A WEEKEND IN NORMANDY – PART 1

Well, we are finally settling into our new home. That means I can start processing the photos from a few of our last trips, Italy and Normandy in particular. One of the advantages of England is that it is so close to everything. Heathrow is a great jump off to Europe with low air fares (although I doubt that our travel agent every got us a low fare) and the Eurotunnel which is a hop, skip and a jump into France.

One of my personal ‘must do’s’ before we left England was Normandy. As an avid war history buff, there was no way that the opportunity could be missed – and of course, we both knew that the boys would love it. So, on a May long weekend we hit the road. To prepare for the trip, I cracked out an old documentary that I use to love as a young boy – The World at War. We watched the D-Day episode and it set the tone for the trip, giving the family a grounding in what we were about to see. The most significant (and widely watched) piece of footage was shot on Juno beach by Sergeant Bill Grant. The film shows Canadian troops of the Queen’s Own Rifles, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, landing in the second wave at Bernieres-sur-Mer, Juno Beach, on D-Day.

"It’s the film sequence that epitomizes June 6; that indelible sequence showing darkened but clearly visible figures of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada silently exchanging last moment instructions, moving ladders and rifles into final ready position and patting the forward-most troops on their backs for encouragement. The doors swing open and the brighter outside light streams in. The first troops leap out of the landing craft. Ahead of them, clearly captured in Grant’s sequence, are the famous beach-resort houses that the Germans had incorporated into their coastal-defence system. It is point-of-view film of the greatest amphibious invasion in history — the D-Day landings." (from an article by Ted Barris, Friday, June 4, 2004 – The Globe and Mail).

The war footage was rushed to England where it was showed around the world to show the landing in Europe.

As a family, when it comes to trips, we are not the ‘early starter types’. We have a philosophy (which at times I have resisted), if you jam in too much, make the days too long, you lose the moment – and it becomes seeing sights for the sake of seeing sights, instead of truly enjoying it. So we scheduled a Flexipass time for 10AM and headed to France. Our final destination for the day was to be Hotel Barriere in Deauville Normandy. While making the 6 hour drive, we planned to stop at Dieppe to see the sites.

2009 05 02 Deauville  (3)

2009 05 03 Deauville  (10)

The French countryside was beautiful, farms in full swing and mustard fields in full bloom – yellow as far as you could see. As you drive toward Dieppe, the first thing that struck me were the markers. Everywhere you went, you saw memorials to fallen soldiers (many from WWI). It is not unlike England, and Canada, where there are memorials. The difference is the location. There are markers in the towns, but there are also markers randomly scattered along the roads. A reminder that this is where the two great wars were fought, hand to hand.

2009 05 01 Canadian war monument

The second thing I noticed as we drove into Dieppe were the Canadian flags. I have read about Dieppe, and there is much debate on the debacle:

The Battle of Dieppe was a test for the full-scale invasion of western Europe. The plan was to make a frontal assault on the town of Dieppe, across the English Channel on the coast of France. The raid on Dieppe would give the Allies a chance to test techniques and equipment for landing troops from the sea. The Battle of Dieppe was a disaster for the Canadians. Nearly 1000 Canadians died and nearly 2000 were taken prisoner.

In the book Juno: Canadians at D-Day, there are two views. One view states that it was a tragic waste of Canadian life while many others say that it was key to D-Days success. Dieppe taught many lessons to the Allies, some very mundane, but in the end it helped teach the Allies about how to invade. A terrible cost, but one that paid off in many lives saved.

The third thing that I/we realized is that it was a national holiday in France and that the sights that we were going to see (The museum) were in fact closed. Which was fine, as we climbed the hills overlooking the beaches and had our first experience with German bunkers. They are scattered along the cliff, huge concrete behemoths, hidden slits poking out of the ground, some are left as only chunks of broken rebar. Amazing to climb into them and look out on the beach, although you need to be careful – the local kids obviously enjoy hosting beer drinking parties in them.

