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.