February 2nd, 2015
This day is a surreal one to revisit. Because it became something more than just a day in my travels as the years have unfolded. It is a monument to impermanence.
This is the day I visited Notre Dame.
I had dreamed of visiting Notre Dame since I was a little girl. I had loved watching the Disney rendition of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and had fallen in love with its rich paintings of the rose windows and gargoyles.
That morning I said goodbye to Graham and Alex, who were off on the next leg of their adventures, and I headed for Notre Dame. It was a beautiful day, a smattering of clouds in the sky as I walked through the winding Parisian streets. It’s a cold, quiet Monday morning and there’s a stillness to the city. However, it’s impossible not to note one thing that has been present since my arrival and stands in stark contrast to the white, pink, and grey tones of the city.
Parisian police, dressed in full combat blacks and carrying large semi-automatic rifles. It’s only been less than a month since the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s Paris headquarters, and the city remains on high alert. As I approach Notre Dame, there’s a policeman on every corner, their eyes scanning every awestruck tourist and hurried Parisian.
But my eyes quickly fix on the building that has stood through peace and war, through kings and presidents, through inequality and revolution. Notre Dame.
Her spire rising into the sky and the massive bell towers looming over the square below. I slowly approach the entrance and pass through the massive doors.
It’s like something out of a dream. The massive, echoing halls of Notre Dame. Everyone speaks in hushed whispers, which still amplify as they ricochet through the cavernous space.
This is a good day to be alone. Nothing to distract between myself and this space. After some time of drinking in the atmosphere, I plug my headphones into my ears and put on the most fitting song I can think of. “Take Me To Church” by Hozier. The church-organ processing and echoes of this song play against the grandeur of the space. I sit down in one of the chairs facing the altar and take in my journey up to this point.
Just a year before I was a girl living in Baltimore, barely taking her first steps into her career and life. I had never crossed the Atlantic, I had only dreamed of places like the one I was sitting in now. And yet, by my own steam, I was here. Every dollar I’ve spent earned on my own, carefully saving everywhere I could. And now my feet had crossed 9 countries and 11 cities. I had shared drinks and meals with both friends and strangers who became friends. I had traveled by car, plane, bus, and train, somehow making it to a warm bed each night.
And now I was here, in Paris, sitting in Notre Dame. All alone, but not lonely. Completely at peace.
I finally lift myself from the chair and head for a better look at both the cathedral and the city, a trip up to the balcony between the belltowers. I pay my “suggested donation” fee and wait in a modest line to climb the stone stairs to the top.
I emerge onto the balcony and look out onto the city. The gargoyles flank me on either side. Behind me, the intricate wooden spire rises into the sky. And above, the belltowers loom.
In fact, they do more than loom. Within minutes of being on the balcony, they boom out an ear-splitting toll without warning, marking the hour. Myself and nearly everyone else on the balcony jump. But surprises aside, this is by far the best view I’ve had in Paris.
I stay at the top until I can’t take the cold any longer. I descend back down the ancient stairs and out onto the street. I turn and admire Notre Dame again, and take more pictures.
That spire is now gone, along with the gorgeous wooden roof. Notre Dame is in a state of reconstruction again, as it has lived through in the past. The next generation will remember it differently. Which is the true joy of life, really. Where we stand today will change, maybe within our lifetime, maybe far after, but it will. Take nothing for granted.
It’s lunchtime and I’m starving. I cross the river and wander down little streets until I spot a welcoming cafe. I step inside and the warmth envelops me. A friendly waiter ushers me to a seat and I survey the menu, and after some review, I decide to cross another infamous local dish off my travel list.
Buttery and coated in herbs, these little snails were absolutely delightful. For my main course, I indulged on some roasted chicken and potatoes and finished the meal off with a delicate chocolate mousse.
I spend the rest of the daylight hours simply traversing the streets. No destination in mind, just exploring the neighborhood that surrounds the cathedral. When the evening sets in, I wander back to the hostel, where I drink a cheap glass of wine and head to bed.
Tomorrow is my last day in Paris. And my last full day of this journey.