Our final day in Paris today and I had just one thing planned, the Paris Catacombs.
I had booked tickets via Headout again, but they were timed for 11.00am and it was only 9.00, so decided to head to the Galleries Lafayette to see the Christmas decorations first, and wow, what a building! The domed glass ceiling and giant gently spinning tree suspended from the ceiling alongside all manner of sweets and festive confections. Absolutely stunning. Had no real interest in shopping so after a couple of snaps, on to the main event – the catacombs.
I had wanted to see this for a very long time. My mum will tell you I always was a macabre little thing, when I was little I went sprinting off in the British Museum to see the mummies, and instead of being scared, they found me with wide eyes and my nose pressed up to the glass. In many respects the wide eyed kid still remains, you still need to be amazed, shocked, blown away by new sights and experiences, they’re there to give you some contrast against the humdrum, everyday occurrences that we sleepwalk through without thinking. Sometimes you crave something extraordinary, that makes you sit up and take notice. Well, I do anyway.
Goodness me, this was an experience. After you descend what feels like an infinite spiral staircase, (at one point I was getting really dizzy), you’re down at the bottom. The audio guide was good and informative, and you have to wander for a good 5-10 minutes through rough hewn stone tunnels before you get to the entrance of the catacombs themselves. You feel like you are so far away from the modern city of Paris zipping around on its scooters way above your heads. There are some 2 million souls interred in this labyrinthine city of the dead, you just cannot comprehend the scale of it in your mind. Then you see it.
Under a stone lintel inscribed with “Arrete! C’est ici l’empire de la mort” you head into the underworld. At my first sight of thousands of skulls I let out a little involuntary gasp. It’s just epic in its scale and arrangement. As far as the eye can see, in heart shapes, crosses, grottos, barrels and columns, poor plague victims mixed in with the bourgeoisie, skulls, bones of every size and description, purposefully arranged in the most decorative of ways. This is a strange thing to say but it was almost, beautiful.
Despite an annoying tour group and their selfie sticks, I was able to be alone for periods, and despite my earlier apprehension that I would freak out because I am a giant great wuss, I didn’t get any sort of uneasy feeling. Atmospheric, yes of course, in spades, but not unsettling. What would I make of being laid to rest in this place and visited by thousands every year. I really don’t know.
After climbing those same spiral stairs to the surface I thought I might end up joining them down there at one point. Knackered is not the word.
Heart pounding through the gift shop, I figured all those stairs meant I’d earned lunch.
Found a brilliant sushi restaurant, soup, salad, dumplings and California rolls for €11?! Quick beer, then as I had some time to kill, sought out the closest Laduree, which was a mile and a half away. A cup of tea and pistachio gateaux Saint Honore, €19 for contrast. But, in my defence I ate it in a midnight blue velvet wallpapered sactum so I make literally no apologies for one final Parisienne act of utter folly!
Now on the train for a 3 hour journey to Limoges.