My fourth realization? That I forgot to put a CF card in my camera. So, no pictures of Dieppe. Well, that isn’t quite true. I had many pictures of Dieppe. The problem is that after I looked at them in the viewer on the camera’s built in memory, they disappeared into the cosmos …..

After a light lunch, we headed down the coast toward our hotel. Driving through the French countryside is a wonderful thing. I constantly found myself staring out the window, enjoying the huge range of architecture, thatch roofs with tulips growing out the top, Wisteria in full bloom. And of course, churches. Beautiful old churches, everywhere.

2009 05 03 One of many French churches  (3)

2009 05 02 Deauville  (2)

We arrived at the hotel late and faced our first challenge, the car park was full (groan). A common occurrence in England and Europe. When they were building in the 1800’s, no one really took the time to think ahead to when stables would be displaced by motorcars (smile). At least the French are a bit more commonsensical than the British, they all park in the same direction. It only took 20 minutes of driving around and around to find a spot.

We decided to head down to the hotel restaurant (which is highly rated) and enjoy a quick dinner as we were all tuckered. It was there that I enjoyed what had to be my 400th ‘buyer beware’ experience. I have become quite fond of Gin and Tonic while in England (I am told that drinking ‘G&T is ‘very British’ … so be it). So I ordered up. The waiter brought me a Bombay Sapphire, in the glass with ice, Tonic not poured. It looked like a lot of Gin, the glass was half full. It was. I had to keep adding tonic to distil it down. When I got the bill, I figured out why – €18. For my Canadian friends, that is about $25. My one and only G&T in that hotel (LOL).

Outrageous G&T aside, the hotel was amazing. Any hotel that lets animals in the restaurant and in the room is alright by me. We could learn from the French in that regard – that is for sure.

2009 05 02 Barriere Deauville_

So ended Day 1. Day 2, off to the beaches. And of course, the weather looked ‘very D-Day’ like, clouds ahead.

2009 05 02 Barriere Deauville  (2) 

REMEMBER ROSS ELLSMERE, ST DESIR CEMETERY, FRANCE

A few weekends ago our family jumped in the car and headed to Normandy for a long weekend. I will provide additional details on the trip in future entries, as it was one of my favourite trips that we have taken in the last 2 years.

A big part of the trip was the goal of finding one of Narda’s relatives in the war cemetery near the D-Day landings. Veterans Affairs has done an amazing job through the Canada Remembers project of cataloguing where our war dead lay.

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery_

I do not have immediate relatives who served in the Canadian forces during WWII as my family mostly moved from Holland in the 50’s. Ross Ellsmere served in the Air Force as a pilot and died a month before D-Day (probably on a bombing run).  He is buried at St. Desir Cemetery, which is found after a long and winding drive through the French countryside. On the road we were lucky to see the small sign pointing down a side road, in the middle of nowhere. I wondered what it would be like.

Situated just out side of the town of Lisieux, famed for the Basilica dedicated to St Therese is one of the smaller British Cemeteries.

At first the  British and Commonwealth War Graves Commission buried the fallen German troops in a field next doo, where they still are. The Cemetery contains the dead from three different battles. Firstly there are four First Would War Burials who were transferred here after then end of WWII. There are men who fell in 1940 during the retreat to the Seine and those who fell in 1944 during the recapture of the area. Recently the local French village has made a walkway of peace between the two cemeteries

In all there are 598 graves here including 16 Canadian, 6 Australian, 1 New Zealand, 5 South African, and 1 American.

When I stepped out of the car I was hit with two feelings. The first is pride, the cemetery is immaculate – pristine and beautiful. The government is taking care of our war heroes in the right way. The second is a sense of magnitude. This is a small cemetery (550), but the rows and rows of graves is humbling, a testament to the price that was paid for our freedom.

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery  (4)

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery  (17)

The grave of Ross Ellsmere (22) is surrounded by men who died on the same day. It was a bloody day and you are struck by one thing – the age. Very few are older than 22 or 23.

