We started the day off in a thourghly disturbing manner. Our first stop was the city’s Catacombs. The Catacomb’s are an ossuary for 6 million people. In the 18th century the sanitary conditions in Paris were horrible due to the many cemeteries in the center of the city. All of the remains from the cemeteries were dug up and thrown into the Catacombs on the outskirts of the city. Years later they were nicely arranged and became a tourist destination. The visit starts with a 500m walk through a cramped dark stone tunnel. It had a totally spooky vibe with the rough walls & water dripping from the ceilings at parts. There were also barred gates over some passages to make sure follow the right path, however they look a little too much like cell doors…what are they keeping in there? Eventually you come to a larger, more open area. At the other end of it is this door:
Translation of the text above the door: “Stop! Here is the land of the dead”.
Can you say creepy? But we did not arrete. We carried on and what we found was…well there are no words to describe it. Imagine you are walking through a dank, stone tunnel with very little light. On either side of you are human bones, stacked all the way up to the ceiling. The skulls are all facing out…staring at you. The floor is uneven and the dripping water puddles. In the skinnier bits you can barely fit through without brushing up against the remains of countless human beings. Now imagine you walk an entire mile in these conditions. How would you describe that? No words, right? In case that wasn’t a vivid enough picture, here’s and actual photo:
It was really quite interesting, but kind of disturbing at the same time. The bones are all sorted by the cemetery they came from, but otherwise are all mixed up. The stacks always looked very neat though, with the arm and leg bones closest to the outside and the skulls perched right at the front. Overall, cool but incredibly creepy!
When we emerged from the land of the dead we thought we’d try something a little lighter. We returned to the Musee d’Orsay. You may remember we tried to go here yesterday but it was closed. Today it was open & waiting for us to explore! The museum holds mainly French art from 1848 to 1914. There is a strict no photography policy so unfortunately no pictures. But we got to see a lot of beautiful art. It was a nice contrast to the art we saw at the Louvre. Orsay is mainly dominated by the Impressionist/Post-Impressionist era, so there is lots of flowy & swirly colors. It was also nice to see photos that weren’t religious oriented (which everything in the Louvre is). We saw works by Monet, Manet and Van Gogh to name a few everyone will have heard of. We have decided that we love Monet’s entire works but man did that guy love waterlillies!
By the time we finished frolicking among the famous works of art it was lunctime. Yum! We bought a baguette sandwich at a street front cafe on the way to the metro. It was an omlette sandwich to be exact. It sounds odd (well to Kristin it sounded perfect!) but was super delicious (Justine even agreed)! And the right size to split in half and keep us both good until supper time.
We then went to get some groceries. This may not have been the very best idea since now we are not sure our hostel has a fridge for us to store our meat & cheese in. This is super odd…every hostel we’ve been in before this one has had a kitchen & fridge. Anyway, back to the story… We weren’t sure where the store was so we did some wandering. We eventually found it and grabbed the things we wanted. The we tried to go through the checkout but the cashier picked up our apples and told us we needed the number for it. We looked at her like “Huh?” but she just packed our stuff up and sent us back into the store. So we wandered a bit & tried to watch other people, but no one was recording any numbers off signs by the produce or anything so we decided to try self checkout. When we tried to do our produce it wasn’t letting us enter anything, even though we were searching like you would on a self checkout at home. Then the lady working there starts telling us we need a ticket for it. After much searching we finally discovered you needed to weigh your fruits & veggies before hand and get a sticker for it (like they do with lunch meat at the deli). After much struggling we finally got out of the market with some lunch stuff for the next few days.
The evening plan was to journey up the hill to Montmartre and see Sacré-Coeur and the famous windmills. Sacré-Coeur is located at the very top of the Montmartre hill, the highest point in the city. That means we once again climbed a million stairs to get there. Unlike the other churches in Paris this one is relatively young. It was completed in 1914! It was quite beautiful perched way up there
and offered an excellent view of the city…this time from a Northern vantage point. And as you gaze out over the City of Love there was a guy singing & playing his guitar for all to hear. He was all set up with a microphone and everything. He serenaded us with some Savage Garden “Truly, Madly, Deeply” and even “My Heart Will Go On”.
In the 20th century, Montmartre was the home of the Bohemian movement and was where the artists, like Picasso, Monet and van Gough, came to live. This is the location commonly showcased in French movies, like Amelie. The stairs down from Sacré-Coeur are the famous stairs in the Ikea picture hanging in Justine’s room.
We walked the stairs & the streets and even rode the funny little funicular cable car. This is a really awesome area. It still has that artsy feel…it’s very young & hip with great restaurants, etc but also good for tourists with plenty of places to get Eiffel Tower everything. We’ve decided that if we were to live in Paris this would be the area we would find a place in.
We ate supper in a park in Montmartre. In case you’ve been worrying about the fridge issue, it is officially known that there is not somewhere to put our sandwich stuff. So we improvised and ate sandwiches for supper. We still have fruit & extra croissants we can smuggle from the breakfast area to have for lunch. We were planning on making our sandwiches on buns we got in a similar way to the croissants so we had to acquire some bread elsewhere for supper. We spotted a little bakery with a line of locals spilling out of it and down the street. Naturally we hopped in line and tried to act like we belonged. We left with a beautiful baguette for only 1€25! It not only looked great but tasted incredible.
While we were eating we got to listen to a guide explain to her tour group about the park. The only problem was that it was in rapid French. And that her tour group was practically standing on top of us!
We then hit up a bathroom. This would not normally earn a mention, except this was no normal bathroom. It was a bathroom cubical on the street, but again, it was nothing like the porta-potties on Whyte Ave. It was a crazy automated futuristic space pod that talked to you (in French of course) and sanitized itself after every use. Really handy, except that it takes forever to get through a line of people when the bathroom has to take a 5 minute break to clean itself after every person.
Now that it was dark we walked down to the lower portion of Montmartre. This is the sketchier section. Its not that its less safe or anything, its just that the street it lined with places that specialize in more sensual & seductive (or kinky) things. It’s odd though because they are mixed in with souvenir shops and really nice restaurants…and McDonalds & Starbucks. We did however have a reason for heading here…
The Moulin Rouge or the Red Windmill was the birthplace of the can-can dance at the turn-of-the-century. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance evolved into a form of entertainment and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe. For a taste we recommend watching the Moulin Rouge, it’s one of Justine’s favorites! We were not disappointed by this sight; it looked just like we had expected. The lights were bright (& red) and the place looked incredibly exciting.
As we were leaving the site we felt like we were missing out. So we are thinking we might splurge and get tickets to see the show when we return in December. It’s rather expensive but Justine says she will only eat 4 for 10€ bottles of wine & 1€25 baguettes if it means she can go…the bread of course is to soak up the alcohol.
– There is a very strong military & police presence in Paris. You see them everywhere! The police cars are on every corner and soldiers with machine guns are walking around every major monument. It’s comforting & yet rather scary. At first we thought it might have just been added security because of the 9/11 anniversary but it’s looking like it’s always like that.
– French grocery stores are hard.
Love, Luck & Land of the Dead,