Thursday, May 15, 2014
Paris But a Little Different...After Dark
Notre Dame, The Eiffel Tower, The Arch de Triomphe. These are all things that we are used to hearing about when we discuss Paris, France. I don't blame you. I saw all those places and I agree that they are some of the most spectacular places that I've ever seen, despite the disposition of the average Parisian that you meet on the street. I loved the lighted boat tours. I could have spent a lifetime in the Louvre. Paris is one of the most celebrated cities in the world. Why wouldn't I write about this outstanding place?
Well, no offense to the average traveler and their lovely trip to Paris, but once you've seen the regular stuff, you've seen it. So, moving on to a new way to see Paris. From the dark side. Let's start with Place de la Concorde. What's so special here? Well, this is where the French Revolution reached it's zenith and Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were executed. This is where it all really began for Napoleon. Long gone are the Bastille and the Tueleries, but the legends live on. This square is still the largest square in town, and that says something. For history buffs there are about 20 tours you can take in this area to learn more about the most notorious time in French history. It's right at the Louvre too, so you're right by some of the greatest art in history.
Versailles is amazing, and it certainly helps us understand what could bring on a revolution. The opulence, the gilding of everything, the gluttony, the indulgence, and so on. I don't blame the average person for getting sick and tired of the whole thing. Today Versailles is one of those places that you visit just to see it for yourself. Once again, there are great historical tours of Versailles that will help you learn a lot more about the history of France. They will teach you the story of the royalty that once called it home from their rise to their demise.
History is fabulous, and creepy history is better. Take a walk on the wild side in Paris and discover a couple of things that make this a great place to go on an adventure for anyone. Our first truly unusual stop is the catacombs. That's right, underneath the city are an extensive tract of old tunnels or catacombs that used to be part of an old mine. In the 1780's or so, dead folks were becoming a problem in the city of lights. There were so many cemeteries where improper burials had taken place that the city was becoming contaminated from the ground up. The water was contaminated and everything. So, since the mines under the city were no longer in use, they decided to move the deceased underground. This took a few years, and there were thousands, if not millions of bones to be moved.
Burial places were made. Mausoleums were fashioned. The bones of loved ones were turned into artwork on the walls of the catacombs themselves. It was one of the creepiest places ever created. Following the creation of this place underneath the city, they buried some people for a while. Not many, but some. Then in the early 1800's something strange happened.
The elite became fascinated with the place, and they started to visit it. That was the beginning of it becoming a subterranean tourist attraction. During WWII the catacombs were used as part of the resistance as well. Finally in the mid 2000's the tunnels were majorly renovated to make them safe for visitors and today the catacombs are on the official list of museums in Paris. You can't visit the entire catacomb system, but you can take a tour of a good sized section of them. Remember to book it in advance, because the number of visitors is strictly limited at any given time. Also check ahead, because although it is rare, the catacombs are sometimes closed for national holidays.
The adventure continues with another truly fascinating place to visit in a city that you thought you knew all about. The most famous cemetery in Paris and maybe all of France is Pere Lachaise Cemetery. As a matter of fact, it's the most visited cemetery in the world. Why? Well, there are some amazing structures here, from mausoleums to fabulous headstones. The way that they manage to fit everyone in it is amazing. But, the biggest draw is that there are some truly famous people there. The painter Delecroix is laid to rest there, along with writer Oscar Wilde, the composer Frederic Chopin, and even the French playwright Moliere. There are a list of over 150 notable people buried in the cemetery and they are from all over the world.
But, in the ironic age that we live in, the cemetery's most famous resident is Jim Morrison. That's right, the singer from The Doors. His grave is the most visited in the whole place, and it can be a little weird. If you come to the cemetery in the evening, you will still see his faithful followers gathered by his grave. And they can be some really unusual people. It's quite a sight to see, and I highly recommend it. The cemetery is not officially open at night, but the followers of Jim Morrison don't seem to care much about the rules.
So, if you've seen it all in Paris, come and visit Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. Sign up for one of the many ghost tours around town that will teach you about some of the seedier history of the city of lights. Come and see the catacombs where a specific problem was solved and it created a fascination for the rich and poor alike. There are always many unusual things to see in any city in addition to the ones that we all know and love.
So, when you've seen all the stuff that you can see on the lighted boats and regular tours, try something different. Go out at night. See the world from an entirely different perspective. Take a look at the dark side of Paris.