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery  (18)

2009 05 03 St Desire War Cemetery  (11)

Right beside the cemetery is St. Desir-de-Lisieux, the German cemetery. Unlike the Allied cemetery, there are no words on the graves written from loved ones. There is just name, rank, date. In fact, there are 2 men to each cross and as the picture shows, it is a very big cemetery – 3,735 to be exact.

2009 05 03 St Desir-de-Lisieux German cemetary (5)

2009 05 03 St Desir-de-Lisieux German cemetary (6)

Never forget.

CLOSING OUT PARIS

As we walked back to our hotel, we came across this monument which I have had a tough time puzzling out. It says ‘memorial national de la guerre d’algerie’ which I assume is a monument to the Algerian War which is worth reading about here. A few tidbits:

The Algerian War remains a contentious event today. According to historian Benjamin Stora, doctor in history and sociology and teacher at Paris VII, and one of the leading historians of the Algerian war, memories concerning the war remain fragmented, with no common ground to speak of:

"There is no such thing as a History of the Algerian War, there is just a multitude of histories and personal paths through it. Everyone involved considers that they lived through it in their own way, and any attempt to take in the Algerian War globally is immediately thrown out by the protagonists."[41]

Stora further points out that "The phase of memorial reconciliation between the two sides of the sea is still a long way off."[41] This was recently illustrated by the UMP‘s vote of the February 23, 2005 law on colonialism, which asserted that colonialism had globally been "positive." Thus, a teacher in one of the elite’s high school of Paris can declare:

"Yes, colonisation has had positive effects. After all, we did give to Algeria modern infrastructures, a system of education, libraries, social centers… There were only 10% Algerian students in 1962? This is not much, of course, but it is not nothing either!"[42]

2008 December 29 Walking Back to Paris Hotel  _MG_2811

As we walked back to the hotel, we stopped at the Ferris wheel in the Place de la Concorde. The sun was going down and it was a great way to end the trip.

2008 December 29 In The Paris Ferris Wheel _MG_2850

2008 December 29 In The Paris Ferris Wheel _MG_2852

2008 December 29 In The Paris Ferris Wheel _MG_2865

So much still to see. Wonderful city.

MORE PARIS

After the Louvre we headed to the Eiffel Tower (of course). We did not feel like fighting the crowds and were unable to get a reservation in the tower restaurant (despite an amazing effort from the Concierge). Exiting the metro at Trocadero (Paris has an amazing subway system), we enjoyed the view across the river.

image

As you exit the metro, you come across a WWI monument to the people who fought the war.

2008 December 29 Touring around Paris  _MG_2628

As we looked  down on the Eiffel tower from the Trocadero, we did not realize the importance of the location:

For the Exposition Internationale of 1937, the old Palais du Trocadéro was demolished and replaced by the Palais de Chaillot which now tops the hill. It was designed in classicizing "moderne" style by architects Louis-Hippolyte Boileau, Jacques Carlu and Léon Azéma. Like the old palais, the palais de Chaillot features two wings shaped to form a wide arc: indeed, these wings were built on the foundations of those of the former building. However, unlike the old palais, the wings are independent buildings and there is no central element to connect them: instead, a wide esplanade leaves an open view from the place du Trocadéro to the Eiffel Tower and beyond.

The buildings are decorated with quotations by Paul Valéry, and they now house a number of museums:

      2008 December 29 Touring around Paris  _MG_2633

    2008 December 29 Touring around Paris  _MG_2629

    I never knew who Foch was. Interesting quote from him:

    He advocated peace terms that would make Germany unable to ever pose a threat to France again. His words after the Treaty of Versailles, "This is not a peace. It is an armistice for 20 years" would prove prophetic.

    2008 December 29 Touring around Paris  _MG_2642

    2008 December 29 Paris Boat Ride  _MG_2786

    2008 December 29 Paris Boat Ride  _MG_2799

    Enjoying a baguette, in the sun on a brisk December day in front of the Eiffel tower was a magical experience. We then headed down to the river and enjoyed a boat ride – a Paris must do. A few sights captured below.

