The Paris Catacombs – 6 Million Human Skeletons Up Close

Paris CatacombsWhen people began to get sick in Paris in the late 1700s, they did the natural thing – dig up all the 6 million corpses and artistically arrange them in an abandoned stone quarry under the city.

I admit that I am drawn to underground attractions (literally) and the more macabre sites around the world, if there’s a tunnel, a skull or mummified human corpse on display, I’ll probably go there. So of course, in Paris, the catacombs were on my must see list. Two out of three – check.

Since I only had six Euro the last time I was there and the cost of a ticket is 8 Euro, I had to miss it, but this time I was flush, so I caught the subway to Montparnesse, gave the vendor my 8 Euro, and descended into the bowels of the city where even though I had read about it and knew the numbers, I was astounded by the sheer volume and artistry of the human bone arrangements.

Before reaching the bones, I had to descend 19 meters on a rusty circular staircase, then walk through wet stone tunnels where I found a view to the massive aqueduct below and a model of the Port-Mahon fortress created by a former Quarry Inspector well before the bones were brought. The model itself was quite creepy, like a miniature city of the dead waiting for inhabitants. (The sculptures of the gallery of Port-Mahon made by a quarryman called “Décure”, veteran of the armies of Louis XV, who carved in the wall a model of the fortress of Port-Mahon, principal city of Minorque to the Balearic Islands where he would have been a time captive by English army. Finally restored and exposed by a specific lighting, they constitute an undeniable curiosity of the circuit re-opened to the public after 13 years of closing.)

In truth, the overflow of dead bodies had become a serious health risk in the 1700’s since the church made a huge profit on burying people in the ‘fashionable’ cemeteries – it is after all Paris and always has been. So they would put more bodies than the earth could decompose in the most expensive plots and it took the government condemning and shutting down the cemeteries to put an end to stuffing more status starved dead rich people into the chic districts.

Paris CatacombsIt was a police lieutenant, Alexandre Lenoir, who came up with the bright idea of putting all the human remains into the abandoned stone mines.

Twelve years of bone filled wagons emptied the city’s dead into the caverns below where they sat in piles and heaps for twenty-two more years until Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, decided to turn the bone piles into an artistic monument which also incorporated gravestones and funerary monuments such as could still be found. Stacking the femurs and skulls in artistic fashion was difficult work and one can reasonably ask where are the finger bones, scapula, and toes since only skulls and femurs seem to have been used. The answer may lie buried in the rest of the vast network of combing tunnels that create a city of the dead beneath the city of love. And since it is Paris, it’s indeed a beautiful city of the dead.

Reaching the Paris Catacombs

The entrance to the Paris Catacombs is located at 1 avenue of Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy near the Montparnesse Cemetary. You can reach there by the Paris Metro station Denfert-Rochereau or by taking bus #s 38 or 68. If you are taking the Paris Open Tour, take the yellow line and depart at the catacombs exit. Entry is 8 Euro per adult.

Getting out of the Catacombs

You do a good long bit of walking down beneath the surface of the city. The catacombs extend hundreds of miles but only a small portion is open to the public. However, you do come out quite a distance from where you go in and it is completely disorienting. After coming out you will see plenty of confused looking people squinting into the sunlight and looking at maps and for non-existant street signs. Here is the simple way back to where you started. Come out of the Catacombs, turn right, walk to the next big street, turn right, walk back to Denfert-Rochereau, it should take you fifteen to twenty minutes. Or, just find the metro and go back underground.

 

Off the Beaten Track in Paris – Get your Baton in Gear!

Paris off the beaten track
…Eiffel Tower…Louvre...Champs-Elysées; been there, done that – it was fun, but there’s more to Paris than this. The City of Light is full of wonderful hidden gems; you just need to know where to find them. Join me on a little tour, away from drunk English, moody French and bossy Germans, and discover off the beaten track in Paris.

Sewers of Paris
Paris has one of the most remarkable sewer networks in the world and you can now see it with your own eyes! Take a tour down under to learn more about the history of this huge sewer system. Definitely a different view of the city.

Goutte d’Or
Take metro line 4 and hop off at Chateau Rouge. The nearby Goutte d’Or district has a lot of inhabitants of African origin. These people know good food, so whilst wandering around, make sure to check out one (or more) of the many restaurants. Also not to miss is the street market at Rue Dejean, which is held every day but Monday.

Paris off the beaten trackThe Great Mosque of Paris
The beautiful Mosque of Paris was inaugurated in 1926 to honor the North African countries that had helped France during World War I. You’re most welcome to visit the Mosque and join a tour of the building, the courtyard, the Moorish garden and the marble Turkish baths whilst enjoying a cup of mint tea.

