Contrary to international opinion and claim, I personally have never been inspired to photograph Paris. Maybe because it hosts many of the most over-photographed visitor icons in the world, or maybe because I associate it with endless days and weeks in hotels out by the airport. Either way, on the vast majority of trips into the city over the past few years, I have never come away with shots I have wanted to publish or print.
We have all the guide books now, but even the Lonely Planet is struggling to take me to that special place where I waste away hours on end photographing the same scene until I am happy. But one of my resolutions this year is to keep my camera with me when ever I can. I have a new bag, a small case really, that fits the Nikon D700 with my treasured (and exceptionally versatile) Nikon 24-120mm f4 VR as well as sneaking in the 50mm f1.8 prime in the bottom. This means I can pretty much cover anything that comes along, assuming it doesn't require flash or a tripod.
So this weekend we vowed to be tourists. Despite Laura seeing 9 years living in Paris, and myself spending the last 5 years here on and off for work and days off. Armed with the Lonely Planet, a map, camera and a rough plan, we set off into the city for the day.
The plan for the day was to head for the somewhat lesser known sites. The Catacombs, China Town and a trip up the Montparnasse Tower. We managed 2 out of 3. (The latter demanding €14.50 each for the trip up to the top of a tall building. €29 for a ride in a lift to look out the window? No thanks. Maybe, and only maybe, on a stunning summers evening with a prize winning sunset over the city skyline). Rant over, as the Catacombs were fantastic:
The Paris Catacombs:
Avenue du Colonel. 75014. Paris. Metro line 4 and line 6, also (the lovely) RER line B. Open 10am-5pm daily at €8 per person. Its a 2km walk underground, so all-in-all well worth your money. We had to queue a bit, as visitors are limited to 200 underground at any one time.
A welcome escape from the heat of summer, as its 14degC down there, but also you'll need to climb 83 steps back up after you have taken the 130 steps down! (The exit is 2km away from the entrance, it is NOT a return tour. So make sure you don't leave anyone waiting for you!)
The catacombs are a maze of old quarries under the streets of the ancient city, limestone from which was used to build the very buildings which sit on top of it. Including the mighty Notre Dame Cathedral. Then, in 1780, the 'Cimetiere des Saints-Innocents', the then largest cemetery in Paris was declared unfit for public health. And closed down. The obvious and glaring problem, was what to do with all the human bones? Well, someone had the idea of collecting them all up and making neat piles and patterns underground in the old quarries of course! Quite literally, hundreds of meters of stacks of bones and skulls creatively arranged in heart and cross shapes. Surreal being the ultimate understatement here.
The Port-Mahon Corridor:
I had heard about the thousands of skulls and bones buried below the streets of Paris, but this part was of particular surprise. After hundreds of metres of narrow passageways, you emerge upon this incredible underground sculpture. It is the creation of one of the quarry men, named 'Decure', who was held prisoner (by the English) in the fortress of 'Port-Mahon' on Menorca, one of the stunning Balearic Islands. It is said that he sculpted the Fortress from the bed rock underground from memory. Incredible.
China Town for Lunch:
Since recently returning from an incredible trip around Burma (Myanmar), we were both missing our Asian adventure. But with Paris on our doorstep, it was of course possible with a trip to China Town. Add in an lust for Asian food and it turns into a culinary delight.
Wandering the shops of China Town, in the Southern-Paris, Montparnasse region of the city in search of a 'proper' Chinese tea pot. After reaching somewhat of an addiction to Green Tea after our Asian adventure. I had spotted one I liked a few months back in Turin, but with a price-tag of €50 the shop kept it. The supermarkets of China Town had the real-deal for a tenner.
Not a Chinese take-away, but a Chinese eat-in. I like the Chinese system, you pay for your food according to the quantity that you chose (according to weight). Eyes bigger than your belly? Well, now you will have to pay for that... literally. Far removed from the tourist hotspots of the Champs-Elysees and Tour Eiffel, we really did feel like we were in another city. Even better, I felt like I was actually travelling! And what's this? A hint of photographic inspiration? In Paris? At last!
A selection of a few of my favourite shots this week in Paris:
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