We started out by heading to the Catacombs of Paris, a series of underground tunnels where human remains were moved after the city’s cemeteries were filled in the 18th century. Afterwards, we had lunch at a restaurant by Rue Daguerre, a pedestrianized street lined with cafes and shops.
After lunch, we took the Metro over to Cité, an island in the middle of the Seine. We visited the Sainte-Chapelle, a former royal chapel. We also saw the exterior of the Notre Dame de Paris, the city’s famous cathedral which is currently being restored after suffering a fire in 2019.
We then made our way to the Eiffel Tower where we took a 1 hour boat sightseeing cruise with Bateaux Parisiens, which we received as a welcome amenity yesterday from the Le Méridien Etoile. Afterwards, we went up to the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Eiffel Tower where we spent the rest of the evening.
Last night, the sky was clear and we could see the Eiffel Tower from our room at the Le Méridien Etoile. When we woke up this morning, the sky was overcast and we could not see the very top of the tower. Not good, given that we had timed entry tickets. Hopefully the sky would clear by the evening!
As Titanium members in Marriott’s Bonvoy program, breakfast was complimentary. It was served buffet style in the hotel’s restaurant. There was a small variety of hot items along with a large selection of breads, cold meat, and cheese. Overall, a good selection of items.
Catacombs of Paris
After breakfast, we took the Metro to Denfert-Rochereau. The entrance to the Catacombs of Paris was right across the street. We were a bit early for our timed tickets so waited a bit on a nearby bench.
This sculpture of a lion stands nearby. It is a copy of the Lion of Belfort, a sculpture in Belfort, France. The original was made by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who made the Statue of Liberty! It was created after a successful defense by Colonel Denfert-Rochereau, the man the Metro station is named after, against the Prussians.
Soon, we headed to the entrance. We saw a sign saying that all tickets had been sold out for the day. Good thing we purchased in advance! After a brief security check, we picked up the included audio guide and headed underground. The path consisted of a narrow circular stairwell that seemed to go on and on!
Soon, we found ourselves in the tunnels below the station. The catacombs are located in a former quarry. The initial underground route is through some of the quarry tunnels.
The tunnel section isn’t particularly interesting. There are various types of walls as well as a variety of supports left to keep the tunnels form collapsing. It seems to just go on and on.
An inaccessible side path that is visible from the route.
Soon, we reached the entrance to the actual catacombs! Apparently, the proper term for a place like this is ossuary.
This plaque marks the establishment of this site as an ossuary. The catacombs’ website has a good description:
The history of the Paris Catacombs starts in the late eighteenth century, when major public health problems tied to the city’s cemeteries led to a decision to transfer their contents to an underground site. Paris authorities chose an easily accessible site that was, at the time, located outside the capital: the former Tombe-Issoire quarries under the plain of Montrouge. In operation since at least the fifteenth century and then abandoned, these quarries were a small part of the labyrinth that extended under the city over approximately 800 hectares. Preparation of the site and the organization of bone transfers were entrusted to Charles Axel Guillaumot, an inspector at the Department of General Quarry Inspection. The mission of this department, which had been founded on April 4, 1777, by Louis XVI, was to consolidate the abandoned quarries following major collapses of the ground under Paris in the mid-eighteenth century.
A translation of this sign via Google Translate:
You are invited not to touch anything and not to smoke in the ossuary
When the human remains were moved to these catacombs, they were simply dumped in the passageways. Eventually, the site was tidied up a bit by Héricart de Thury. He had some governmental responsibility for the quarries of Paris.
There are various plaques throughout that describe where the bones came from.
There are supposed to be 6 million buried in the catacombs!
There are various different elements here and there. We came across this cross. The skulls are organized in a different pattern than the straight lines in most of the passageways.
We walked by this well. There is some story related to this well that was told in the audio guide, though we don’t remember the details.
We continued walking…
The bones had spilled out in this section!
Some of the plaques were shaped like tombstones. There was a section where the bones were from military deaths during battles.
As we kept on going, it was all the same yet different.
An actual headstone for Françoise Gillain. There doesn’t seem to be much about her, at least when doing an English language Google search. There is a paywalled New York Times article that mentions here as well as a blog entry titled Les Catacombs de Paris: An Homage to the Dead. The relevant section reads:
According to her stone, she was an admirable and incomparable woman who, in 1784, was honoured with the ‘Crown of Virtue’ by l’Acadamie Française, the pre-eminent French council for matters regarding the French language.
