Sightsee Paris by boat

View of Notre Dame from Paris Batobus Boat

I love taking the public transport and cycling when I travel.

I had the chance to take the boat on the Seine when I was in Paris. The Batobus (translated as boat-bus) was probably more for tourists than for local though.

Batobus Musee d'Orsay stop
Batobus Musee d’Orsay stop
Unknown stop
Unknown stop
Tickets for Batobus
Tickets for Batobus
Le dauphine boat
Le dauphine boat
Retirees in boats having a meal
Retirees in boats having a meal
Paris in summer on the Seine
Paris in summer on the Seine

On the Batobus

Stuffy
Stuffy

Since passengers sat in the boat under a glass cover, I felt like I was in an oven. Most of the passengers looked grumpy from the heat.

Route on Batobus
Route on Batobus
In the boat
In the boat
Notre dame de Paris from afar
Notre dame de Paris from afar
Notre dame de Paris
Notre dame de Paris

I didn’t get the chance to catch the sunset on the boat because the sun was setting around 9pm in Summer but I’ve seen photos of the lovely purple-orange sky.

Should you take the Batobus?

If you have time and a student card, the Batobus packages are quite worthwhile.

The boat is also good for shuttling you from each important site to another. Highly recommended.

Other Paris reads:

A walk among the dead in Montparnasse cemetery

Montparnasse cemetery, cross against a blue sky

[To increase the level of spook, check out My visit to the Empire of Death before this post.]

I didn’t plan for my third day in Paris to be full of death.

In the morning, I visited the Catacombs. When I was doing my travel research, one guidebook or another recommended Montparnasse cemetery where among the dead laid Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.

I do not know much about de Beauvoir, apart from her being a famous feminist and a on-and-off partner of Sartre. I learned fake existentialism from a French-teaching armadillo on the University of Austin Texas’s Web site.

I do not remember how I got to the cemetery. I might have taken the train to Rapsail stop, since Google Maps is telling me that it’s a 1.5km walk from the exit of the Catacombs.

Following my trusty portable map and some road signs, I reached the Montparnasse cemetery area. There was a high wall separating the dead and the living. I wish it was a short gate so I could have jumped over it and get finished with my itinerary.

Secret door of Montparnasse cemetery
Secret door of Montparnasse cemetery

There was a high wall separating the dead and the living. I wish it was a short gate so I could have jumped over it and get finished with my itinerary.

I walked the a long stretch of road to the gates. For someone who do not know what is behind the walls, the vine-covered bricks might mean a private garden lay behind. A garden of the dead.

Plaque about Cemetiere de Montparnasse
Plaque about Cemetiere de Montparnasse

When I did reach the gates, I studied the map of the cemetery. The map was too high up for me to take a good picture to use as a walking guide. Instead, I studied where de Beauvoir and Sartre laid and mentally mapped my way there.

Map of Montparnasse cemetery
Map of Montparnasse cemetery

Looking for de Beauvoir

It wasn’t that easy finding their graves. I was expecting something grand with wreaths decoration which was why I missed out the grave when I walked past it a few times.

The tombsone was a pale marble, hidden among the other gray grave markers. Craved on the tombstone in gold were the names of de Beauvoir and Sartre and their birth year and death year. (Is there such a thing as a “deathday”?)

Grave of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre
Grave of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre

Grave of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre
The tombstone was small, I had expected something flashier given how big they were when they were alive. There were a lot of souvenirs on the tombstone. If it weren’t for the seriousness of being in a graveyard, I might have laughed out loud at the gifts.
Souvenirs from fans of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre
Souvenirs from fans of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre

Souvenirs from fans of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre Love the family portrait
Souvenirs from fans of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre
Love the family portrait

I particularly like the drawing of de Beauvoir and Sartre. A few lines from a de Beauvoir admire were scribbled on a piece of paper, probably torn out of a journal bought especially for the trip to Paris. A train ticket stub. A withering flower.

I regret not buying a bunch of flowers near the gates of the catacombs although it’s a little silly since the dead would not be able to smell them.

I didn’t expect de Beauvoir and Sarte to share one grave, like they aresharing an apartment. I thought that they each had their own plot of land, instead, they laid next to (or even on top) of each other.

Knowing what had passed between them during their final years, I wonder if the people who buried them were too romantic and decided that they must be together even in death.

While looking at the grave, I was overcome by sadness and wiped a few tears. What does it mean to live and be famous when in the end, we all would die and end up buried in the ground.

