France - Round The World Tour 2003 T-41

pre-departure

Paris

Friday 31st January

Today is our last full day in Paris. Once again, the routine of the day was fairly similar and we are now back at the hostel and are tucked in for the night. All the photos from both the digital cameras have been offloaded to the laptop, perused, filtered and sorted. Of the 729 photos that we are keeping from the entire stay (about 200 or so additional photos didn’t make the cut because of focus or lighting errors and such), we have selected 79 of the very best to be put up onto the web.

The day started out full of promise with not a cloud to be seen. Still a bit chilly and it did get colder as the day wore on. So much so that it actually snowed later in the evening.

We had been putting off visiting the Basilisk du Sacré Coeur at the top of the hill in Monmatre for a couple of days now. Now refreshed after another restful nights sleep, the climb up the hill looked less daunting this morning. We needn’t have worried since our metro passes were valid for the cable car that ferries people the last 200 meters of steep incline to the very top of the hill where the Basilisk is perched.

Another bonus was that, as with the Notre Dame, there was no entry cost to visit the religious monument. We did, however, forego the €5 per person cost of ascending to the tower as we were still a little puffed from the climb up the hill. Once you’ve seen a half dozen spiral staircases, you’ve seen them all. And besides, perched as high up as it is, the view from atop the tower would be no more spectacular than that from out front. The very building itself seems to guard vigil over Paris from its perch. The building itself looks just as spectacular up close and in person as it does from the various vantage points around the city. The inside of the building was also no disappointment. We explored all its nooks and crevices and took plenty of photos – even where photos were forbidden. The frescos and some of the sculptures in the crypt are simply amazing. The detail is not something that photos can do justice to.

Back down the hill then to the Anvers metro station and onwards to a park that Sandy has been keen to visit. Alas, when we arrived, it appeared to be closed for renovation. And to make matters worse, it started to snow. Time to nip into a side street and into a quaint brasserie for a quick cup of hot chocolate and a hotdog.

After our little breather, we decided to head towards the catacombs. Sandy has been reading about this subterranean web of tunnels where, apparently, the bones of thousands of people are stored. Not exactly sure what to expect, off we set to find out for ourselves. After finding the somewhat obscure entrance, we paid out €7 each and set off down yet another spiral staircase. We seemed to go down forever and eventually made it to as deep as we were going to go only to be confronted with a series of tunnels, which we followed in anticipation of something to come. Where we were in relation to where we started, I have no idea. Since this was one of those lesser-known tourist attractions, I wasn’t really expecting much. However, at the end of the series of tunnels, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw. We entered a wider passageway, which was lined with neatly stacked human bones. There were thousands and thousands of them as far as the eye could see lining both sides of the chamber walls. Arm bones, leg bones and skulls piled neatly upon one another. It was only after strolling through several dozen of these chambers and corridors that it dawned on me that there must be the remains of hundreds of thousands of humans here.

At the end of our visit to this bizarre network of burial catacombs, we climbed up a different spiral staircase and emerged somewhere in Paris. Where we came out or how far from our point of entrance we were, we do not know. Not to worry, metro stations are around every corner so we found one and started off towards our next destination.

We decided to make the Eiffel Tower, or more accurately the palace across from it, our next stop. As it turns out, the view of the tower from this location attracted out attention more and we wasted no time whipping out the cameras in ever search of that perfect shot.

With a few more dozen shots of the tower tucked neatly away onto our digital camera memory cards, we turned out attention to a possible trip up and down the Seine on one of the infamous river restaurants. What could be more romantic than to dine in view of an ever-changing Parisian skyline? At €120 per person, however, this reputation would have to continue to manage without our help. A simple jaunt up and down on one of the many riverboat tours, however, seemed worthy of the €9 per person ticket price. And it was too.

If a riverboat restaurant was out of our reach, then a nice meal somewhere off the Champs Elysees was the one thing that I wanted to make room for. With the cold now starting to bite, off we set to the Charles de Gaulle Etoile metro station at the base of the Arc de Triomphe. From there, a brief stroll down the infamous boulevard past a number of tempting restaurants, lead us to a small brasserie off the main road where we sat and enjoyed roast chicken and a nice steak. Hmmm.

After a brief ride back to the hostel, this rounded out our last day in Paris. Tomorrow, we are back on the Thalys to Liege and then finally back to Holland. Hopefully, our rental car will be ready for us in Heerlen and we can then head off to see Hans and Wanda.

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