on September 30, 2006
Notre-Dame is on the Ile de la Cite, the historical heart of Paris with must-see sights and lovely views of the Seine. Like everywhere else in the city, it is packed with visitors and the traffic is heavy. The architecture though is fabulous.We got to Notre-Dame at about 10:30am. There was a queue to get inside but it was fast-moving. The atmosphere inside was disappointing—noisy, packed, cameras flashing, and camcorders whirring—not in the least sacred or spiritual. 10 million people enter its doors every year, so I suppose it must be like this most of the time.Victor Hugo called it "a symphony of stone". It is located in the geographic and historical heart of Paris. It was one of the first cathedrals to be built in the Gothic style, was begun in 1163 and completed in 1345. It can accommodate over 6,000 worshippers.It is famous for its sculptures, grotesque gargoyles, and stained glass. The North and South rose windows are spectacular—huge—and date back to the 13th century. Unfortunately, we did not experience the sun shining through them, this is supposed to be especially magnificent.The choirscreen is wonderful—created in the 14th century with depictions of gospel scenes.The cathedral's state of disrepair inspired Victor Hugo to write The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831, which helped to stimulate its restoration. The South Tower, which houses the great bell, was home to the legendary Quasimodo.There was a huge queue to go up the 387 steps to the tower—it stretched right around the block, so we gave this a miss. You must get a great close-up of the gargoyles up there. There are also apparently kestrels which nest and breed in the towers. Maybe next time!All road distances are calculated from the zero point located on the square in front of Notre-Dame.After our visit, we wandered towards the Ile St Louis. It felt so peaceful and leafy there, in contrast to the busy Ile de la Cite. You also get fantastic views of the cathedral from its western tip.The Ile St Louis has lots of 16th-18th century mansions and has been largely residential since the 17th century. It is very exclusive, residents have included the poet Baudelaire.We loved wandering along the main road - the narrow St Louis en Ile. The little shops are delightful - full of lovely, quirky and interesting gifts and souvenirs. Our son was fascinated - normally he hates shops, but wanted to go into all of them. There are also lots of nice bakers and some wonderful ice-cream shops. We got our ice-creams from the famous Maison Berthillon—I recommend the vanilla—it is to die for! I have never had vanilla ice-cream like it.
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