A walk in the park

Road sign in the middle of Montparnasse cemetery
Road sign in the middle of Montparnasse cemetery

After contemplating life at the grave of de Beauvoir, I decided to walk about in the graveyard.
Cross in the sky
Cross in the sky

The graveyard was shady, and very much like a park or a garden. I sat down at one of the benches and regretted not buying a picnic. Come to think of it, I might have lost my journal in the graveyard. I guess that’s much more poetic than losing it in the public toilet.

There was a grave marker in Chinese but I do not know the history of the two people who laid inside.

Chinese grave at Montparnasse cemetery
Chinese grave

There was another lady in the graveyard that day. She was refilling her bottle at one of the taps. I was worried that she might be drinking non-potable water.

The cemetery ground was large. I didn’t find other famous people’s graves even though there are supposed to be more.

I did find some lovely graves.

Tombstones in Montparnasse
Tombstones in Montparnasse
Familles Daniel Meyer et Ernest SAMUEL
Familles Daniel Meyer et Ernest SAMUEL

Graves in Montparnasse
Graves in Montparnasse

Yes, really large.
Cordoned tower of Montparnasse cemetery
Cordoned tower

Family grave
Family grave at Montparnasse cemetery
Grave with leaves
Grave with leaves
Statue of sad lovers
Statue of sad lovers at Montparnasse cemetery
Obelisk
Obelisk at Montparnasse cemetery
Fresh flowers
Fresh flowers at Montparnasse cemetery
Tombstones at Montparnasse cemetery
Tombstones at Montparnasse cemetery

I was surprised to see an apartment next to the graveyard. Being raised in a Chinese culture, any accommodation next to a graveyard means “bad things will happen”.

But Montparnasse didn’t look that much like a graveyard, so I suppose not much bad things will happen.

Bad feng shui?
Bad feng shui?

Do you have a favorite cemetery?

Follow me on Twitter or share a thumbs up on Facebook.

Hidden treasures on the road: Second hand bookstores

I know books don’t make the best souvenirs:

Little Prince, Beauvoir
Little Prince, Beauvoir

Despite that, I always feel a sense of euphoria when I stumble upon second hand bookshops overseas.

The musty smell of the shop, the yellowing pages and the cheap price of books give me more thrill than shopping for clothes unless the garments are second hand and cheap.

Here are a few of the hidden treasures I’ve found during my travels:

BOOK OFF, Japan

BOOK OFF, Tokyo
BOOK OFF, Tokyo

BOOK OFF is one of Japan’s second hand book store chain. I was introduced to it by my host family in Fukuoka. At the end of my summer school, I sent home a heavy box of Japanese manga.

Popular manga usually go for 200 yen for a book while older manga are 100 yen. Foreign language books are not cheap though.

When I visit Japan (which is not often), I always have my eyes peeled for a branch of BOOK OFF on the streets. (There’s even some BOOK OFFs in Paris, if you are ever there.) When I see a BOOK OFF, I can’t help popping in to see their collection.

During my last trip to Japan, I had a free day waiting for the evening to come so I could go to Gintama Land. I found a BOOK OFF on the second floor of a building and spent hours in the shop, thumbing through comics.

Books in BOOK OFF are always in pristine condition. They look even better than most of the books on my shelf back home.

The Japanese usually read books stores while standing (it even has its own phrase “tachiyomi“). On weekends, it’s quite a sight to see everyone standing, reading while facing the bookshelves.

Bouquinerie du Centre, Nantes

Bouquinerie du Centre, Nantes
Bouquinerie du Centre, Nantes

I was looking for a place to have lunch in the center of Nantes when I came across a second hand bookstore “Bouquinerie du Centre”.

The selection wasn’t a lot but it had titles which weren’t easily available in Singapore.

Trying to look smart, I picked up a few Simone de Beauvoir’s books which looked easy enough to be read. Le deuxième sexe wasn’t available, unfortunately.

But I must confess that the books are still in the suitcase since my move to my new rented room in August 2011.

Adobe Bookshop, San Francisco

Adobe Bookshop, San Francisco
Adobe Bookshop, San Francisco

While in the Mission District looking for lunch (again!), I found Adobe Bookshop. The shop was in a state of orderly mess with stacks of books arranged alphabetically according to author and genre.

I browsed the rows and rows of books, squeezing through bookshelves and found a man snoozing in one of the armchairs.

While I was looking for something to buy back home, a man came into the shop. He said he accidentally bought the same book and asked if he could exchange it for another. The shopowner agreed.

The old gentleman came to my aisle and was looking up and down for the author’s row. When he asked me if I knew where the author’s book was, I helped him in his search. We found it.

He then asked if I had my lunch as he was going to grab a bite. Although he didn’t feel threatening, I pretended that I just ate because I don’t think I should go around having lunch with strangers I’ve just met, even if it was in a book store.

