Author Archives: crystalburney

The bones of Paris

For many, Paris, the ‘city of love,’ conjures images of romance, architecture and art. But once you’ve had your fill of the Mona Lisa and sipping champagne beneath the Eiffel Tower, a different side of Paris awaits. For this, you need to head down – about 20 metres below the city streets, where the catacombs wait.  20160826_170912

Located across the street from the Denfert-Rochereau station, is the entrance to the Catacombs of Paris. Here in the underground ossuaries lie the remains of more than six million people. The bones are laid in a small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris’ ancient stone mines.

During the late 1700’s, many of the city’s cemeteries had reached capacity. Some, including the Saints-Innocents (Cemetery of the Innocents) had gone beyond capacity. Here, people were buried in mass graves, piled one on top of the other until it became a source of infection for those nearby.  In late 1785, the Council of the State closed the cemetery and decided to remove its contents.

This transfer began in 1786 after the blessing and consecration of the site and continued until 1788. The moving of remains took place at nightfall,  where a procession of priests sang the service for the dead along the route taken by the carts loaded with bones and covered by a black veil.

Until 1814, this site received the remains from all the cemeteries of Paris.

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Since their creation, the Catacombs of Paris became a curiosity for more privileged Parisians. Public visits began after its renovation into a proper ossuary and the 1814 – 1815 war.

In the beginning, visits were only granted a few times a year with the permission of an authorized mine inspector. This turned into permission from any mine overseer, but as the number of visitors grew, it returned to its “permission only” rule in 1830.  Then, in 1833, they were closed completely as the Church opposed the public being exposed to human remains on display.  By 1850, the Catacombs were once again open, but only for four visits a year. Public demand led to the government allowing monthly visits as of 1867. This turned into bi-weekly visits on the first and third Saturday of each month in 1874 and then weekly visits during the 1878, 1889 and 1900 World’s Fair Expositions.

Today, they are open for daily visits, so head over and spend an hour wandering through the 2kms of bone-filled tunnels below the streets of Paris!

Plan your tour

The Catacombs are open daily from 10am-8:30pm (except Mondays and holidays)

Admission is granted in time slots, with the last admission at 7:30pm

Located across the street from Denfert-Rochereau Station
Métro et RER B : Denfert-Rochereau
Bus : 38, 68
Parking : Boulevard Saint-Jacques

Visitor numbers are restricted to 200 at any time. Admission may be delayed for a short time during busy periods. Be prepared to wait. (We did for almost 2 hours).
Distance covered: 1.5 km
Duration of the tour: 45 minutes
No toilet or cloakroom facilities available

For more info, click here

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St. John’s by land and sea

Newfoundland was the only province I hadn’t been to, so for Canada’s 150th, I figured it was time to visit the last province to join Canada.

With only a couple of days, I spent my time in St. John’s trying to see as much of the city as I could!  After getting screeched-in, exploring Quidi Vidi, visiting the two local craft breweries and wandering around enjoying the colourful “Jelly Bean” houses, I had checked a lot of ‘must-do’s’ off my list.

Two remaining were visiting Signal Hill and taking a boat ride out into the Atlantic Ocean in search of whales.

Signal Hill

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Signal Hill is one of the most famous landmarks in St. John’s. It’s part of the capital’s historic past, offering a beautiful view of St. John’s and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as great hiking trails along the coastline.

Signal Hill is significant as it was the site of St. John’s harbour defences from the 17th century to the Second World War as well as being the birthplace of modern communications. It was here that Guglielmo Marconi received the world’s first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901. It’s a good hike up the hill, so be sure to have proper footwear. Part way up is a visitor’s centre, which this year hosted a huge Canada 150 sign to pose with.

There was also a statue of the mascots- a Newfoundland and a Labrador dog!Newfoundland & Labrador dogs

The view from the top was great. On one side, you could look back over St. John’s harbour and from the other, straight out for miles into the Atlantic Ocean.

You could also see where it narrows into the harbour, with Fort Amherst Lighthouse standing guard at the entrance.Looking down at Fort Amherst

At the top, you could climb up Cabot Tower, which was built as a monument to John Cabot’s 1497 voyage to North America and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.   Cabot Tower    Throughout the tower, as you made your way to each level up steep, winding stairs, you could read all about the history of the tower, the history of communications, and the historic first transatlantic signal that happened right here. The view from the top of the tower was even more incredible.

I made my way back down and continued to wander around Signal Hill. As I was at the top, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean, a thick fog started to roll in until you could barely see 10 feet in front of you.

I decided not to head out on all the hiking trails since the beautiful view had vanished. Instead, I made my way down to the harbour to catch a boat ride out into the Atlantic.

