Category Archives: Europe

Underbelly of Paris – Les Catacombes

There is this incredible little pastry shop in the middle of Paris – quite possibly the middle of the map (though of course this depends on where you place your map)… And it is right opposite the entrance which goes down a stone spiral staircase that opens up onto thousands upon thousands of human remains. You know, location location location. (The bakery was really lovely though, don’t get me wrong!)

Bones

Les Catacombes, the Catacombs of Paris, France, are home to what seems to be an infinite number of old human remains that were dug up a couple decades ago from churchyards around the city, and placed, according to custom and set rules and regulation (because they have rules for how you stack bones, naturally), in the old underground quarries from even longer prior to that. People are weird. Maybe we were weird for being so intrigued and enthralled and captivated by it?

Greenstick fracture

This place is immensely creepy. Thankfully, I, unlike my crazy travel partner, had not watched “As Above, So Below” before going into the twisting, dark, dank tunnels, so I had no fear of imminent supernatural about to attack, but that didn’t make it any less freaky.

Tunnel

 

But enough of those childish descriptions. The information down there was great: I had no idea there were underground quarries below the densely populated city of Paris, and I got to learn a heck of a lot about the methods behind it. Also, how crazy miners are, and the people who don’t think things through, resulting in some ceilings of the tunnels collapsing. How do you not see that coming? Have you never built a sandcastle on the beach before (or in any sand whatsoever)? Silly…

Stone-masonry

What was not silly, was the fact that there was information in ENGLISH as well, for a change. It was a really nice relief to actually know what was going on down there. Except for the creepy Latin inscriptions as you head into the tunnels which house the actual skeletons – which makes it even eerier (grown up words!).

Typically people don't appreciate or respect others, or the dead, and they go and vandalise history... Spooky though

Typically people don’t appreciate or respect others, or the dead, and they go and vandalise history… Spooky though

It was really something nice and different to do in Paris. They are open until fairly late, the place is extremely accessible, and we even got a student discount, which is always great! The only problem (apart from having to do even more stairs) was that you come out somewhere quite different to where you go in, and we forgot to familiarise ourselves with the route back. It was fine, we were in Paris! Stunning little sight-see, not too busy, absolutely worth the visit!

666 graffiti

 

Palace of Ver-sigh

The Palace of Versailles is lovely, especially in the first few rooms you walk through. After that, though, the loveliness seems to spread and average out until the whole place has a lovely ranking of “Average”. Gold room, after carpeted room, after fancy chandelier.

Grand Trianon Ballroom

After the main Palace, you walk through incredibly expansive, stunning gardens. Now, I really wouldn’t mind having a garden like that outside my bedroom window! We couldn’t figure out how it was kept so impeccably neat though: we saw one lone gardener who was mowing the lawn, but we never saw anyone tending to the perfectly cropped trees, or sweeping up fallen leaves. It must just stay like that naturally, from years of being tamed to do so.

Gardens of Verailles

And it really has been years. A visit to the Palace of Versailles is like a snapshot into history that you enjoy but would rather not see. It’s almost as bad as visiting a concentration camp if you have any vague idea of what actually happened in that place. Everything is extremely grand, even the dwellings labeled as “petit”, and they clearly didn’t spare any expenses. But as you’re craning your neck to see yet another golden chandelier, you remember that there were people in the streets not very far from that very room who were literally starving to death.

Marie Leczinska

Some other Marie (Marie Leczinska)

Now, I completely understand Marie Antoinette’s instruction to “Let them eat cake”, I mean, cake is absolutely wonderful, and everyone should be allowed to enjoy it, but the detachment that the French government and bourgeois had from their people is horrifying. Then again, so is the massive economical divide we see around us even to this day…

But enough of that morbidity. It was a gorgeous day, and we got to see and learn quite a bit from the visit. I had never been to this particular overcrowded tourist destination, but I am really glad we made that long journey – though the “journey” around the Palace itself felt far more extensive and excessive and had us walking many miles through echoes of the very first chamber we went into.

Paris Day 1 – The Circumnavigation

Start: top left corner of the map. Walk “downhill”. Take a slight wrong turn. End up at Arc de Triomf. Realise your new camera’s lens does not zoom in or out; time to be creative.

Arc de Triomph

Take a stroll down the Champs Elysee, slight detour to the Grand Palais, and a nice long wait to go through security at the Louvre. Blur through the sculpture room, Medieval Art, Mona Lisa, Roman and Greek art,  foot-rest break in the Egypt chamber, and onward to the lock bridge. Slight wander to get to the Notre Dame, and a much welcome break at Quick. “Healthy” does not feature when in Rome Paris.

