Well I am back! I made it home safe and sound to Canada yesterday afternoon.
It is now March 24th, 2012 and I am about to tell you about Paris!
Paris was an awesome city. I have to admit that I was struggling with a bit of travel burnout by the time I had reached Paris. You know how when you go for a run or do a set of push ups or situps the final few reps or kilometers are always the hardest? Even if you know you can do more or go longer? It’s kind of a mental thing. If you say you are going to do twenty pushups you start to feel tired at 15 and the last five are gruelling. However you could do 25 pushups and not feel tired at all until you hit 20, then its the last five that are difficult. I probably could have kept travelling for another month and I would have been just fine in Paris, but since it was the last stop, the last 4 days of over 13 months of travel, it just seemed much harder than it should have been.
This is not to say I did not enjoy Paris – quite the opposite in fact. I did, however, spend more time thinking about the following weeks and getting excited to board that final flight home than maybe I should have, considering I was in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Despite this, mental and physical fatigue I accomplished, probably, more in Paris than any of the other cities I have visited so far. That might be because thereis more to do and see in Paris, or it could have been the fact that I had four days to explore rather than the habitual three.
Like my last few entries, I saw so much and learned so much in Paris that I am not going to go into detail on the places I saw or the stories I heard. I will be more than happy to relate those to you in person of course! On day one I took another excellent free tour. It covered most of the major sights, although Paris is so spread out that sometimes the guide would just point to the site off in the distance and tell you a bit about it (these tours, after all, are intended as introductions to the cities – you need to seek out the major attractions on your own for closer looks). That first day I saw Notre Dame, la Ponte-Neuf (New Bridge, which was hilarious adorned with sculpted likenesses of over 300 drunk 16th century Frenchmen), the Louvre, L’Arc de Triumphe, the Egyptian Obelisk, the Grand Palais and Pettit Palais (the big palace and the little palace) and many more.
That evening I met up with the group of travellers I met at my hostel in London (they were studying abroad in Paris) and had several drinks with them at a bar near the Bastille Opera house. On day two I decided to do a closer inspection of some of the more famous places. I started with Notre Dame, which had free admission (unlike some other churches in Europe I know *cough*westminster abbey*cough*). Notre Dame absolutely blew me away. During high school trips to Montreal and Quebec city I saw many large churches built hundreds of years ago. They were always fairly impressive; high ceilings, stained glass windows, attractive art and sculptures and so on. But after years of school trips I am ashamed to admit that I had adopted a bit of a ‘you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all’ attitude towards old churches. Well Notre Dame was a serious wake up call. It made the biggest and most impressive churches I’ve ever seen look like a child’s tree fort. The ceilings must have been 3 stories high. The stained glass windows had more square footage than my old apartment. The pillars that supported it all were too big for four people to touch hands around. The sheer scale and majesty of this nearly 850 year old cathedral boggled my mind.
After Notre Dame it was time for the Louvre. The Louvre is the biggest museum in the world. It holds over 35,000 individual pieces of art. I went in with the intention of seeing a few of the most notable parts (the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo etc…) It ended up taking me over 3 hours to see 5 major pieces. Mostly because walking from one major attraction to another involved passing several thousand lesser known pieces of art that were really no less interesting to look at. Finally I made it out of the Louvre, exhausted, having seen the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, colossal Ramses statue (and a mummy!), the Coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Medieval Louvre and of course several thousand paintings, sculptures and artifacts.
I returned to my hostel for a rest then set out that night to see both the Moulin Rouge and the Eiffel Tower (both of which are said to be best viewed at night). The Eiffel Tower, in particular, was surprisingly impressive. Pictures and videos do not do that tower justice. It is big. Like, really big. I took some video and it does an okay job of conveying the scale of the tower, but nothing beats seeing it in person.
The third and final full day I had set aside for two things; a closer look at the Arc de Triumphe (which was also very large, much more so than pictures give it credit for) and the Catacombs. The catacombs were easily the coolest thing I saw in Paris, if not during my entire Europe trip. Originally they were a stone quarry some hundreds of years ago. Then in the 18th century (I think) the cemetaries and churches of France were running out of room, so they started digging up the remains of thousands (maybe millions) of people and dumping them into the old quarry beneath Paris. Eventually the bones were organized and stacked into a funeral arrangement and the people of Paris almost immediately opened the site for tourism.
Basically you walk down 130 steps underground into a huge network of small passages. The corridors are about 6 feet wide and probably 6 1/2 feet high. Along the walls are bones. Millions of bones all stacked in a way that reminded me, eerily, of how my Dad and I stack firewood. From the ground there would be about a 3 foot high stack of femur and arm bones, then one layer of skulls, then another 2 feet of bones then a final layer of skulls on top. I took some videos so you can see what I mean when I finally get them uploaded. The walk through the catacombs I did was about 2km longs, maybe 1.5km of which was the ossuary, where the bones are kept. It was alot of bones.
If all that wasn’t creepy enough, sometimes you would see clear signs of what individual people died from (like little round holes in the skulls or some that were caved in entirely). It was very unsettling being gazed at… judged even…. by thousands of eyeless skulls grinning at you as you passed.
Afterwards I had a hamburger.
While eating this hamburger I made a few observations about Parisians. One: the only men I saw who were clean shaven in Paris were the tourists. The grungy look is definitely ‘in’ in Paris. I briefly considered that there may be a bylaw in place in the city making it illegal to shave more than once every three days, but I found no evidence to support this theory. Two: Paris is not a neat city. There is alot of graffiti, and lot of litter, and alot of pee and puke smells. I’m not sure why this is, but it is strange after London and Berlin and Amsterdam (and even Moscow and Irkutsk). Nevertheless it is beyond doubt one of the coolest cities I have ever seen and I am convinced there would be very few people in the world that would not enjoy spending a few days there.
My final night I hung out with my Californian friends for the last time and had a last few beers to finish off my trip to Paris and, indeed, my entire year abroad. The next morning was a short train to Charles de Gaulle followed by a smooth 7 hour flight to Montreal (I say it was a smooth flight, but I was slightly appalled that the movie they played was ‘The Big Year’, which is about bird watching. Seriously…. bird watching. Of course they made it out to be an incredibly exciting, almost sport-like activity. Unfortunately my powers of suspension of disbelief are not so developed as to allow me to believe that.
Now that I am back home in Canada I’m going to start editing the video from the last month or so (from February 27th in Beijing up until March 23rd in Paris) and will be posting videos as I finish them. Next week I am going to write another entry on adapting back to Canadian life (sneak preview: don’t eat a ton of cheese and milk after eating almost none of same for 13 months. Just don’t.). About a week after that I will type up a final goodbye to BNBnow which will include the bests, worsts and everything in between of the last year.
So please stay tuned for those two final updates and keep your eyes peeled here: http://www.youtube.com/user/Tiddlywinkers88?feature=guide for all the videos!
That’s all for now!