Le Marais
Le Marais owes its beautiful buildings of historic and architectural importance to its former inhabitants, the Parisian aristocracy. When they moved to a different district, Le Marais became home of Paris’ main Jewish community. Nowadays, Le Marais is one of Paris’ most popular districts, housing art galleries, fashion houses and uber trendy restaurants.

Sainte Chapelle
Everyone knows Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur, but Paris has a lot more beautiful churches that are well worth a visit. Sainte Chapelle is one of them. Located at Île de la Cité, this stunning structure is a prime example of ‘rayonnant’ Gothic architecture. Both interior and exterior will blow your mind, but the real show-stealers are without a doubt the huge stained glass windows.

Paris off the beaten trackButtes Chaumont
If you feel like getting out of the city crowd, why not head to a lovely public garden? With all its attractions, Parc des Buttes Chaumont is more than just a park. There are several cliffs and bridges, a huge waterfall, a lake and several beautiful gardens. An absolute must-see is the belvedere of Sybil, a Corinthian style monument, situated at the top of a 30 meter high rock.

Lapin Agile
If you’re looking for some entertainment and queuing for Moulin Rouge is not your idea of fun, a visit to the Lapin Agile might be just the thing for you. The Montmartre cabaret owes its fame to renowned artists like Picasso and Apollinaire. Sit down at a wooden table and enjoy a range of French songs, some dating back decades.

Buddhist Temple
Do you like surprises? Take a metro to Paris’ Chinatown! At the Avenue d’Ivry you’ll find the Buddhist temple L’Amicale des Teochews de France. Just around the corner is the beautiful decorated pagoda of the Temple de l’Association des Résidents d’Origine Indochinoise, which is hidden in an underground passage that looks like a parking garage entrance. The best things are found where you don’t expect them!

Catacombs
Deep down beneath the beautiful streets of the city, you can check out the remains of 6 million people in Paris’ catacombs. Based in the underground tunnels of what once were Paris’ stone mines, this unique museum is more than worth a visit, if you can deal with some smell and cold. Visits aren’t recommended for young children.

Paris off the beaten trackThe Passer-Through-Walls
In the Montmartre district, at Place Marcel Aymé, you’ll find a famous statue called Le Passe-Muraille (or The Passer-Through-Walls). The sculpture is based a short story of French novelist and cross-genre writer Marcel Aymé, about a man who discovers he can walk through walls. Definitely a must-see if you’re in the neighborhood.

Do yourself a favor on your next trip to Paris: leave the flocking to the sheep, and you’re bound to enjoy a different perspective of the city…you’re also less likely to get fleeced. One more thing – if you happen to pass boulangerie Paul on Rue Buci give a little wave – chances are I’ll be sitting outside sipping a frappe and trying to guess your nationality.

How Not To Enjoy World Travel – Part 2

world travel tipsThis is the second part in an ongoing series about how to have the worst time possible during your world travels. Here is the link to part 1.

http://www.vagobond.com/how-not-to-enjoy-world-travel-part-1/

4. Don’t Read
To me, reading is an essential part of travel. As far as I’m concerned, if you are one of those people who ‘doesn’t like to read’ than you are one of those people who should stay home and not travel.

Don’t read anything about the country of place you are going to. That way you won’t understand the culture, the traditions, the history, the climate, or anything else. You will be able to have a completely one dimensional experience. If you should read, for example, about how it is rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone in Thailand, then you’ll miss out on the ass kicking that results when the kick-boxer tells you to stop pointing your feet at him and you continue to do it. You wouldn’t want to miss that.

Or if you read, you might feel compelled to go fifteen kilometers out of your way on the way between Seattle, Washingon and Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the remote and gorgeous Scenic Hot Springs. Wouldn’t that suck?

Don’t read on your trip. Don’t discover that Mark Twain stayed in the same hotel you are visiting in Honolulu (The Moana Surfrider) or that the lovely looking picnic spot in Cebu, Philippines is where Lapu Lapu ate a famous explorer. Who needs to know details like that?

Don’t read when you are stuck at the airport. It’s much better to just sit and get angry at the workers or eat overpriced food. Don’t read at the beach because it’s much better to sit there wondering what to do now that you are done swimming.

Yes, if you don’t want to enjoy world travel, it is essential that you not read.

world travel tips5) Don’t talk to anyone unless you have to

If you want to have horrible and meaningless travels, don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Don’t talk to the man next to you on the airplane or bus, he might be a Chinese businessman who would invite you to visit his home and stay with his family.

