A Travellerspoint blog

June 2015

Catacombs

I got up in my super-comfy bed, took my time getting showered and ready for the day, finished off some of the cheese from yesterday, and headed over to drop my stuff at my sister's hotel. From there, we metroed to where my Aunt was staying and had a nice breakfast in a French cafe. Mmmmmm to nutella banana crepes. We got a glimpse of the outside of the Louvre as well, but despite having the Paris museum pass, we didn't get a chance to pop in. According to the guidebook, there were 3 entrances we could use. The main pyramid one had a long line, even for museum pass people. The side entrance was only for groups and not for museum pass people any more, and the supposed one in the mall seems to be closed. Instead, we arrived at the Catacombs early. Having a skip-the-line tour already booked, we took a stroll through one of the mid-boulevard parks nearby. I think those are a brilliant idea- use road medians as long, thin parks. It doesn't make you feel completely out of the city, but it does give access to many people, and provides a great place for a run/stroll without using too much space. Plus, it makes the air in that area so much better. When we returned to the catacombs entrance for our tour, we noticed that the line was out the door, around the block, and then some. The people in line reported that they had been waiting hours, and supposedly at this point the line was 3-3.5 hours long. That's a loooooong wait for some tunnels and bones. Fortunately, we had pre-arranged a skip-the-line tour with localers. As a result, we only waited 15 minutes (because we arrived 15 minutes early) for the rest of the people to arrive and our tour to start. Also, for us, we didn't just walk through some tunnels and bones, we got a great explanation of everything. The tour price was worth every penny. Our guide started by explaining the history of the limestone quarries in Paris. Basically, all the stone used for Notre Dame and the older palaces and buildings came from deposits under the city. Men worked long, dusty hours to provide the materials for the upper class and royalty to live in extravagance. But eventually, some of the mines turned into sinkholes that collapsed buildings and caused deaths. The people weren't really happy about that, so the king banned limestone mining within the city, but not before the whole underground was already a labyrinth of holes. So, to prevent future accidents, he hired some engineers to shore up the walls. Without a guide, I may not have understood that the plaques on each wall show what year it was shored up, especially for the plaques from the time of the French Republic, where they restarted the calendar and years were single digits. The other plaques on the walls contain street names. Of course, the streets above have changed names many times since the stone plaques were put in, so people who want to use those to navigate have to do reasearch to know what all the old names of the streets were. Some of those people are "catophiles" who love spending time in the parts of the catacombs that are illegal to be in. He told us of the special catacombs police whose only job is to round them up and break up the raves that kids have in the underground. Finally, we got to the bones part. The catacombs ossuary contains 7 million people's bones. These people were originally buried in various cemeteries (and under churches, like the nun in Les Miserables) around Paris. But, since there was no money and lots of death, people were generally buried in mass graves. They were open and stinky as they were being filled. The bodies spread diseases to the drinking water, further spreading death. And there was a general need for another solution. So, the king declared that new bodies would only be buried outside of the city, and once the old bodies decomposed, the bones would be collected and stored underground. Each pile of bones has a stone plaque that says what cemetery they cme from and in what year, as the bone relocation project took quite a while. During it, a load of bones would get dumped down an old mine shaft, a guy would push all the bones against a wall, and some engineers would take the strong ones (leg bones and skulls mostly) to make retaining walls to hold back the mountain of "bone debris" and prevent it from spilling over. In order to make it more asthetic, some of them made designs with the bones. They weren't the fancy, lovingly placed chandeliers and wall art popular with monks who made ossuaries, this was "engineering art" as the guide stated so well. It looks ok and is primarily functional. Some of these walls hold back literally tons of bones, as some piles are dozens of meters deep. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there was also poetry about death all over the walls. The guide translated it for us, and it was generally supposed to remind us that we are mortal. Lastly, on the way out, we passed the graves of the only people buried here (whole, not just bones). Whe the Louvre palace was being attacked in the Revolution, the king escaped a little and told the Swiss mercenaries he had hired to stop defending the palace. As a result, they were slaughtered, and people buried them in a mass grave in the catacombs to sort of cover it up. Overall, I have to say that the tour was incredible. Without the tour, the catacombs would have been ok, but not worth a 3 hour wait. With the tour, both my sister's boyfriend and I thought it was one of the highlights of the trip. After having such trouble finding a fromagerie yesterday, we cheated a bit and bought our baguette, cheese, and olives at a supermarket. But, at least we only bought French cheese. Of course, we then passed a fromagerie on the way to the metro. We ate our picnic under a bridge over the Seine by Notre Dame. The plan was to climb the tower after lunch. Again, we missed out. The line was incredibly long, which meant that we were either going to be able to climb the tower or see the Louvre, but not both. The Louvre won. We booked it over there pretty quickly, although I did get the opportunity to take in a bit of the scenery on that side of the river, including one of the locks bridges. I'm glad I got to see it before they take it all down, but it's not that big of a deal. When we arrived at the Louvre, there was nobody in the museum pass line, so we went right in. The Louvre is HUGE. As in, the first thing we saw was a castle (or part of it). Yes, they have a castle in just one wing of the Louvre- that's how big it is. We didn't get to see a lot, but we did see Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa, in part because we were lucky enough to have started near them, and in part because we were following maps and signs to get there, once we got close. I've got to say that I think Mona Lisa is way overrated. I moved around the room, and her eyes certainly did not follow me. Maybe it works for a small angle near to the perpendicular, but it doesn't generally work. Also, as expected, there was a massive crowd in front of her, so nobody really got close and nobody really got a good view. Fortunately, the Louvre contains plenty of other art. For those interested in old portraiture, the sections we viewed would be right up your alley. I saw a bunch of interesting paintings featuring headless people or bodiless heads, so I was at least somewhat entertained, even if it's not the kind of art I like. I was also entertained by the building itself. The Louvre used to be the king's palace, so the ceilings are intricate, the windows look out on the statues carve into the exterior walls, and some of the floors have mosaics or other designs. (Of course, some of the art was stolen from where it originally was, but that's a different issue.) We passed lots of art by famous people and then ended up in the "non-European" art section. There were a lot of interesting and fun pieces there. For people who have similar tastes to me, this is the better part of the museum. We crammed in as much art as we could until closing time, and then actually had to wait in a line to get out. While it seemed like we just ate, it was dinner time, so we ate again. I got wok noodles, but the cut of the vegetables was very French and not at all what I've experienced in Chinese food anywhere else in the world (including China). It was also not very spicy, but it was still good.

