Friday 22 April 2016

Paris sightseeing: Catacombes, Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, the Marais etc

Paris has some of the most famous monuments in the world.  We see them everywhere in popular culture and yet it is still amazing to see them close up and remember just why they are so beloved.  All Sylvia wanted to do while in Edinburgh and Paris was ride the open top bus.  It is a great way to see some of the iconic sights.  We also spent hours queuing to see the Catacombes and I had a day sightseeing in the Marais. 


The one thing E was really keen to do in Paris was see the Catacombes.  These underground passages have the bones of 6 million Parisians moved there when church graveyards became overflowing and a health hazard.  I went there on my first visit to Paris and found them fascinating, disturbing and sad.  We decided that an underground attraction was the thing to do on a rainy day.  I read online that there could be long queues but unfortunately I had to see them to believe them.

The queues were long when we arrived.  And it was raining.  But I insisted we were there and should queue.  So Sylvia and E went off to MacDonalds and brought me back a macaron.  Meanwhile I talked to an American and a Londoner as the queue so slowly moved along.  Somehow I ended up under Sylvia's Minion umbrella.  She had mine and E only had an Akubra hat to battle the rain.  They went off for a hot chocolate to warm them.  We waited ages.  Then I got myself a hot chocolate.

We waited and waited and waited.  We were so wet.  We had conversations with the Londoner about the irony of going to the Catacombes because it was wet and yet spending so much time in the rain.  We talked about the strikes going on that day and whether they affected the other tourist attractions.  (See what I think is a strike poster above.)  We joked that the bones underground were of those who had waited too long.  After almost 3 hours were finally were ushered inside.

We walked along a long tunnel with the occasional date chiseled into stone, past the entrance with the words Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort ("Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead"), and then we walked along rows and rows of human bones and skulls.  Most of them neatly stacked, some in patterns and others stewn at the top of the piles.  Cemeteries and graves are quite common while travelling around Europe but it is less usual to see the bare bones and so many of them.  It is humbling and disturbing to be confronted by so much death.

After the huge queue, I was surprised that there weren't lots of people underground.  Sylvia refused to look at any of the bones.  I told her they were just people like us and now this is our way to remember them.  To no avail.  We walked the 2 kilometres and then had the final 83 steps up into the fresh air and rain.  I found the steps hard going.  I think I was so tired from queuing.  It is an interesting place but I was glad to get out.

Open top bus tour

Sylvia's heart's desire was to go on an open top bus tour.  I refused in Edinburgh where we had seen all the main attractions.  In the larger city of Paris it seemed a good way to get around to see the sights with a small child.  It wasn't cheap at 33 Euros for E and me and 17 Euros for Sylvia (for the Green Line).  E decided to spend an extra 4 Euros each for him and me to have a 2 day pass.  It turned out to be good value.

We boarded at the Notre Dame, headed up the Left Bank of the Seine past the Musee D'Orsay and across the river to the Place de la Concorde (above).  The traffic there is so crazy that it is amazing no one has ever run into the obelisk.

Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées

Then we turned into the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.  I see people strolling along the generous footpaths and part of me wishes to be down among them while another part loves being up so high (we sat at the front of the upstairs).  It is a romantic street but is full of high street brands rather than quirky individual shops.  The traffic is incredibly busy and we can see the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph) in the distance.

Up close the Arc de Triomphe surprises with so much grandeur and details.  Look how small the people are in the photo.  I had a yen to climb to the top but I suspect Sylvia and E would not have wanted to accompany me.  Besides the traffic is so crazy around the arch that I was relieved to get out of there.

Eiffel Tower

When we returned to Melbourne after our trip, one of the first questions I was asked about Paris was, did you climb the Eiffel Tower.  We didn't.  I have before but as I have already said, I prefer the views from the Notre Dame (or even the Pompidou) in the very oldest part of the city.  Sylvia really wanted to climb the Eiffel Tower.  I considered it until we saw the queues.  They were long and we had been in enough queues.

I do think it is worth going up close to look at the Eiffel Tower and perhaps that is the charm of climbing it; to have a closer inspection of the beautiful ironwork.  It really is a work of art that gets lost in the silhouette of the icon that we see so often in popular culture.  (Sylvia was quite interested in the Eiffel Tower because she had seen Snoopy flying around it and a Minion climbing it.)

