On the 1st of July, I said goodbye to Lyon one last time and took the train to Paris. It was a little emotional for me, as Lyon had been my home for almost three months, and I was saying goodbye to my family for possibly the last time, but I was excited to go to the capital again. Although my first time in Paris had been a little disappointing for me, my second time there was absolutely unbelievable, and I can’t wait to go back again.
The ten days before I flew out to Zagreb were absolutely action-packed. Clem – one of my favourite people in France and my host sister in Paris – accompanied me almost everywhere I went in the fantastic city. We did almost everything described in my Traveller’s Bible – and let me tell you, that’s a lot – on hardly any sleep. When I arrived in Croatia, I had to take a few days off to recover!
Since I did so much stuff and can hardly remember the chronological order of events, I’m going to list it alphabetically instead.
As a fairly macabre sort of person, I loved the Catacombs.
Being underground with only six million dead people (and Clem, of course) for company would normally freak people out, but I loved it. Before you ask if something is wrong with me, the answer is: probably, yeah.
After a two hour wait in line in the ridiculously warm sun we finally bought our tickets and walked the 130 steps down to the dim, dank interior of the catacombs. It’s truly a little labyrinth of bone and death, with lights illuminating the way every ten or so metres and grisly French quotes about the inevitability of death filling the gaps in between.
The catacombs were created sometime in the 18th century because Paris was overflowing with dead bodies and it was causing sickness to spread throughout the capital. The leaders at the time decided to use old abandoned quarry tunnels to store bones from hundreds of areas of consecrated ground all over Paris: monasteries, churches, graveyards, etc. The result left Paris with three huge cemeteries and a grand network of bone spread underneath the city.
To be honest, I’d dreamed of visiting the Catacombs for years, ever since reading a children’s mystery book where the characters had to venture inside to look for clues. When I first had the opportunity to step inside, it really was wonderful for me!
This has to be the wackiest, brightest and most fun art gallery I’ve been to in France so far.
The Centre Pompidou is Paris’ famous Contemporary and Modern Art Museum, with thousands of amazing installations from the early 20th century to today. As a consequence, it holds some very interesting pieces that truly test the definition of “art,” because, if a plain blue canvas can get into the most famous modern art museum in Paris, then my doodles from boring maths lessons are surely masterpieces.
All of the other galleries I visited in Paris were for serious purposes (or for freaking out over Degas) but I went to the Centre Pompidou simply for fun. I don’t “get,” modern art, and I probably never will – if something looks like a bunch of straight lines on a canvas, I’m going to interpret it as a bunch of straight lines, not “honesty,” or “faith,” or “the great beyond, testing the limits of humanity.” That’s it. When I went to the Musée d’Orsay, for example, I looked at the Neo-Impressionist style of Paul Signac and looked carefully at his pointillist technique, gaining inspiration and ideas from his fantastic work. When I went to the Centre Pompidou, however, I looked at a painting for three seconds, asked myself “what is going on here?” failed to come up with an answer, and then laughed for three years with Clem at the sheer ludicrousness of it all.
Even the outside of the building is crazy! Apparently Paris was in uproar about the design of the museum, which has all of its brightly coloured pipes and escalators on the outside, but I love it. It really sums up the craziness of the Centre Pompidou.
I did find some fantastic pieces there, such as a finished work that looked like a half-finished painting of Napoleon (whoever understands what I just wrote deserves a prize, because even I find it confusing) and a gorgeous minimalist work of the Eiffel Tower, but for the most part, I was rather bewildered by the museum.
It’s easier to post a photo than try and explain this piece again.
When Clem and I emerged from the bowels of the Centre Pompidou some six or seven hours after we entered, we “had,” to buy some crepes to clear our heads.
Cimetière du Montparnasse
Apparently, I have a thing for death. Admittedly, I had no intention on visiting the two huge cemeteries simply because mum had recommended them (I’m kidding, mum, I swear…I love you) but we were in the area after visiting the Tour Montparnasse and thought why not?
Unfortunately, I got it mixed up with Paris’ larger and more well-known cemetery, the Cimetière du Père Lachaise, and had pretty much no idea of who any of the dead people were. Lots of famous French people are buried inside, but I’m not exactly good with that kind of stuff so I spent the morning admiring the beautiful tombs and following Clem around. She knew what she was doing, thank goodness.
