This being G’s first time in Paris, we have to do the major sights. We started with the Eiffel tower on the first day. It is pretty impressive, especially since the Parisiens hated it with a passion to start with. It was there for the 1889 Paris exhibition, and only supposed to be there for 20 years. Gustav Eiffel paid for the tower himself, and was given the rights for 20 years the government thought it would take to turn a profit. It was such a huge hit, he had made his money back in 6 months. Nowadays, they estimate the annual income at 6 billion euros. Brian the guide told the story of a confidence trickster who made a motza by taking a huge deposit from a scrap metal merchant after he had convinced the bloke he had the rights to cut the tower down for scrap metal. Brian also told us that the view from the ugly Tour Montparnasse was much better, cheaper, no queue and much more central than the Eiffel Tower.
Big game at the 'E today
Due to a lack of time (bloody volcano) we did not get into any of the Museums. If you want to go to the Louvre, Brian the guide told us that you go direct by Metro so you join underground and miss the queues going from the foyer under the Pyramids, up the stairs to the outside and around for a while. Failing that he said, don’t go and instead go to the Musee de Orsay for some more modern art, and l’Orangerie to see Monet’s Water Lilies.
Centre Georges Pompidou is now 40 years old, but it still makes an impression on first viewing. The inside out design, with all the colour specified service plumbing, pipes, lifts and escalators on the outside of the building is just fantastic. They did have a Lucien Freud exhibition but again time (bloody volcano) was against us. We are just going to have to come back.
Cubby house at the Pompidou Centre
Notre Dame of course, with its magnificent Rose Window is a must see. What was great to see was the families who were so happy to have got to Notre Dame as a sort of pilgrimage and their faces lighting up with joy to be in such an important place for them. Brian told us that a much underrated church was St. Chappelle as it had originally built as the royal families own, and had the most magnificent curtain walls of stained glass all around.
G and I had a brief look at the outside of Musee de l’Armee but only enough time to admire the topiary, Napoleon’s daughters (cannons) and the toilets. Shame, because we were told it is great.
We didn’t miss everything though we did get up onto the Arc de Triomphe to see the views up and down the Champs Elysee, see the tomb of the unknown soldier and all the battle honours won by Napoleon’s armies. It was here we got the first approach by a Gypsy, but much lighter on than we had read about on the web. It even took four days for the first attempt with the gold ring scam (“excuse me, but did you drop this gold ring? I think you did. You should keep it, please give me money for finding your ring....”) There was a bit of Police action around the Tuileries gardens, “On gypsy patrol” as Brian put it – some commotion about a pilfered mobile from a Japanese tourist.
Arc de Triomphe
Anyway, the other place we visited was the Catacombs. Southern Paris used to be honey combed with gypsum and limestone quarries underground. These were commandeered to put millions of skeletons into when there were some bad disease outbreaks around some of the local cemeteries due to inadequate burial practises. So the Catacombs are down deep. They are below the sewers, below the metro and below all the utilities. So we start with stairs (“MORE stairs?” – L) a hundred or so going down. Then half a km of walking along the old mine tunnels, fairly boring. Until you get to the realm of the dead where the walls are lined with the bones of those moved in the 18th century. And they have even been arranged artistically, with the skulls formed into patterns in the face of the bones, even a sort of round column of bones arranged - and all mortared together so they do not move. The bones go on and on, and you can see them further off in the galleries in all directions. Not surprisingly it is a bit creepy, but way fascinating. The mood of the place, and the quiet apart for some water (I hope) dripping through the ceiling and the echoes from other people further down the tunnels was something quite different.
In the Catacombs
So that’s what we did in the short time we had available to us in Paris – apart from the food of course...