Friday, February 3, 2012

Paris Day 7, Part 1 - With the dead and the living

Today was the day Rave had her class at Le Cordon Bleu (she's going to come over and do a guest post on that soon). So today, I had to do something she wasn't going to be interested in. And there was something that was perfect - The Catacombs of Paris. I can't imagine her being underground surrounded by a few million bones. So while she left really early in the morning for her class, I had an easier morning. The entrance is at Denfert-Rochereau, very close to where we were staying at Port-Royal.


If you're planning to visit the Catacombs, my advice would be to get there early. And remember entry closes at 4 pm, although the place is open until 5 pm (closed on Monday). The queues were long and they allow groups of about 15-20 at a time. Also remember that there is no cloakroom once you enter and neither are there toilets. After about an hour of waiting, I was finally inside. There's about 130 steps that take you below the surface but they're not as difficult as the Notre Dame, for example. But it does get narrower and quieter as you get down, so if you're claustrophobic, it can get increasingly problematic as you proceed.

It takes a bit of walking before you get to see anything that's remotely familiar to the pictures you might have seen online. Along they way, you will encounter sculptures made by a quarryman called Décure, who used to serve in the armies of Louis XV. The structure you see there is a model of the fortress of Port-Mahon and I overheard someone saying this part has recently been restored and opened to the public.

The first sight of the actual bones is a bit disturbing. I'm pretty sure there's nothing like this (except for the Chapel of bones I've seen online) and it's a bit startling to be suddenly faced with a large stack of skulls, more in number than it seems in pictures. And once it begins, it doesn't end. Stacks upon stacks of neatly arranged ('artistically arranged' is a more appropriate phrase, actually!) bones and skulls as far as the eye can see into those dark empty tunnels. I've read that there are 6 million Parisians in there and after seeing it in person, I think that number is a very modest count.

The entire walk takes about 45 minutes and is roughly around 2 km, although it felt like a lot less. Good walking shoes with soles that have a good grip are essential. There are some parts where the stone floor is really smooth and there's one section in particular that has water (I hope!) dripping through. One of the people with us was quite startled by it actually and dropped her camera, thinking some other-worldly whatever was dripping whatever on her hand! Luckily, the camera (and her hand) survived without any damage. The exit gets you out on Rue Remy Dumoncel, a few blocks away from where you entered. There's a store right outside the exit that offers macabre souvenirs...from ugly glittering skulls to pencils shaped like bones.

By the time I was out, it was time for a quick lunch and to catch up with the wife, who came back with goodies from Le Cordon Bleu. The evening was reserved for something I've been really looking forward to - Montmartre.


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