And that was my last meal in Europe for a while. What a way to end a series of small weekend trips to Europe- Chinese food.

Park by Catacombs

Park by Catacombs


Catacombs

Catacombs


Catacombs

Catacombs


Catacombs

Catacombs


Picnic lunch

Picnic lunch


Lunch by the Seine

Lunch by the Seine


Locks bridge

Locks bridge


Louvre

Louvre


Louvre Ceiling

Louvre Ceiling


Louvre Mosaic

Louvre Mosaic


Picture of picture of pictures

Picture of picture of pictures


Non-European Art at Louvre

Non-European Art at Louvre


Crown Jewels

Crown Jewels

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in France Comments (0)

Finally- the main sights of Paris

I arrived in Paris (again) and headed to my sister's hotel. She was staying at the Holiday Inn St. Germaine, which was super-convenient to the metro and a very nice hotel. I had to wake her a bit and steamroll her to get her out of bed, but eventually we got moving. We decided to walk over to the Eiffel tower and start our day there, but on the way, we passed the grassy area in front of Hotel de Invalides and got distracted by some goats. Per the sign, they were there to ecologically mow the lawn. Next, we got distracted by breakfast. We were by Rue Cler, THE foodie market street of Paris, so I was super-excited to stop there for breakfast. I picked some random pastries from one shop, and then we went to a cafe to get some coffee. I know that it's sooooo cliche, but it was also very satisfying to sit in a cafe in paris. After food, we undistracted ourselves and headed over to the Eiffel tower, where the lines to use the elevators were hours long, as expected. We had planned on using the stairs, but we had read that there would be no lines. It wasn't horrible to have to wait 20 minutes, but it would have been nicer if we were waiting in the shade and not the sun. I highly recommend using the stairs, and not just because the line is shorter and it's cheaper. It was pretty cool to see the engineering, nuts, and bolts up close and personally. Plus, at each level, we got a sense of accomplishment, since we had just climbed 360 stairs a piece. The viewing platforms let you get a good look at the city, but to wait hours to take an elevator to a view is probably not worth it. Climbing and conquering it was, though. Even the people who take the stairs up get to take the elevator down, so we did that and then headed across the river to Trocadero. It's a nice plaza, but what was cool was that one of the buildings contained a maritime museum. It wasn't on our original list of things to do, but we were there, it was free with our museum pass, and it was interesting. Right when you walk in, you see one of Napoleon's boats. The whole thing, not a model. There were also tons of model boats and other boat displays, but what I thought was really neat was a series of paintings. Some king had hired a painter to go around to all the French ports and document them on canvas. There were scenes from 1700s ports all over the world and I found it interesting to see how the world looked back then. When we finished the museum, we were hungry again and very ready for lunch. The plan was to get some bread at a boulangerie, cheese at a fromagerie and wine and then make a picnic. Based on my previous experience, I figured that there are so many in Paris that they'd just jump out at us. We did find a boulangerie and got some bread, but the lady at the wine shop said that there wasn't a fromagerie nearby, so we noshed on the bread to hold us over and headed over to Arc de Triomphe and climbed that, as if we hadn't just done the Eiffel Tower. As with the maritme museum, the Arc was free with the museum pass. I thought that it had a better view then the Eiffel Tower, as the city spokes out from there and we could see more, including the Eiffel Tower and Champs de Elysees. At this point, we decided that we'd pick up cheese by Rue Cler, since we knew there were plenty of fromageries there and were not having luck with getting fromageries to find us. I used the standard method for picking cheese- ask the guy there, "what do you like?" We ended up with some tangy brie, truffled camambert, roquefort and another excellent choice. Right next door, there was a wine shop with an incredibly helpful sommolier. We had all of our picnic items, and even a great olive fig spread as a bonus. We sat ourselves in a small park on the side of Hotel de Invalides, and thoroughly enjoyed our super-French picnic. Since we were there and it was cool