When we booked this trip to Paris we hadn’t banked on the continuing Saturday protest by the yellow vests. However, in mid-March they began escalating activities to the point where a number of attractions that we’d want to visit were either closed or no-go areas. So, today is made up of the ‘non-vest’ activities whilst tomorrow is filled with things we couldn’t do today. All in all, it made for a bit of a messy day.
So the day started with a long trip on the metro up to Montmartre. To be honest, and I can’t believe I am saying this, but I think I’ve finally found an underground system that makes me view London’s in a positive light. I guess it’s because it’s one of the older systems out there, but it really could be a lot better.
Anyway, first stop of the day was the Sacre Cœur right at the top of Montmartre. I hadn’t realised just how steep this hill was, but a work out before breakfast is a good thing I guess. The basilica itself is so much bigger than I had expected and, on a clear sunny day, I can imagine this huge white church shines like a real beacon (like I saw when in Helsinki).
The insides are more modern and arguably more beautiful than Notre Dame, but I guess it doesn’t quite have the big pop culture presence. Technically no photos are meant to be taken inside, but about halfway around the church thus rule seemed to go out the window and everyone had their cameras out. The only guard on duty was so preoccupied with shushing people that he didn’t really have time to enforce the camera rules, which was good for us.
After this we went down through the adjoining park and garden (where we were accosted and had to push our way past some very pushy women with clipboards asking for email addresses, which it turns out is part of a pickpocketing scam) in order to procure some breakfast. The hub really wanted to go for something more French than grabbing one of the many attractive filed baguettes…
…and he was right. A hot drink, an orange juice, a tartine and a croissant. Really a great way to kick start the day, plus the chance to have hot chocolate in the morning and not be judged too harshly is fantastic. We took the opportunity to roam around the nearby streets (where a lot of shell games were going on with many a tourist being fleeced) before getting back onto the metro in order to make our way south.
The best laid plans still didn’t mean that we couldn’t completely escape the yellow vest protests. Then again, there doesn’t seem to be a central organisation, so it’s little wonder that there are pockets of these people all over the city. Anyway, we had made our way south in order to visit The Paris Catacombs.
It feels a bit glib to call a place like this ‘a bit mad’, but this is an underground system containing neatly piled bones from nearly 2 million people. It’s an interesting solution to the overcrowding of the Parisian cemeteries, as well as finding a use for the network of abandoned limestone quarries. Doesn’t stop this entire attraction form being a bit weird… and I loved it.
About half of the attractions tunnels contain the bones, the entrance to that section having a sign that says ‘Stop, this is death’s empire’. For the most part the bones are stacked in a similar way with mostly femurs on the bottom and the top being mostly skulls. It is when this pattern is broken that you really notice it. There’s a group where skulls have been arranged to make a heart shape, but the biggest anomaly is the “barrel” formation where them bones have been organised around one of the support pillars. If you are not comfortable being surrounded by old skeletons them maybe this isn’t the attraction for you, otherwise it’s really interesting.
The exit is quite far from the entrance, so we browsed our way through a number of beautifully arranged food shops in order to get to Montparnasse Cemetery. It keeps with the morbid theme, but this came recommended so why not. We roamed around a bit to find some names we recognised. Thanks to the map we managed to find the graves of Jean Seberg, Samuel Beckett and Camille Saint-Saens, but some of the most interesting were those of people who weren’t on the map and just had the money to have some really interesting gravestones.
I’m going to take a bit of a time jump here. We did a lot of walking back and forth thanks to some things being closed that we hadn’t expected to be closed, so we pick up later in the afternoon when we reached the Panthéon. I’ve actually been to the one in Rome already, but this one in Paris takes the cake when it comes to audacity.
Much like the Sacre Cœur the outside is stunning to look at, but the insides are truly something else. Floor to ceiling paintings depict scenes from the life of people like Joan of Arc and Charlemagne as well as other saints and kings. Large statues at various ends of the interior provide interesting accents and the many domes of the ceilings keep drawing your eyes upwards. It’s a real site to behold.
Then there’s the crypt, which is done in the mindset of glorifying French citizens that have had great achievements for their country, in the name of their country or had brought fame to their country. Aside from the many generals and politicians down there you can find Marie and Pierre Curie (which got me so excited, even if no one else seemed to be paying any attention to them) as well as Louis Braille and Alexandre Dumas.
A short walk from here brought us to Paris Grand Mosque. This was listed in the hubs’ book of interesting buildings so thought it would be worth seeking out. It’s been nearly 20 years since I was last in a mosque, so I did feel a bit self-conscious about doing something wrong that might be taken the wrong way.
The blue tiling on the inside was lovely, but the thing I liked the most was the garden in the central courtyard. Here you can see the minaret and walk around the greenery. I’m guessing from the empty pools that there is some water here in the summer, but since we’re still in early spring it makes sense that these have been turned off.
Time for another fast forward as we have another walk through the botanical gardens in order to reach Gare de Lyon, that would enable me to reach…
Right so this is one of the weirder items on my bucket list. The borough of London that I’ve spent that bulk of my life is twinned with three places. One is in the suburbs of Melbourne, one is slightly awkwardly positioned in Germany – this one is 40 minutes outside of Paris and so makes for an interesting way to fill an evening.
I don’t know why, but it felt a bit surreal walking around here knowing that it’s twinned with where I currently live. Compared to my hometown there are fewer restaurants, but where it lacks in restaurants Evry makes up with a very weird looking cathedral and a sizeable shopping centre. The plan was to roam around and grab some dinner, but instead we bought a bunch of things from the huge Carrefour to bring back to our respective offices and then headed back to central Paris.
For dinner I could have gone for steak, but I wanted to have something that felt more French – so I went for a Croque Madame. It’s been a lot of bread today, but this Croque Madame really did hit the spot.
After a long drought, I’ve finally been to cross off another thing from the food list. For the most part I’ve been thinking of putting this on ice as it’s becoming very hard to do without some specific international journeys. However, when I come across it there is no reason to not eat it, especially when it’s as delicious as this little personal tarte tatin. Those apples were so warm, sweet and melty – perfect with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.
Tomorrow will be the big tourist day with some of the big icons of Paris being visited. It’s another late one today, so it’s time to end this post before I fall asleep at my tablet.