September 13th (cont.);
Our next hostel was conveniently right next to the train station when we arrived from London. I wanted to plan for our next few days in Paris so we briefly explored our immediate area and then worked from our hostel.
First thing in the morning we went back over the to train station and got our train tickets to Amsterdam. The Paris Metro system was in my opinion more confusing than the London Underground. Like Japan, there were way too many train companies. We wanted to go to Notre Dame but couldn’t exactly understand everything on the map. Long story short, we ended up on an express train to the airport. Thankfully the whole detour only took half an hour and we got to see a rapping frenchmen on the train.
Walking out of that metro stop, we were greeted with our first taste of Paris’ attractions. Notre-Dame is truly an architectural marvel.
Inside was quiet except for the murmurs from the tourists. The grandeur of the statues and the tall ceilings instantly minimized your presence. I’m not a religious person but the scale of it all definitely imbues a sense of humility in the atmosphere despite the hundreds of tourists walking around.
We were able to find two seats in the center of the church facing the altar and took an hour to just soak it all in.
We had our first crepe at a nearby crêperie and it was the most heavenly experience I’ve had in quite some time.
Nearby was a small bookstore and cafe called Shakespeare and Company. Half of the store was a rare books collection that sold rare prints of books like a first edition print of The Great Gatsby and The Little Prince. The rest of the bookstore was an old carved out townhouse. There were all sorts of nooks and crannies where you could sit and peruse titles. I would have forced us to stay at the cafe for a bit if we hadn’t just scarfed down those delicious crepes. Unfortunately I could not take any photos while in the store.
Next was Esplanade des Invalides. As we were operating on a budget, we had no intention of entering any of the museums in the area. We found a spot facing Pont Alexandre III and just sat in the sun for over an hour instead.
Once we were ready to walk again, we headed towards the Arc de Triomphe. Weather looked like it was going to stay clear and sunny so we to took the extended walk up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, which is one of the seven avenues that leads the arch. Along the way we stopped by a McDonald’s. I had argued that a McDonald’s in a foreign country is always an interesting experience. Sure enough, we somehow stumbled into one of the fanciest McDonald’s ever. I’ve been in McDonald’s in Japan and this by far trumped that experience. There were around 20 automatic ordering stations at the front and a pick up station in the back. Upstairs was filled with fancy booths and tables that could have easily seated over a hundred people. Also they had curry sauce for the chicken nuggets which was pretty decent.
After that mind-boggling experience, we left and not more than 5 minutes we arrived at the Arc de Triomphe.
The arch is massive.
Definitely one of the biggest structures I have ever seen. To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was until we got there, all I knew is it was built by Napoleon. We sat at the base and just people watched. In every direction, you could see a busy avenue that stretched far into the distance. It gave me a sense of just how big Paris really was.
After the novelty of the arch wore off, we started talking and people watching. It was nice to be sitting at such a magnificent structure enjoying the weather. After about another hour, we began our walk down one of the other avenues towards the Eiffel Tower.
What a sight. That first turn around the corner from the top of the overlook was astounding. The Eiffel Tower is in a lot of pictures, movies and TV shows but none of those come close to represent the majesty and the scale of which the tower embodies. We spent a good 20 minutes at that overlook watching the mall that stretch from below us to presumably a museum far into the distance. We ventured down to the mall and just sat and talked on the grass for hours enjoying the weather.
I had insisted that we stay in the area until dark as I wanted to see the tower and it’s surroundings all lit up. We ate at a cafe facing the the tower. I probably had the best meat plate in my life at that cafe. The sun set night rolled around and the lights went on. It was well worth the wait. The romanticization of Paris suddenly hit me all at once and for a brief moment I felt like I was in a dream. We wandered the mall below the tower back up to the overlook to get one last look of the area before into the train station.
The morning was slow, likely due to the sheer amount of walking we did the day before. There was only one thing on the agenda today and that was to walk through the Paris Catacombs. I had looked up the location of the entrance the night before and found a park just north the area Le Jardin du Luxembourg (The Luxembourg Gardens).
The morning walk in a park experience has been pretty successful up to that point so I thought it would be a good way to start the day. The Garden did not disappoint, in fact every park in Paris has yet to disappoint. There were hundreds of chairs set in the main plaza around the flower beds and fountain and it made for a beautiful morning. We stayed there for a good 2 hours before deciding we wanted lunch. We stopped at your run of the mill Cafe for a panini and then made our way to the entrance of the catacombs. The walk was refreshing but to our dismay when we got there the line went around the block. I had read online that they do not want to crowd the catacombs as that ruins the experience. We waited for about an hour and a half before we got into the catacombs what follows was a whole lot of spooky that I wasn’t ready for.
A long spiral staircase down lead into a long narrow, winding and dimly lit tunnel.
When Paris started overcrowding and wasn’t entirely sure what to do with their dead, the city repurposed these quarries to used as graves. The first part of the tour took us through the quarries.
After walking around the quarries for abit, the walls suddenly shifted to bones stockpiled where the walls once were. It was an extremely unsettling experience and this went on in all directions and for miles for all we could tell.
We weaved in and out of hallways, many of which that had signs describing the event or location that resulted in the surrounding piles of bones. I was awestruck for the entire time we were down in the catacombs. At some point I had remembered the obvious fact that these bones were once people. Being surrounded by that many dead souls had a similar effect as standing in Notre-Dame. The sheer scale makes you feel small and insignificant which is something we rarely experience. We were down there for almost two hours and exitted 5 blocks south from the point of entrance.
I hadn’t originally planned to come to Paris but a few friends of mine convinced me the night before we departed to make a stop. So of course I had to plan time for the Louvre. I had cut our London trip a day short for 2 reasons, the first because we were going to come back for half a day at the end of the trip and the second was because the Louvre is free for anyone under 26 Fridays after 6PM and I wanted to end Paris with the Louvre.
The Louvre was enormous. The entrance to the museum is a pyramid tucked in at the end of a long courtyard. It wasn’t until we were near the pyramid did I realize the museum was actually all of the buildings on the way over to the entrance. The picture above only shows a small portion of the building; roughly a fifth. I had read online that you could lose multiple days inside the Louvre and now I knew why.
We went straight to Greek and Roman sculptures. I had no preference in the exhibits but Coleman was a huge nerd about the classics.
There really are no words to describe how awesome it was to be in the world’s largest collection of artifacts. So here’s a picture instead that describes my mood followed by some of my favorite pieces.
Finally, the Mona Lisa.
We walked out of the Louvre right as the sunset and we were ready to turn in early for our trip to Amsterdam.
We had to get one last crepe though.
Paris is likely to be the most touristy of all the cities that we would be visiting on this trip. As such I was glad I was talked into doing Paris. That morning at the train station however we had one more mishap with the train systems. It was partly my fault for not entirely understanding what our train pass did. However I would have expected the employee who booked our ticket to know what we wanted based on our pass. When we went to go book our tickets to Amsterdam two days ago, the man at the booth was pretty unfriendly and didn’t really want to look at our pass tickets. He had booked us tickets for 1st class when our pass only covers 2nd class. We learned this the hard way and ate a hefty $70 dollar additional fee on the train when we found out the error had been made. Coleman and I recalled the conversation with the ticket salesmen asking what class ticket we wanted and we both recalled replying ‘2nd’. At that point there was nothing we could have done. We needed to get to Amsterdam that day and likely at that point the other trains that day were already completely full.
C’est la vie I suppose.