Wednesday, May 13, 2015

From Miles Of Bones To Masterpieces......Paris Day Two

Under the city of Paris lies some 200 miles of tunnels lined with the skulls and bones of over 8 million people.  Back in 1786 after complaints that cemeteries had become overcrowded, bones were moved five stories underground into what used to be Paris' old quarries.  Today a few miles of these are open to the public for a once in a lifetime, eerie encounter with the dead.

In The Line For The Catacombs

Since no tickets are sold in advance the only way one gets to visit this large graveyard is to get up early and stand in line.  But still this offers no guarantees as only 200 visitors are allowed to enter at any one time. Although my wonderful husband Clyde is good with maps and directions, he found no exact directions but said we'd just head in the general area. So off we went getting off at what he thought was the closest Metro stop to the boneyard.  Seeing no signs I suggested we pop into a nearby ritzy hotel and ask directions.  Surely they'd have tourist information and be able to help us out. I went in first asking the well dressed desk clerk, "do you speak English?"  His response was, "Eye wool trae." Confused I asked again, "do you speak English."  His second response made me realize that he WAS speaking English.....or at least trying.  He ended up being very helpful giving us a map on which he wrote detailed information to the catacombs. We followed his route but still found no evidence that we were any closer......until we turned and noticed a loooooooong line that wrapped around a small door opening.   Clyde said, "that must be the place," as we crossed the street and found our way to the end. 

We're In.....Well One Of Us Is While Clyde's Still Taking Photos

Surprisingly the line went quickly as we chatted to a Canadian couple standing in front of us on line. Before long we found ourselves in front of the entrance ready to purchase tickets to this underground world.  Outside the temperatures were a cool 58 degrees and I was bundled up with layers of shirts and a jacket. I knew our bones would get even more chilled as we descended into the dark, abbess of the dead.

Narrow Hallways With Low Headroom

Soon after we entered into the dark tunnels we began to descend 130 steps into the unknown.  At first there is nothing but dimly lit, narrow tunnels with low headroom that create the initial setting.  Eventually we find ourselves literally surrounded by piles and piles of skulls and bones lining each and every hallway, nook and cranny.  All we could say was, "wow," as we suddenly realized just how insignificant each and every one of us is in this vast universe.  Just like these bones that once were covered with flesh we too someday will end up as a pile of rubble while our souls go away and live on forever.
 Bones And Skulls
 Heads Will Roll

Back to reality we followed the tunnels through a maze of inscriptions, altars and other things along the bone chilling pathways. As we made out way to the final resting places we realized that since we came down, we'd have to go back up.  While there are supposedly only 80 stairs back out of the catacombs it seemed like more on the steep, narrow, dizzying, spiral staircase that seemed like it would never end. 

Miles And Miles Of Bones Piled High

Clyde Also Had A Black Jacket On That Had White Spots On It From
Brushing Up Against The Bones......Ewwwwww!

Back outside among the living I needed to find a pharmacy to buy some lip balm since the dry air was reaking havoc on my lips.  Clyde agreed and we quickly found a small pharmacy in which we stopped.  The girl behind the counter showed me a section of lip products with the cheapest being around 8 euros since it contained a high dose of sunscreen.  I passed on the high priced products since we had several back at the apartment anyway.  But later we stopped into a nearby Monoprix where we found one for only 2 euros.

Next we headed over to the famous Louvre Museum,  a must-see in the city of lights. We were amazed upon entering the world famous museum to discover absolutely no lines.  We quickly purchased entrance tickets and decided to inquire about a tour.  A 90-minute tour of the masterpieces was only 12 euros each and was starting within minutes.  Our small group of maybe 10 people were each given a headset along with a radio transmitter.  This made it easy for the guild to talk into her microphone without yelling and each of us could spread out more yet still hear what she was saying.