Don’t talk to the guy who works at the hotel unless you need towels or directions. If he thinks “Hey, this is a nice person” he might actually tell you someplace that he doesn’t recommend to every other rude tourist. You might end up going to a tiny temple in Penang, Malaysia instead of going to the big one that has eighteen tourist buses outside it.

Don’t talk to people in the street. They might try to sell you something. They might want to practice English with you. They might want to share a bit of their culture or learn something about yours. Wow, wouldn’t it be a bummer if that Indonesian guy learned that the USA is not just like Bay Watch and Jerry Springer? Don’t talk to him.

If you want to NOT enjoy your travels, do not talk unless you need something.

world travel tips6) Don’t learn any of the local language

Finally, if you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t enjoy your world travel, pretend your a British Colonist and refuse to speak the local language.

Don’t say Tarima Kasih in Indonesia, don’t ask where to get the gonggongcheecha in China, don’t say Yvet in Turkey, don’t show the grocer in Barcelona you can understand the uno, dos, tres, don’t speak French in Paris (I found Parisians to be very gracious about my bad French), don’t say shukran in Morocco, kapcun kap in Thailand, daijobu in Japan, bollacks in England, dude in California, wienerschnitzel in Germany, or Mahalo in Hawaii.

Speaking the language encourages people to learn about you, to teach about their culture, to make friends, to have relationships, to even fall in love. There is nothing miserable about any of that. So if you want to Not enjoy the world of travel…don’t speak the local language.
Got more tips about how to NOT enjoy world travel, why not leave a comment below or send your tips to me using the contact form.

Dramatic Vagobond Travel Video

Here’s a fun video I put together that hits some of the video I shot on my travels during 2009-2012 in Serbia, South Korea, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Turkey, Egypt, and a whole bunch of other places – I wasn’t real sure what to do with these so I proudly present to you – Vagobond Travel Dramatic. Please be sure to subscribe to my You Tube Channel. I’ve had several people ask me who the singer is that is just chilling out next to the Thames and grooving – I have no idea, but I enjoyed his impromptu show. He could be someone very famous for all I know…

World Travel for Almost Nothing #3 – Budget Airlines vs. Regular Airlines

(This is a repost from 2011 but not much has changed in terms of cheap travel)

AirplaneI travel by international airlines more than most people. In particular I travel more than most people who don’t have an obvious source of income i.e. a job.

In 2011, I traveled in Turkey, Morocco, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Italy, Greece, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Spain, and Switzerland – and I might be leaving a few places out…

In any event, I can say that I travel because I’m always looking for deals and because I’m lucky, for example I won the round-trip ticket from Malaysia to South Korea and I sometimes find bargains that others miss. I’m not some guy who inherited money, I don’t have a trust fund, I’m not a wall street banker and point blank – I don’t have a ton of money, I support my wife and daughter in a comfortable lifestyle (sometimes bringing them with me) and while I work a lot, I don’t have a boss.

While there are many lifestyle and travel choices involved in how and why I am able to travel as much as I do, one of the biggest factors in my being able to travel is living in the age of budget airlines.  I’m like everyone else, I carp about the bad service, the uncomfortable seats, the charges for every little thing and the feeling of being cattle – but at the same time – I’m always aware of the magic pointed out by some comedian that I’m able to ‘sit in a chair and fly through the air’ and I can do it without actually spending very much money at all.In fact, I usually spend less to fly to another country than my countrymen spend on a Greyhound bus ticket between two neighboring towns.

AirplaneThink I’m lying? A Greyhound bus ticket from Bellingham, Washington to Seattle, Washington will cost you $22.50 – I flew from Volos, Greece to Milan, Italy for $18 U.S. I flew from Milan, Italy to Tangier, Morocco for another $18! That’s three countries and two continents for 30% more than it costs to go 90 miles by bus in the USA.

Okay, I admit, the fares aren’t always that good but sometimes they are even better. I flew from Brussels, Belgium to Fez, Morocco for $1! And it’s not just Europe and North Africa – recently AirAsia had $10 fares from Kuala Lumpur to Australia or South Korea!

So, to answer my own question. Yes, budget airlines are definitely worth it. This year I’ve flown with several budget airlines: Air Arabia, WizzAir, Pegasus, Onur Air, Air Asia, Air Asia X, and of course RyanAir.

How do they stack up to other airlines? The truth is that most U.S. Airlines I’ve flown with (except for Virgin America, Hawaiian Airlines, and AlaskaAirlines – don’t give much better service or more comfortable seats. And the prices? Forget about getting anything for under $200 US unless you are flying from cities in the same state or to Vegas from California…it just doesn’t happen very often.

