Macabre in the morning means a visit to the Catacombs of Paris.  Oooooo…  These catacombs were created in 1785 to serve as an ossuary (literally a room or container for the bones of the dead) when Paris’s largest cemetery (where people had been buried for over ten centuries!) started becoming a danger to the townspeople (a lot you can read into that).  Before they became the Catacombs, they were quarries where tons of Lutetian limestone had been mined to create many of the most famous buildings in Paris, including the Louvre.  Hayden would be excited to know that this strata of stone is 45 million years old and the fossils of many extinct marine animals have been found here!  You can actually see fossils still embedded in the stone, although I didn't see any myself.

So they literally dug up most of the cemeteries around Paris and moved all of the bones into the quarries.  At first they just piled them in, but then in the 1800s they decided it might be nice to be a little more respectful about it, and the bones were arranged in a more “decorative” fashion.  Callie and I tried twice to see the Catacombs – the first time we got there around 5 and they were closed.  The second time we got there at 3:30, but it’s right around that time that they cut off the line because the last admission is 4pm.  It just so happened that WE were chosen to be the designated cut-off point!  Needless to say, frustrating.  So I finally got wise and went at 9am on my last day in Paris.  Callie wasn’t able to make it.  I waited in line 2 hours and finally – entre!  To get to the Catacombs I descended about 60 feet underground (180 narrow, winding stone steps).  I walked through a series of quarried corridors before reaching a large room where a beautiful sculpture had been chiseled.  It was created by a quarryman named Decure, who fought in the armies of Louis XV and was supposedly one of his best soldiers.  The sculpture is of a fortress from the island of Minorca where Decure is believed to have been held prisoner by the British.  Beautiful sculpture.

Then more winding corridors.  It’s very cool, and wet.  The walls and ceilings drip water at times, which didn’t make me feel all that secure!  And sound is very strange down there.  I could hear a guide giving a group of people the history of the place, and it sounded like he was far behind me and right next to me at the same time – I don’t know how else to describe it!  On the ceiling above me throughout the walk was a large snaking black line.  Visitors in the 19th century painted it there to keep from getting lost in the Catacombs, which makes sense because I noticed a lot of tunnels were closed off.  And from some images I’ve seen on the web, I suspect there’s quite a lot that the public doesn’t get to see – some very beautiful monuments and sculptures.  Click here if you want to see more.

Through more tunnels and then suddenly I’m standing at the entrance to the ossuary itself, with an inscription on the lintel that says “Stop!  This is the empire of death!”  And there before me, rows upon rows of skulls and bones.  Many, many winding stone corridors of skulls and bones.  It's actually not a creepy place at all, more kind of stunning.  I felt a sense of quiet respect.  It is, after all, a cemetery.  You are not supposed to use your flash when you take photos here (although many people ignored this), so I don’t have a lot to show.  But you can get an idea from the few that I have.  There are over SIX MILLION Parisians buried in the Catacombs!  ‘Nuff said.

After the Catacombs I didn’t want to spend my last few hours in Paris standing in another line, so I decided not to see Notre Dame as I intended.  Instead I went to the Tuileries, the gardens where André Le Nôtre trained before designing Versailles, and had a delicious lunch of croque monsieur.  Ever see the movie IT’S COMPLICATED?  Meryl Streep plays a bakery owner and in one scene she makes croque monsieur for Steve Martin’s character.  I’ve always wanted to try it!  Just obscenely buttery bread toasted with cheese and sometimes ham, I think, but she made it sound so good!  I think hers might be better, but it was yummy.  Then I walked along the Champs Elysees toward the Arc de Triomphe.  Think of a large, concrete outdoor shopping mall where you can’t afford to buy anything.  Just sat on a bench and people-watched for awhile, enjoyed the breeze, looked up at the Arc.  And I’m not sure, but I think I saw some of the riders in the Tour de France race down the Champs Elysees!  They came down the street as I was walking toward the Arc and everyone started cheering.  I just read that the last leg of the tour was supposed to come through there on the day!

Then, alas, it was time to say goodbye to Paris.  One last pic of the Metro that so graciously got me around the city.  And back to London on the train.

 


Zell
07/22/2013 9:13am

Lovely write up, Vicki! You've done Paris proud!! So, I'm curious.... based on what you've experienced so far.... if somebody said "You MUST live a year in either London or Paris".... which city would you choose?

Hey, in London, did you stop by St. Martin's in the Field, in Trafalgar Square? The church has the most wonderful cafe down in its crypt. It's so relaxing. All the mayhem, hustle and bustle of London is at street level, then, when you descent the steps, you find yourself in the cool, calm, quiet of the crypt. (And a public restroom is there, too, lol!) The church is also a major venue for art and music. Growing up, I always heard classical music on the radio that was recorded at St. Martin's.

Reply
Vicki
07/23/2013 10:54am

Haven't stopped in there, but I walked by St. Martin's this morning and thought the same thing! I used to buy cassettes of classical recordings from St. Martin's and now here I am standing in front of the place! I'll definitely check out the cafe. Was thinking about attending a concert there, too. We'll see. So so much to do! A wealth of pleasures!

You know, I don't know how to explain it, but I just feel more comfortable in London than I did in Paris. So for me I'd have to say spend a year in London. However, Callie said she preferred Paris. I think it may be that some of my English ancestry is still in my blood and that's what makes me prefer it, I don't know. Of course I know which you would choose! :) I'm so glad you write every day. Makes this so much more fun!

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Zell
07/24/2013 5:18am

I probably would choose London myself--but not because of any extreme Anglophilia. It's just the language barrier in France (my 4 years of French does NOT go very far there!). I find the French a little snooty sometimes (which I dislike), but they tend to be more "bohemian" than the English (which I do like). So it'd be a tough call!

(I've thoroughly enjoyed reading the blog! I love yakking about travel!)

Reply
Zell
07/24/2013 5:18am

I probably would choose London myself--but not because of any extreme Anglophilia. It's just the language barrier in France (my 4 years of French does NOT go very far there!). I find the French a little snooty sometimes (which I dislike), but they tend to be more "bohemian" than the English (which I do like). So it'd be a tough call!

(I've thoroughly enjoyed reading the blog! I love yakking about travel!)

Reply
Zell
07/24/2013 5:19am

I probably would choose London myself--but not because of any extreme Anglophilia. It's just the language barrier in France (my 4 years of French does NOT go very far there!). I find the French a little snooty sometimes (which I dislike), but they tend to be more "bohemian" than the English (which I do like). So it'd be a tough call!

(I've thoroughly enjoyed reading the blog! I love yakking about travel!)

Reply
Zell
07/24/2013 5:21am

(Sorry for the hiccup! I kept getting an error message telling me to resubmit my response!)

Reply
Vicki
07/24/2013 1:44pm

lol... It's okay. I just thought you wanted to make your point very, very clear. :) thanks for following along every day! You're my loyal follower. This is so much fun! What do you want me to write for your site, btw?

Reply
Zell
07/26/2013 7:01am

I'll email you about what to write, okay?




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