    Alexander III bridge:

    Pont Alexandre III is an arch bridge that spans the Seine, connecting the Champs-Élysées quarter and the Invalides and Eiffel Tower quarter, widely regarded as the most ornate, extravagant bridge in Paris[1] [2].

    The bridge, with its exuberant Art Nouveau lamps, cherubs, nymphs and winged horses at either end, was built between 1896 and 1900. It is named after Tsar Alexander III, who had concluded the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892. His son Nicholas II laid the foundation stone in October 1896. The style of the bridge reflects that of the Grand Palais, to which it leads on the right bank.

    2008 December 29 Paris Boat Ride  _MG_2652

    2008 December 29 Paris Boat Ride  _MG_2655

    Not the kind of detail you would ever see on a Canadian bridge.

    2008 December 29 Paris Boat Ride  _MG_2774

    2008 December 29 Paris Boat Ride  _MG_2782

     2008 December 29 Paris Boat Ride  _MG_2784

    Another Egyptian obelisk liberated, the Obelisk of Luxor in the Place de la Concorde:

    The center of the Place is occupied by a giant Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramses II. It is one of two the Egyptian government gave to the French in the nineteenth century. The other one stayed in Egypt, too difficult and heavy to move to France with the technology at that time. In the 1990s, President François Mitterrand gave the second obelisk back to the Egyptians.

    The obelisk once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple. The viceroy of Egypt, Mehemet Ali, offered the 3,300-year-old Luxor Obelisk to France in 1831. The obelisk arrived in Paris on December 21, 1833. Three years later, on October 25, 1836, King Louis-Philippe had it placed in the center of Place de la Concorde, where a guillotine used to stand during the Revolution.

    2008 December 29 Paris Boat Ride  _MG_2658

    The Louvre.

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    2008 December 29 Paris Boat Ride  _MG_2777

    The architecture of old European cities is breathtaking.

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    2008 December 29 Paris Boat Ride  _MG_2761

    Notre Dame. We did not take the time to visit, the boys are all ‘churched’ out.

    2008 December 29 Paris Boat Ride  _MG_2721

    2008 December 29 Paris Boat Ride  _MG_2714

    And it was finally time to start walking back to the hotel.

    PARIS CONTINUTED: THE LOUVRE

    Our third day in Paris was one of those days that we usually say we will never do, completely full from start to finish. The first stop was The Louvre and as one would expect, it was packed. We decided on a whirlwind tour where we agreed to hit the big three.

    2008 December 29 The Louvre  _MG_2617

    The Winged Victory of Samothrace:

    The product of an unknown sculptor, presumably of Rhodian origin, the Victory is believed to date to between 220 and 190 BC. When first discovered on the island of Samothrace (in Greek, Σαμοθρακη — Samothraki) and published in 1863 it was suggested that the Victory was erected by the Macedonian general Demetrius I Poliorcetes after his naval victory at Cyprus between 295 and 289 BC. The Samothrace Archaeological Museum continues to follow these originally established provenance and dates.[7] Ceramic evidence discovered in recent excavations has revealed that the pedestal was set up about 200 BC, though some scholars still date it as early as 250 BC or as late as 180.[8] Certainly, the parallels with figures and drapery from the Pergamon Altar (dated about 170 BC) seem strong.

    In April 1863, the Victory was discovered by the French consul and amateur archaeologist Charles Champoiseau, who sent it to Paris in the same year. The statue has been reassembled in stages since its discovery. The prow was reconstructed from marble debris at the site by Champoiseau in 1879 and assembled in situ before being shipped to Paris. Since 1884 it has dominated the Daru staircase.[9] displayed in the Louvre, while a plaster replica stands in the museum at the original location of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothrace. The discovery in 1948 of the hand raised in salute, which matched a fragment in Vienna, established the modern reconstruction — without trumpet — of the hand raised in epiphanic greeting.

