Paris: Day 6- All About Skeletons.

Before the late 18th century, there were a plethora of cemeteries in the middle of Paris. The burial ground of Les Innocents was one of the most popular, due to it’s central location and the close proximity of the Saints Innocents church.  However, by the end of the 19th century, Les Innocents had become a two metre high mound of earth full of centuries of Parisian dead- famine, disease, war and the remains from nearby hospitals and morgues. Apparently it was impossible to keep milk in any of the nearby houses- it would go sour within hours. Levels of sickness rose in the neighborhood. Other parishes in Paris had their own cemeteries, of course, but the condition of Les Innocents was really very awful.

A large amount of Paris is built from limestone, and a lot of that limestone was mined in uninhabited areas of Paris. Once they had been rather haphazardly [and often illicitly] depleted, these mines were left abandoned and uncharted. Thus, as the city built new suburbs, both new residents and the authorities were unaware of the fact that there were mines right under them. Around the early 17th century architects began to discover these mines, but it wasn’t until a series of mine cave-ins, beginning in 1774, that Louis XIV ordered a commission to investigate the Paris underground. And so the Inspection of Mines service began.

In the 30th May 1780, the basement of a building adjoining Les Innocents collapsed from the weight of the mass grave on the other side of it. This hastened the decision to get rid of Les Innocents. Now only the problem remained- what to do with all the dead?

The cemetery closure and the mine collapses were both problems under the jurisdiction of the Police Prefect, Police Lieutenant-General Alexandre Lenoir, and since he had played a part of the creation of the mine inspection service, he supported the idea of moving all the bones and human remains to the subterranean passageways and tunnels, newly renovated and made safer with stone walls and pillars. in 1885 the idea took action, and after an opening ceremony on the 7th April, black clothed wagons would transport millions of Paris dead every night. It two years to empty most of the cemeteries in Paris- all parish cemeteries within the city limits were now condemned. 

The mines, now the ‘Tombe-Issoire’, were at first just a jumbled depository for bones, but in 1810 Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, head of the Paris mine inspection at the time, began renovations that would turn the caverns into a visitable mausoleum. As well as stacking bones into the shapes and formations still seen today, he added pieces of decoration e.g. pillars and carvings, and inscriptions on the archways and entrances to different ‘rooms’ of the Catacombs. He also created a room dedicated to the different kinds of minerals found under Paris, and one to the deformed skeletons found among the estimated six million dead transported there. 

The Catacombs were definitely a must see for me, and I’m glad that Ruth wanted to go as well. We got up relatively early to travel there, but apparently not early enough- the queue to get in wrapped around the entire block! This was due to the fact that they didn’t let many people in at a time- I think it was maybe only two hundred allowed in the entire 2km long area at a time.

So we decided to wait. We waited for maybe three hours, taking turns to go for coffee, and pop off for a picnic lunch. It was a really lovely sunny day, so we didn’t mind waiting too much. It was after noon by the time we got in, but it was definitely, definitely worth it.

At the beginning of the Catacombs, they had a couple of extra spaces set up vis-a-vis the early 1800’s. However, instead of deformed skeletons, these rooms were showcasing the very early prehistoric history of the area. It was actually very interesting, learning how the land had changed, how the sea had moved in and effected the mineral deposits found, and the fossils found whilst renovating the underground passages.

One of the fossils on display.

One of the fossils on display.

But anyway, onto the macabre business of the day. The caverns were quite cool, a constant 14°, but it got colder the further we went in. The air was quite clear, with a faint, dusty smell- it actually reminded me of the underground city we visited in Turkey. 

At first there was just a series of empty little passages, interspersed with informative signs on the history of the mining and original collapses. We walked along, listening to our audio guides. When we got to the skeletal part of the caverns, there was a carving over the archway- ‘Watch out! You are entering Death’s realm’.

Photo courtesy of Ruth.

Photo courtesy of Ruth.

After that we wandered through rows and columns of bones, arranged quite decoratively, the skulls leering at you from their pedestal of larger bones- I didn’t see any phalanges or carpals hanging around! I guess it’s all the little bones that get lost when skeletons move house.

It’s very hard to describe the feeling of being in that space, and photos don’t do it any justice. Although I did take a few very blurry ones- no flash allowed. It’s one of the most truly gothic places that I’ve ever been, and I have to admit, there were a few shivers running down my spine at some points. Despite all the other visitors, we very rarely bumped into anyone, and only occasionally did we hear echoes of other voices from another passageway. As we walked through the Catacombs, we saw hundreds of other paths branching off from our own, closed off with gates. These were deemed too unstable, or simply too uncharted for visitors. It made me realize just how big these catacombs were, to see all these bone-lined tunnels stretching out into darkness.

