Stop! Here lies the empire of death.

On Thursday we made our way back to the catacombs. This time we were able to find the entrance without the help of a little old French lady. This time the catacombs were open, which meant that this time there was a line to get in. They limit the number of people inside at any given time to no more than 200, so the line doesn’t exactly move quickly. We should count ourselves lucky that this was the only really long line that we had to sit in during our six days in Paris, but it still took two hours to make it through. Advice for others though – if you’re going, go early. They stop letting people in at 4pm and they weren’t going around cutting off the line, so some people probably waited for an hour and didn’t get in.

We'd make it to that part of the line in an hour...

We’d make it to that part of the line in an hour…

Once you get inside, there’s a small ticket desk and then you immediately start descending a spiral staircase to get about 60ft below street level.

Yay stairs!

Yay stairs!

At the bottom of the stairs, you get some information on the geology of the area, which explains why these tunnels are where they are. They’ve basically been quarrying stone from beneath Paris for centuries, so tunnels such as these are leftover. The fact that the ground beneath the city is full of holes is supposedly one of the reasons there aren’t taller buildings in much of the city.

After you get through learning about rock layering, you pass through some long tunnels, before entering an area with some eerie carvings and archways.

Sorry - I'd have to translate a picture of the sign in French explaining exactly what this is.

Sorry – I’d have to translate a picture of the sign in French explaining exactly what this is.

Underground tunnels.

Underground tunnels.

Eventually, you arrive at a this.

Looks like a nice spot for a picnic.

Looks like a nice spot for a picnic.

A rather foreboding sign reads “ARRETE! C’EST ICI L’EMPIRE DE LA MORT” or “Stop! Here lies the empire of death” ┬áPast this entryway, the catacombs begin.

The brief history – In the late 18th century, the cemeteries in Paris were causing some problems, i.e. they were full and posing health problems to the surrounding areas. They started by removing the remains from one cemetery to the empty quarry tunnels, and then moved others. After initially just tossing the remains into piles, some genius said “Hey, people are fascinated by dead things, let’s make these bodies look cool and charge people to see them.” (might not be the exact translation, but close enough). So they started organizing the remains in various patterns and shapes using the skulls and long leg bones (tossing the other bits behind the pretty skull/leg walls). Cemeteries, churches, and whoever else had a body surplus, moved them into the collection, eventually reaching around six million people.

The experience inside these dark, winding tunnels, lined on both sides with row after row of bones, is sort of surreal. You have to stop and remind yourself that these were once living, breathing people, that had lives on the streets of Paris. When you first walk in, you’ll say “holy crap, there are bones in here!” By the end of the walk, you’ll just be dumbfounded by the sheer number of bones packed into the tunnels. It’s morbid, but there’s nothing quite like it.

Without further jabbering, here are some pictures.

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At two bones per person, somebody count how many people are in this one picture.

At two bones per person, somebody count how many people are in this one picture.

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The skulls won't eat me, the skulls won't eat me.

The skulls won’t eat me, the skulls won’t eat me.

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Ghost Jenny.

Ghost Jenny.

Years and years worth of visitors carving things into the wall at the end.

Years and years worth of visitors carving things into the wall at the end.

The tunnel out.

The tunnel out.

First full day in Paris

We took the Eurostar train from London to Paris on Friday and managed to hike our way from the train station to our apartment by the Louvre. After traveling and carrying heavy bags around all day, all we did after that was go grocery shopping which took way longer due to the whole “I can’t figure out what’s in this box unless there are pictures” issue.

The next morning, we did an introductory walk around the city. Walking straight from the Louvre, all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, then toward the Eiffel Tower, then finally walked back along the river, crossed at Pont Neuf, grabbed some food at a cafe, and headed home. It was a long walk with a million sights along the way (more than we would ever care to photograph or write about). Here are a few highlights.

The view from the Louvre goes all the way to the Arc de Triomphe.

The view from the Louvre goes all the way to the Arc de Triomphe.

There was some sort of bike event going on. Lots of people doing laps.

There was some sort of bike event going on. Lots of people doing laps.

I get the crepes, those are everywhere. But so are hot dogs. I don't want hot dogs in Paris. At least give them a fancy french name.

I get the crepes, those are everywhere. But so are hot dogs. I don’t want hot dogs in Paris. At least give them a fancy french name.

This city has a thing for rows of trees lining their paths.

This city has a thing for rows of trees lining their paths.

Very Bad Trip 3? Is there no translation for "hangover"?

Very Bad Trip 3? Is there no translation for “hangover”?

There was a crazy gypsy-punk like band playing outside the Virgin store on the Champs Elysees. Good stuff.

There was a crazy gypsy-punk like band playing outside the Virgin store on the Champs Elysees. Good stuff.

The city's lightning rod.

The city’s lightning rod.

The Eiffel Tower itself is... not pretty. Except for a few curves at the bottom, it's mainly a big hunk of intersecting metal beams painted brown...

The Eiffel Tower itself is… not pretty. Except for a few curves at the bottom, it’s mainly a big hunk of intersecting metal beams painted brown…

Looking across the Alexander Bridge with its gold statues.

Looking across the Alexander Bridge with its gold statues.

Book sellers line the river around the Notre Dame area.

Book sellers line the river around the Notre Dame area.

There are a couple of bridges that people have covered in love locks.

There are a couple of bridges that people have covered in love locks.

View across the Seine of the Louvre from Pont Neuf.

View across the Seine of the Louvre from Pont Neuf.

Dinner at a cafe. Simple food. Outrageously priced. Welcome to Paris.

Dinner at a cafe. Simple food. Outrageously priced. Welcome to Paris.

Our apartment is about 15 ft from a boulangerie patisserie, so our first order was a pair of eclairs.

Our apartment is about 15 ft from a boulangerie patisserie, so our first order was a pair of eclairs.

Walking in the sun for six hours takes it out of you...

Walking in the sun for six hours takes it out of you…