Bridget Jones
Bridget Jones

While browsing, I overheard the shopowner telling a customer that the shop will be closing down as the landlord wanted to increase the price of the rent. I looked at the price of the books and wondered how the shop manage to stay open in the first place.

When I paid for my books, the shopowner asked if I was from overseas. I answered, “Singapore”. He then said that he was collecting foreign currency and if I had any money from Singapore to exchange with one of the foreign money in the plate.

I did have a S$2 note and I chose a pre-Euro coin from France. I said my thanks and left with my books.

I think the shop would have closed down by now. I feel sad.

This post was inspired by this week’s #Travel Talk on Twitter (#TTOT): Hidden treasures.

Have you stumbled upon hidden treasures when travelling? What was it?

Follow me on Twitter or share a thumbs up on Facebook.

My visit to the Empire of Death

Warning.

This post contains some disturbing images. If you are not comfortable with looking at bones (and one rather creepy photo of a photo of skeletal remains), please stop here.

Thank you

Today is October the 31st Halloween so I thought it would be appropriate to have a spooky post to mark the occasion.

In case you’ve missed it, we in the Chinese world have a Ghost Month which does not involve dressing up in costume.

The Empire of Death in my blog post title refers to the inscription before the real entrance to the Catacombs of Paris.

Stop! This is the Empire of Death
Stop! This is the Empire of Death

When I was planning my May 2011 trip to Paris, the Catacombs was on the top of my list, right below the Lourve and the Eiffel Tower.

I first knew about the underground ossuary [Definition: A container or room into which the bones of dead people are placed.] from TV.

The Catacombs was shown on the rather unscary Scariest Places on Earth, hosted by Linda Blair who played the kid in The Exorcist. I was fascinated by the number of beautifully arranged human skulls.

By the way, I don’t think I’ve shared this, but I am a lover of anything spooky. New Orleans, I will visit you one day for your creepy plantations.

I started queuing up before 10 a.m. so I could finish the walk through the Catacombs early and visit the rest of Paris. There was a short queue when I reached.

Entrance to the Catacombs
Entrance to the Catacombs

It took a while before I was admitted into the tiny room selling tickets. With more body language than my broken French, I asked for a ticket and an audio guide.

I recommend getting the audio guide, or else you will be left with walking past graffiti and skulls without knowing what on earth is happening. (Not much is happening, by the way.)

The audio guides also make the visit seem more like a video game. Looking for the next audio point is like trying to find the treasure chest in old Chinese RPG games.

Ticket room to the Catacombs of Paris
Ticket room to the Catacombs of Paris

There are a few exhibition areas in the tunnel, telling the history of the Catacombs. One of it featured this rather scary photo of skeletal remains.

OK, this is rather creepy
OK, this is rather creepy

Be prepared to walk, a lot

Before going to the Catacombs, you should know that there is a lot of walking involved.

Walking up the stairs,

Catacombs of Paris
Light at the end of the tunnel

Walking down the stairs,

Well well well...
Well well well…

Walking in puddles.

Catacombs when it's wet
Catacombs when it’s wet

Walking in low roof areas.

Watch your head
Watch your head

Walking in the semi dark and so on.

There are no toilets in the passage so do your business before heading in.

As the tunnels are built underground, there are signs showing which part of the streets you are at.

Underneath Rue Hallé
Underneath Rue Hallé

The catacombs was not built in one day and neither is Rome, so I heard. But the tunnels were not built to keep human bones and was partly an old mine.

On parts of the walls, you can find carvings of years when that particular part was built.

Established since 1781
Established since 1781

Entering the Empire of Death

Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The real part of the ossuary comes after the long walk. You’re not supposed to take flash pictures inside but so many tourists were happily flash snapping away. Grits teeth.
Not to do list
Not to do list

Behind the walls of skulls are piled up bones which reminds me of the bones song: “The thigh bones connected to the hip bone.”
Interesting patterns, who thinks them up?
Interesting pattern, who thinks them up?

Catacombs of Paris
Skulls and thigh bones
Curved wall with skulls
Curved wall with skulls
Great interior design
Great interior design

Poetic Death

There were a lot of poetic inscriptions.

My favorite was this:

Where is Death?
Where is Death?

“Where is Death? Always in the future or the past.
And when she is present, she is no longer here.”
(The “she” being Death.)

My second favorite:

At the banquet of life
At the banquet of life

“At the banquet of life, unlucky guest,
I appeared one day, and I die:
I die, and on my grave, where I come slowly,
No one will shed tears!”

 Blessed is he who
Blessed is he who

“Blessed is he who keeps the hour of death in sight,
and who spends his days ready to die.”

O death
O death

“O death that your judgment is filled with fairness” (Help with translating this, please.)