Ruth's photo...in one of the slightly higher-roofed passages!

Ruth’s photo…in one of the slightly higher-roofed passages!

A miner carved this...he was an ex-convict who spent years down here, and ended up dying here as well, saving a colleague from a rockfall.

A miner carved this…he was an ex-convict who spent years down here, and ended up dying here as well, saving a colleague from a rockfall.

More of his carving.

More of his carving.

 

 

*2spooky*

*2spooky*

There were some very strict signs...no touching!

There were some very strict signs…no touching!

Many signs with religious quotes, or quotes about death.

Many signs with religious quotes, or quotes about death.

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Apparently Robespierre's bones are down here somewhere...

Apparently Robespierre’s bones are down here somewhere…

Literal wall of bones.

Literal wall of bones.

A circular pillar of bones.

A circular pillar of bones.

We reached the end, and climbed out into the early afternoon sunshine. After a brief visit to the souvenir shop [of course!] we asked ourselves ‘have we had our fill of death for the day? no?’ and navigated our way to Pere Lachaise.

We got there only half an hour before it closed. It was a lovely half an hour though, just wandering among the sunsoaked graves, reading the names and wondering about the people whose names we didn’t know. It sounds strange, but it was very idyllic. There were spring flowers sprawling over the grass, and in the late afternoon sun shadows slowly grew longer. I wish we’d had longer, but I’m determined to go back one day.

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He was the leader of a cult....

He was the leader of a cult….

It wasn’t dinner time yet, so next we went to Sacre Coeur. Now, I’m afraid I don’t know a lot of the history or stories behind this place- we were the last people allowed to climb up the dome, having arrived just as it was closing, and after that I was more interested in watching the sun sink down towards the Paris skyline. The view from the top of Sacre Coeur is really, really good. Like, in the Top Views From Places Olympics, it would probably get a silver medal.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

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I was also interested by the mass graffiti covering the walls, benches and roof of the dome. It was the only kind of architectural monument we’d visited that had had so much defacement just let left there.

Covered in writing.

Covered in writing.

good luck, i guess.

good luck, i guess.

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actually related pretty strongly to this particular piece of art.

actually related pretty strongly to this particular piece of art.

VIEWS

VIEWS

From low down.

From low down.

And then hunger got the best of us, and we climbed down and wandered through the streets spread out from Sacre Coeur, like a great big skirt of stalls and restaurants and those artists clamouring to sketch your portrait. We ended up eating outdoors, which was surprisingly chilly after such a nice day- that’s just spring, I guess!

 

Napoleon, on bike, date + artist unknown.

Napoleon, on bike, date + artist unknown.

 

 

Paris: Day 5- The Eiffel Tower

Day five we arrived at The Eiffel Tower early [ish] in the morning to find it bathed in sunlight. After some debate about which corner of the tower to queue up at, we managed to get into a very orderly line, just in front of a group of about thirty students from Argentina. I’m not sure how many of their pictures I was lurking in the background of, but sorry, I guess.

The first of many pictures of the Eiffel Tower that you're going to see here.

The first of many pictures of the Eiffel Tower that you’re going to see here.

Oh look, hey, here's another one.

Oh look, hey, here’s another one.

and another...

and another…

We queued for about an hour, an hour and a half, taking turns to go off and wander around. Once we had out tickets, it wasn’t long until we got into the first lift, to take us up to the second level. When we stepped out, a cold wind hit me in the face like a slap, and although we walked around and took lots of lovely pictures and admired the view, I think the thing that I’ll remember the most of is shivering and cursing my astounding ability of not being able to pack a scarf.

Views la la la

Views la la la

A cold selfie.

A cold selfie.

Viewsssss

Viewsssss

Looking up...gulp!

Looking up…gulp!

And then we queued for another hour and half to get the life up to the third floor. I have and always will be a shameless people watcher- in my defense, it’s fascinating, and a good way to pass the time. When we finally got into the lift, and it started to go, we realized that it was more than a little nerve wracking. Being right by the window didn’t help, as we rose up, seemingly directly into mid air, to the slimmest reachable point of the Tower. There was a bit of nervous mumbling at how fast we were going, and I was relieved to finally reach the top.

The view really was amazing, and it was a lot of fun to get a really good viewpoint of the lay of Paris. I was disappointed at the lack of opportunities to encourage consumerism from tourists- only one little bar selling champagne! Tsk tsk. [We didn’t buy any.] There were also a few padlocks with names written on them attached to the railings. I wonder how often these are taken off?

I think this large scale graffiti was anti-Nazi? Either way, the authorities weren't happy about it.

I think this large scale graffiti was anti-Nazi? Either way, the authorities weren’t happy about it.

