Chatting over Petit-dejeuner
Warm Pain au Chocolat, fresh from the patisserie across the street - yum!
Dead people. Lots of them. That was our Paris mission for this morning.
We decided that a tour of the Paris catacombs might be fun, as Hugo was a bit little the last time we were here. After a quick but delicious breakfast in our lovely little apartment, we were on our way. Well, sort of.
A slight bike lock key issue delayed us (it had fallen out of the lock somewhere on our travels yesterday), so we were an hour or so later than we'd hoped to be as we power-pedalled the 4km or so up the Boulevard St Michel. Luckily Bike-About had a spare key. When we reached the big circle at Place Denfert-Rochereau, it wasn't hard to work out where the entrance to the Catacombs was. Unfortunately, all the reports about the queues at the catacombs were true. A large line snaked it's way all around the gardens surrounding the entrance. We hopped on the end of it, and decided to make the best of the situation by eating the morning tea we had brought and chatting to the young English couple behind us. The Americans in front of us decided to book a "Skip the
line" tour online, and were soon off. Tempting. Two hours later, we were in, and the kids had enjoyed playing with Hugo's ball in the park and running around while we kept our spot in the line.
The bones and skulls were arranged in all sorts of artistic ways in some places, and stacked haphazardly in others. For a minute, I didn't realise what I was looking at. Literally thousands of bones had been moved from cemeteries all over Paris to the old quarry. Apparently, most of the buildings in Paris were built from the stone lying in the ground under it's streets! Unfortunately the quarry wasn't all that well reinforced at first, and a whole street, complete with it's houses and families, collapsed 300 feet back into the ground at one stage. Anyway, they fixed that, a bit too late for the people that had been in the houses as they sank though. Hundreds of years later, priests led processions through the streets of Paris every day for years as they moved bodies from the cemeteries to the catacombs in an attempt to stop the spread of disease. The aspect of the catacombs I hadn't expected to learn
Sorting out the Velib
We are a highly oiled machine! Isabel plugs in the numbers, Frank releases the bikes, I check tyres and seats for defects, Hugo waits with the bikes.
so much about was the geology - but the sense of mystery and romance you get from the many stories on the audio tour was also fun. Apparently death was very fashionable in the late 1800's and early 1900's!
My favourite story was the tale of a secret party that happened at midnight. Invitations requested that carriages didn't stop at the entrance so as not to arouse curiosity of passers-by. A grand piano and 45 piece orchestra
played appropriate music for the guests, including various funereal marches, and then an expert in phrenology gave a lecture! How they managed to get the grand piano down there, I'll never know.
We walked several kilometres underground before climbing some stairs quite a way from where we came in to emerge into the light.
After another bike dash to Mme Dulac's apartment where we'd stored our luggage, and a quick good-bye, we were off to the airport again to pick up our new Peugot - our mode of transport for the next 6 weeks or so. The absolutely ancient taxi driver did not speak a word of English, but thanks to Isabel's recent French lesson at school on directions, she
Our car for the next 6 weeks or so!
Brand spanking new. 8km on the clock.
was able to communicate quite effectively using pretty much only "Turn right", "Turn left", and "Go back!". Many smiles and a handshake later, we said "Good-bye" to taxis and "Hello" to driving on the wrong side of the road.
We were pleased to see the car - it is brand new and sparkling with lots of 'New car smell'! Frank did well changing the gears with his right hand again, but did confess to being slightly nervous as we negotiated our way out of Paris on the freeway. We were headed to Fresnes-Mazancourt, which is a short drive from Villers-Bretonneux and the Australian War Memorial.
Luckily it was not a long drive at all to Fresnes-Mazancourt as it rained quite hard on the way. As we pulled into the quiet little hamlet, past the chateau with it's orchards and fields, we were thrilled with how pretty it was. It's too small for a shop and the nearest restaurant is a drive away, but it is a lovely spot. The children's room connected with ours, and between us there were 2 bathrooms, one with a lovely free-standing bath. Everything was spotless, but the nicest part was the garden, with
Here we are, Fresnes-Mazancourt
The view from the back yard at Maison Warlop
a beautiful view of the church and the most wonderful honey-like fragrance which Martine, the owner, told us was coming from a tree in full blossom. Everything from peonies to poppies was blooming, and there were little orchids sprouting up in the long grass near the back lawn. Isabel set about taking photos of most of the flowers, so as I reviewed what was on the camera from today it reinforced just how many there were. I've only included a small selection!
We had arranged for Martine to cook dinner for us, so there was no need to hop in the car again tonight, we just freshened up and enjoyed a beautiful 4-course meal - all included in the very reasonable cost of our stay. For the first time ever, Hugo asked if he could be excused before dessert so that he could go to sleep, and Isabel wasn't far behind.
A lovely couple (from Melbourne!), Vicky and Neil, had left us a bottle of Pedro Ximinez that they had brought with them from Spain, as we had discovered while chatting a mutual love of Frank Camorra's cooking. This led to a discussion about where we were heading,
and the loan of his book about Barcelona and it's food, and then on to our love of good Spanish sherry! As luck would have it, they returned from their dinner at a restaurant in time to share it with us. It was a lovely evening, and they told some stories about their time in Spain as well as passing on some safety tips! Martine sat with us for a while, and we learned that she is an agricultural engineer, but I think her real talent was art. As I admired a particularly beautiful pen and ink drawing of a house, she told me it was the house in Northern France that she had grown up in - and that she had drawn it. It explained the lovely arrangements of objects everywhere, and the profusion of beautiful artwork and antiques in the quite modern house.
As I get ready for to bed I am thinking it was all so lovely I am tempted to stay longer, but tomorrow we head off to see the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux and then to Giverny - and I still have to find us somewhere to sleep!
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