looking, we went into the Hotel de Invalides to see Napoleon's tomb. I was jealous of one of the tour groups because they all had paper Napoleon hats. I want one! Finally, we went over to Notre Dame. First, we visited the crypt museum (again free with the museum pass). I was definitely expecting something else based on the word "crypt." What is actually down there is the remains of the original Paris- Lutetia. As described at length in Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, the original Paris was on the island in the middle of the Seine that now holds Notre Dame. The south bank was later developed and the Latin quarter grew there. Eventually, Paris absorbed various suburbs and expanded. The "crypt" museum had displays that showed Paris in each stage of growth, and went into some of the details of how and why the city grew as it did. As in the Hunchback, they showed the various stages of Notre Dame's development as well. We decided to go into the church next and climb the tower last, which was a mistake because the tower line was closed when we were done inside. But, there's always tomorrow to climb the tower. The church itself isn't that different from anything else from that period, although the church was built, added to, and rebuilt over many eras, each contributing a different style. Since I had to check into my hostel by 8 and we wanted to see the Louvre in the evening, we decided to take a break to check in and get cleaned up for dinner. This is where the drama started. I have stayed at dozens of hostels in dozens of countries (see other blogs) and never really had a huge problem. I found my way to the address listed for Lucky Youth Panoramic Hostel. There is no sign and it's just an apartment in a huge complex, which is probably why they want you to call them from the train station and let them walk you there. For those of us with dead phones though, finding the place took some help. When I got to the apartment, there was nobody to check me in. There were a few guests that were waiting for sheets and had been told to continue waiting by the check-in guy who had left a half hour before to go get sheets. I was in a rush to get to the Louvre, but decided that it would be ok to get my phone a little charge while waiting. After a half hour, I had battery to get on their wifi and call them, but I got a recording that wouldn't let you leave a message. It just said check in was 1-8pm. After an hour waiting, it was 7:30 and I wanted to make sure I had a checkin before 8 so I knew I had a bed for the night, so I called the customer service from the website. They were very nice and said they'd call and find out, but that I should be ok, since I booked it. At their prompting, the hostel people called and were very rude to both me and the booking company. To make a long story short, the booking company refunded my money, apologized and had to report the hostel owner for not honoring a reservation. Truly, other than the rudeness of the host, this facility belongs on air bnb more than a hostel site as it is just somebody's apartment with 1 bathroom and some bunk beds, not a real hostel. In fact, if Paris has any occupancy laws, I'm sure that they have too many people packed into a tiny one-bedroom apartment (including bunks in the living room) to be legal. At this point, I was free to use their wifi to book something else, but I felt bad for the girl who had now wasted 2 hours of her vacation waiting for sheets. I got a great last-minute hotwire deal on Villa Luxembourg, which was right near where I was and where my sister was staying, so I scrambled to get there, although doubted that we'd make it to the Louvre tonight. The guy at the front desk was incredibly helpful and friendly, was able to quickly handle my last minute reservation, and even recommended a nice area for us to go have dinner at.

Goat lawn mowers

Goat lawn mowers


Rue Cler

Rue Cler


Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower


Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower


Napoleon's Boat

Napoleon's Boat


Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe


Ceiling of Arc de Triomphe

Ceiling of Arc de Triomphe


View of Eiffel Tower from Arc de Triomphe

View of Eiffel Tower from Arc de Triomphe


Inside Hotel de Invalides

Inside Hotel de Invalides


Inside Notre Dame

Inside Notre Dame


Notre Dame windows

Notre Dame windows


Outside Notre Dame

Outside Notre Dame

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in France Comments (0)