Romantic

Romantic

...etc etc etc

…etc etc etc

VIEWS

VIEWS

High up!

High up!

Aaaaaaand that's it. For now.

Aaaaaaand that’s it. For now.

If you can see, there's a [fake] person sitting on the back of that little cart- in the olden days there used to be an actual one!

Looking back from the lift.

Views...there are a lot of these.

Views…there are a lot of these.

Views from the street.

Views from the street.

We didn’t have to queue very long to get down, and then we decided to buy a picnic lunch and go to the gardens of the Louvre. I actually fell asleep in the sun, but Ruth, eager to go and see a bit more art, soon suggested that we go inside.

The Lion Gate- best little known entrance to the Louvre!

The Lion Gate- best little known entrance to the Louvre!

The courtyard of the Louvre.

The courtyard of the Louvre.

It was such a lovely day!

It was such a lovely day!

The most efficient course of action seemed to be to split up, and so Ruth looked around a collection of art from Holland, while I went to look at the Ancient Middle Eastern area. It was really incredible to just have this little window into a time so long ago, and even on my way out, past the Egyptian area and scurrying a bit to make our rendezvous point in time,  I was still in awe. I definitely want to go back one day with a bit more knowledge of the history and culture from then.

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This painted apparently loved florals as much as I do...just kidding, NOBODY loves florals as much as I do.

This painted apparently loved florals as much as I do… [not from Ancient Egypt].

I also managed to walk around the old moat of the Louvre- dating from medieval times. Pretty impressive- rather blank and imposing. I didn’t stop to take pictures, but it’s worth a visit!

And that was Day 5! A very lovely sunny [but not warm in some of the higher parts!] day.

Paris: Day 4- Famous Ladies

Day four dawned grey and cloudy, but we bundled up and headed out to Notre Dame, where we were meeting for the start of our bike tour. Mum had recommended these guys for us – http://www.bikeabouttours.com/.

Under the greenish statue of Charlemagne we met, and were divided into groups. After walking a short distance [“the only walking in the whole tour, I promise!” joked our lovely tour guide Kim] we arrived at the garage where the custom green bikes were held.

Me w. Charlemagne...

Me w. Charlemagne…

Charlemagne + Notre Dame

Charlemagne + Notre Dame

Birds being totally chill.

Birds being totally chill.

After a quick reminder about Paris road rules, and promises of flat but cobbled paths, we set off. Now, I can’t promise to remember everything we did on the bike tour, or even the order of things, because it was a very long [over three hours] tour. But here are some things that stuck out.

One of our first stops was by an old house that had been one of the unfortunate victims of the July Revolution [took place over three days].  But unlike most victims of cannonball shots, it was still standing- albeit with an unseemly black spot embedded in it’s face! Kim suggested that the cannon shooter [is that the right word?] could have been aiming for a nearby window- but was drunk on a little something more than revolutionary spirit!

The cannonball is right in the middle above the tall window.

The cannonball is right in the middle above the top tall window- barely noticeable! 

We paused by a part of the old wall that used to surround the city. It was interesting to see something a little older than usual. I believe that it was the wall built by Charles V and his son and successor Charles VI during 1356 to 1383. But I could be wrong- there have been quite a few walls built around Paris in it’s time! The wall was right next to a sports field, and there were a group of kids kicking a ball around. It was really amazing to think that kids could have been playing by and off this wall for hundreds and hundreds of years. We also saw a school named after Charlemagne, and heard a bit about him. There are quite a few schools and educational facilities named after him- he was passionate about education and learning, and is thought to be one of the catalysts for pulling Europe out of the Dark Ages. Not only did he abandon the gold standard currency and put all of Europe on the same silver currency [thus regulating it/simplifying trade] but he actually passed a few laws that made it easier for the lower classes to have some agency. He personally never learnt to write [although he tried right up until he was on his deathbed] and whether or not he could read is a hazy matter.

The old wall.

The old wall.

Kids kicking a ball right next to an ancient wall.

Kids kicking a ball right next to an ancient wall…makes you think! [I don’t know what about…something historical??]

Around the same area we stopped and peered into a market set up into a little courtyard. We browsed among the little stalls [mostly second hand, clothes and bric-a-brac]. There were very few people there at a time, but more came when others left. Our little group then moved on.

We stopped by the house that Jim Morrison had lived in in Paris- the one where his body was found. There used to be a little plague there, saying that it was his house, but of course these days it’s still just an ordinary flat, and the residents got tired of people leaving tributes or trying to break in, and so it was removed.

Notre Dame- prime photo spot!

Notre Dame- prime photo spot!