The Louvre

After a day that started with climbing the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral, riding around Paris on an open top bus and dinner at Brasserie Lola, I left E and Sylvia to go home and I went to the Louvre Museum.  I think I might have only visited once before when I first went to Paris.  It was a Friday night so there were no queues and I had a museum pass.  The hardest bit was trying to work out where to start in this immense museum.

Well I guess the first moment is to sigh in awe at the magnificent building.  Especially when there is a busker playing atmospheric music on the violin.  The Louvre Palace was originally built as a fortress in the 12th Century, used as a royal palace for centuries and in 1793 it was first opened as museum.  It is absolutely huge.

I asked at the information desk for guidance.  Where do you want to go, she asked.  I shrugged and said Medieval.  It is a beautiful section and includes the Mona Lisa, which is a wonderful painting it is so small and distant behind its bulletproof glass and crowds that it is hard to warm to it.  I also decided to go and look at Napoleon III's apartments.  It took a good 10-15 minutes to walk there and a sharp intake of breath as the sumptuous glitzy decor.

Musee de Carnavalet

When my mum heard that we were staying in the Marais she recommended we visit the Musee de Carnavalet.  I decided to go there on the day after we had been on the open top bus.  Sylvia had loved it so much she and E went on it again.  And again.  While I had a day in the Marais.

The building of the Musee de Carnavalet was impressive.  However inside I made the mistake of not getting a headset tour.  Most of the signs were in French and it was hard to get a sense of the place.  Finally I found that there was some information at the back of my map brochure and when I arrived at the section on the French Revolution, I was delighted to discover that the storyboards were in both French and English.

I studied the French Revolution at university and was delighted to be able to read about the details of the background, paintings and memorabilia.  Top right in the above collage is the chair that the royal family had used while imprisoned after the revolution.  I also enjoyed the paintings of Paris, seeing the humble bedroom of Proust and the models of Medieval Paris.

One of the interesting aspects of the museum is the recreated rooms from demolished houses in Paris.  Furniture and furnishings have been brought here so that we can still see what these rooms were like.  I would have been able to find out more about them with a headset tour but I still enjoyed looking at these gorgeous rooms.

Victor Hugo House

When I first went to Paris with my list of places to visit, it included Place de Vosges and Victor Hugo's House.  It took me another 20 years to get there.  When I first visited Paris, I had done heaps of research, but this time I had barely looked at anything about Paris until a few days before we flew there.  Hence my mistake in buying a sightseeing pass that I thought would take me to Victor Hugo's House and Musee de Carnavalet, not realising that these museums were free to enter.

And was it worth the wait?  Yes.  Place de Vosges were incredibly grand.  I had learnt from Musee de Carnavalet that I needed a headset tour.  Though I had read Les Miserables many years ago, I didn't know a lot about Victor Hugo and it was interesting to hear about his life.  I was saddened by the early deaths of many of his children and in admiration of his flair for home decor.  Place de Vosges was very grand and elegant.  It would have been nice if Sylvia had been with me to enjoy the little playground.  Around the edges under the arches were lots of interesting galleries.

And I will end with the Notre Dame Cathedral at night.  You can read more about our visits to Notre Dame.  Some other favourite Paris sights we saw on this trip are the Pompidou Centre and Shakespeare and Co Bookstore.  On previous visits, I have enjoyed visiting Musee D'Orsay, Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmatre, Pere Lachaise and the Palace of Versailles.  If only I had had more time in Paris....  Sigh!  Je t'aime Paris!


  1. We loved the Catacombs. Such an unusual display. Perhaps Sylvia will like it more when she is older. It must have been a bit scary for her poor thing!

  2. I could never have been so patient waiting to enter the catacombs. I think it looks very interesting but my daughter would have been super scared, too.

  3. I love how you titled this post with 'etc' at the end. It sums up how much there is to do and you certainly packed a lot in! Thanks for the whirlwind tour.

  4. nice, i visited another Victor Hugo property in the Chanel Islands a few years ago, really interesting!


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