A 9:00am appointment with Emily got us going early this morning. Shortly after she arrived in Paris she bought a ticket to visit the Paris catacombs but has yet managed to see them so we thought this would be a good way for her to experience them – and Kerry and I were pretty interested too. After breakfast at Le Pretexte across Rue Tolbiac (a very nice cafe with very good service) we walked down to the nearest station that was in the right line. It was good to have time to walk through the streets where the real people live, hardly a tourist in sight!. From there it was a quick rode to the Denfert-Rochereau Metro station right near the entrance to the Catacombs.
For those of you who are not aware, like me 24hrs earlier, the catacombs are part of a 250km series of tunnels 20m under Paris. The tunnels were originally built to quarry stone for the construction of buildings across the Roman Empire. When the stone was depleted they were abandoned. By 1774 the cemeteries of Paris were full to literally overflowing so that a gruesome event concerning a collapsed basement wall on a property adjoining the Saint Innocents cemetery (don’t think too long about that) and similar events at other cemeteries demanded immediate action. The long abandoned and long forgotten tunnels under Paris were realised as the perfection solution to the problem. So, from 1786 every night the bodies interned in all the Parisian cemeteries were respectfully exhumed, priest on hand, and relocated to the tunnels. After two years more than six million dead Parisians were moved, burials within the walls of the city were banned and the problem was solved.
We walked over 1.7kms under Paris, firstly in tunnels that were used to maintain the underground infrastructure and then into the catacombs. Its quite an unusual, eerie, spectacular sight the likes of which I very much doubt most people who have never been have never seen anywhere in the world. There is actually a lot of symmetry in the way the skulls and bones are laid out, forming a wall about 1.7m in height between pillars of stone. I gather that once each wall was in place other bones were just chucked in behind it until the alcove was full. We left this unique experience, found a nice little crêperie for lunch and then boarded a Metro train to the Palais Garnier in the middle of the city.
Here was an experience at the other end of the scale! The Palais Garnier (aka The Paris Opera House) was built by Charles Garnier between 1861 and 1875. He was a little known architect who won an anonymous state-sponsored competition. Yes, it the same guy who gives his name to the exclusive brand Garnier. Amazing what you can achieve with just one good reference behind you.
It took fifteen years for all the usual reasons projects of this size take so long, not the least of which was cost blow-outs and a subsequent lack of funds because they were re-directed to the Franco-Prussian war. Nothing’s changed in 200 years! It’s very hard to describe how the building looks inside. It is the epitomy of oppulence with marble and gold laid on, sculptures both huge and small in every direction one looks, magnificent paintings on the walls and the ceilings and domes covered in exquisite artwork. And then there’s the auditorium! 1,979 seats of plush, red velvet, the largest stage the world (until 1989 when the Yanks built a bigger one in Las Vegas, so that hardly counts), a huge orchestra to match the size of the hall and the stage and the legendary chandelier hanging above it all. Wow! What a sight! Hah! There’s even a box, adjacent to the Royal box, that no one ever sits in because it’s reserved for the Phantom! I hope the photos can do the Opera some sort of justice.
We needed an extra bag for the stuff we’ve accumulated so far walked over a few streets to a little shop Emily knew of to get one, which we did. A nearby bar looked inviting so there we sat for an hour to chat, have a beer and watch the world.
The sun was beginning to set, the shadows were lengthening and the article lights were beginning to kick in when we jumped on the Metro at the Opera and journeyed out to the Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel station. We spied the Eiffel Tower as soon as we emerged from the station. Already lit up as darkness was rapidly descending. It was a warmish, still night with clear skies. Many people were out and about as it was Parisian dinner time. We ducked into a a little grocery store or some wine, Perrier, cheese, prosciutto and a baguette, then strolled over to the lawn in front of the tower to watch the darkness fall and the Tower ascend. It was truly magical. A sight one finds very hard to look away from. At 09:00pm the Tower lit up with thousands of sparkling lights for five minutes as it does every hour. That was truly magical!!
We ate our dinner and drunk our wine, chatted with numerous sellers of tacky Eiffel Tower souvenir sellers and enterprising ones who’d been to the same grocery store we had and sold EUR 2.50 wine and champagne for EUR 10.00. Good on them. Rightly so, Emily treats these people like people so readily engages in cordial conversation with them. We could all take a lesson from that.
Dinner finished we boarded the Metro and then said our good-nights at Emily interchange station. It had been a great day with many great memories made.