Iceberg QuestIt was the wrong time of year for icebergs, but I took an ocean cruise with Iceberg Quest, hoping to find some whales. We set out of St. John’s harbour in the thick fog, which didn’t seem to want to let up. Our guide told us all about what we would have been seeing if the fog wasn’t blocking our view, and we made our way out of the harbour into the Atlantic Ocean.

We couldn’t see much, but had an enjoyable cruise listening to Great Big Sea. Just as we were heading past the sea caves on our way to Cape Spear, the fog began to lift!

We passed by the famous lighthouse on Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America.

(Another spot I missed visiting on this trip, but seeing it was still cool!)

Puffin flyingWe saw tons of puffins flying and swimming around, but sadly no whales on this trip.

By the time we were on our way back, the fog had lifted and you could see the mouth of the harbour,  Fort Amherst from the water and all the colourful houses greeted you as you entered St. John’s harbour.

While I may have checked out most of my ‘must-do’s’ in St. John’s on this short trip, I quickly added many more and realized I’d just have to come back to this beautiful province for more exploring soon!

 

 

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Picturesque Quidi Vidi

Picturesque Quidi Vidi Harbour

Not far from downtown St. John’s is the picturesque village of Quidi Vidi. A historic fishing village located in Quidi Vidi Harbour, also known as the Gut, it’s just off Quidi Vidi Lake, where the annual St. John’s Regatta takes place.

Quidi Vidi, NewfoundlandPronunciation seems to vary, even amongst those who have lived there all their lives, but the most common is “Kiddy Viddy.”

The village of Quidi Vidi was used after World War II for the construction of the United States’ Air Force Base.  Today, it’s a great spot to go for a hike around the lake, check out artisans at the Quidi Vidi Village Plantation and walk around the harbour to Quidi Vidi Brewery. After a tour, you can sit out back by the water and catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean from inside the Gut.

Quidi Vidi Brewing

Quidi Vidi Brewery offers tours and tastings. For $10, you can learn the history of the brewery and the beers and taste five of them, including their popular Iceberg beer. It’s made from the water of 20,000-year-old icebergs and bottled in a shiny blue bottle. You can then take a tour of the facility they are quickly outgrowing!

So head to Quidi Vidi, grab an Iceberg beer and enjoy a peaceful afternoon at the harbour.Enjoying an Iceberg beer at the brewery

 

 

*For those looking to try craft breweries in the city, after stopping at Quidi Vidi, head to Yellow Belly Brewing downtown St. John’s.  (The seafood chowder is delicious!)

 

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Becoming an honourary Newfoundlander

You can’t go to Newfoundland without getting screeched in. (Well you can, but why would you give up the opportunity of becoming an honourary Newfoundlander?)

This was a chance I wasn’t going to miss and was told by a native of St. John’s (thanks Phill!) that the best place to go was Christian’s. So I signed up and sat at the bar with my Quidi Vidi 1892 beer, waiting for the ceremony to begin.

A Screech-In Ceremony has to be conducted by a native Newfoundlander. Ours entered with his paddle, wearing his Sou’wester. He did a little speech about Newfoundland and being a Newfoundlander and asked us all if we were ready to become honourary Newfoundlanders, to which we all responded with a firm “YES B’Y!”

He then asked us all our names and where we came from before handing us a piece of “Newfie Steak” (fried bologna) and continuing on with the ceremony, where we had a shot of screech (Jamaican Rum) and kissed a codfish.

Before we were handed our certificates stating that we were now officially honourary Newfoundlanders, though, we had to recite an oath. When it was my turn, he asked, “Are ye a screecher?” I proudly replied, “Deed I is me ol’ cock, and long may yer big jib draw!”fullsizeoutput_ba1

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The colourful Jelly Bean houses of St.John’s

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The brightly coloured houses known as “Jelly Bean Row” have become one of the most popular photos used in St. John’s, Newfoundland tourism, but if you come looking for a specific “row” of houses, you’ll be surprised to learn that these brightly coloured homes can be found all over the city.

fullsizeoutput_b25Ranging from vibrant to pastel shades, a rainbow of colour hits you as you wander up and down St. John’s hilly streets. Many homes and shops are enhanced with “gingerbread” trims, in an equally bright, contrasting colour.

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These houses were constructed as temporary accommodation after the Great Fire of 1892, but many remained as permanent residences.

So where did this colourful tradition come from?

