PARIS, FRANCE — There’s only one place in the world where you can start the day sifting through underground caverns stuffed with 20,000 human skeletons and end it with a wedding proposal under the gaze of one of the most famous cathedrals in the world. Here’s a hint: it’s not DeMoines.
After 5 1/2 years of adventures, I wanted to ask Molly to marry me and I needed a place we loved to do it.
What better place, I thought, than a sunny day on Seine, with the church bells of Notre Dame singing through the city and the first buds of the Linden trees peeking out along the canals.
A bottle of Champagne popped and then the question followed. Poor Molly almost choked on her bubbly before saying yes. No fanfare, no fireworks, but a simple, honest beginning to what will be a lifetime of memories. It was the only way we could do it… our way.
Ceremonies out of the way, we still had exploring to do! In fact, earlier that morning, we had visited about the complete opposite of a romantic sight: the Catacombs of Paris. Buried about 30 meters below some of the city’s most luxurious boulevards are some 40km of tunnels, caverns and crypts.
By winding down 167 stairs, you can reach the roughly 2km of tunnels that are open to the public–a truly eerie but utterly intriguing place in history. In the crypts themselves you find the neatly (almost artistically) arranged bones and skulls of thousands of deceased Parisians that were moved here in the 18th and 19th century. It’s a strange sight, the amount of death. But beautiful in a way, as all the skeletons are lovingly arranged based upon the cemetery and Arrondisement they originally came from.
Why they are here is a major reason whey Paris stands today. In the days of less-than-hygienic burial practices, dead bodies caused outbreaks of pestilence and disease that slashed the city’s population. In the 18th century, the city commissioners got wise and started a mass migration of these bodies into the crypts, where they were safely away from the living population.
Today, visitors come a few hundred at a time and wind their way through one of the most unique sites in the modern world.
Hungry for life–or steak tartare–the next stop was at the famous La Closerie des Lilas, one of Hemingway’s favorite hangouts along the Boulevard St. Germain. A crisp white and a plate of the richest tartare ever was enough to wash away the images of eternal life and focus on one perfect moment.
The next day is was back to culture as I finally made the trip to the Louvre after so many trips to Paris. Wandering along the oh-so-many halls of beautiful works gave us the fitting end to a quick–but unforgettable trip–to the City of Lights.
It’s a small but important symbol of our lives together and our lives abroad. From grotesque explorations to nearly sublime tastes and sights–travel is the reason that we keep moving forward, keep improving ourselves and keep looking forward to tomorrow.