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
Our adventure at the cimetière du Père Lachaise is hilariously pathetic, because we planned to see twenty or thirty people and even drew a path on our map to try and achieve our goal in the shortest amount of time possibly, but got miserably lost and only saw three or four tombs. Amazing.
It’s my fault for wanting to see Pissarro, but to be fair, I did say we were could skip him if necessary. Not that that was ever going to happen, of course, because we were both ridiculously determined to find him for no reason but closure. It took us over an hour, but we did find him, right next to all the other Pissarros. Genius.
but had to miss everyone else because we were then promptly thrown out of the cemetery by an angry French guard because it was closing time. Oops!
The day after I arrived in Paris, Clem, Lucien and some of their friends decided to go to Disneyland, so I tagged along too. Due to the expensive ticket and my lacking knowledge of anything Disney-related, I was originally reluctant about going, but ended up having a fantastic day.
I think what really won me was the sheer detail and beauty of the park. It’s all plastic, of course, but very well-done, from the huge pink castle dominating the park to the cute shops in the market square.
I was also lucky enough to have a resident expert of Disneyland with us – Lucien’s good friend, Lisa, is a bit of a fan, and happened to know all of the good rides and places to go. It was great to have her around, considering I would have had absolutely no idea where to start.
The rest of the day was spent running around the park, trying to go on as many rides as possible before Disneyland closed. Unfortunately, the best ride of them all – Space Mountain 2 – was shut, but that just gives me more of an excuse to go again. I also have to hit the Asterix theme park, which apparently has better rides and my favourite childhood cartoon characters. I’m a huge fan of Asterix, which, to me, proves I’m definitely meant for France.
Most of the members of the party left before Clem, Lucien, one of Clem’s friends and I, but that’s only because we stuck around until 11pm to see the fireworks show.
We ended up getting home at 2am, which was an adventure in itself, but one I probably shouldn’t go in to here. After being awake for 19 hours, hitting the sheets was a sweet relief.
Église de la Madeleine
I’m a huge fan of this beautiful church. It might even replace the Sacré-Cœur as my favourite church in Paris.
My favourite part of the Église de la Madeleine would have to be its glorious exterior, which looks a lot more like a Roman temple than a church. It’s also huge in a way that leaves you awestruck. I absolutely loved it.
I spent a lot of time wandering around the interior, reading every single possible placard and trying to drink in all of the itty-bitty details of the incredible church.
Considering I’ve labelled myself a “penniless traveller,” on this site, the Galeries Lafayette was a hilarious destination for me. I don’t think there’s a single thing there that doesn’t cost more than €1000. Honestly, when I said I really wanted to go, Clem asked me if I was nuts, “because there is nothing interesting there whatsoever.” Obviously, she was saying that because she hadn’t been there with me.
It’s a pretty spectacular shop, I must say. The building itself is absolutely beautiful, with a huge, vaulted, stained-glass ceiling. Apparently, in Christmas, there’s a giant tree that reaches all the way to the top. I’d love to see that.
Of course, being a poor 18-year-old, the real aim of the adventure was to run around and try to find the most expensive things in the shop. I think that I won with an “unlisted price,” necklace that looked like a four-year old had designed it (Colours! Flowers! Go wild!) but the plain black dress that had absolutely no features that marked it as “special,” “designer,” and “worth the €3500 price tag,” and really just looked like any plain old dress you could get at Target was a close second for me.
Hôtel des Invalides and the Musée de l’Armée
Considering they’re in the same building, I decided to concentrate these two sections into one.
It was a pretty dreary sort of day, from what I remember, but a trip to Napoleon’s grave really brightened it up. (I seem to have a thing about death, if you hadn’t already noticed.)
The Hôtel des Invalides is a beautiful building that was originally built to house veterans in the 17th century. During the French Revolution, revolutionaries stormed the Hôtel and seized 35,000 military rifles before moving onto the Bastille. As a consequence, it’s a place that’s very rich in history.
Clem and I wandered around for a bit, getting very lost and trying to find the sections that were free. Of course, that was completely unsuccessful because nothing in Paris is free.
When we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would have to buy a ticket (well, she wouldn’t, being a member of the EU, damn it) to see Napoleon’s tomb, we wandered along to the ticket booth. There, though, something fantastic happened. Really, it made my day, because I hate paying for things.