Not quite poetic
Not quite poetic

Great walk

YQ at Catacombs of Paris
Happy camper!

I like the Catacombs a lot. The tunnels did not feel creepy since the bones are arranged beautifully.

It makes Death seem less scary.

But I am sort of disappointed that I didn’t feel any paranormal vibes. Maybe next time!

Visiting information
Catacombs of Paris (Catacombes de Paris)
Web site: http://www.catacombes-de-paris.fr/english.htm
Nearest subway and RER: Denfert-Rochereau
Open from 10a.m. to 5p.m. (Closed on Mondays)

Interesting sites nearby: Montparnasse Cemetery

Follow me on Twitter or share a thumbs up on Facebook.

#FoodFri A picnic in castle grounds @ Fontainebleau, France

How’s everyone’s week been? Mine was busy covering an annually tradeshow. Luckily, they keep us journalists pretty well-fed in the press hall so I’m a happy camper.

Today’s #FoodFri is a picnic lunch I had in the grounds of Fontainebleu Castel in France. As you can see, it’s not quite as scandalous as Manet’s <<Le déjeuner sur l’herbe>> but it was a peaceful lunch.

I bought the supplies from the Monoprix near the castle after I dropped off at two bus stops too far from my destination. I decided that I did not want to stress myself with ordering lunch en Francais so I bought couscous, chicken, yogurt and H20.

Being cold, pre-cooked food, it wasn’t the best tasting dish I’ve had in France but I’ve had a worse meal (instant noodles I brought from Singapore.) Sacrebleu!

I found a quiet spot overlooking the castle grounds.

Not far away, a kindergarten group was having their lunch.

I decided to skip Versailles and go to Fountainebleu because I know that if I ever come back to France with other people, I would be dragged to see the Sun King’s palace. Napoleon had stayed in this castle and there was an exhibition of his things in the castle.

#FoodFri, short for Food Friday, is a weekly post where I feature a dish I’ve had while travelling or a dish you should try when you come to Singapore.

Other French eats

Can art be a crime? #freestickerlady

On Tuesday, reports about the Singapore police arresting a 25-year-old “vandal” trended on Twitter and my Facebook wall. I’m not sure what the exact cause of arrest was, I think she was taken in for spray painting “MY GRANDFATHER BUILDING” on a pristine white wall and “MY GRANDFATHER ROAD” on a pristine gray asphalt.

Her works can be seen on Tumblr.

Besides spray painting, she was believed to have pasted stickers at on top of the button of pedestrian crossing lights. I find the stickers whimsical, something Zooey Deschanel would do after she checks the directions with Siri:

in Singapore

According to the Singapore Vandalism Act, enacted in 1966, those who are found guilty of vandalism “shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years, and shall also, subject to sections 325(1) and 330(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code 2010, be punished with caning with not less than 3 strokes and not more than 8 strokes”. (TL;DR version.)

It’s strange that we’re still using a law enacted in 1966 for the arrest. Back then, gloves were still a hit among the ladies.

Street art overseas

Discussing this with D, she said the point of argument should focus on “how art cannot be a crime?”

I remember being impressed by graffiti during my travels so I scoured my photo collection for some street art/acts of vandalism.

In Nantes, this caught my attention because of Darth Vader and Little Miss Vadar.

in Nantes

Make love, not arrests.

in Barcelona

The city of Yogyakarta is famous for its graffiti.

in Yogyakarta
in Yogyakarta

The Mission in San Francisco is famous for its murals. There’s even an app for that.

in San Francisco
in San Francisco

I suspect the graffiti in KL were city-sanctioned and even sponsored by a paint company.

in KL

I hope Sticker Lady would be given a lighter sentence instead of prison time.

City of Lights, Day 15 of 30 Days of Indie Travel Project

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower

Parisian cliché

Saying your favorite city is Paris has become a cliché, especially for jaded young Singaporeans who already have traipsed across Europe right after their university graduation. They’ll likely tell you that while their favorite European city is Stockholm, there’s no place like home where the transport system and the government works.

(On another note, Tokyo is slowly becoming another cliché but the people here still do not think of it yet because they like sushi and J-pop so much.)

Despite what they say, my favorite city is still Paris.

Continue reading “City of Lights, Day 15 of 30 Days of Indie Travel Project”

Picnic by the Seine

My first meal in Paris was a picnic by the Seine. In the piercing early-summer sun, overlooking the Notre Dame de Paris.

Img_1435

Here’s my unfortunate choice of not too French food. :(

Img_1434

A short entry about my first day in the City of Lights.

This entry is part of BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel project. Day 11: Feast.

88

The rest of my posts for the project can be found here.