Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Our Christmas Vacation: Day Seven

There are two things that I really love about Paris, so far. One, nothing here is ugly. Granted, we have mostly stayed near the center of the city, but even today, when we ventured out near the end of a metro line, I didn't see a single ugly building, or even a rigid, glassy, modern building. It's not just the buildings though; the metro signs are pretty. The street lamps are pretty. Even the traffic lights are lovely.

Second, and related to that, is the fact that Paris wears its personality. You know that person you knew when you were younger who seemed to choose to be a certain type of person, and they dressed a certain way to present themselves as that person, and you knew that it was a bit of a put on but you didn't mind because it worked, and it was so lovely? That's Paris. Paris says: I am artsy and graceful and self-aware. It's not just the old stuff; it's the shop signs and little chalkboards with meals written out and the awnings. I am not quite conveying what I want to say, I bet, but basically: This place is so pretty, and it works at it, it's genuine.

Nowhere else has that self-awareness been so strong as in the catacombs, which we visited today. We were going to go to the Louvre, yes, but it's closed on Tuesdays. We got turned around with days and thought it was closed on Mondays, but no. So we walked down there this morning and found it closed and traded today's plans for tomorrow's.

If you ever go to the catacombs, go close to when it opens. We waited in line for two hours today, because they only let a few people in at a time (200 max.). It was cold and my feet hurt and Melissa was grouchy that our Louvre plans were derailed, but we made it through and eventually they let us in and we forgot all of our misery. This is, possibly, a theme for our vacation--we struggle, we stress, and then we get somewhere and it's all sunshine.

Before the catacombs was a place to store bones, it was a quarry. We climbed down many stairs--130ish, I believe--to get to the quarry*.

The quarry itself was neat in the "we're walking through a tunnel under Paris" way, but the catacombs? They were amazing.

There was a sign above the entrance to the catacombs that said, in French, "Stop! This is the entrance to the empire of death."

Seriously! See what I mean about a city that can set a mood? There were signs all through the catacombs like this, little snippets about death and what it means and how one should feel about it.

There were also plaques like this one all through the catacombs, letting us know where the bones came from. When we saw a few for Les Innocents, I asked Melissa how well she remembered her Anne Rice. Les Innocents is where the crazy vampires lived, if you remember. If you don't, well. I understand. We did notice that many of the people in line with us were Americans--we heard more English on this line than anywhere else on this trip. I explained to Melissa that it's because we all read Anne Rice when we were teenagers. I'm sure that's why.

For dinner, we went back to Chartier.

We made a huge mistake for dinner last night. We were both very tired of bistro-y food and wanted something warm and starchy and comforting, so we decided to get Italian. It was, truly, the worst Italian I have ever had. The Italian I make at home is far, far better than this was. We are certain that the sauce was jarred sauce, and my pasta was cooked poorly, and the waiter was rude--the only rude waiter we've had in France was in an Italian restaurant, yes.

So tonight, we played it safe and went back to Chartier. This time, I had leeks vinaigrette and steak and frites and I got a half a bottle of wine and it was a perfect last dinner in France. Again, our waiter was great.

Now we are back in our hotel room, which is warm now because we asked for help and got a space heater, and soon we will sleep. Tomorrow morning, for real, we're going to the Louvre, then back to Brussels to hang with the cats and let our poor legs and feet rest.

*If anybody reading this has issues with heights and stairs like I do (I used to call it vertigo, but it's really just an extremely bad, physical reaction sort of fear that was born in Peru on a mountain, I suspect**): The stairs aren't that bad. There's a hand rail. They're lit, and not that deep. Going up is not exactly fun, but it's also fine.

**I have been thinking about this a lot, this trip, and yeah: I think I'm just so afraid of heights at this point that my legs kind of lock up in certain situations and I have a hard time descending--poorly lit stairs, escalators, really deep stairs, and when I'm extremely tired. I was never like this until I was in Peru, on various mountains, and had altitude sickness. I am trying hard to get rid of my fear on this trip, with a bit of success. I only just realized that it's probably not anything physical, and is all in my head.

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