July 5, 2019: Catacombs and Valentina’s Exhibit

Friday. GT2 Day Twenty Seven. Paris, France.

Today is our last full day in Paris. Tomorrow morning we are here, then we take the train to Spain for the last stop of our trip. I think that I slept well last night. I left my watch charging all night and did not wear it. So I am just guessing, but I think that I slept for at least eight hours. I feel good this morning, at least. I was awake by seven.

By this point, everyone is done with the trip. Backpacking like this is always hard. It wears you out really quickly. The high cost of this trip is very fatiguing, for sure. And the constant struggle to manage the food situation which takes several hours of every day. It makes me dread the whole day knowing that nothing I do will change the fact that no one will plan or make a food decision until it is an emergency and then somehow I’m expected to fix a situation that no one could decide on themselves with days of warning. It’s to the point that I don’t even want to eat with anyone and would almost rather not eat at all and just wait to get back. The constant walking is wearing everyone else down, they are soar and exhausted. That’s the one thing that isn’t affecting me, I’m still enjoying all of the walking and don’t feel like we are doing enough each day. Yesterday, Emily and I did twice as much walking as Dominica and Madeline, and it still didn’t feel like very much to me. I can city walk all day. And the lack of solid Internet is wearing everyone down. Emily kind of likes being forcibly disconnected during the day, but that only works if she gets to reconnect at night when she returns and often that has not worked. And, of course, the European bathroom situation is always going to wear you down as an American. Dealing with odd, often non-working showers and toilets is a bit much day after day. And tomorrow is a moving day, another day of all of our stuff on our backs. No one is looking forward to that. It’s just all the things that add up. And then the big thing, I really miss the kids. They are so busy all day that they never have time to talk, and with the time zones being off we don’t line up much.

Only five more days at this point. We fly home on July 10th. One more night in Paris, and I believe four nights in Barcelona. Home stretch. Only one more travel day, and that is all a single train. Way easier than most of our travel days.

Emily was up around eight thirty and ready to go pretty quickly. Dominica woke up Madeline at nine. We headed out the door to start the day just before nine thirty. But without a plan as to what we were going to do for food. It is too early for Madeline to eat, already too late for Emily, and Dominica is in desperate need of coffee.

Even with all of our experience, it still seems like we packed too much. Mostly this is because of the extreme heat, but I could have used one more tee shirt, and several fewer long sleeved shirts and I never needed pants, only shorts. Now this was an extreme case of unpredictable weather, but still. Better planning for the future. Travel is a hot activity, there is always tons of walking and most places keep their indoors much warmer than we are used to, and public transporation is always warm.

On our way to our first destination of the day, the Paris Catacombs, we stopped by a boulangerie on the end of our street. This was actually a pretty painless breakfast. I had hoped that they would have more than they did, I was hopeful because of all of their breakfast advertisements in English and their long list of options. But when we got there, most of what they advertised was not available and they just had some croissants and muffins. Dominica got croissants and the girls got muffins and made due. I was not hungry, as I never am in the morning, and did not feel like all of the calories and carbs made sense just to eat them. I’ve not really been in the mood to eat for days, I just keep eating to hang out with everyone.

We went straight on to the catacombs via the metro to get there roughly at opening time. The line to get in was just under two hours long! So it was a very long morning of just standing in the warm sun.

It was about noon, because the catacombs open at ten, when we got to enter. Going into the catacombs involves a never ending circular staircase that gave Dominica vertigo just to go down. Once down, you spend roughly an hour in a group limited to just two hundred people, walking about five blocks of Paris underground, but in tightly winding mazes so it is way more than five blocks worth of walking. The first half is just seeing how the tunnels under Paris are structured. Then you walk through the world’s largest ossuary with something like six million people’s bones kept there. Dominica did the audio tour, the rest of us either listened occasionally or just read the signs.

Dominica says that she enjoyed it. I have no idea if the girls did or not. I have to say, I did not enjoy it. Not that it isn’t interesting, but I found no reason to see it. I have seen plenty about the catabombs on television or youtube that I already knew everything that I cared to know about it, and seeing it in person was just unpleasant. I don’t see any value to standing in a room with the dead as if they are a tourist attraction and found the whole thing a bit distasteful even before seeing hoards of millenials posing as couples in front of the dead to take selfies. Even if it was free (it is not), and even if there was no wait (there is), and even if I didn’t have to decent a long staircase (you do), I would still not want to have gone into it. I’m not saying it was terrible, just not worth going into even if there was no effort involved. But in the real world, there is quite a lot of effort involved to get into it. So my recommendation is a hard pass, this is a pretty strong “no reason to waste time or money on this” item on my list.

