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Saturday 11 July 2009

Tours de Notre Dame

The bell towers of Notre Dame are open to visitors everyday, but at an entrance fee of €8 for an adult. The entrance is at the base of the North Tower.

It takes 422 steps on spiral staircases to reach the top of the western façade called the "grande galerie". This is the place where the infamous gargoyles are gazing at the cityscape of Paris eternally.

Some of them are enjoying their food and some are looking for it, probably amongst the visitors!

Other than gargoyles, there are some other fierce demons and birds. However, these figurines are not visible from the ground. That statue of an angel looks quite intimidated by the fierce creatures surrounding it.

This grand gallery connects both the North Tower and the South Tower of Notre Dame. Visitors are not allowed to climb up to the top of the North Tower.

Everybody has to walk through the grand gallery from the North Tower to the South Tower via the narrow passage. The view of the cityscape of Paris is quite fantastic from here.

The South Tower which was fictitiously inhibited by Quasimodo in Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", houses the 13-ton bell Emmanuel. This great bell was fortunately spared from being taken down during the French Revolution in the 18th century and and still remains one of the most beautiful "sound vessels" in Europe.

Climbing another flight of narrow-gauged spiral staircase of the South Tower will lead one to the highest point of Notre Dame. This is where the spectacular panoramic view of the city of Paris can be found.

From here, one can also see the spire with a rooster on top, gazing at River Seine.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris

Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris is more commonly known as Notre Dame, as the name in French is Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris. A bronze star at the square in front of the Cathedral was once the benchmark for distance measurement in the city of Paris, which shows the significance of this most visited site in Paris.

I went to the Cathedral on 6th June, 2009, and I don't know whether I was fortunate or unfortunate, Barack Obama decided to visit at the same time! So, I couldn't even get close to the Cathedral and I could only see it from across the square in front of it. The whole place was heavily guarded, gardens included. I even saw snipers on the bell towers!

Beyond the barricades, there was a big crowd waiting to have a glance of Barack Obama. Some of them were even equipped with super-tele-zoom lenses. After hanging around for a while, I decided to beat the crowd and went on to look for dinner. There were policemen and policewomen all over the place, even on the billboard!

I selected a restaurant nearby Notre Dame where there was also a big crowd lining along the road in front of the restaurant. After ordering my set meal, I sat back and relax and watched the crowd waiting for Barack Obama's car to pass by. Minutes later, my entrée of gratinated onion soup arrived on my table. It tasted great in the beginning but I felt there was too much cheese towards the end of savouring it.

Once the waiter had cleared the bowl, my main course of confit de canard (conserve of duck) was served. It was too salty to my taste bud. I had to eat it along with a lot of water. The fries were also of very generous serving size that I couldn't finish them all. Half way biting through that drumstick of duck, I heard the crowd along the road cheering, whistling and waving. I knew that was Barack Obama's vehicle passing by. I stood up but couldn't see anything, so I sat down again to enjoy my meal.

How could I leave Paris without seeing Natre Dame up close? So, I went back two days later. It was still as elegant without Barack Obama.

This massive Cathedral is said to be able to accommodate 6,000 worshippers inside at any one time, but there were not as many visitors during my visit. If not, I would have difficulty moving around.

Above the main altar is a series of stained-glass windows.

There are two big rose windows, each at one side of the Cathedral.

The most beautiful rose window is not amongst these two. It is the one right above the centre portal of the main entrance. Unfortunately, part of the view was obstructed by the Grandes Orgues (grand organ).

When the weather got better towards noon time, I went out of the Cathedral again and walked to Square Jean XXIII, a little park at the back of the Cathedral to look at one of the best views of Notre Dame.

The clouds were moving very fast, so it was a challenge that I had to click the shutter-release button in a split of a second to capture the scene. The sun was too shy that it illuminated the Cathedral for only a few seconds before it hid itself again.

I had to wait again if I missed the opportunity of capturing the moments of illumination from the sun. Well, at least I have got some good shots, so it was worth the wait.

I circled around the Cathedral to look for some good angles to shoot again, although my Lonely Planet travel guidebook only recommended the view from Square Jean XXIII.

After I was satisfied of seeing Notre Dame from the outside, I proceeded to climb Tours de Notre Dame (Towers of Notre Dame), but that is another story.

Sunday 5 July 2009

From London to Paris

I arrived London Heathrow Terminal 3 at 5:50 a.m. on 6th June, 2009. Due to my experience of the long queue at the immigration checkpoint at the Beijing Capital International Airport, I allocated a 2-hour buffer for immigration clearance.

However, there were not many flights arriving at London Heathrow Terminal 3 on that day at that early hours and it took me only less than half an hour to get through the immigration. So, I was already at the arrival hall at just half-past six.

I followed the signage to the London Underground and the station was quite a distance from Terminal 3. After buying the Oyster card with £7 stored value, I was ready to go!

The Underground trip took me about an hour, so I started shooting the people inside the train. There were not many people boarding or alighting along the stations near the airport.

At about quarter to eight-of-clock, I had already reached the King's Cross St. Pancras Underground Station. My train to Paris would not depart until 12:29 p.m., so I tried my luck to board an earlier train to Paris but to no avail because my train ticket was a non-flexible one.

It was raining in London on that day, so I couldn't go outside of St. Pancras International.

Out of boredom, I did some camwhoring at the train station. It was only 9:00 a.m., another three-and-a-half hour to my train to Paris.

So, I walked around St. Pancras International to see if there's anything to shoot to kill my time.

It wasn't until 11:00 a.m. that I was allowed to enter the Eurostar departure hall. I waited for another hour there before I really boarded the train to Paris.

It wasn't until 15 minutes before departure that the passengers were allowed to board the train, so I walked at a fast pace to the front of the train to take a short before walking quickly again to the coach with my seat.

When I booked the train ticket online at the Eurostar website, I couldn't get a cheap Standard seat ticket. I was given a choice of upgrading it to the Leisure Select for another £15, so I upgraded.

The seat was roomier and cosier, and it came with welcome drinks and a meal served on board.

My choice for the main course was grilled chicken breast with sumac spice on Moroccan tomato sauce served with vegetable couscous. It was quite delicious. I liked the bread very much that I had three of them. The rocket, parsley, soya bean, radish and dill salad was claimed to be organic too.

After the meal, I was also served a cup of gourmet coffee. I think all these were well worth the extra £15 for the upgrade.

It took about two-and-a-half hours for the train ride. When I arrived at Gare du Nord, it was already 4:00 p.m.

I said goodbye to the stewardess.

And I also said goodbye to the Eurostar train.

Then I started to look for the way to my hotel in Paris to kick start my 5-day stay in Paris.

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