Clem asked for two free under-18 tickets, and flashed her ID, and he slid the two passes over without asking me for my identification. Apparently, we share the same identity, and therefore one card works for two people. Amazing.
Napoleon’s tomb has to be the most glorious thing I’ve ever seen. It’s huge, of course, and takes centre stage in a massive memorial room dedicated to him, and a few other important French military figures that I can’t remember the names of. He was the most important one there, obviously.
I’m pretty sure the phrase “it’s a big tomb, for such a little man” was uttered by everyone. It’s sunken in the floor, and you can take stairs down to see right around the grave. Gorgeous carvings surround his stone-encased body.
After seeing Napoleon’s tomb, we realised we could go to the Musée de l’Armée with the same ticket. It’s a pretty great museum, with tons of uniforms, equipment, arms, etc. but we spent most of our time looking over the maps of French allies and marvelling over the fact that everyone hates the French, and everyone has always hated the French.
Jardin du Luxembourg
This is a truly gorgeous garden filled with incredible statues of famous French figures, as well as the beautiful Sénat building and a lovely little lake filled with wooden sailboats painted with the flags of the world. It was a really nice place to wander and chat, so we explored the beautiful park for a bit, poked around a little art gallery and ate lunch on the grass. It’s a marvellous place.
I really imagine it to be the perfect relaxation spot, and can definitely imagine coming here with a thermos of tea, writing pad and a picnic blanket and stretching out on the grass to stare at the clouds.
Jardin des Plantes
Another garden? With a maze, zoo and greenhouse? Why, I think I shall, thank you.
We didn’t go to the zoo because it’s very expensive, and the greenhouse was closed, but the maze was pretty cool. It started raining while we were getting lost in the park, so we danced around a bit in the storm, listened to strangers play on the random pianos dotted around the botanical section of the gardens, pretended to propose under some roses, then huddled under an umbrella and headed home.
That’s right – I couldn’t help myself. The first Sunday of every month is Free Museum Day, and I just happened to be in Paris on the first Sunday of July (yes!), so I decided to slope on over to one of my favourite ever museums and finish seeing everything I missed out on the previous time I was there. I’m really grateful I decided to see the rest of it on a Free Day, because I really hadn’t missed out on anything special, and would have been irritated if I had paid to just see furniture in the Art Nouveau sections. I also had the opportunity to view the beautiful Pierre Bonnard exhibition – for those who don’t know, he’s an artist who really liked painting women in baths. Fantastic.
I actually originally intended on spending the entirety of Free Museum Day at Musée Rodin, but the main building was undergoing renovations, so I only got to see the gardens. Again, I was very grateful I got the chance to see this on a Free Day, because I would have been rather miffed to have paid to just see the gardens. They are very beautiful, though.
There are statues absolutely everywhere. Rodin really was a very talented man.
It was absolutely magical to stroll around and see his incredible sculptures. You had your more famous works, such as Le Penseur:
But I personally loved everything he created. Inside the entrance was a small exhibition dedicated to showing his artistic process, which I found absolutely fascinating. My favourite part was the section dedicated to the Victor Hugo monument he was asked to sculpt for the Panthéon. Everyone wanted just a plain statue of the famous writer, but, of course, Rodin went wild and created a statue of a powerful, half-naked, God-like figure with a muse peering over one shoulder. The sculpture was rejected and moved to the Jardin de Palais-Royal, by the Louvre, and he then went on to create two more shocking sculptures of Victor Hugo. What a great guy.
Palais de la Decouverte
This is essentially Questacon, but French and not nearly as good. I spent the afternoon running around the exhibitions with Clem and her boyfriend, and it ended up being very amusing.
What sets the Palais de la Decouverte apart from Questacon are the scientific demonstrations that occur all throughout the building on a wide variety of subjects. We decided to attend a lecture on electricity and then electromagnetism, which would have probably been quite interesting…if I understood them.
Now, my French is pretty good. I consider myself to be conversationally fluent, because I can talk with pretty much anyone without issue (and without thinking, really) and when I watch a movie, I can understand a good 70% of what’s said. Trying to understand a lecture that’s full of scientific jargon that I don’t understand, however, is a completely different story.