    2008 December 29 The Louvre  _MG_2554

    Venus de Milo. A fascinating history:

    The Venus de Milo was discovered by a peasant named Yorgos Kentrotas in 1820, inside a buried niche within the ancient city ruins of Milos, on the Aegean island of Milos, (also Melos or Milo). The statue was found in two main pieces (the upper torso and the lower draped legs) along with several herms (pillars topped with heads), fragments of the upper left arm and left hand holding an apple, and an inscribed plinth. Olivier Voutier, a French naval officer, was exploring the island. With the help of the young farmer, Voutier began to dig around what were clearly ancient ruins. Within a few hours Voutier had uncovered a piece of art that would become renowned throughout the world. About ten days later, another French naval officer, Jules Dumont d’Urville, recognized its significance and arranged for a purchase by the French ambassador to Turkey, Charles-François de Riffardeau, marquis, later duc de Rivière.

    Twelve days out of Touloun the ship was anchored off the island of Melos. Ashore, d’Urville and [fellow officer] Matterer met a Greek peasant, who a few days earlier while ploughing had uncovered blocks of marble and a statue in two pieces, which he offered cheaply to the two young men. It was of a naked woman with an apple in her raised left hand, the right hand holding a draped sash falling from hips to feet, both hands damaged and separated from the body. Even with a broken nose, the face was beautiful. D’Urville the classicist recognized the Venus of the Judgement of Paris. It was, of course, the Venus de Milo. He was eager to acquire it, but his practical captain, apparently uninterested in antiquities, said there was nowhere to store it on the ship, so the transaction lapsed. The tenacious d’Urville on arrival at Constantinople showed the sketches he had made to the French ambassador, the Marquis de Riviére, who sent his secretary in a French Navy vessel to buy it for France. Before he could take delivery, French sailors had to fight Greek brigands for possession. In the mêlée the statue was roughly dragged across rocks to the ship, breaking off both arms, and the sailors refused to go back to search for them.[2]

    News of the discovery took longer than normal to get to the French ambassador. The peasant grew tired of waiting for payment and was pressured into selling to a local priest, who planned to present the statue as a gift to a translator working for the Sultan in Constantinople (present day Istanbul, Turkey).

    The French ambassador’s representative arrived just as the statue was being loaded aboard a ship bound for Constantinople and persuaded the island’s chief citizens to annul the sale and honor the first offer.

    Upon learning of the reversal of the sale, the translator had the chiefs whipped and fined but was eventually reprimanded by the Sultan after the French ambassador complained to him about the mistreatment of the island citizenry. The citizens were reimbursed and ceded all future claims to the statue in gratitude.

    2008 December 29 The Louvre  _MG_2591

    And last but not least, the Mona Lisa: which was protected by glass as it has been vandalized twice (acid thrown on it once, a rock another time).

    2008 December 29 The Louvre  _MG_2564

    We did not have a lot of time (and it was just too busy), and we passed by a thousand great pieces (which means we definitely need to go back). One noteworthy part for me was when we passed the Greek and Egyptian displays (having been there, we skipped past). It left me reflecting upon the comments of our guides in those countries and how their history no longer belonged to them. Each went on to explain how large parts of their history is in the museums of the world (Britain and England in particular). Consider the following ….

    From the Parthenon in Athens, hundreds of statues were taken (the second picture being where this would reside had it been left behind):

    2008 December 29 The Louvre  _MG_2589

    2008 December 29 The Louvre  _MG_2588

    2008 December 29 The Louvre  _MG_2580

    A sphinx …. (well over 6 feet high):

    2008 December 29 The Louvre  _MG_2600

    Of course. You need to look up. This is just the roof …

    2008 December 29 The Louvre  _MG_2569

    How it looks before they go on display:

    2008 December 29 The Louvre  _MG_2577

    And that was just the morning.

    PARIS DAY 2 CONTINUED

     

    After enjoying the Catacombs, we headed toward the Eiffel Tower and the Military Museum. Our first stop was lunch at a little French deli near École Militaire. The food  was fantastic and we did everything that we could to get the French lady who was serving us to smile (she certainly was not going to speak English).

    The École Militaire is a vast military training facility near the Eiffel Tower and had I read the map correctly, I would have realized that it was not the Musée de l’Armée that we were looking for. It is very vast and in the biting wind, the troops were getting a bit frustrated that I could not find the entrance.