It was after one in the afternoon when we popped out and feeding the kids “real food” was a top priority. Not an easy thing to do where we were because there was no food around us having popped out in an unknown part of town. We did some searching, but they couldn’t decide on anything that they wanted, but they needed to eat quickly. Dominica finally found an American cafe a fifteen minute walk away so we headed there. But when we got there, the prices were just insane and there was every chance that they would not like the food anyway. There was a McDonald’s not that far away, so we opted for that. Just as American (moreso, I’m sure), but far cheaper and guaranteed to be able to feed both of them. So McDonald’s it is (at this point, I don’t know why we try to eat anywhere else.) Emily got a Big Mac, Madeline got chicken nuggets, Dominica and I got egg McMuffins. I was not going to get anything, not feeling hungry and not wanting to eat, but the egg and cheese McMuffins are only two Euros here and Dominica was ordering so I decided that I should get one. So awesome that is France the egg McMuffin is meatless by default, and so much cheaper! Huge win, there. So I just had my sandwich. An egg McMuffin normally has 300 calories, but I’m sure that the meat has to account for at least 50 calories of that, if not way more.

After food we were going to go to the Palais de Tokyo to see Valentina’s exhibit there, but Madeline wanted to do some shopping and on the way we passed by the Forum where Emily and I went shopping yesterday. It made sense to go there first and do the shopping now. The Palias is open until midnight (it opens at noon or we would have done it early this morning.) The girls started shopping and Dominica got the idea (that I had been thinking all along) that maybe they would want to just stay in the mall while Dominica and I went to the museum on our own. The girls do not like museums and are not into art in general and really, really are not going to like modern art. Plus modern art tends to be somewhat adult in nature. I thought that she was going to have a hard time talking the girls into it, but they loved the idea. So that made things way easier. They don’t have to be bored while we “museum”, and we don’t have to be bored while they shop.

On our way out of the Forum we spotted a real Belgian waffle place, so we stopped and grabbed one to share. It has been so long since we’ve had a real one. We got one with chocolate chips, whipped cream, and cookie crumbles. So good.

We had to make a few train changes to get to the Palias de Tokyo and on our second hop accidentally went the wrong way and had to turn around. But overall, getting to the gallery was pretty easy and the Palais itself was just outside of the metro station, so a super easy walk.

Valentina’s exhibit is the main thing at the museum right now. So it was really easy to find. It was a large exhibit, taking all of two floors of the Palais, so took us a long time to find her work, but it was pretty easy to find and we knew the piece that was on display. So cool seeing her work in a major Parisian museum! She was pretty excited that we went to see it, too.

The museum was super warm, we were sweating something terrible. There isn’t any AC there, and the sun was cooking it. They even had the doors open to try to help.

Working our way back to the Forum by train was easier as we knew what we were doing. We got back and found the girls pretty easily. Now that clothes shopping and museum stuff are done, next up is souvenir shopping. The Arc de Triomphe was ruled out for today as the girls had had too much walking already. Dominica’s feet were really killing her.

The souvenir shopping that they wanted to do was near Notre Dame, just a sixteen minute walk away. But I got the “we aren’t going to walk that far, are you crazy” so we had to try to take the subway, which I always say is way too much effort for short journeys, no one ever really considered the time standing around, the time getting to and from, the stairs to climb, etc. It is not as little effort as people like to imagine.

It took us about five minutes to get to the platform, that’s not much. Then we stood there for at least ten minutes. It was very hot and while walking is easy on your feet, standing still on hard surfaces is not and it was starting to hurt. Dominica even made a comment that at this point I should mention that had we just walked we would already be there. I said that I could probably still start walking and beat them there, and even if I didn’t it would be more pleasant. She said to go ahead and walk and see. So I did.

It turned out that I left just too late and got caught in an insane throng of people trying to get out of the train station. It was so packed behind us that I was legit scared and at one point went up an escalator with people on every step just to get to the top and be pushed off of it with nowhere to go and just people being crammed in by the force of the escalator. It took me fourteen minutes just to escape the train station!

Once outside I got Dominica’s text that they had announced, just after I had left, that the train was never coming (someone explained to her that THAT train was never coming, but one would come in half an hour or so, in theory) and so the station had turned into a panic of people trying to find alternative trains. She and the girls had been trying to get out then, too.

Once out of the station, I timed the nice, easy walk to the souvenir store and, yes, it was sixteen minutes. They were so exhausted from the subway situation that they stopped for iced teas. I got to the shop and sat on the curb and caught up with people via my phone while I waited for them. I was there for over twenty more minutes before they arrived. I always walked back to go looking for them, it took them so long. All in all, the total time it took to get to the shop was an hour for them, all in an attempt to “maybe” mitigate sixteen minutes of walking by a small amount.

We shopped at a few places on the island for maybe thirty or forty minutes. Then we walked over the bridge to the Latin Quarter and shopped there for a bit, too. This day feels pretty wasted to me. It feels like the entire day has been just riding subways, standing in ridiculously long lines, waiting for people to arrive, or standing around idly while people shop. Other than one hour (or less) of seeing a modern art museum, I’ve effectively done nothing today but stand and wait. It’s making me sore and tired.