We kept on going…
Seems to be a church with the skulls arranged like a cross.
This was described as bones shaped like a barrel.
The end of the route was not far beyond the barrel. We walked up another set of circular stairs to return to the surface by the gift shop and bathroom.
We sat down across the street on a bench to figure out where we were going go next and where to have lunch. We decided to go to Rue Daguerre, a street which has many restaurants nearby. We had to backtrack about 500 meters to get back to the Denfert-Rochereau Metro station as Rue Daguerre starts there.
We ate at Au Bistrot d’à Côté Paris, a little restaurant on a side street. Lunch was very good! We had fish, risotto, and a crème brûlée.
After lunch, we hopped on Metro line 4 to Cité. We intended to first walk by Notre Dame de Paris but went the wrong way. Oops!
We found ourselves in front of the Palais de Justice de Paris and the Sainte-Chapelle. We decided to queue for the Sainte-Chapelle.
It ended up being about a 30 minute wait to get in without timed tickets. The tickets have a nice elevated view of the building which isn’t possible from street level.
The Sainte-Chapelle was a royal chapel and is a tall but otherwise somewhat small building. It is mixed in with the judicial buildings of the Palais de Justice de Paris. The entire complex was formerly a royal palace. Quite a bit of history happened here during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror.
The lower level of the chapel is something of a combination of gift shop and museum. The entire room was very richly decorated with a variety of colors.
We then headed upstairs via a small circular stairway in a corner of the building.
The top floor was quite incredible with huge stained glass windows all around. Quite different from the lower floor and every other church that we’ve visited. Also unlike other churches of a similar size, the chapel is essentially one big room. Very impressive!
The altar was at the far end from the stairs. Also quite ornate with the use of color and intricate decorations.
We briefly stepped outside to what must have been the original entrance to the chapel. Currently, it serves as something like a balcony as it is above street level.
There are finely detailed carvings on the exterior of the building near the doors.
Afterwards, we walked to the exit. The exit is in front of the steps leading up to the entrance of the Palais de Justice.
There are numerous small plaques like this one on the sides of buildings in Paris. In general, they are to honor those who were killed during the French Resistance. A brief description of Jean Montauron is offered by the Musee de la Resistance (translated by Google Translate):
Jean Montauron perishes in a violent clash which takes place on the northwestern outskirts of the police headquarters. He died rue de Lutèce
Le Maitron offers a slightly longer obituary (translated via Google Translate):
Born May 12, 1923 in Paris (VIIIth arrondissement), died in action August 24, 1944 in Paris (IVth arrondissement); policeman. Son of Jean-François Thomas Montauron, delivery man, and Marie Madeleine Berthelot, housewife, Jean Montauron, peacekeeper at the Practical School of the Municipal Police, was fatally injured near the police headquarters, barracks of the City by a burst of submachine gun fired by a German soldier, while he was in resistance action. He was recognized FFI from August 15, 1944. He was married in Pierrefitte on July 29, 1944, with Christiane, Odette born Trocmet. The couple was domiciled at 38 rue Alcide d'Obigny in Pierrefitte (Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis). He was declared Dead for France and appointed to the rank of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor (OJ of January 2 and 3, 1945).
We headed to the east for our original destination, the Notre Dame.
There is quite a bit of construction going on as the cathedral is being repaired following the devastating fire in 2019. The front of the building seems to be mostly intact.
We decided to walk to the back of the cathedral to take a look.
While the stone parts of the cathedral seem to be mostly intact, it looks like everything else is being reconstructed.
We decided to cross over to the north side of the Seine from the rear of the cathedral. We walked over the Pont Saint-Louis which actually leads to a second island in the Seine, the Île Saint-Louis.
The rear of the cathedral is basically occupied by a huge construction fence and entrance. The view from the bridge helps to show the scale of the reconstruction activities.
We walked one block to the Pont Louis-Phillipe, a bridge that leads to the north bank of the Seine.
This bridge offers a more distant view of the Nortre Dame de Paris. From here, we took the Metro from the Pont Marie station to Alma-Marceau.
