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Bit By Bit Spending some months in Europe. Let's see how it goes... Check ya later, Barry.

The Louvre, Notre Dame, Catacombs, and All That Jazz! (and of course the Eiffel tower)

USA | Wednesday, 17 February 2010 | Views [1192] | Comments [6]

Paris is an old-fashioned city.  It prides itself on the gleaming buildings that make it what it is, all off-white stone and iron.  It is so proud, in fact, that when a modern-looking sky scraper was put up, all glass and corners, there came to pass a rule that would "preserve the historic skyline of downtown Paris...broken only by venerable history domes and spires" except for that one building.  In 1985 a law was passed to keep from the demolition of any of the old building fronts.  It is a city of monuments and elegance, cafes and showrooms. 

We did not do much of anything on our first night in Paris.  The bus ride had been an emotional roller coaster. No sooner would we start to doze off, the bus would stop and we would all pile out to shove something in our faces and stretch our legs.  The people would have just quieted down in time for the brakes to hit, and it was all chatter after that.  A lone French woman's voice rang out loudly in the dark, talking the ear off of whomever she had come with, oblivious to the stars and the snores around her, even to the harsh shushing of one fed up soul. 

On our second day we went to the Louvre.  It is a magnificent structure, winding around an entire block.  It would take weeks to go through and see everything.  In the time that we spent, we saw paintings that reached from floor to ceiling, wrapped in frames as thick as our bodies.  We saw old Roman artifacts, busts from however long ago.  There were Egyptian antiques following Egyptian antiques, rooms full of ancient sarcophogii and knick knacks carved out of precious stones no bigger than our finger-nails.  Old columns covered in hieroglyphics stretched towards the ceiling, and solid marble blocks as big as a closet told stories in squiggly lines and birds and people facing to the side.  We saw the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, a couple sphynx and paintings by several more famous renaissance artists. 

Outside of the Louvre stands the Arc de Triomphe, built in honor of Napolean's soldiers.  It holds the grave of the Unknown Soldier, and a flame is always lit.

We wandered the streets to find a good place to eat, and pushed our way into one that looked acceptable.  We tried the guessing way of ordering, where we pointed and hoped for the best. Accompanied by some true blue escargo.  Well, they brought us the snails, and a second plate laid out with paper-thin slices of red meat, and a tub of butter.  "I really hope this isn't what we ordered."  But it was, and it was terrible.  Of course the meat that wouldn't normally be thought of as good was superb, and the everyday meat didn't make the cut.  It was then that we proceeded to wait about an hour for the check, contemplating a risk at arrest if we walked out.  We hied away home then, needing away from the crowds and the foreign to us which was the norm to everyone around us (the Louvre was jam-packed, and there were only four stalls per bathroom!  Seriously!  A place like the Louvre and a twenty minute wait at each bathroom...). 

The next morning, refreshed by our hotel breakfast, we rushed to the Notre Dame Cathedral for Sunday Mass.  The place was crawling with people, from all around it and right through the doors.  Signs said: please be quiet so as not to disturb the service.  As we sat and listened to the French chanting, to the priests who lifted up their voices in such a way that if you closed your eyes you would think you were in heaven, people shuffled by in rank, snapping pictures, gesturing and whispering.  We moved into said group when it came time for communion.  We snapped pictures of ceilings high enough to be God's own footstool, stained glass of intricate detail, candles rippling in the breezes left by pigeons flitting from chandelier to chandelier.  As it came time for service to close, the organ player ended with such a rising crescendo it felt like he would bring the very house down around us all.  Apparently, the Notre Dame Cathedral was a subject of contention with the people of Paris because of the gargoyles that climb the entire height of the building.  It got a bad rap until the arrival of Victor Hugo's book about the hunchback, who you can meet and pay to take a picture with to capture the moment in time (don't worry, he's not working for the church).