While I was just standing around while they shopped, I did some scouting and found the absolutely perfect restaurant for dinner, a real gourmet burger place that had great looking American style burgers, Asian burgers, two kinds of veggie burgers, and a salmon burger. Finally a place that both girls have to like, Dominica can eat at (at very least their mushroom veggie burger will work for her), and I would actually maybe like. I showed Dominica and she agreed that we could not find a better place and that this was absolutely the dinner choice. I told her, that I’d show the girls, but if they didn’t decide to eat here that I was just giving them the apartment keys and letting them figure out dinner on their own. It is after seven at this point and I’m minutes away from getting “in trouble” for not having fed them, as if somehow I could possibly come up with whatever food they wanted at any given moment.

So as we finished shopping in one stretch and were passing the burger place I showed it to them and got “how can we be hungry so soon” and “I can’ t think about food now”, even though we are later than food emergencies have been every day of the trip, and we ate lunch extra early compared to normal by at least an hour. So a food argument is guaranteed now, we will walk away from that shop and within twenty minutes I will be in trouble for not having found food and fed people already. It’s a no win situation and I can’t mentally handle going through it again. I handed Emily the apartment key, said that they could eat wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and that I was going to see the Arc.

I set out on a many hour hike. First back the way we came, then down the Rue de Rivoli until it became the Champs-Élysées and walked all of the way to the Arc de Triomphe. On the way I stopped and bought a 1.5L bottle of water that I went through entirely on the walk to the arc. I was very dehydrated today. The walk was great. I feel really good and am getting exercise, fresh air, and really seeing Paris. More of Paris than we have seen so far!

On the way I got the see the Vendôme Column, which is so much like Trajan’s in Rome, and the Egyptian Obelisk, and the Concord (where the guillotine took its toll on royalty during the French Revolution), I walked the entirety of the Champs-Élysées, and saw the Arc de Triomphe at sunset. It was an awesome walk.

From there I turned somewhat north and walked to the seventeenth arrondissment and went to the Parc Monceau and sat for a while there and refilled by water bottle in the fountain (drinking fountain, that is.) Then from there I worked my way back to Notre Dame via the city streets and got to see so many cook neighbourhoods. Paris is such a cool town.

Dominica said that they all did gyros again for dinner. I’m kind of glad that I missed that, I love falafel but getting it in France is not the best, or the cheapest. It’s fine once, but as a regular “only thing to eat” option, it wears pretty thin pretty quickly. Really at this point, just thinking about eating is stressing me out so much that I don’t want to do it at all. I skipped dinner tonight entirely, I keep looking at restaurants all over the city and see what looks like it must be great food, from street food to real restaurants, but even considering eating anywhere just makes me feel crappy and I can’t bring myself to do it. I’m not feeling hungry at all, we have been eating so much more often than I would naturally eat that I am just overwhelmed with food. So a day of just 200-300 calories is probably just what my body needs, anyway.

On the street back going through the 8th, I found a real, authentic Parisian “not for tourists” macaron shop, so stopped to get some for Dominica. She had said that that was the one thing that she had missed out on doing while we were in France.

She texted me that she had actually bought some, too. She said that I got ripped off paying two Euros per cookie when she only paid eighty cents. We will see.

As I crossed the Pont Neuf, the Eiffle Tower was doing its twinkling light display that is pretty amazing. That is a must see. Very cool.

It was close to midnight when I got back. In all, I did twenty nine thousand steps and well over thirteen miles of walking today. My watch claims that I burned more the 300% of the food that I ate today in extra activity calories alone.

To offset that a little, Dominica and I ate some macarons. She had already tried most of the ones that she had bought. She had gotten more like a dozen. But mine were slightly larger, each. We tried both and she immediately agreed that the ones that I had acquired were absolutely worth the extra money. The difference between them was pretty huge.

I got a few hundred more pictures posted on Flickr, and several hundred more started. I got three videos uploading to YouTube. And I called it a night. I took a cool shower and got into bed at about twelve thirty.

Tomorrow’s plans: I actually don’t have a really good idea of what we are doing tomorrow. Emily told Dominica that she wanted to see the Arc tomorrow. But I suspect that the lure of staying in the apartment with Internet access, knowing that we have a travel day coming will be pretty enticing. Dominica told me that we are going to get burgers for lunch at the burger place that I found today. We are not in a hurry to wake up tomorrow. Our train does not leave from Gare de Lyon until after four in the afternoon, so we have a bit of time today. Our apartment does not need us to check out until three in the afternoon. We will be packing up in the morning and keeping our stuff in the apartment until it is time to go.

We have a direct train from Paris to Barcelona. The train is about six and a half hours. This will be a great chance to see a lot more of France. This trip is making us criss-cross the country in places we have never been. Which I am enjoying.

Barcelona is our final stop. Only one more city, one more apartment, no more car rentals, only one more travel day. This is it, the real final stretch. We will be home in the US in under a week.