Petit Palais

Mona Lisa crowds

Notre Dame

Grand Palais

Obelisk Champs Elysee

A “just-around-the-corner” walk to Eiffel Tower, pause on the grass, pause in the queue, and begin the ascension to the second floor. Pause for elevator to the top, try not to get blown off the top, pause for elevator back to second floor, and some eccentric quad exercises to the bottom. Catch a bus that’s much further away than it seemed on the map.

Eiffel Tower

Get home to leave some baggage and go out for an evening walk, but end up crashing before 8pm, despite not having dinner other than cool cereal, and despite having no curtains for the remaining 2 hours of daylight.

Total: 15km of city walked. 1 wing of the Louvre explored. ±700 stairs up and ±700 steps down the Eiffel Tower. Day 1 = complete.

Oui went to Paris

We went to England for his first time overseas. He wanted something exotic for his first time though, so I figured why not hop on over to Paris for the weekend. After all, it is just around the corner.

Surrounded by history is the city of Paris

Outside the Army Museum: Surrounded by history is the city of Paris. It really makes me wish I had taken the noble subject of History, even if only at school level

The city of love, of lights, of overpriced restaurants, too much vandalistic graffiti, and enough litter in the sheets to tower over Le Toer Eiffel. I guess that’s how it’s always been though, a city of start contrasts. Our visit to The Palace of Versailles highlighted how lavishly the French Bourgeoise lived, while the proletariat went starving. Walking through the narrow lanes and alleyways of Paris, and suddenly, out of the cobbled streets, will rise, gold and grand, some immense building of some significance or other. And then it’s back to uneven paving and spray painted tags, where some French kid thought he was being cool by cussing in English.

Paris is full of rebels, even if it is just a way for them to declare their undying love

Paris is full of rebels, even if it is just a way for them to declare their undying love

The first time I went to Paris, I went by ferry, and it gave a stunning view of Dover (and boats are always fun). This time, we caught the Eurostar, for £72 one way, and £56 for the return trip. I expected more from the train trip, but hey, it was efficient and it delivered us safely to Gare du Nord train station, a short bus ride from our accommodation. If only we knew how to catch a bus in France… Luckily, the French folk were really helpful, contrary to my limited past experience. I still don’t know how to catch a bus though.

Beauty is in the sunglasses of the South African

Beauty is in the sunglasses of the South African

We booked our accommodation through Air BnB, which is pretty much my new favourite travel website, on par in usefulness with Skyscanner.net, We stayed in a 6th floor, one bedroom apartment which had windows that would have been completely perfect if their view had been one of the Eiffel Tower. Also, if they had curtains, especialy with the sunrising at 5am, setting at 11.

Check: he's holding the Eiffel Tower!

Check: he’s holding the Eiffel Tower!

The highlights of this trip:

Day 1

  • Arc de Triomf
  • Champs Elysee
  • The Louvre (and getting in for free)
  • Walking to Notre Dame
  • Grabbing a Quick burger
  • Walking to the Eiffel Tower; climbing the 700 stairs to the second level and then catching a lift to the top
  • And finally catching bus home
The classic French dinner: Sirloin and Pommes Frites (French Fries). The irony that they are called Poms...

The classic French dinner: Sirloin and Pommes Frites (French Fries). The irony that they are called Poms…

Day 2

  • Oversleeping, meeting some Americans on a train, and waiting nearly an hour to get into the Palace of Versailles, walking through endless illogical halls-come-bedrooms then corridors of said palace, being very hot walking through the extensive and gorgeous gardens
  • Returning to town for a trip through the Catacombs,
  • Dinner in Paris
  • Sunset from the Sacré Cœur, and
  • An evening stroll home along Place de Clichy (think red light district and “cabaret”)

Overall, it was a really lovely trip. Quite an expensive expedition, but that’s what you get when you visit one of the most popular world tourist destinations. We walked 15km on each of the days, excluding the walk around the inside of the Palace of Versailles, and excluding walking around the Louvre. We were only there for 3 nights, but we really made the most of the limited time that we did have there.

Paris has this uncanny ability to be an amazing fantasy before you get there, somewhat awful and scruffy while you are there, and then still manages to leave you feeling as though you went to this magical place of beauty and excitement when you return to reality. It’s bizarre and I like it.