Outside The Louvre Museum, Paris
Entrance Is Through That Pyramid

 Equipped With Radio and Headset To Listen To Our Guide

The Winged Victory of Samothrace

Consecration Of The Emperor Napoleon I And Coronation Of The Empress Josephine In Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris On December 2, 1804 by Jacques-Louis David
La Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
A Sensual Painting We Stopped At Since There Were No Kids In Our Group

Venus de Milo
Our Guide Explaining Something

I See Naked People

I Call This "Men Looking At Their Pee Pee's"


Our female guide Tamarita was from Italy and seemed passionate about art history.  She explained to the group why a masterpiece is called that and led us through a small selection among the 30,000 that the Louvre contains.

As An Art Historian She Was Very Passionate About The Masterpieces


After our morning out we headed back to our apartment to rest up a bit and have some lunch.  We shared a baguette, some ham rolls with cream cheese, another assortment of cheeses and some wine for less than 7 euros.  Also on our way to the apartment we picked up our very first macarons, a local pastry that Paris is well known for.  These little meringue cookies are filled with cream and come in many flavors. Resembling tiny burgers on rolls, they were lightly sweetened and a delightful end to a nice meal.  Even McDonalds in Paris includes macarons with their combo meals.

French Pastry Shop Near Our Apartment in Paris

A Strawberry Napolean & Three Macarons (chocolate, pistachio and strawberry)

Since our apartment was within walking distance to the cathedral of Notre Dame we headed over there after our brief rest.  Our first impression was of course "WOW," as we stared at the massive structure.  We managed to catch the end of a mass already in progress and made our way inside with no lines.  Was I ever shocked when I couldn't even see the priest that I was hearing.  Eventually I noticed the small figure dressed in white at the front of this gorgeous church. After our visit we walked around the area taking note at the many local shops, bakeries, pubs and rental bikes.  We had to pick up a baguette sandwich to share since this seems to be the Parisian way. 

The Cathedral Of Notre Dame, Paris
Named For "Our Lady"


The plaza surrounding the cathedral was a happening place with hoards of tourists.  A piano sat in the middle of one street with a man playing.  Another section had young guys on skateboards entertaining the crowds. Everywhere we looked there was something going on and plenty of people standing nearby to watch.

I Think I'll Park My Piano Here......In The Middle Of The Road
A Wedding? In Front Of Notre Dame

Having lived abroad for nearly four years now being surrounded by people NOT speaking English didn't seem so strange anymore.  Be it Spanish, French, Turkish, Greek, German or some other language we discovered that a smile goes along way.  Unlike us silly Americans though most people we encountered in Europe did speak some English, and many spoke it quite fluently. In our months of research prior to this trip Clyde read that Spanish is widely spoken and when someone didn't speak English, he spoke Spanish.

Despite what we'd read and heard about Paris being a haven for pickpockets we kept vigilant and saw no signs of any such thing.  Much of the trouble happens in and around the Metro by teenagers since they can't be procecuted.  Groups of teenagers will surround naïve tourists that are stuffed into crowded subways, snatching purses or luggage as the door closes. Before the tourist realizes it the thief is gone with their belongings. 

Entertainment On The Train

Throughout out whole month long trip we both wore money belts under our pants.  These contained any cash, credit cards, passports and copies of our passports too. While these were safely tucked away our pockets contained nothing of any value.  Mine usually held lip balm, tissues and hand sanitizer, all the things necessary for getting around town. Clyde carried a small camera attached to his wrist, small bottles of water and whatever else it is that men carry in those pockets of theirs.

Our Paris apartment was located at 3 Rue Beautrellis and we soon found out that 17 Rue Beautrellis is where Jim Morrison of The Doors was said to have died back in 1971.  Not all research says that he died in his apartment but it was known that he lived there. We walked by number 17 on our way to and from our apartment and took note the once famous dwelling.

Travel can be tiring as we walked miles on cobblestone streets, climbed hills, and tackled hundreds of stairs each time we used the subway system. Our tired legs took us back to our apartment once again as day two in Paris came to an end. We slept well as our heads hit the pillow, resting up for another day of fun in Paris......along the gringo trail.

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