By coincidence, the station was right by the Flamme de la Liberté (Flame of Liberty). This sculpture from 1989 is a replica of the Statue of Liberty’s torch. However, it is probably more famous for unrelated events that took place here.
Princess Diana, along with boyfriend Dodi Fayed and driver Henri Paul, died in the tunnel below the torch in 1997 while being chased by paparazzi.
There is a makeshift memorial to Princess Diana at the base of the flame. The little public square containing the flame has been renamed Place Diana in her memory.
Place Diana is next to the Pont de l’Alma, a bridge across the Seine. However, we did not cross here. We had a great view of the Eiffel Tower to the southwest from this point just to the west of the bridge.
The building at the center of the frame is the Cathédrale de la Sainte-Trinité, a Russian Orthodox church. It is described on Google Maps as having “golden onion domes.” It is a recent structure, built in 2016. Oddly, the building has been censored on Google Maps.
A wide angle view of the Eiffel Tower and surrounding area.
We started walking to the west along the north bank of the Seine until reaching the Passerelle Debilly, a pedestrian bridge.
This was the view to the east, towards the Pont de l’Alma.
The view from the opposite side of the bridge, to the west.
Looking back at the bridge from the south side.
From here, we walked to the Bateaux Parisiens (Parisian Boats) piers. There are a number of boat operators on the Seine. Bateaux Parisiens is the closest to the Eiffel Tower. We had complimentary tickets thanks to the Le Méridien Etoile. They were for any sailing and didn’t seem to be date limited either. It wasn’t obvious which pier we should go to. We were walking from the east while the typical entrance route seems to be from the west, closer to the Eiffel Tower. We managed to get on a boat just as it was about to leave. We were literally the last guests admitted!
The long riverboat was packed. We were lucky to be able to find a spot on the top thanks to a Hawaiian couple who made room for us. They were here in Paris as part of a multi-week tour from Portugal to Italy of European churches!
To American audiences, the term riverboat conjures images of steam powered paddle boats. However, European riverboats tend to be very long boats of limited height to be able to pass under bridges.
As we just made it onboard in time for the sailing, we missed the name of the boat that we boarded.
We were seated on the left side of the boat. It headed east so we had a view to the north. We passed by the Grand Palais, a building that was constructed in 1897 as a grand event venue. It is currently closed for renovation but normally holds various exhibitions.
Many of Paris’ bridges are decorated. This is the Pont de Invalides. This is the lowest bridge in Paris across the Seine according to Wikipedia. We fit under it just fine!
The next bridge to the east was the Pont Alexandre III, the grandest of Paris’ bridges. The bridge holds various sculptures and is ornately decorated. It is named after the Russian Tsar Alexander III in honor of the Franco-Russian Alliance, one of the alliances that resulted in the quick expansion of World War I into a continental conflict.
After crossing under a few more bridges, we reached and passed by the Louvre. Its famous glass pyramid was not visible from this perspective.
We soon reached the western tip of Cité. We went on the south side of the island.
We caught a glimpse of the top of the Sainte-Chapelle’s spire.
We then passed by the Notre Dame de Paris. From this angle, the damage from the fire is not apparent.
It was more obvious once we passed by the cathedral.
The boat continued to the east after passing the eastern tip of Cité. We could see the Pont Saint-Louis, the first bridge we walked over earlier in the afternoon.
We soon passed the eastern tip of Île Saint-Louis. The boat turned around here, giving us a view of the Notre Dame de Paris in the distance beyond the Pont de Sully. We headed back to the west, this time passing by the northern side of Île Saint-Louis and Cité.
The Pont Saint-Louis as viewed from the north. As the boat was now headed west, we had a view to the south of our boat.
This building with its castle-like turrets is the Conciergerie. The name translates to Concierge in English, making it sound like a nice place. It was a prison during the French Revolution. For us non-French, its most famous prisoner was Marie Antoinette, the Queen who was executed.
It apparently can be visited, though it wasn’t on our list of places that we intended to visit. There definitely is too much to see in Paris for a six night trip!
This domed building, just to the west of Cité, is the Institut de France. Google Maps describes it as “the headquarters of 5 French intellectual academies.”
We soon passed by the Musée d’Orsay, across the Seine from the Louvre. This museum was formerly a train station and is likely the second most famous museum in Paris after the Louvre. We have timed entry tickets for it tomorrow morning.