Appropriately, from church, we went to see the catacombs.  It was definitely our longest wait yet, but well worth it. We descended into the muggy and close tunnels from the windy and frigid streets of Paris. A never-ending stretch makes one start to wonder if the bones housed beneath the city are actually from the fools that dare to go down to see them, taking that long pathway until they are no more. Eventually it broke into the ossuary, a winding portion with bones piled shoulder high, drops falling from the rock ceiling, moistening the earthen floor and fogging up the camera lens.  The bones went on and on, winding around and around, broken into every now and then by granite slabs reading some Catholic proverb, and even certain places where mass was held in honor of the dead.  The bones were packed tight as brick, going back by the feet, long bones fortified by staring skulls.  There were places where the skulls were laid to form a design, such as an arc, and once even a heart.  The ambiance was dim and gloomy, tepid and spooky.  There was a 'no flash' rule, but when we weren't by anyone else we broke the rule.  The tunnels were in place from the 1700s, when mining for limestone turned out to be a beneficial enterprise.  The mining was done in time to realize that the cemetaries were over-crowded and stinking, so the dead were transported below.  It took about forty-five minutes to find ourselves to the exit, which was actually 83 steps labeled by a sign that warned to go slowly.

Well, those 83 steps were a piece of cake after living on the fifth floor of a hotel with no lift.  We do not speak the same language as our fellow guests, but when we pass each other on the steps, huffing and puffing, we know by the exaggerated fanning of our faces, miming of the heart that is about to burst from the chest, gripping of the thighs as if they are about to explode from our bones, that we are all feeling the same pain.  That very same day Michael was able to bless an older woman who was dragging up her luggage to our floor.  "Oo la la!" she remarked about the stairs, and we grinned and chattered about the ascent in our own languages.  She was so grateful that she even commented on Michael's help to the hotel desk manager, who commented to Michael about her comment.  The door to our room is right outside of steps, and while it can sometimes be annoying to hear the feet always striking, it is fun when a ragged voice cuts through, friends climbing and wheezing to one another. 

The next day we wandered down the Champs-Elysees, which starts at the Arc de Triomphe.  It is meant for shopping, but we just wanted to look.  Strolling is a famous Parisian pastime, but it's too bad that neither of us can take a leisurly pace.  As soon as we get in front of someone we realize there is someone else to pass.  Unsure of where to go and what to do, we saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

It did not take us long to get there.  We kept each other company with stories from old times, which we have told over and over but dearly love still.  The Eiffel tower was bigger than we imagined, a huge and hulking mess of metal compared to the rest of the city. It was met with outrage upon completion, for it is quite a sight to behold.  One man went to lunch in the cafe beneath it every day because he said it was the only place in the whole city he could go and not have to look at it.  We waited in the cold, off to the side, for the sun to set and the lights to come on.  Which they did, slowly illuminating until it was a beacon, topped by a spotlight that swept over the city.

We were able to really sit down and get the rest of our trip worked out before we headed to the Champs-Elysees.  We decided where to go and when and in what order, and it was a good feeling when it was done.  We decided to stay another day, which was today. We tried to go shopping again, as it was sunny out, but it wound up being like a ghetto, and we would rather be back in our room anyway.  Our laundry is drying, and we are ready to make our last night of bruschetta.

It's off to Brussels tomorrow!

Comments

1

As always, great read! Thanks for taking me along on your trip; I'm loving every step except the weary ones, the wandering ones and the huffing/puffing ones. May love & prayers cover you both.

  MOM Feb 17, 2010 12:47 PM

2

I am glad you having a good time. you 2 Rock

  Rusty Feb 18, 2010 8:13 AM

3

I hope you take great advantage of having nutella around. :) That stuff is SO good. I love you guys!

  Victoria Feb 18, 2010 11:09 AM

4

I am so enjoying your adventures! Makes me feel like I am there with you. :)

  Aunt Feb 18, 2010 1:30 PM

5

Awesome descriptions of your adventures! Totally love the way you write!! We Google the places you visit, so your travels are an education for us. Keeping you in prayer every day. Love you!

  The Bacon people back here Feb 20, 2010 5:20 PM

6

Hi Rebeka. I Am a horrible blogger....your mom had to forward me your last response. Glad you made it to paris and seems like you are doing the "right" things but when I last went I really enjoyed the trip out to Versailles if you like history. We took a guided tour and learned so much about french history and saw the beautiful countryside. Also the Muse de' Orsa is a great museum if you really like impressionist paintings and easier to get through in one afternoon. I will be waiting for you first-hand info on Italy. Au revoir!

  Anne Mendheim Feb 25, 2010 3:36 PM

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