Chateaus, Catacombs, and Crypts (and going home!)

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
Trip End Apr 26, 2011

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Where I stayed
Kayla´s apartment

Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Tuesday, April 5, 2011

For those you planning a trip to Paris in the near future, I thought I would jot down a few of the places that I visited during my nine days in this beautiful city. Whether you're flying into Charles de Gaulle or Paris Orly, the city has an extensive metro and train lines that make it possible to get anywhere in the city, as well as the surrounding suburbs. Just keep yourself prepared to see almost anything down there in the miles of metro tunnels, as Sean and I were caught off guard one night, since people from all walks of life frequent the underground. Of course everyone is well aware of the highly visited sights like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Arc de Triumph. They are well worth visiting on a first trip to Paris.

The Eiffel Tower, a radio tower designed by architect Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 world fair was the tallest structure it the world until it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1930. It lights up during the early evening and much to Carmela and my surprise prior to my proposal, the tower puts on a ten minute light show at the top of every hour. Expect long lines, but for a better panoramic views, which include the Eiffel Tower, go to the nearby Montparnasse Tower, the tallest building in the city.

The Louvre is the largest museum in the world and contains several thousand works of art, including the well known Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo (a sculpture of the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite). The Mona Lisa and her enigmatic smile are small in person, only approximately 2 ft x 2 ft, and is usually surrounded by a large crowd. However, it's easy to lose the crowds in this giant 12th venture palace built by King Philip August to protect Paris. The characteristic modern glass pyramid was added more recently, much to the dismay of traditionalist who argued that it ruined the original facade of the palace.

Rather than being overwhelmed by sheer size of the Louvre, I recommended one to visit the smaller, but more focused Musee d'Orsey. Orsey is an old traditionally designed train station which was originally scheduled for destruction, but now houses post-1848 art which could not fit in the Louvre. These include the works of artists like Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir and Picasso.

The Chateau de Versailles and massive Versailles Palace are a short 30 minute train ride west in the suburbs of Paris. Originally built by King Louis XIV, it became the eventual getaway for out of touch monarchs like Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI who were executed during the French Revolution in example of overthrowing the monarchy and its wasteful extravagance. Upon first look, it's easy to understand why the working class wanted to get rid of the monarchy during the Revolution! The pictures in the history books do not do the 700 room 'vacation home' justice. The recently restored hall of mirrors, mile long gardens and gold plated finishing are a few sights to see in the historical chateau.

One of the spookier sights is not even in Paris but rather underneath its street level. The Catacombs of Paris are a network of underground tunnels, caverns and caves which now are the final resting place of thousands of unknown skeletons, stacked and arranged in deliberate order. Paris, originally a Roman settlement, was built over the years using tons of limestone quarried from the ground below where the city now sits. After the bustling growth of city during the Industrial Revolution and the destructive fighting during the French revolution during the late 1700's, Paris experienced a problem with a lack of cemetery space. Priests, under the cover of nightfall moved thousands of bodies from the overflowing cemeteries to the underground Catacombs, where the dead lost their identities and became a part of an intricate arrangement lining the 1.5 mile corridor. The sight is not for the faint of heart or those who are claustrophobic, however, as there is one way in and one way out!

Those are only a few of the sights to see in this city beaming with history, monuments, culture and cuisine and I highly recommend one to give oneself the opportunity to go. And even with a wealth of places to see, sometimes simple is better. Stop by a local grocery and pick up a baguette, humus and a bottle of wine and stop for a picnic on the Seine or under the Eiffel Tower or at a local park, as Sean, Aimee and I did one lazy afternoon. Sometimes, The best way to emerse oneself in local Parisien life is to just stop and let the surroundings revolve around you. Alternatively, what's not more French than trying a local fondue restaurant as we did with our friend Kayla on our last night. This particular fondue restaurant was unique in that it served wine from a baby's bottle. Normally, when someone accidentally drops a piece of food from his skewer into the fondue pot, as Sean did several times that night, your supposed to take a swig of alcohol from your glass. Since the baby bottle made it difficult to drink in the first place, we just made Sean tell jokes instead.

Present day update (written April 12)...

Although this entry is for Paris I am currently back in Barcelona. I spent a fun weekend in Madrid and am leaving back for the states tomorrow! I will get the blog caught up with stories and anecdotes shortly. It's all quickly coming to and end but the traveling is not nearly over yet. I'll be spending a few days in Baltimore where I get to look forward to family, home cooked meals and board games. I even get a special welcome home present from Caroline: a courtesey brain scan (as long as she likes the pasalubong (souvenirs) I got her)!

I'm looking forward to seeing my family (including my bird Sandi) and cooking my own meals again. I probably miss my car the most out of all my physical possessions. Being in Europe for 38 days has made me realize the few 'American' cultural norms I appreciate the most...driving (aka not walking), unlimited drink refills, large meal portions, Mexican food, sales, my laptop and 24 hour internet availability (95% of my writing on this blog I've typed using an iPod), television (I need to get caught up on Steve Carrell's last episodes of 'The Office'), ironing, a personal washer and dryer, cheap water (the most I paid for water was 3,90€ for a 330 ml glass bottle of Evian water!). I'm on the fence on my cell phone. I wouldn't mind if cell phones went the way of the Walkman and it's been nice living without one for awhile.

Amazingly enough, I lived out of a 42-L (2600 cubic in) backpack for 38 days and felt well equipped with all the items belongings I had (see blog entry titled 'Packing'). Most of the 'stuff' in your daily life is there for convenience, and a trip like this shows what is really necessary for living. Any attempt to put more into my backpack would have just weighed me down and made it impossible to move as much as I did (and make no mistake, moving is living). My backpack will be it's biggest been tomorrow as I'm traveling with all the stuff I've picked up on this trip. Now, getting back to the states and slowly counting the days as I make my way to Los Angeles where I'll finally settle, I'll be looking forward to unloading the backpack and repacking it with things I now find most important.
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