our train trip to Loudun is at 12:23 and our hotel is a 20 minute walk away. John and Art sprint ahead and I fast walk from I’ll de la Citi to I’ll St. Louis and cross over the Seine at a cardiovascular pace. I make all the green lights and then pause in confusion, wondering which left turn will take me to our Marias Hotel. I walk a block further and see Rue du St. Paul, turn left and am relieved to see our Hotel du 7th Art up on the right. John has carried the luggage down from our 3rd floor room and within a minute all three of us are wheeling our bags towards the Bastille metro, a direct connection to Gare du Montparnasse. It’s 11:30 and we breathe a sigh of relief believing that we have plenty of time to spare.
We descend the stairs down into the metro and as John hands us our tickets we comprehend a sign telling us that the line to the train station is closed from this stop. Adrenaline surges as we carry our bags back upstairs in search of bus #5 which will supposedly connect us to the Montparnasse train station. Place du Bastille is an immense square with many streets radiating out. We lose a precious 5 minutes trying to ascertain which direction we should walk to catch the bus. Some anxious minutes later we sprint across the street to find three #5 busses waiting. We board the first one, confirming with other passengers that it does indeed go to Gare du Montparnasse. The bus deposits us at the train station at 11:55 and we wheel our luggage quicly towards the SNCF ticket counter. This is our first train trip and I must activate our Eurail passes before we can travel. There are 40 people in line ahead of me but Art tells me to relax since there are 10 open windows. I reach the window at 12:12; have our passes validated and we race to the platform and board our first class car to Orleans.
I have visited Paris many times and each time I make a point of paying my regards to the Gargoyles of Notre Dame. Some years ago, I designed this Gargoyle Pendant inspired by the Gargoyles of Notre Dame.