Some say it started with the fishermen who painted their homes bright so they could find their way home in the fog (or after having a few too many drinks at the pub). It was also cheaper to buy large amounts of one colour of paint, so they’d paint their boats and their homes the same striking colour. fullsizeoutput_afa

As fun as those stories are, the majority of the Jelly Bean houses appeared in the late 1970s as a way to inject new life into a rundown-looking city.

fullsizeoutput_bc1And they have certainly done their job. Walk along any street in St. John’s and you’ll come across a brightly coloured home (or a row of them!) Many even have Jelly Bean Row mailboxes posted out front, adding just one more splash of light to these already sunny homes!Jelly Bean Row Mailbox

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September 11th.

I still remember the shocked feeling I had 16 years ago today when my English teacher wheeled in a television for my class to watch as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Centre.  The feelings of confusion as to why someone would deliberately harm so many innocent people mixed with the sadness for all those who were killed.

Fast forward 16 years and I still sit here with those same feelings, but one now stands out above the rest – the feeling of what those flight crew members must have been thinking in those final minutes before their plane crashed. Becoming a flight attendant added another level to my feeling of loss surrounding September 11th.

Over the past year, I have been completely obsessed with the musical “Come From Away,” and especially with the character of Beverley Bass, the first female American Airlines captain in history. She was one of the pilots who found themselves landing in Gander, Newfoundland after the American airspace was closed following the attacks on September 11th, 2001.  She sings about her love of aviation, working her way up as a female in a male-dominated profession, and how she felt that day learning that someone took the thing she loved most and turned it into a weapon:

“When suddenly someone on air to air traffic says
At 8:46 there’s been a terrorist action”
And the one thing I loved more than anything was used as the bomb
Suddenly I’m in a hotel
Suddenly something has died
Suddenly there’s something in between me and the sky”

Me and the Sky- Jen Colella, Come From Away (short version)

That feeling of having something you love being used in such a horrific way brings me to tears every time I listen to this song.

The musical is based on true accounts of the days that followed September 11th, when 38 planes bound for the United States were grounded in Gander, Newfoundland.

There is also a book, “The Day the World Came to Town- 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland”, that shares stories from passengers, crew and the townspeople who generously dropped everything and opened their doors to the “plane people” who arrived in their small town.

fullsizeoutput_bd4On a flight this summer, I found myself stopping in Gander. Looking out at the small airport, it was hard to imagine 38 planes and 6,595 passengers and crew members arriving here, in a town with around 10,000 living in it. fullsizeoutput_bd5

‘You are here at the start of a moment on the edge of the world where the river meets the sea. Here on the edge of the Atlantic on an island in between there and here’

In a time of terror around the world, these Newfoundlanders did everything they could to make their unexpected guests feel safe. Both the musical and the book share stories of love, compassion and the unselfish desire to help those in need.

 

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Wanderlust

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Memories

I love taking photos while I travel. Looking back at them, I’m always transported back to the place where it was taken, remembering all the amazing adventures I’ve had over the years.

Lately, however, all of my Facebook memories have been reminding me that for the past ten years, I’m always away having fabulous adventures during the summer months: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, exploring Alaska and the Yukon, travelling around Asia or backpacking around Europe. This summer, I’m at home, working and feeling jealous of my previous summer fun…..

Guess it’s just about time to hit the road again!

 

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Playas del Este- Havana’s beautiful beaches

While most people travel to Havana to spend their time exploring the beautiful old city, just east of all the glorious old architecture is a series of white-sand beaches, known as the Playas del Este.On a recent trip, we decided to stay in the beach area and have the best of both worlds as our resort provided a free shuttle into Old Havana.The string of beaches stretches 24 kms along the north coast.  While the beaches here are a gorgeous white sand, palm tree-lined, turquoise water heaven, the accompanying resorts aren’t exactly luxurious. Many of them have a worn down appearance as most are over 50 years old, but for those wishing to spend their time in the city or enjoying the beaches, they are just fine.

Hotel Atlantico from the water

Our resort was located on Playa Santa Maria del Mar, one of the most popular beaches, where many of the international resorts are located.

Weekends can get very busy with locals heading out to relax and parking lots soon fill up with vintage cars and mopeds.

The crystal clear turquoise waters are perfect for swimming and snorkelling to check out a variety of fish.

But the best part was the incredible sunsets!

Getting there:  The beach area is about 20 kms away from Old Havana.

You can take the Habana Bus Tour tourist bus Line 3, which runs from Old Havana to the beaches at Cojímar, Bacuranao and Santa Maria del Mar daily from 9am-6pm for 5 CUC.

A taxi will cost around 15 CUC each way. Be sure to set the price before leaving.

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Havana- Classic meets Colourful

I just can’t get enough of the classic cars and colourful, and sometimes crumbling, architecture found in Havana. Even the gloomy, grey day seemed a little brighter with all the colours!

So here’s a gallery of some of my favourites!

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