On our recent trip to Paris, my daughter and I filled Sunday with a variety of activities. It was our first full day in the city on this trip, but since we had both been there before, we had some favorite places we wanted to visit. We also had a couple of new places on the agenda.
One of our favorite things to do on Sunday mornings is to attend services at St. Sulpice Cathedral. We have visited several times, attending the Sunday morning service and then staying for the organ concert that follows the service.
The church organ was installed in 1862 and has been played by many well-known organists throughout the years. Since 1985, senior organist, Daniel Roth and assistant, Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin, have graced the services with their talents. After the morning services, the organist that played for the services stays longer to play a 20-30 minute organ concert. I have a clip of the music in this post.
When we visited in 2012, my daughter and I were able to climb the stairs to the organ loft and watch as the organ was played for the second service. (This opportunity is no longer available).
Although I’ve walked around the church several times, I’ve never had a formal tour. Just after the organ music ended this time, a “free English tour” was announced. I didn’t know they offered tours. We were told that they usually happen on the first Sunday of the month, but there had been a conflict the week before, so the tour was held on the second Sunday.
The tour was interesting. Our knowledgeable guide talked about the history of the cathedral. He explained highlights in the architecture and showed us the church’s most famous works of art. The tour lasted about an hour and included time for questions throughout. I would recommend taking the tour if you are there on the right week.
The weather wasn’t great in the morning, so we had decided not to have a picnic lunch. There are several cafés near the church, but since it was late by the time we finished the service and then the tour, the lunch hours were finished. The weather had cleared so we went back to our original plan, and bought a picnic lunch at the nearby Marks and Spencer grocery store.
We walked a couple blocks to the Luxembourg Gardens where we found a bench to enjoy our picnic. While we ate, we watched cute French children play in the sand.
After lunch, we walked to the iconic pond to watch other children sail the toy boats. Later, we found some shade where we sat and did some people-watching.
Construction on the Luxembourg Palace and Gardens began in 1612 by order of Marie de Medici. The gardens cover nearly 60 acres – a welcome green space in the large city. The first time I visited the gardens, there were only a handful of people there (I think it was a weekday). This time, visiting on a Sunday, we found hundreds of people. Even so, the large park did not seem over-crowded.
Later in the afternoon we made our way to the entrance of the catacombs. As many times as I had been in Paris, this was a new adventure for me. When I first visited the city, I didn’t have any interest in seeing skulls and bones. As time went on, I had heard from several people how interesting it was. When my daughter expressed her interest in seeing the catacombs, I agreed it was time.
We did not buy tickets ahead of time – I couldn’t imagine there would be a long line in October. I was wrong. We waited in line for an hour before finally entering. It was probably busier since it was a weekend day, but I was still surprised.
As we waited, my daughter walked to the nearby train station to try to find internet and purchase tickets online – she’s done that before. The line for ticketed visitors was very short. Unfortunately, the online tickets are much more expensive than the regular tickets. If you purchase your ticket on-site it is €14 per person. The online ticket is €29 per person, but includes a free audio-guide. All the exhibits are clearly labeled and fully explained so the audio-guide is probably unnecessary. With both tickets, there are discounts for children.
As our self-guided tour started, we walked down the stairs, deep into the ground. Signs at the first areas explained that the underground tunnels and open places were originally underground rock quarries. Then, we learned about when and why the skulls and bones were moved underground. Finally, we were invited to walk through a maze of tunnels lined with the bones.
The tunnels were a bit musty smelling, but there was no other smell. The bones that are still in large pieces are piled to make a wall with alternating layers of bones and skulls. Behind the wall, smaller pieces of bones are stored. I’m glad I visited, although I doubt I’ll visit again.
New Friends and Chocolate Mousse
As soon as we left the catacombs, we quickly made our way to Chez Janou, a restaurant we had discovered on an earlier trip. We had made a reservation, but were running late. When we arrived – 20 to 30 minutes late – we found the maître d’ had crossed out our name since we were not there. Thankfully, he was able to seat us, even though the restaurant was full.
The tables in the restaurant are close together, so it is easy to get to know the people at the next table. We met two different couples – the first was there when we sat down and when they left, another couple came to take their place. Both couples were friendly, but we especially enjoyed getting to know the second couple. They were visiting Paris from Israel – we exchanged contact information so we can look them up if/when we visit Israel.
One of the reasons we are drawn to Chez Janou is the promise of chocolate mousse for dessert. All of the food is delicious, but the mousse is amazing! Dark, rich, creamy chocolate! The mousse is served “all you can eat,” with a large pot brought to the table.
It was the perfect ending to our meal and our day.