It was, of course, hilarious for my French companions, and they decided to volunteer me for the demonstration. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, and so, when I was chosen to hold a long metal baton near something that was flashing with blue lightning, I was a little bit shocked.
I think that once I have brought my French up to a respectable level, I’ll return and be able to enjoy the Palais de la Decouverte a little more.
To be honest, since we didn’t go on a tour of the interior (it was very expensive) nor see a show there, it probably shouldn’t be on this list. It really is spectacular, however, and I wanted to share its beauty with the world, so here we are. Maybe I’ll return one day with my father and we can appreciate some opera together. (I’m so funny, aren’t I, dad?)
Another place of death in Paris? Did you visit it, Heather? Of course I did! What a silly question.
The Panthéon is a stunning mausoleum that serves as the resting place of France’s great thinkers, writers, scientists, members of the military and more, such as Hugo, Voltaire, and the Curies. It truly is an amazing place, and a must-see for any morbid soul who visits Paris.
We started off examining the beautiful upper part of the Panthéon, which held a few small, yet interesting exhibitions at the time. I can’t remember what they were, now, but I’m sure one had something to do with Le Petit Prince.
Afterwards, we ventured down into the chilly bowels of the mausoleum, where the graves are kept. It’s an absolute labyrinth, and very, very cold. I was lucky enough to have a jacket, but poor Clem didn’t, so we shared it between us, swapping possession every fifteen or so minutes.
My favourite part was, of course, seeing Pierre and Marie Curie’s graves. It was amazing standing so close to them. We also had the opportunity to wander past some other amazing French figures such as Rousseau and Braille.
I’m going to start off by saying that the Petit Palais really isn’t that “petit,” at all. Sure, it’s smaller and free-er than the Grand Palais, but the title is still a bit of a misnomer. We spent hours in the art gallery, because it has something close to thirty or forty rooms.
The Petit Palais probably was a palace hundreds of years ago (I’ve totally given up on finding the history of these places after writing 3400 words of this damn blog post) considering it’s so magnificent.
It’s truly a little labyrinth, but we managed to see everything.
Yet again, I decided to skip the Eiffel Tower and instead went to the top of the tallest and ugliest building in Paris for views: Tour Montparnasse. It’s expensive, but the panorama from the top is worth it – and unlike the Eiffel Tower, there are no lines whatsoever.
The ultra-speedy elevator shot us up to the second-highest floor, which has a café and some pretty cool information about the sights of Paris. Clem and I ran around pointing out funky-looking buildings and trying to figure out what they were, while gawping at the prices of everything in the ridiculously expensive shop.
After walking all day, it was a fantastic feeling to reach the top floor, even if we had to climb tons of stairs to get there. We didn’t even look around at our surroundings when we made it to the roof; instead, we collapsed on the deck and hungrily tore into our sandwiches under the hot sun. Perfect.
When we finally took the opportunity to explore, a damn fine sight was waiting for us.
So, that’s it! On the 11th of July, 2015, I said goodbye to France and flew from Paris to Zagreb. My lovely Croatian host mum picked me up at the airport and drove me to my new home in Rijeka, which is where I’ve been for the past two months. (Not exactly true. More on that in the coming blog posts, of course.) This means that every update from here on in will be about me exploring beautiful Croatia and beyond – and let me tell you, I’ve had a lot of adventures already.
Leaving France had to have been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I became very emotional, as some of my friends know (I used the airport wifi for some necessary virtual moral support) because I saw France as my home. I still do, and I haven’t been there in two months.
When I first came to the country, I kept on using “if.” “If I come back I’ll -” or “If I have the chance to see this again –” were wistful, yet ever-present phrases. Now, though, having experienced France, I know that I have to go back. I’m starting to plan when I’ll return to the country I consider home.
I experienced some amazing, unforgettable things in France. Dancing on tables in Nice, for example. Scarfing down hot crepes in Montmartre with Nutella running all over my fingers. Even falling in fresh snow and becoming stuck with my legs flailing in the air during my week in the French Alps (my lovely host dad caught that on camera). I wouldn’t give any of that up for the world.
My passion for art and reading returned, I’ve improved an astonishing amount in French and I’ve started to feel happier, freer and lighter than I had in a very long time. I have only one thing to say in response:
Thank you, France. I’ll be seeing you again soon, I promise.
Featured photo is of the catacombs.