Paris The City Of Light – The Catacombs of Paris

One of the most Macabre places that you will ever see in your lifetime is the Empire of the Dead that exists under the streets of Paris.
One of the places that was on the top of my daughters things to do list was to visit De Catacombes of Paris. 
The Catacombs are a collection of quarried Limestone tunnels that run under the streets of Paris. These tunnels were created when mining for Lime Stone was big business, however instead of destroying the farm land above, early Parisians decided to tunnel underneath. The earliest of these tunnels and quarries dates back all the way to when the land was ruled by Rome. It wasn’t until later years that the mines were used as Ossuaries to hold the deceased of Paris. It is estimated that there are almost 6 million souls interred underneath Paris, this is more than actually live there today. Most of the bodies were moved there Under cover of darkness in the last 400 years or so from the overcrowded cemeteries that covered Paris. This was done for a number of different reasons, the least of which was to prevent the spread of disease.  
My daughter and I took the Le Open tour bus line that stopped close to our hotel and had to make a connection to one of the other lines to arrive at our destination. On paper it looked and sounded like a good idea, however in actual fact it took about 2 hours to get to the entrance of the Catacombs. On the bright side it was a nice day, and the sun was out …and so were the tourists.
When we arrived at the Catacombs we discovered that there was a 2 ½ hour wait to get in.  So a word of advice, if you don’t want to stand in a line prepare to move before 9 am. She made the decision to stay and wait in the line because of the time we had already invested in getting there. We waited in line and avoided the water sellers (that is another post ) and made our way into the Catacombs.
The catacombs are not suitable place for anyone that has any type of mobility problems. Any one that needs a cane, walker, or any other physical aid should not even bother attempting this. I give the same advice for small children in strollers, or not, this should not be attempted.
On the Surface, Paris is a city of many sites and sounds, statues and bridges covered in gold. There are museums filled with artwork that are second to none. The streets are lined with restaurants, cafes and shops. However down below you literally see that Paris is built on the bones of the dead. Paris is not only built on the bones of its former citizens but also on the bones of the old city. Row upon row of neatly stacked bones and skulls. Side by side they lay, Aristocrats, writers, knights, laborers trades men and women all neatly packed. Layers of society that would have never met in life, lay mingled together in death for eternity.
The tour itself was about 2 hours long with an English speaking guide. The cost of the tour was 10.00 euro for adults and 8.00 euros for teens under 18. They allow only 200 people into the catacombs at a time. It is quite cool down there, so if you plan on going, bring a light jacket or sweater.
There are a few different points of interest along the way. The tour covers topics dating as far back as Roman times, the Middle ages, the French Revolution, WWII and right up until today. When the tour is over there is a crazy set of winding stairs that deposits you across the street from, none other than the Catacombs gift shop. Also a word to the wise, the exit is difficult to find so if you are having someone meet you at the end of the tour it would be wise to have a pre-planned meeting point, because the tour doesn’t end in the same place it starts.
I’m not sure If I would ever venture into the catacombs again. I mean those that have passed on should be left in peace. However, to get a true sense of Paris and the contrasts and Catastrophes that go in to creating such a place, it was worth the time and effort that was put in to the undertaking.

Paris the City of Light–hop on hop off tours

On of the biggest benefits to going to Paris is the various ways of getting around this great city. There are bicycle tours, car tours, walking tours, Segway tours, and last but not least hop on hop off tours. This post will focus on the Hop on Hop off tours.

There are two main operators of hop on hop off tours in Paris. The biggest one that covers the most ground is Le Open tours,and then there is Big Bus tours ( formerly Le Car Rouge) that covers only the major sites. Both tour companies have audio commentary recorded in a multiple of languages, that is accessible for via the set of disposable head phones that are provided on the tours. Passes for both companies can be purchased for 24, 48 or 36 hours. They can both be booked in advance via the internet, which we found very convenient. and then we printed off the ticket at home and brought it with us.

In a previous trip to Paris, my wife and I only had a limited amount of time to see the city so we paid for a 48 hour pass with Big Bus, it took us to all the major sites with the ability to hop on and off as many times as we liked for the duration of the pass. It served the purpose and the bus completed the circuit in about 2 hours.

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On this trip to Paris we opted for the Le Open tours, because one of their stops was close to an attraction that my daughter wanted to see. Le Open tours has 4 different routs, and as I said covers a great deal more territory. Each rout  has a connection point with every other rout so it can be a useful way of getting around the city if you have the time. Each rout takes about 2 hours to complete if you stayed on the bus to complete the rout.