One of our stops was a little alleyway, down which was a cafe called Cafe Procope. It’s the oldest cafe/restaurant in Paris still in continuous operation. Host of famous guests such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Robespierre, it was used as a meeting place by the latter and his friends to discuss ideas of social change [well, probably- they did a lot of that, and they met in this cafe a lot…]. It was refurbished in the 18th century, and apparently the waiters all wear quasi-revolutionary outfits.

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We then stopped for a quick lunch [not in Procope!] After that, we cycled through the Louvre [the exterior!] getting a nice overview and story of it. It seemed like every monarch wanted to add his own little piece to the ex-home to the royal family, and that kind of explains the size of the place!

The Louvre

The Louvre

The pyramid

The pyramid

Afterwards we cycled back to the garage. Our lovely tour guides gave us a list of the best restaurants/cafes in Paris, all their own personal recommendations, and then after Richard left to catch his train, Ruth and I sat and decided what to do next. We decided that the Louvre was the obvious next stop, and made our way there.

Because the Louvre really is ridiculously large and crowded and just a lot in general, we decided to give ourselves two goals- the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, and then just see where we went from there. Because Ruth already had a ticket [the Paris Museum Pass] and I was free, we could go straight in. The Lion’s Gate is a little known gate, and there were zero queues when we went there in the late afternoon. You do have to already have tickets though! It’s marked by two green lion statues, on the Quai des Tuileries. Fortunately, this gate is very close to the Mona Lisa, and we got there in roughly five minutes.

Ruth elected to stay at the back of room while I politely elbowed my way to the front. Actually no, that’s a little unfair of me- there was a surprisingly small crowd! I didn’t have to push [not that I would have, ahem], and everybody was very polite and let others go to the front when they had taken their pictures. There were two guards just in case, and large signs warning about pickpockets- I was paranoid about this my whole time in Paris, and kept my backpack clutched tight to my front. Let me tell you folks, paranoia works! Not one thing stolen…

Anyway, it was one of those slightly heady moments when you are actually seeing something so famous in real life for the first time and it’s kind of unbelievable and unreal but you just gotta take your selfie and then peel off to the side of the crowd.

There's a similar picture but instead of smiling calmly I look like I'm screaming.

There’s a similar picture but instead of smiling calmly I look like I’m screaming.

V. famous lady.

V. famous lady.

After that we wandered through the rows of paintings until we reached the darling Venus de Milo, who was actually one of my favorite pieces of art in the whole museum. Not that I got to see everything, but then again, I doubt many people do!

Fave.

Fave.

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We visited a few more places after that, but when the museum fatigue hit we decided it was time to move onto our next port of call- Victor Hugo!

I have to admit I didn’t really know a lot about him- the Notre Dame/Les Mis guy, right? But after visiting his rather eccentric yet well laid out house it was easy to garner a few facts.

Although really, the decor just overshadowed everything else. The most garish, patterned clashing carpets and curtains, the appropriative and definitely not accurate “Chinese” art in the living room, his dark red Gothic bedroom, and the writing desk he had made, embedded with the quills and letters from some famous writer friends of his, to sell and raise money for charity- but nobody wanted it!

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His overbearing bedroom.

His overbearing bedroom.

A writing desk he had made, with letters from and the inkwells of his writer pals.

A writing desk he had made, with letters from and the inkwells of his writer pals.

Probably not an authentic Chinese design.

Probably not an authentic Chinese design.

It was a lot more ridiculous in real life, I promise.

It was a lot more ridiculous in real life, I promise.

Victor Hugo's birth certificate.

Victor Hugo’s birth certificate.

We left just as the house was closing, and sat in the little park just outside while we decided where to go for dinner. We perused the list we had been given, and in the end decided to visit Chartier, which Ruth had previously suggested we visit. Probably best described as a real true Paris establishment, this rather humble restaurant had a queue and a red velvet rope to get in, but because we were rather luckily a group of two, we got in after about ten minutes. We were shown to a table with four chairs, and soon after two more people joined us. The waiter took our orders, writing them on the paper tablecloth, and then popping back to bring up bread and check what he had written. The food was very cheap for Paris, but delicious. Chartier had a very cool atmosphere- there were old drawers for the regular’s napkins and cutlery [I don’t think they’re still used!] and shelves for hats and coats. After the meal the waiter did the bill on the trusty old tablecloth, and I could just see Charlie working there some day.

At Chartier they write the orders on the tablecloth.

At Chartier they write the orders on the tablecloth.

There was a queue to get in to Chartier!

There was a queue to get in to Chartier!

...and the bill!

…and the bill!

It has a very atmospheric interior.

It has a very atmospheric interior.

If you ever get the chance to go I definitely recommend it!

And that was Sunday! We got a surprisingly early night, because the next day we planned to visit the most highly anticipated tourist trap of them all- la Tour Eiffel!