Sunday, September 28, 2008

In some cities, there is just too much to see...


...and, for the most part, we seemed to be going to those cities which that applied to.

Rome? Too much to see - hit the high points.

Prague? Too much to see - hit the high points.

Berlin? Too much to see - hit the high points.

I could have spent AT LEAST a week in each of the cities we had been to thus far in our little sojourn. So, where's this next place that had just SOOOO much to see 2 days didn't even scratch the surface!?

Yes, my friends, here is Paris.

Paris, France.

No, not Paris, Germany... or Paris, Tennessee... this is the real thing.

As I heard once from fellow travel enthusiast Tony Bourdain , "Paris is the city of the senses: they are famous for their food - sense of taste; they are famous for their perfumes - sense of smell; and they are famous for their art - sense of sight; and, of course, Paris is famous for its 'love' - there's the sense of touch; but, Paris' pop music scene leaves something to be desired... but 4 out of 5 ain't bad!"

This is completely true.

From the moment all five of us began getting ready for the day inside our little closet-sized sleeper train, we were literally inundated by the senses.

I've been in a LOT of big cities, but coming to Paris the first time is like the old farmer arriving in New York City for the first time. Six major train stations, 20 something metro lines servicing 100-something metro stations, 10.5 million locals... this is big stuff - even to the seasoned traveler.

Our hotel was pretty far away...

...but not THAT far.

My companions headed off to meet a tour guide. That's not really my thing, so I decided to self-guide... again... And just enjoy me some time in Paris and see whatever the heck I wanted!

Oh, and I decided to take my first shower since Rome. Okay, yes... you read that right! That's real traveling right there...


So, I just headed into town and decided to walk a little. This guy will show you how to do it:

Starting from the Champs Elysées and the Arc de Triumph and walked toward the Louvre. Its a straight shot... a very long straight shot. You don't realize how huge Paris is until you try walking something like this. I didn't realize...

One of the first things I came to was one of the major things I was coming to Paris to see: the Luxor Obelisk.

Why is this THAT important to me? Well, because it actually belongs here:

See the big blue-lighted obelisk? See where there should be one sitting on the closer pedestal? Yep, that's where it should sit. They used to be twins. This was from my visit to the Temple of Luxor in Luxor, Egypt. See why it is so important?

Oh well... such is life...

I passed this dude in the Louvre gardens...

...he must have tried to walk all the way, too. The people were out en mass today. were the flowers...

...and the children with no parents to be found.

When you see the giant spider, you're almost there!

As with the Romans, I guess the Parisians like their triumphant arches, too.

I did not look it up, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was ACTUALLY from Rome and it had been brought here just like the Luxor Obelisk.

Does it sound like I'm a little bitter about stuff taken from its original place and put in museums? Actually, I'm not! I think it is very important to have priceless artifacts in a place where they can be collected and preserved and appreciated by the general public...

...HOWEVER... the Luxor Obelisk is borderline in my opinion. If you ask the Parisians, they'll say, "Oh, the Obelisk was GIVEN as a gift." But, if you ask the Egyptians (believe me, I have) they'll say, "The Obelisk was taken in a last ditch effort to get the last major thing out of Egypt before the Egyptian government made exporting things like the freaking OBELISK OF LUXOR illegal." So... see? Borderline.

Don't even get me started about some of the Greek stuff... you'll get that rant soon enough.

But, back to the story:

I made it. There's evidence. Camera propped up on the camera bag. Heck yeah.

From there, I just walked on around the side and across Pont Neuf and down to the good ol' Notre Dame. The Hunchback of Notre Dame type of thing.

Alright, so, after a little street food snack, I headed down to... um...

Okay, people... I promise I don't have some sick fascination with this stuff. This is just really cool off-the-beaten-path stuff. And it was just so cool...

The Paris Catacombs begin in a nondescript little building in the middle of the plaza in the middle of Place de Denfert-Rochereau in the 14th Arrondesment. Well, remember the Ossuary I visited at Kutna Hora outside Prague? That was 40,000 completely human skeletons.

That's a drop in the bucket to this place, my friend.

Try 6 MILLION completely human skeletons interred beneath the streets of Paris.

It goes on and on and on...

...they are stacked and piled and sometimes just shoved up in the nooks and crannies...

Guys and gals, seriously not for the faint of heart. Maybe not quite as outright bizarre like Kutna Hora, but to walk through a maze of 6,000,000 human skeletons is just a little more than awe-inspiring.

Lets see... what is that? Six million. The population of the greater Los Angeles area. The population of Atlanta, Georgia... and ALL of the surrounding counties. The population of the entire state of Tennessee. The entire population of the country of Jordan.

Perspective is a wonderful thing.

Just look at these arm and leg bones. For every two of those, that was one person:

Think about that then go back and look at the ones in the first catacomb photo. See? Very humbling...

Anyways... after a while wandering underground amongst 6,000,000 skeletons, I decided it was time for some food. I hiked back to the plaza and sat down at a completely random cafe and had an amazing lunch.

