When Brian found out he was headed on a two-week work trip to Europe, including a week in France, I quickly booked my own tag-along flight to Paris.
It’s been several years since we were in Europe and nearly 10 years since I was in France (Mon Dieu!). During prior trips to Paris, I saw many of the main attractions. But it isn’t possible to ever fully experience Paris, n’est-ce pas?
I had to do a little scrambling to dust off research from previous trips and see what I’d tagged for ‘next time.’ Things quickly came together, and I was happy with my itinerary for this trip.
I ended up dedicating one day of our week in France to re-exploring Paris, checking out a few new sites and revisiting a few others near and dear to my heart.
Here are the highlights:
This trip marked my first visit to the 14th arrondissement, specifically to experience the Paris Catacombs. I reserved a timed-entry ticket online in advance and was glad I did – the signs at the entrance said their were no same-day tickets available!
Immediately upon entry, I picked up an audio-guide and descended down to a couple of rooms with informational plaques about the history of the catacombs and how they came to be.
The history of the Paris Catacombs starts in the late eighteenth century, when major public health problems tied to the city’s cemeteries led to a decision to transfer their contents to an underground site…
The first evacuations were made from 1785 to 1787 and concerned the largest cemetery in Paris, the Saints-Innocents cemetery, which had been closed in 1780 after consecutive use for nearly ten centuries. The tombs, common graves and charnel house were emptied of their bones, which were transported at night to avoid hostile reactions from the Parisian population and the Church. The bones were dumped into two quarry wells and then distributed and piled into the galleries by the quarry workers…
Starting in 1809, the Catacombs were opened to the public by appointment… The Paris Catacombs are now open to everyone without requiring an authorization and welcome nearly 550,000 visitors yearly.https://www.catacombes.paris.fr/en/history/site-history
From here, I entered the tunnels, pausing to read about keyholes they built into the walls to allow air to flow and looking up at the scorch marks along the ceiling, which guided people through the tunnels in the days before electrical lights (both pictured below).
Most visitors did not listen to their audio guides along the way and instead sped through the tunnels to get to what most consider the real highlight of the visit – the ossuary, which holds the remains of more than six million Parisians. I happily let them go around me so I could wander through at my own pace!
When I finally arrived in the chambers of bones, I could understand why they are the draw. I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer number of bones – room after room, piled well above my shoulder and some places even over my head. They are all neatly organized with different types of bones, including skulls, arranged to create patterns.
I was fascinated by the old stone tablets in different chambers that indicated which cemeteries had been relocated and when. Many along the walkway were from the 1800s, but I passed one section that was moved in 1786 – among the first groups to relocate.
This macabre site was well worth the visit, and I’m surprised it took me this long to explore.
Knowing I was headed to the Paris Catacombs, I looked up other things to do in the area and stumbled upon the Montparnasse Tower! I read a number of mixed reviews about the towering, modern, and to some minds out-of-place building itself, but most agreed the views from the top were worth a visit.
I arrived at the local metro stop, walked over to the building, followed the signs to the elevator, headed to the top, and purchased a ticket to access the viewing areas.
This included the floor I was on, which had a gift shop, cafe, and large windows giving you 360 degree views of the city. You could also take a couple flights of stairs up to the open observation deck, where I spent the majority of my visit taking photos through the openings in the plexiglass barricades.
There were fun seating areas, an inactive cafe/bar area that is probably quite popular in the summer, information on the major sites within viewing distance, and – most importantly – some incredible views of Paris!
I rode the metro from Montparnasse to Invalides and then walked across the Pont des Invalides to the North Bank and over to the Bateaux-Mouches dock to catch an early afternoon tour. There weren’t too many people on board, and I had a row of seats all to myself.
I enjoyed sitting along the railing and taking pictures of major sites as the overhead announcement shared information about key points of interest in multiple languages. The view from the water is quite different from what you experience walking around town. It was a lovely way to relax for an hour between my morning and afternoon explorations.
The North Bank
After my boat tour, I set off on a walk to Notre Dame Cathedral by way of several North Bank features I’ve visited in prior trips – the Place de la Concorde, the Jardin des Tuileries, the Musee du Louvre. The eateries in the gardens were busy but I waited in line for a delicious and warm baguette sandwich to eat as I walked around.
While it was nice to re-experience these spots, I did encounter something entirely new this visit – goats! They were positioned around the walkways, eating their way through the weeds and tall grasses!
Notre Dame Cathedral
The real reason for my trip downtown was to see Notre Dame Cathedral post-fire. I joined people around the world in mourning that tragic event when it occurred in spring 2019. This visit, I was sorry to learn that while they are continuing to work on the clean up and planning for repairs, they have a very long road ahead before it will be safe for public entry again.
I’ve visited Notre Dame each time I’ve visited Paris, attending a church service inside during my first trip in 2005. I returned with my brother for a self-guided tour in 2007, and then Brian and I did a full tour, including the climb to the top of the bell towers in 2013.
There were lots of people around the artwork-laden barricades this visit as well as young man playing the violin who seemed to capture how we were all feeling.
Marais District Food Tour
Brian met me for the final experience of my day in downtown Paris – a walking food tour of the Marais District with The Tour Guy. It was just ok.
Our guide was very nice and fun to chat with, but he wasn’t very knowledgeable about the food we tasted throughout our tour (wines and cheeses, oysters and champagnes, falafel, boef bourgnon, creme brulee). While all of the food was fine, the various cheeses we tried at our first stop were far and away the highlight.
It was also an odd group on our tour, with a late start as three ladies who hadn’t made a reservation argued their way into our group. This put us over capacity for some of the stops the guide had arranged and set things out on a weird note.
I’d absolutely do a food tour in Paris again, but I’d do more research on the guide and perhaps book a private tour catered to our more ambitious foodie palate.