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Armoury-4

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Armoury-5

    As we circled, we came across this memorial and to the best of my knowledge this refers to the round-ups of Jews and other political targets in Paris:

    December 12, 1941:
    Arrests in homes. Roundups carried out in Paris, regardless of nationality but aimed particularly at French Jews (dignified Jews) – sent to the camp of Compiegne.

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Armoury-6

    Coming around another corner, I finally realized we were circling around the wrong building (DOH). Guess I should have looked up earlier.

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Armoury-7

    I should have realized that it was the building with the gold roof.

    2008 Dec 28 Military Museum Paris_-2

    The Musée de l’Armée is a museum at Les Invalides in Paris, France. Originally built as a hospital and home for disabled soldiers by Louis XIV, it now houses the Tomb of Napoleon and the museum of the Army of France. The museum’s collections cover the time period from antiquity until the 20th century.

    The start of our tour was the tomb of Napoleon (among others). This is a magnificent building dedicated to one of the world’s greatest generals:

    Within Les Invalides is the final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte.

    The former emperor’s body was returned to France from St Helenain 1840 and, after a state funeral, was laid to rest in St Jerome’s Chapel while his tomb was completed in 1861.

    There was no expense spared for the tomb and Napoleon Bonaparte’s body lies within six separate coffins. They are made of iron, mahogany, two of lead, ebony, and the outer one is red porphyry.

    The tomb sits on a green-granite pedestal surrounded by 12 pillars of victory.

    2008 Dec 28 Military Museum Paris_-8

    I found this book very interesting, it is Napoleon’s notes about Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, which influenced his thinking. The Scots would be proud.

    2008 Dec 28 Military Museum Paris_-18

    What is also interesting (and not publicized) is the fact that the tomb also hosted hundreds of President  Mitterrand’s spies who kept tabs on his enemies.

    A FORMER French spy chief has revealed how a bunker beneath Napoleon’s tomb was used by hundreds of secret policemen to monitor the conversations of politicians, writers and celebrities.

    Pierre Charroy, 69, a retired general, lifted the veil last week on one of the most sensitive secrets of French intelligence when he told a court about the so-called inter-ministerial control group, or GIC, that he ran for 16 years.

    He is one of 12 accused in the “Elysée-gate” scandal, a case that has made history by showing the extraordinary lengths to which the late President François Mitterrand went to keep tabs on his enemies.

    Abusing the near absolute powers of the French presidency, the Socialist leader set up a cell of security officials in the Elysée Palace to protect secrets such as the existence of his illegitimate daughter and his work as an official in the collaborationist wartime Vichy government.

    We then headed into the museum. Put a male in a war museum, you can never go wrong. The museum covers all major wars and France’s colonial days. A few highlights for me ….

    It is scary to think that exploitation of Africans was so common place in an era not that long past. These posters are from 1905, The paper on the right was denouncing the exploitation of black Africans (November, 1905).

    2008 Dec 28 Military Museum Paris_-26

    2008 Dec 28 Military Museum Paris_-27

    During the Battle of the Marne (WWI), the German’s tried to encircle Paris. At one point, the legend of the Taxis of the Marne was created, where 670 taxis took 6,000 troops to the front as the rail system was too congested. You can read about it here. It should be noted that the fares were paid, at 27% of the metered rate.

    2008 Dec 28 Military Museum Paris_-30

    This weapon stopped me in my tracks. In the middle of machine guns and artillery from WWI was a French made cross bow. It was used to hurl grenades and made from wood. Someone must not have seen the memo about the move to Gatling guns and mortars.

    2008 Dec 28 Military Museum Paris_-36

    The tank changed the cavalry but it was the Gatling gun that changed man’s approach to infantry. This 1939 Gatling gun looked menacing.

    2008 Dec 28 Military Museum Paris_-24

    This map reaffirmed my admiration for the British in World War II. A small island of blue holding out against the Axis regime. Thank God for the British and Churchill.