As we continued heading back to the west, the Eiffel Tower came into view. The columned structure is the Palais Bourbon, home of the French National Assembly, the national legislative body of France.
We once again passed under the Pont Alexandre III.
We soon returned to the Bateaux Parisiens piers.
We kept on going though.
This was about as far as we got, half way to the next bridge across the Seine, before we turned around.
After disembarking, we started walking to the Eiffel Tower. We passed by a display showing the time until the start of the 2024 Olympic Games.
We passed by the Eiffel Tower on its northwestern side. The space under the Eiffel Tower has been enclosed by a plexiglass fence. It can only be entered after passing through a security checkpoint.
We were a bit early for our timed entry tickets so walked around to the opposite side to take a look. More or less exactly the same, other than the Trocadéro being visible in the distance.
We soon entered the Eiffel Tower grounds. We probably could have gone in at any time as there was no ticket check. Security wasn’t busy at all at this time with minimal queues.
The view of the Eiffel Tower from directly below.
And the view looking at one of its four legs.
Looking up at the Eiffel Tower before we went to queue to enter. We had timed entry tickets for both the 2nd floor (by European numbering) and the top floor. It wasn’t clear if the top floor was opened as some electronic display seemed to indicate it was closed. There didn’t seem to be any reason for it to be closed though as the weather ended up being decent and a definite improvement to what we saw when we woke up in the morning.
We headed up by elevator to the second floor. The elevators ascend up the legs of the Eiffel Tower. The elevator cabin rotates to keep its floor level as the route up is not at a constant angle. Once there, we walked around a bit and took some photos before walking up to the upper half of the second floor to see if the top floor was open. It was and we queued for the elevator to go up.
The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is fantastic. We were able to assemble a panorama from the photos that we took.
The eight photographs used to form the panorama, starting southwest and rotating clockwise at 45 degree increments.
There was still some time to go before sunset so we decided to descend to the second floor where there is some seating available. Most people don’t stay for long and we were able to find a bench to sit on to wait for sunset. It was still rather cloudy so we weren’t sure what we would get.
The sun set to the left of La Defense, above what seems to be Forteresse Du Mont-Valérien. The fortress is currently a World War II memorial. It was used during the war by the Nazis for executions.
We stayed for a little longer as it started to get dark outside. We didn’t wait for it to get very dark as it was already pretty late and it takes a long time for it to be truly dark at night.
The Eiffel Tower has multiple gift shops, each with different items.
We got this Paris 2024 magnet. At the time, we were thinking it was some sort of Japanese style kawaii mascot that was supposed to vaguely resemble the Eiffel Tower but with French colors. It is apparently a phryge, type of cap that originates from Greece. It became an official symbol of the French Revolution in 1792.
Interestingly, Olympic mascots have been around since 1968. The Olympics’ website has a listing of them! Most appear to be truly terrible and best not remembered.
Afterwards, we descended to ground level and headed to the Bir-Hakeim Metro station. We got a chicken skewer on baguette sandwich from a street vendor that was near the Eiffel Tower exit. It was overpriced but we were hungry and we didn’t see anything else nearby. The chicken tasted good though the portion size was tiny. There were also ton of street vendors still present trying to sell their cheap Eiffel Tower souvenirs. Ignoring them completely seemed to work very well.
A short distance away, we came across some more legitimate food vendors, though we kept on going.
We took the Metro a few stops to Porte Maillot, where we started our day. We were still a bit hungry so decided to visit the McDonald’s to see if their burgers were as bad as they are in the US.
They turned out to be authentically terrible! But we were hungry so they did their jobs.
Yesterday, due to the hotel issue we had in La Defense, we only reserved one night at the Le Méridien Etoile. We enjoyed our one night and breakfast at the hotel so decided to stay for the remaining five nights of our trip. We had already checked out in the morning but left our bags behind. We rebooked earlier in the day and got an upgrade to what they call a Smart room. It is similar to the lowest tier Urban room but slightly larger and with a bathtub.
Other than the presence of a tub, the room was largely the same as the room we had before. It seems to be the largest non-suite room type at this property.
There was a nice welcome gift waiting for us on the table! Although the bottle seems like wine or champagne, it is actually French sparkling apple juice from Les Vergers de la Silve.