Walking in Paris is so different from walking in NYC. In New York, you’re walking on a grid (which was recently written about here in a great article from the New York Times). I know the NYC grid like the back of my hand. Whenever I need to go somewhere, it takes me just a few moments to orient myself and I’m off in the right direction, easily catching a subway or bus that run strictly up and down or side to side. In Paris, no street is alike. Some wander left, some right, very few are parallel to each other and the countless roundabouts allow for 4, 5 or even 6 roads to all intervene at one spot. The pandemonium of cars at these traffic junctures, in my mind, is one of the most amazing feats of man – to drive in a roundabout where there appear to be no lane markers, yet somehow cars coming in from 8 directions somehow know what to do. Most of the time that is 😉
Obviously I’ve only been here a few days, so everything is new, but there is just something about these streets that leaves the streets of NYC trailing far behind. I love it! It’s so easy to get lost and just wander the main roads and back alleys for hours without ever setting foot in the same place twice. I would definitely consider myself a Baudelairian flaneur. From a paper I wrote sophomore year on what Walter Benjamin had to say about the flaneur, “Benjamin invites the reader to wander the streets of nineteenth century Paris, similar to the way a flâneur might, by discovering the historical, psychological and literary elements that gave the flâneurs so much pleasure during their strolls.”
On one afternoon of wandering the other day, I found myself in front of Rue du Panthéon, right next to, you guessed it, Le Panthéon. On my previous trip to Paris in high school I thought we had hit up practically every single major tourist attraction in the city, but apparently a stop at the Panthéon did not make it onto the itinerary.
At first I was hesitant to pay the entrance fee, as everything in Paris seems expensive to me, but decided I had nothing better to do, so went on in. I serisouly had no idea what this place even was, although it looked mighty grand, like a former palace from the outside. It was well worth the 5 euros, as the inside was pretty magnificent. On another note, it always pays to carry some form of ID around that proves you are under 25, as there are tons of discounts if you know where to look!
What I learned from my visit was that Le Panthéon was originally a church dedicated to St. Genevive that was constructed in the 18th century, right around the time of the French Revolution, but it has since turned into a secular mausoleum where the remains of many famous Frenchmen and women can now be found. The inside is really quite stunning. The huge vaulted domes show off beautiful frescos showcased throughout the cathedral.
Down below in the crypts is the most exciting. I saw the crypts of Voltaire and Rousseau, as well as Victor Hugo and Pierre and Marie Curie. It feels like you are in the underworld of Paris. You’re in a completely stone room that is full of the remains of dead people. A little scary in retrospect, but equally amazing when you realize who the people are who are entombed around you. I’m really glad I went and can now tick off one more historical landmark that I can say I have visited in Paris.
I decided I’d try this nifty little gallery feature to fit more pictures into one post. What do you think?