AirplaneAs for international airlines – well if you fly with Turkish Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airlines or just about any other Asian carrier – you will be treated with respect, get great service, and have great amenities. You end up paying four to ten times the price of a budget airline, but in this case – especially for real long flights, the extra expense might be worth it. Unless, you are on a super duper budget in which case you might want to go budget all the way.
You can fly from the UK to Morocco with Ryan Air for less than $100, then fly from Morocco to Turkey for about $200 using Air Arabia (or alternatively you could fly from Morocco to Spain, France, Italy or Belgium with Easy Jet and then take a Pegasus flight to Turkey for less than $100 each). From Turkey you can fly with Air Arabia to the middle east or Egypt for next to nothing and then you can fly to India for another next to nothing. Then from India you can go with Air Asia to Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan or more. I’m not sure if South America has budget airlines but from what I can tell, North America doesn’t though in Hawaii you can island hop with Go Airlines for less than $100 each leg.

But I have to admit – flying Malaysia Airlines earlier this year was incredible. No extra charges, great food, beautiful flight attendants, great service, free drinks and free in flight entertainment.

If I had the money, I’d never fly with budget airlines again – but as it stands now – I’ll probably be on another Ryan Air flight before the year is done. At least I hope so!

Is budget travel worth it? World travel for almost nothing # 1

A few days ago, I asked readers if budget travel is worth it. The overwhelming answer is – yes, of course it is. And, actually, I totally agree. I admit that sometimes you need to bite the bullet and spend a little bit extra to avoid discomfort and inconvenience – but for the most part, if the choice is between no travel and budget travel – take budget travel.

Maybe you’ve noticed that I manage to see quite a few places and you’ve thought to yourself “It must be nice to have enough money to travel like that – I wish I had the money to do that!”

The fact of the matter is, so do I. The other fact of the matter is that I don’t. In the past several decades it has been the exception rather than the rule for me to have a job where my time belongs to someone else. I don’t usually have any savings. I’m in debt up to my ears (but am constantly deferring my student loans) and yet even in that condition,  I’ve managed to travel to 50 or so countries, have a fabulous wedding in the Sahara, and get quite a few little side trips and excursions in too. How do I do it?

Noodle Shop in Chinatown

Honestly, I’m not sure, but the following is some of what I’ve figured out about how to travel for next to nothing. Hopefully, it will inspire one or two of you out there to get off your butts and hit the road like you’ve always dreamed of. If it does and your life changes forever, feel free to buy me a beer someday.

A trip to a theme park costs most than I spend on most of my solo international adventures. World travel doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, there are many times that it is free.

Of course the travel agencies, cruise lines, and airlines don’t want you to know that. Big hotels and resorts live off of people who don’t know where they would stay without Hilton or Marriott to house them. Those guys and the talking heads in the media earn their salaries selling trips to all-inclusive resorts and big time guided tours of places you can walk through for free.

They are banking on the fact that your imagination stops at your credit card and that most people are just too damn scared to take a chance when they leave the confining comfort of their own home. I’m about to spoil that misconception. Unless those guys start sponsoring me, I’m going to keep giving away tips and tricks that open up the entire world to you.

Nothing holds you back more than fear. Fear of the unknown. FDR said it right, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Face it, you’re going to die and you’re going to lose everything. We all do. You have very little control about when that is going to happen. The thing that makes most people miss out on the joy of travel is that they think they can control it and so they stay at home watching Netflix until they die of a coronary. They know the geography of the world, but they’ve never seen it. If you don’t open the door, you won’t see anything but the television.

Tip #1 for Cheap World Travel:

Pyramid Paris LouvreLet go of all that routine that arises from you trying to control your own dead end. The best thing about living is new experience and you can have as many as you want for free. Once you step away from your societal imposed responsibilities, you find that the world opens up and gives you more joy than you’ll ever find trying to buy your future security at the expense of the present.

When you start breaking free of your routine, you will discover the wonder of new faces and places, taste incredible new foods, and discover secrets about yourself and the world that you never expected to find.

Each new wonder unfolds before you like a road that was hidden from view and like any road, a new experience will often lead you to another and another and another. When you walk the road of travel, you get to experience life differently from when you take a package vacation or go through the daily motions in your ‘home’. In fact, the world is your home, if only you choose to accept it.

Sunsets are free. Mountaintops don’t cost a thing. Walking through a public market takes not a dime. Striking up a conversation with someone working beside a road you are walking down can lead to adventures you can’t imagine. Just being in a new place will provide you with more insights about yourself and the world than all the new clothes, fancy meals, or well rehearsed tourist trips can ever give you.

Your mentality is the primary reason why world travel costs a ton. Change it and you will find that few things are as cheap.

Next: What you really need!

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