    2008 Dec 28 Military Museum Paris_-41

    The benefits of video games? My boys could name an astonishing number of weapons in that museum including the German Goliath, the tracked mine (thanks to Company of Heroes). It was bigger than I imagined.

    2008 Dec 28 Military Museum Paris_-52

    So ended day 2, strolling past a beautiful flower shop on our way back to the hotel.

    2008 Dec 28 Paris_-3

    I SEE DEAD PEOPLE – PARIS DAY 2

    We decided to stay in the heart of the city, at the Hyatt which made it easy to get to the subway and move around Paris (public transit is fantastic).

    Walking out of the hotel we received our first big Paris experience – the cold. It was hovering around –2 but there was wind chill. As a family of Canadians who have not seen a Canadian winter in 2 years, we found –7ish crisp VERY cold (how quick we forget).

    2008 Dec 28 Our first walk in Paris_

    2008 Dec 28 Our Starting Point in Paris_

    Paris is littered with great food shops. As we walked to the subway stop we noticed these truffles in the window. Note the price for the white truffles. These are not Cadbury truffles (smile).

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Truffles_-2

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Truffles_

    Our first stop was the Paris Catacombs. We had to wait in line for a half hour and noticed these protestors in the park next to us. The boys went up and asked what they were protesting. Turns out they were protesting smoking, although I wonder if they were protesting people who smoked or the Paris smoking ban?

     2008 Dec 28 Antismoking Sleep In_

    The line slowly moved forward and after a short wait, we entered the catacombs:

    The Catacombs of Paris or Catacombes de Paris are a famous underground ossuary in Paris, France. Organized in a renovated section of the city’s vast network of subterranean tunnels and caverns towards the end of the 18th century, it became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century and has been open to the public on a regular basis from 1867. The official name for the catacombs is l’Ossuaire Municipal.

    This cemetery covers a portion of Paris’ former mines near the Left Bank‘s Place Denfert-Rochereau, in a location that was just outside the city gates before Paris expanded in 1860. Although this cemetery covers only a small section of underground tunnels comprising "les carrières de Paris" ("the quarries of Paris"), Parisians today popularly refer to the entire network as "the catacombs".

    The catacombs are massive. We exited at least 6 blocks from where we entered.

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Catacombs_-3

    I found this sign at the entrance quite interesting. Who would steal bones? Turns out lots of people. At the exit the security guard had a stack of bones and skulls that he had confiscated from people. But he doesn’t bother calling the police.

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Catacombs_-4

    It is roughly 135 steps down to the catacombs, and then it is through a series of tunnels. My camera instantly fogged up (and kept fogging) because the humidity was very high, with water dripping from the ceilings. The ambiance was quite effective and unsettling.

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Catacombs_-6

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Catacombs_-7

    After a myriad of tunnels, you finally arrive at the catacombs. The Quarrymen’s foot bath is where the workers would draw water for personal use. The water was a rather eerie green.

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Catacombs_-13

    And then there it is. The bones of 6 million (estimated) Parisians. Initially, the bones were simply thrown into the tunnels but during Napoleon’s time it was ordered that they be arranged. The front bones are in neat piles, with the rest jumbled in behind. It is genuinely creepy (but a must see).

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Catacombs_-14

    Various designs adorn the bone ‘walls’.

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    Part way through the catacombs you come upon a sculpture carved into the wall, Port Mahon gallery, carved by Decure, a veteran of the armies of Louis XV. The town of Port Mahon is in Minorca, where Decure was kept prisoner by the English.

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Catacombs_-9

    There are few bodies that were actually buried in the Catacombs. Those killed during the massacres of September 1792 were:

    The September Massacres[1] were a wave of mob violence which overtook Paris in late summer 1792, during the French Revolution. By the time it had subsided, half the prison population of Paris had been executed: some 1,200 trapped prisoners, including many women and young boys. Sporadic violence, in particular against the Roman Catholic Church, would continue throughout France for nearly a decade to come.[2]

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Catacombs_-18

    An amazing start to day 2 … and a final bone design to close …. creepy.

    2008 Dec 28 Paris Catacombs_-20