There were parts of Paris that I did a lot of research about ahead of visiting and there were others where I knew just enough to want to go, but left discovering the finer details until arriving. The Catacombes de Paris (or Catacombs of Paris) was one of these places. I wondered how the kids would go down there, faced with all those bones; Adam wondered how I would go down there, faced with the confined spaces. The truth is, we were fine on both counts. The kids, somewhat ghoulishly perhaps, spent a lot of time looking for skulls with evidence of a violent death (a bullet wound, a hole from an axe etc). I’m still not altogether sure whether what they were travelling through, rooms and chambers stacked high with bones, really registered; especially when said bones are used decoratively, laid out in specific, artful fashion.
After about a half an hour, I still wasn’t sure what I felt about the place. I had expected to be moved, awed by the scale. Instead I felt a distance, almost absence, of anything, except the reminder of our own mortality. I remember watching a few teenagers going through, light-hearted at the start, like they were beginning an adventure through an Indiana Jones set. By the end, they came out sobered by the knowledge that bones aren’t romantic. But bones do pull tourists – as evidenced by the line we experienced.
High on my to-do list, and one of the reasons Paris was on my Living List to start with, was the Palais Garnier. Ever since falling in love with the novel The Phantom of the Opera, I knew I wanted to visit the home of Erik, the Phantom, and hopefully explore the labyrinthine passageways the book described, right down to the underground lake. While we didn’t get nearly that far, what splendour we saw of the opera house was enough! From Marc Chagall’s lovely ceiling, drawn in soft colours and lines, to the candlelit reception rooms, which I preferred to the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
While we were there, dozens of university art students were draped about, over steps and benches, sketching the high ceilings and staircases. I could see why it is such a perfect place to refine your skills. I’d love to go back one day and see a real opera there!
Before we left, I asked about the place we had to go to in Paris. Interestingly, more people mentioned the Musee D’Orsay than the Louvre, arguably the world’s most famous gallery, host of the most famous picture, the Mona Lisa, so I was intrigued to discover why. And I did. While Adam preferred the Louvre, I really enjoyed this one too. It’s so light and spacious, a real joy of a building to be inside. As Keira has turned into a Vincent van Gogh fan, this was a real treat because it has a big collection of his work. I spent most of my time up at the top, on the fifth floor, with the Impressionists and this glorious view.
Is Paris everything we’re told it is? Romantic and cultured? Yes. Full of delicious food? Certainly. The people brimming with an overall zeal for life? From what I saw, yes (and they are MUCH nicer than their reputation leads us to believe).
I can understand why it is a magnet for creative types and have served as inspiration for so many movies. It’s not perfect, no city is, although I admit I felt more settled walking out at night here than I did in, say, London. Riley’s lips became very chafed with the cold while we were there, so he was quite uncomfortable, but he soldiered on. I faced one of the few parenting battles I’ve had (so far!) with Keira, and that taught me that while we might be holidays, our family unit needed to stick and work together, even more perhaps than when we were at home.
Here I am, after dinner on our last night in Paris. A few drinks in my belly and being silly. Because Paris.
Here’s a short video with highlights.
What’s a Living List? Look here.