The Happiest Place On Earth
So much for taking it a little easy on this trip. We thought having 8 days in Paris would mean relaxing a bit, but nope! Another morning and we are getting out and about pretty early.
The reason for the earlier start this morning was to head to somewhere neither of us had been… well below the city. Yep, we were heading in to the catacombs of Paris! This is a visit that is no reservation and limited to 200 at a time, so we decided the earlier the better. But thankfully again it seemed the low tourist season was helping our cause as there were very few people about when we arrived.
There were some climate change protesters about though, the first real bunch we had seen in action. Not sure what lay underneath, but this big statue had now become a pretty cool polar bear. They were stopping traffic so they seemed to be getting their message across (whatever it may have been exactly).
At 10:15 we went in and began the descent into the depths of Paris. A hundred of so steps later we were at the bottom, in a series of long corridors to get us to the action. While starting as a normal set of tunnels under the city, their use became somewhat different following two different things: a series of collapses in the tunnels, and a series of overflowing cemeteries in Paris. So the solution? Reinforce the tunnels with the bones of millions of Parisians. Of course.
“Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead!” greeted us as we entered the catacombs proper. As we entered we were greeted with the beginning of millions of bones and skulls. It really is a strange sensation if you have been to anything like this before… both very unsettling, but in reality I find you get desensitised quite quickly, and disconnect a bit from what you are looking at.
As we wandered the halls, you would find the odd decorative set of skulls. I wasn’t always sure if there was meaning to it, or if it was the art of a bored worker from back in the day.
All about were plaques detailing where the remains in that area had come from. There were many many different cemeteries represented throughout, so I can’t imagine the undertaking it must have been back in the day.
After an hour or so we reached the end and popped back up into the overcast Parisian day. With only a handful of days left on our museum pass, we though it best to visit a couple of the museums we still had remaining. So on to the metro it was (where I got another in my collection of Star Wars thumbs up pictures…. man I hope this movie isn’t terrible).
We popped out in the neighbourhood of the Centre Georges Pompidou, a very striking new looking building that houses the main modern art collection of Paris. It is interesting to see where the lines of modern art are drawn, as there is some cross over at the edges with the d’Orsay and l’Orangerie. But quite quickly the Pompidou moves into the 20th century.
I have a love/hate relationship with modern art. I am willing to check anything out, and some of the classic work from the start of the 20th century is amazing. However as get further to the end of the century I really do start to question some things. A signed urinal? OK I guess, at least that I know the story and understand the sentiment behind it.
Big swathes of colour? Hhhmmm. Some of that is a bit more difficult. I will say however that my appreciation of Rothko’s works did grow when you are confronted by a number of them in one space as is in the Tate Modern. Here, with just one on a wall, I find the power diminished. But fascinating still at the very least.
We moved through the gallery at a fair pace, gathering momentum the more recent the works got. In not too long we were at the end of the main collection and felt it was time to spend a little time outside now the weather was improving. So to the Champs Elysees it was, the Arc de Triomphe to be precise.
As we popped out of the metro station things were quite odd. There seemed to be less noise and goings on. The reason? No traffic! There were no cars on the Champs Elysees or around the crazy roundabout that surrounds the Arc. How strange! Usually you are greeted with hundreds of cars in all kinds of crazy directions getting around the Arc, but instead there was just police and street blockages and green/yellow paint all over the streets.
It wasn’t until afterward I read about what had happened. Climate change activists from Greenpeace had simultaneously abseiled down the Arc, while other rode around the roundabout on their bikes, dropping yellow paint and allowing the Paris traffic to do the rest. They apparently called it a “giant sun” around the Place de l’Etoile. What we caught at the end was simply closed streets and trucks washing the paint off the road. It did mean we got to see the Arc de Triomphe in a different way to normal.
It was still open for tourists so we decided to head up the spiral staircase to the top. While still a little cloudy, the views were great as usual, minus the crazy traffic underneath. It gradually started reopening as we were up there and it was fascinating to see how 12 sets of roads being closed causes chaos to the usual traffic.
We soaked up Paris for a bit, before heading back down and jumping back on the metro (and finding more Star Wars!) to our final stop for the day. My favourite place in the world. The Louvre.
I can’t express how much I love this place. Even though I don’t love everything in it, the sheer size of the building and its collection means that it is almost impossible not to be in love with a number of things within. A decade ago on a different trip to Paris I visited EVERY room in the building over about a week of different visits. Yep, that is how long it takes. It is overwhelming to say the least.
Coming back it was comforting to find little seemed to have changed. Most things were where I remembered them, and so this trip was mostly about a best of for Kate and I. Visiting works that we each adored was the main plan. You need a plan in the Louvre otherwise you will just lose yourself somewhere in the museum (not a bad thing either).
First stop were the two sculpture “gardens”. These rooms, being brightly lit and feeling outdoorsy, are a marvel. You can spend an hour just in two rooms, marvelling at the works (and having some fun with them too).
We then had the rough plan to head to the top and start working our way down. Kind of a plan! We knew where our favourites were so ensured that we saw them on our fairly rapid travels.
On the way to the top we came across the massive room of huge paintings by Rubens. Only in the Louvre could you be virtually the only people in a room of this size and significance. Sigh.
One of our first stops was to visit The Lacemaker by Vermeer, one of Kate’s favourites. This painting is exquisite in its small scale, especially given how it could be dwarfed by so many other things in the museum.
I won’t go into detail about the next few hours, but needless to say we just soaked up the magic of it all, and visited other favourites. We visited Mona, even though neither us still understands why there is the international obsession. Whenever I visit it I love to watch the crowds, 90% of whom approach it, stand for a few seconds, take a picture, and walk off. “Mona Lisa… check!”.
The Winged Victory is another of Kate’s favourites, while for me it is the work of Botticelli and also the Venus de Milo that epitomise the beauty of the Louvre and everything in it. It really is the happiest place on earth.