From the Depths to the Heights of Paris

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IMG_1365The catacombs opened at 10 am, so we figured that getting there at 9:30 would’ve been sufficient. We were wrong. At least the line wrapped only half way around the little roundabout where the entrance was located, instead of all the way around like it did yesterday. Despite it being so early, it was really hot and we tried to rotate so that we’d get evenly cooked by the sun.

IMG_1372Two hours later, we were finally descending into the depths of Paris. It was dark and cold and wet, but marvelous. You walk through all of these tunnels and then after 15 minutes you enter into the Domain of the Dead filled with the bones of more than 6 million Parisians. It would have been a very strange job to dig up graveyards, transport them underneath Paris, arrange them into walls and mosaic-esque designs, sometimes 80 feet deep!

IMG_1375The long bones formed the basic structure, with the ends of femurs lined up in rows and columns. Skulls missing lower jawbones are placed to form patterns in the walls. There are other mysterious things, like deep water wells glowing eerily, and small scale models of buildings, carved out of stone and hidden in random niches along the walkway.

After we reemerged into the land of the living, we headed back to the apartment to chill out and do some blogging and rest our feet before our planned climb of the 669 steps to the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower.

We picked up picnic stuff and headed off at about 5 to go to Parc de Buttes Chaumont, which we had been meaning to go to when we stayed at Austin and Sheila’s because it was a 15-20 minute walk. It turns out that leaving at rush hour was a terrible idea. The metros were really crowded and incredibly hot. Our metro also broke down, numerous times, leaving everyone (or at least us) to wonder if we’d all get stuck in between two stations.

So we hopped off once it reached the next station and decided once again to skip Parc de Buttes Chaumont. It turns out that pretty much anywhere you get off the metro in Paris, you’ll have an awesome spot for a picnic. We ended up near Canal Saint-Martin, which we had also been meaning to visit. We spread our blanket and got to work on our bread, cheese, meat, fruit, chocolate, and beer. Later we walked along the canal a bit and over one of the pedestrian bridges to get some pictures.

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Amy excited by her new sunglasses, since she had been going without for a few days after her old ones broke

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IMG_1420It was finally time to visit the Eiffel Tower and make our way up to the 2nd level. The heat was breaking a bit as the sun neared the horizon. We waited in the shorter “stairs only” line, and chatted with a group of guys from the US who were on a whirlwind tour of Europe. They had little champagne bottles to celebrate once they got to the top. Most of them were able to get through the security checkpoint, but one guy didn’t. Instead of trashing his bottle, he decided to drink it immediately, before climbing up the stairs. We laughed and hoped that he would make it without too much dizzyness.

The climb was on. Step by step, we spiraled up from the bottom to the first floor: 328 steps. The view was stunning and we were glad to have started the climb when we did in the early evening, as the light was really beautiful with the sun slowly setting. We continued the climb to the second level: 669 steps total. The sun continued to set and we walked around along the crowded fenceline, enjoying the magical view.

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When we first arrived in Paris, Amy was set on going all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but Nathan thought that the 2nd level would be sufficient. However, when the moment came, we had a role reversal and Nathan wanted to go to the top, and Amy didn’t care. As a side note, Amy was already a little nervous at being so high up (~400 feet at this point) and the thought of going in a small elevator shaft encased in glass up to nearly 1000 feet was pretty scary.

After some deliberating, Amy deferred to Nathan and we bought an inexpensive ticket up the elevator to the 3rd level. As the elevator ascended, Amy’s grip on Nathan’s hand tightened. But once we reached the top, everything was so beautiful. The sun set and lights started to come on around the city. The rosy scene turned violet as we reached the top at 281 meters above street level.

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A young Ukranian couple asked us to take a photo of them; we did so and asked them to return the favor. They took the first photo without flash and it was too dark. We turned on the flash and the guy took the second photo. He looked down at the camera to see if it was good, and a look of concern crossed his face. “What is that?” he said in a thick accent. We looked at the camera and started laughing. The bag Nathan was wearing has retroreflective material on it (to make it visible at night) and the flash had illuminated the bag into a glowing mass. Unfortunately the bag was positioned around his midsection; hence the concern from the guy (you can see for yourself what he saw here). A quick rotation of the bag and a final photo and we were all happy.

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Satisfied with our time on the tower, we went down to relax on the green space to the southeast of the tower, where tons of people hang out and (of course) picnic, drink and talk. It’s nice to have a tasty beverage when you’re sitting out on the grass at night in Paris. We didn’t have anything on us due to the restrictions of what could be brought up the Eiffel Tower. Not to worry… there are throngs of young men, mostly from south Asia, hawking beverages, muttering “1 euro, 1 euro” or “water 1 euro”, or “cold beer, cigarette”. Some have wine or champagne with them as well.

IMG_1497A guy approached us, and Amy asked him how much for a beer. He said “5 euro” and she said “no thank you”. He said “how much?” and she said “2 euro”. He came back with “3 for 10”. But what we really wanted was some wine. Amy asked him “how much for the bottle of red?” and he said “25 euro”. She said “oh, no thanks.” He said “4 beer and wine, 20 euro”. Amy painstakingly counted out her coins, and countered “I only have 10 euro for the wine” and he went for it. The barter queen strikes again! (There might have been another 20 euro hidden somewhere).

As night comes on, the Tower lights up with various colors. Right now, it’s red, green, blue and yellow in an arrangement that mimics the South African flag, in honor of Nelson Mandela. Throughout our time there have been numerous events throughout the city honoring Mr. Mandela. Also, on the hour starting at 10pm, there’s a sparkling light show for about 5 minutes that everyone stops to Oooo and Ahhh at. Although it’s touristy, it’s also magical, or at least was for us!

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