I was so concentrated on all of the great things that we did last week, including the Louvre and Versailles that I didn’t even think about all of the great things that we’re doing this week. Here’s the rundown:
Monday–tour and climb the Arc de Triomphe, walking tour of Baron Haussman’s developments, tour of Paris Perfume Museum, tour of Garnier Opera House (of Phantom of the Opera fame)
Tuesday-tour of catacombs, lunch around Luxembourg Gardens, tour Pantheon
Wednesday-go to Musee d’Orsay, Museum of Montmartre, tour and climb Sacrè Coeur, dinner at Restaurant Ancien Chartier, go to theater performance of “How to be a Parisian in One Hour”
Thursday-tour of Eiffel Tower and lunch at its restaurant
…whew. It’s been a great week so far and I’m behind in my blogging because they have been long days and we had a quiz yesterday that I had to prepare for. So here comes a mega post with everything from Monday and Tuesday.
The Arc de Triomphe stands on the Champs Èlysèes and was commissioned by Napoleon to honor his military victories. The walk to the top is less than 150 stairs, so it is not the highest thing we’ve climbed by far (stairs are a common theme in Europe) but the soreness has really set in, making it harder than I thought it would be.
The views from the top rival Notre Dame. You can really understand Haussman’s characteristics of a wide boulevard lined with trees and cutting through the city when you have an aerial view of Champs Èlysèes. To our left and the north was Montmartre and Sacrè Coeur, directly in front of us was Notre Dame and the spire of Saint Chapelle, and to our right was the majestic Tour Eiffel (you can see my panorama of the view here)
We also visited Fragonard’s perfume factory, which give tours. We sadly could not take pictures inside, but it is in a Haussman-era building and is decorated in classic 19th-century France decor. I learned a lot about the process when the essences are extracted from the flowers and the history of perfume, like that it was originally for religious purposes. We also got to do a scent test (I got all but 1 right) and sample some of the company’s perfumes. I splurged and bought myself some perfume since we are in the perfume capital of the world and all.
We then visited the famous Garnier Opera House, which holds nothing back in terms of opulence and decoration. The late 1800s theater is absolutely beautiful and reveals a lot about society in the period, especially between classes (i.e. the poor came in the front door and wealthy a side door because their carriages could pull right up to the door so they would not get wet if it rained).
On Tuesday we toured the catacombs, where the Parisians buried the dead (or moved them there) when cemeteries started overflowing. I’ve gone into caverns before so I wasn’t worried about going underground. I also didn’t think that the bones would bother me, but I was wrong.
After learning about the geology of Paris we entered the ossuary (catacombs). Let’s just say it was interesting for the first five feet, then not so much anymore. I wasn’t scared, but the stacks of femurs, skulls, and other bones were very unsettling. They go about 5-6 feet high and several meters back (in some places, up to 30 meters deep). I couldn’t get it out of my head that these were real people that walked the earth. With the ceiling dripping on me occasionally and the cold temperatures down there, it was an unpleasant and unsettling experience and I was glad to get to ground. I am still glad that I saw the famed catacombs, but it’s an experience I would prefer not to repeat.
We visited the Pantheon after lunch. We could not go to the top because there are extensive renovations, but we could tour the interior, which is in beautiful classical style, and the crypt underneath. The building was commissioned by Louis XV as a church in honor of Saint Genevieve but after the Revolution it was renovated to honor France’s great men (and some great women too). Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Rousseau, and Voltaire, among many others, are buried downstairs.