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19 July, 2014

Day 15: Queues and crowds

Today the plan was to go to the Catacombs. This is apparently one of the biggest tourist attractions in Paris, and it would seem to be the one with the longest queue associated with it, owing to the fact that there's a rough limitation of about 200 persons allowed in the catacombs at a time. This is a good thing, preventing it from being a horrible experience, as well as helping to preserve the integrity of the site. We didn't get up quite as early as we should have, but not too bad. The catacombs open at 10am and we managed to get there by around 10:15am, after stopping briefly for takeout coffee and a sandwich (both of which were good), around the corner from our place. The walk to the catacombs was about 30 minutes, and we passed through the edge of Luxembourg Garden. The morning air was relatively comfortable. A constant factor throughout our time in Paris has been the oppressive heat and humidity. It's truly unpleasant, in exactly the same way that I remember Boston being unpleasant in the summertime. It makes it difficult to remain enthusiastic about a long series of outdoor activities, or transiting between places.

Anyway, we got to the catacombs, shortly after opening, to find that the line wrapped all the way around the entire square where the entrance is located. The line was long. If I were to venture a guess? I would say there were about 300 people in front of us in line. I could be off by over a hundred though. Our initial reaction was "Oh, shit!" The catacombs were one of the few things that were at the top of our list of things we wanted to do, but Allie's first reaction to the line was "Forget it. We don't need to see the catacombs." And that's where serendipity comes into play. Right as we arrive in the line, and we're debating exiting the line, a man in front of us, of perhaps 50 years old, turns to us and says something funny about waiting in line. He says something like "Allow me the opportunity to entice you with the following introduction: I was born in Beverly, and..." The basic idea being, we have enough time to learn each others' entire life story while waiting in this line. And, of course, when he says "Beverly," I said "Beverly, Massachusetts?!" And that's the story of how we ended up waiting 2.5 hours in the blistering sun, talking with Scott and Tracy, as we waited to enter the catacombs. They were both software engineers. She was from Hawaii, and he was from the Boston area, but they now both work in Oregon. So our stories were similar in the move to the West Coast. They had their two kids, ages, 15 and 12, with them, and this was the middle of an 8 week sabbatical for them. I guess he has the opportunity to do this every 7 years at his company. The last time they did it, they went on a Roman-themed exploration of Europe. This time, the theme was Medieval. And they like to plan their days, stays, activities one day at a time, often changing plans, and following their whim. Letting chance take them to exciting new places. We talked the entire time, about work, about France and Italy, about philosophy on life. If we hadn't been in line behind them, I seriously doubt we would have endured the line for even 10 minutes. Especially considering that the worst of the heat and sun in that line occurred after moving around a corner out of the shade, a little less than an hour into the wait. But they were funny, friendly, honest, engaging, and the conversation will stand out as one of the memories from the trip that we hold onto forever.

The good news, on top of that good news, was that the catacombs were actually pretty amazing, and refreshingly cool, being a few hundred feet underground. It's a sight worth seeing. And because of this slow-moving line, with the strict limit on admission, it means that one can be virtually alone during the majority of their walk through the expansive space. We spent quite a long time down there. The bones go on endlessly, and it is obvious that we don't even have access to the full area. You can see mostly femurs and skulls, because of how they've arranged things. I guess the other bones must be piled behind these front rows. We hypothesized about why. Perhaps the femurs stack well, and form a good "wall" for the storage, and then the odd-shaped bones are more haphazardly packed in behind.

After the catacombs, we came out and wandered a bit. We found a street that was interesting, Rue Daguerre. It had many markets and food shops, all of which looked interesting. We were both completely out of cash, and had to pass by some of them. But when we found a cash machine, we actually went back to that section again, and bought some fruit. We also had a sandwich and some bruschetta-like bread thing from a bakery.

I could be mistaken, but after that, I think we made our way slowly back to the apartment to rest. That rest consisted of a 4 hour nap, which was perhaps not a fantastic idea, in the afternoon, but that's what happened. The heat takes so much out of us, it's hard to avoid being tired. For what it's worth, I recommend visiting Paris at some other time of year than this. Yuck.

After the nap, we decided to look for dinner. It was about 7pm, perhaps 8pm. There are many good options on our street and neighborhood. After briefly surveying them, we went with our first choice, which was a Greek restaurant called Evi Evane, on Rue Guisarde. The atmosphere was great, they had air conditioning, and the service was very friendly. We tried some resin wine (which we didn't like), and then had some wine from Crete, which was good. Very vanilla-butter-caramel kind of flavor to it. We had dolmades, moussaka, and some vegetable and feta casserole. The food was very good. We made friends with our server, who was a 26-year old from Cypress (which, incidentally, is not part of Greece, in case you were not sure about that). The funny thing was that he looks exactly like one of Allie's Facebook friends. We showed him the picture, and he was startled because, at first, he thought we somehow had a picture of him! That's how remarkable the similarity was! Anyway, it made for a good laugh, and he called his coworkers over to show them. Then he told us a little about where he was from and how long he'd been here. We saw him again the next morning, and he greeted us happily. It doesn't take much in this world for people to build connections. It's like we're programmed to make connections. I commented about this to Allie, saying that's probably why con-artists are so effective, is because they play on our natural tendencies to want to connect. Scary, actually. We made, perhaps, the mistake of having coffee after dinner. Combined with a 4-hour nap, this would mean we didn't actually feel sleepy until ridiculous wee hours of the morning.

After dinner, we came back to the room briefly, before grabbing one of our Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines (the 2004 La Nerthe), to hop on the train and ride to the Eiffel Tower. It was already dark outside, and there were thousands of people having picnics and celebrations on the grass of the park. We walked all the way to the tower, stood under it, walked back a ways, took lots of photos, sat in the grass, drank all the wine, watched people. By the time we left, it was almost 1am, and we walked all the way back, close to the Seine, on Rue de l'Universite, which is one street south of the river. It was a nice walk, and the streets were fairly deserted, right until we got back to Rue Guisarde, our street, where the streets were absolutely packed from the clubs.

A long day. It was a touristy kind of day, but we still did our own version of it. Sitting in the dark, on the grass, with thousands of people from all over the world, in front of the Eiffel Tower, which is possibly one of the most beautiful structures in the world, really makes me think about how lucky we are to be able to do that. We're lucky because of the freedoms we have. We're lucky because of the technology that enables us to get from point A to point B easily. We're lucky to personally have the resources to make such a trip, because not everyone can do it.

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