As with any type of mass transit operation there are drawbacks, some of the stops are crowded and require more than one bus to take all of the passengers. In some cases there is standing room only, which I am sure is a traffic violation. Be cautious of the stupid tourists that like to disregard the safety signs and stand on the top deck of a moving double decker bus to get the perfect photo op. One of the big differences that we noticed between the operator is that Le Open tours did not actually stop at the attritions. They had stops down side streets or other locations that were close to the attractions, where as Big Bus had stops directly in front of the attractions. Another difference was that Le Open tours seemed to more crowded than Big Bus. I have to guess the reason for this is that it goes to more places.  The stops for Le Open tours were difficult to find, where as Big Bus were not.

Both tour operators offer a night tour of the city, which I do recommend, however the Big Bus pick up location is more centrally located at there Arc De Triomphe stop.

So my advice when considering a a hop on hop off tour, bigger is not always better. If you have a lot of time in Paris then Le Open  Tours may be the one for you. But if I had to make a choice between the 2, I would take the Big Bus tour. The stops are better situated, not as crowded, and they have a night tour  pick up point that is more convenient. 

Paris the CIty of Light – The Arrival

Paris is known as a city that doesn’t sleep, there is an ebb and flow to Paris that can be a little daunting to the novice traveler. Hopefully my post will help some of you ( if there are any readers, that is) in some of your travels down the road, should you ever find yourself travelling in Paris.  
We booked our air passage with Air Transat, and arrived in Paris at around 10am on Sept 30th. The flight was approximately 7 hours long and landed at Terminal 3, Charles De Gaulle airport just outside of Paris. We had already booked a stay Hotel Astrid in Paris, however we had not booked transport from the airport to the hotel. 
We had done some research prior to our trip to determine what mode of transport would best suit our needs. My wife and I discovered that there were 3 main methods of transport that would get us into the heart of Paris. 
Taxi – this method was the almost the most expensive, however it appeared to be fairly quick. approx 45.00 euros 
Subway – subway was the cheapest and the fastest, however with security concerns and and commuter crowds and us trying to weave our way in and out of subway cars with suitcases,  this didn’t seem to be a method that we wanted to take.  
Airfrance – Les Cars – this mode of transport is a dedicated bus route between both of the Paris airports. It runs continuously between the Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports on 4 lines and starts at 0530 with a run every half hour or so. Each line has about 2 stops that are in the heart of paris at various locations. 16.20 euro per person one way. Total cost for us was about 48.00 
We opted for Les Cars, at 16.20 euro, one way, this method  seemed most economical for our purposes and one of the stops was on the same street as our hotel. It seemed easy enough …
When we reached CDG airport in France it wasn’t as straight forward as it seemed online. We arrived at terminal 3 of CDG.. The posted signs, and from what indications were on the CDG website Les Cars had a pick up point at terminal 3,  however the posted signs at terminal 3 were not very helpfully as to what the pick up location was. Turns out the Les Cars pick up point was located at terminal 1 so we had to make our way over to Terminal 1. The trek to terminal one was a bit of a walk. We asked for directions at an information desk and they pointed us into the direction of the Les Cars ticket booth. 
Once we figured out where the stop was, we had to purchase tickets. This is where a costly mistake was made by yours truly. I ended up purchasing the wrong tickets for the wrong bus line. It was a 37.00 euro mistake. The tickets were purchased from an automated machine so they could not be readily returned. Once I determined that tickets could be purchased directly from the driver things went a little better. 
Once we got on the bus the trip form the Airport to the hotel to took about an hour, mostly because the traffic was not bad at all, we arrived after rush hour traffic. There were not many travellers on the bus so it was not crowded, and a relatively pleasant ride. We arrived at our stop that was on the same street as our hotel, so that was helpful, it was a short walk from the stop to the hotel.     
In hind sight, when we left our hotel at the end of our stay, we had the hotel staff arrange a taxi to Orly airport. If I had to chose between the Les Cars  and the taxi, at possibly a higher price, I would chose the taxi because of convenience especially when traveling with more than 2 people.  The taxi brought us directly to departures terminal. 

The Pull of the Old World

When ever I travel, especially to places like Rome and Paris I always return home with mixed emotions. There is satisfaction of having gone and done things that others only read about or see on TV and there is the relief of returning home after a successful trip. After all there is no place like home. 
On this trip we left Rome, and after a nine hour flight we returned to Canada. I couldn’t help but get the sense that I had left the old world and was returning to the new, For me it feels as though every time i go to Europe I leave a peace of me behind. I have been to Europe 3 times now and each time the call to stay and or return becomes stronger. It is as though the art, culture, lifestyle and history calls to my heart and has attached itself to my soul. The cafes, restaurants, and bistros and hustle and bustle of those classic cities is hard for me to ignore. 
To walk in the same streets as great writers, artists and figures of history is a pull to great to ignore.  
This is my first post on this blog, I hope to write many more so please stay tuned and return often. Thanks for taking the time to read and please fee free to ask any questions that you may have.