And then on to more celebration of DEATH at the Pere Laichase Cemetery! Alright, well, this is famous stuff here...

...for my music aficionado friends: Chopin's grave.

...and for my OTHER music aficionados: Jim Morrison's grave.

...and then bizarre of another kind: this is the grave of Oscar Wilde.

First, I'm sure you'll just see its kind of an odd facade there...

...but blow it up and look a little closer.

Are those LIP prints? In fact, you're right!

The jury is still out concerning this practice - some people think it is defacing the monument - but I kinda think its kind of a nice gesture. If that many people visit my grave over 100 years after my death, I wouldn't mind it a bit. The lip prints cover it from top to bottom and on all sides.

Thats a lot of people.

Well, it was about time to meet with my companions and suck it up and take a tour. As luck would have it, though, I happened upon them near the Tower quite randomly.

The Eiffel Tower is just so absurdly, unbelievably huge, by the way. My sister asked me, "Is it as big as the Hatteras Lighthouse?" to reference it with something we could both relate to. (If you don't know, the Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina is the tallest lighthouse in the United States.) Well, I assure you, the tallest lighthouse in the WORLD is substantially larger.

Yes, the Eiffel Tower is considered the world's largest lighthouse - though, not exactly usable as a maritime navigation aide.

The Tower is just so much bigger than you'd expect. It took almost 20 minutes to walk to it from where I took the photo above.

Moving along... we decided to take the tour through Montmartre. That's where this is:

The world-famous Moulin Rouge. Here's a little trivia for you: "Moulin Rouge" means "red windmill". It ALL makes sense now!!


So, you'd be surprised at the type of people who were going into the front door there. The average age was probably 45 and almost every one of them were couples... and by the looks of it - married couples. Its about 150Euro for a show at this time of the day. Needless to say, I wasn't there for that.

Whoa! I just realized, I haven't posted a random animal photo in a long time!


Makes me gag its so adorable. Silly woman jumped in there... kinda gave a little strange composition element to it. Immediately after she took the photo, I expected her to leave, but she touched the cat and made it leave... a bunch of other people all groaned at her. They all missed the photo. I have a photo AND a story!

ANYways... its a cat. I have one right here with me right now. It shouldn't be something that's going to stop traffic...

What WAS thrilling, though, was the kinda stuff we were seeing on this little tour: vanGogh's apartment where he died; the last originally REAL windmill in Paris; the absinthe museum...

...and the Sacre Coeur (translated: Sacred Heart) at the top of the hill...

...complete with its humongous gargoyles...

...and those killer views of Paris everybody drools over.

It was sort of funny to overhear a few people asking, "Hey! Where's the Eiffel Tower?"

Well, if they walked about 100ft to their right, they would see:

(Digital converted to B&W.) Remember how HUGE I was saying it was? Those high-rise buildings next to it... count the floors and compare.

Very very big.

Well, just around the corner from Sacre Coeur is a little community area of mainly artisans and craftsmen carrying on the traditions of this historic hill.

Picasso, vanGogh, Toulouse... all loved this area for its amazing lighting that remains greatly unobstructed even to this day.

The "Golden Hour" lasts the full hour on many days.

Oh, and have you ever seen the movie Amelie? That is almost completely filmed and based in these streets.

Our tour guide mentioned the metro station she used, we walked by the corner grocery store she goes to in the movie, and the brasserie she works at... Honestly, I've never seen the movie, but now I think I might put it on the Netflix list.

I enjoyed the area. Montmartre was beautiful and very full of life and "real" people...

...once you get away from the main drag where the Moulin Rouge fills the street with red light.

Speaking of another sort of "red light," this area is not very many steps from THAT "red light." But, we had really been walking a long way and it was just about that time for some food. We really wanted to try out this fondue place up the road from here, but it seemed everyone else in the city wanted to go there, too... so we didn't.

We settled on a nice little restaurant in the square a block below Sacre Coeur. It was a mighty nice place. In typical French fashion the food was mighty good. And the waitress was pretty horrible with her English, but in typical French fashion she could play the sheepishly cute card and get away with murder.

Its a game you get used to traveling extensively: you learn the "point at the menu" game. Yeah, you can be silly and butcher the word so badly where the waitress can't understand what you're asking for... but in the end, you'll be pointing at it anyway. Just skip that little embarrassment altogether.

Also in typical European fashion, we could sit there as long as we pleased. Now THAT, my friend, is the way to live. And it is especially noticeable in Paris: they sit and watch and observe what is going on around them. They enjoy the taste of the food and the smells and the sights and then they go out there and engage people and they get out there and live life.

"Too much of life is spent in waiting," said the new Indiana Jones movie. So go out there - it doesn't have to be as absurd as Paris - but just get out there and don't be afraid to live life. Because time will pass you by... and that's time you don't get back. Ever.

So, Paris is not done. See? Too much to see for one day and too much to tell in one post.

Stay tuned, my people. I'll be going to South Carolina tomorrow and back, but Part2 will come soon enough.

~Noah D.

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