According to Mercer’s 2011 Quality of Living index, Vienna took the top spot for the third year running.
Even though the U.S. failed to crack the top 25, I still think it’s the best place to live in the world. Here’s the top spots in the U.S.: Honolulu (29); Paris tied with Adelaide, Australia and San Francisco for the 30th spot; Boston took 36; Chicago, Madrid, Spain, and Washington, DC tied for 43rd; and rounding out the top 50 are New York City (47), Seattle (48) and Pittsburgh tied with Kobe and Yokohama, Japan for 49th.
Singapore, Singapore was the only Asian city to make the top 25, which makes sense. My parents went about 10 years ago and said it was the cleanest city they’ve ever seen - gum is illegal. (Does that mean bad breath is rampant?)
I’ve never been to any of the top cities, except Vancouver and I can understand why it’s a top city. It’s on the water, Canadians are friendly, only two hours from Whistler, it’s clean, great views and it’s a big city so it has plenty of amenities.
Where would you want to live?
“Arrete! C’est ici l’empire de la mort,” which translates to “Stop! Here is the empire of the dead,” reads the sign above the entrance to the “l’Ossuaire Municipal” better known as Paris’ catacombs.
And stop we did. My study abroad companions and I took a deep breath and continued through the catacombs on yet another mandatory afternoon of Parisian history. When you think of spending a summer in Paris you think of croissants, crepes, beautiful men (or women) with alluring accents, drooling over silk chemises in boutiques and wine-soaked nights ending with stumbling walks down cobblestone streets.
To our dismay, most of our afternoons were filled with museum visits or historical tours rather than the romantic images we had envisioned. (Don’t worry. We managed to squeeze all of those things into our free time.)
I won’t say we drug our feet through every museum in Paris - since according to my Internet research there are approximately 140 museums in Paris and our stay was only 42 days - but it sure felt like it.
However, in the midst of all that history, the catacombs actually seemed like an interesting way to spend an afternoon. I especially loved that unlike Paris’ most famous monument, this historical site didn’t require me to be 1,000 feet in the air. That was until I stood 130 steps below Earth’s surface in the cold and ominous catacombs.
Not what most would describe as a pleasant afternoon, in the catacombs visitors walk amongst the femurs, tibias, skulls and clavicles of approximately six million Parisians that have been piled up in the gloomy catacombs for more than two centuries. However, in the summer of 2009, the catacombs were where one of my fondest, funniest and simplest memories of my study abroad experience took place.
Side Note: That summer 18 other University of Arizona students and I packed up and moved to Paris to study the French language and culture for six weeks. We stayed with French families - my family, the Maillards made me feel at home in a strange land of bon bons, baguettes and bonjours. We didn’t stop absorbing the French way of life until we stepped off the plane onto United States soil. Some of us, including me, still haven’t stopped.
My friends and I broke into smaller groups as we entered “the empire of the dead.” I went with Morgan, Caroline and Tierney. Morgan was a one of a kind character – a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, hulky football player who spoke French so fluently and beautifully that it seemed as if there was a voiceover going on whenever he spoke. Morgan joked in all situations and made all of us strangers one cohesive group. He was never one to let a trouble-making opportunity go to waste, and the catacombs were ripe with opportunity. Morgan decided he would make ghost noises to scare us already-freaked-out girls.
The 45-minute walk through the dark, winding maze lined with piles of centuries-old bones stacked ceiling-high while water dripped from the low ceiling made the catacombs a perfect spot for ghosts to haunt. But it was the history of the catacombs that made us good and scared that ghosts actually did haunt those halls.
And those ghosts had every right to haunt us, since we were disturbing them in their second final resting place. Yep, that’s right, second resting place.
The bones now lining the catacombs were uprooted from their original burial grounds and moved to the catacombs the mid 1780s due to overcrowding.
For 10 centuries, Parisians had buried their dead within city limits near churches, the most popular cemetery was the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents. This became a problem as the poor were buried without coffins in mass graves leading to groundwater contamination and disease.
The Parisians knew they had to do something about it, so from 1786 to 1788 the bodies and bones were removed from the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents and placed underground in what is now one of Paris’ top tourist attractions. Remains continued to stream into the catacombs until 1814.
While the Parisians tried to honor the dead as best they could – the transporting of bones was always done at night and in accordance with a ceremony of priests singing the burial service as the carts, loaded with bones covered in black veils, made their way across Paris – it’s easy to understand how the ghosts of the souls who once inhabited these bones would have the right to be a bit peeved.
As we walked through the underground bone museum knowing the history of those ancient souls, Morgan made ghost noises. And not the friendly kind either. However, all of Morgan’s “oooo-oooooooo-ooo”-ing didn’t scare us - because let’s face it, Morgan was really just a big teddy bear – it scared him.
Morgan scurried up to the front of our foursome like a little girl, as if us three tiny girls were going to protect him from whatever pissed off Parisian ghost he imagined was after us.
He stayed that way for the rest of the walk, which was funny for us to see because at one point the ceilings dropped so low Morgan had to hunch over like Quasimodo. When we finally reached the surface, no one was happier than Morgan to see the light of day where, hopefully, the ghosts couldn’t get him.
This is one of my favorite memories of that summer, not because it’s funny or silly, most likely because it included Morgan who made all of our museum visits that much more enjoyable.
Since I’m such a travel nerd, I had to include my favorite article on Paris’ Catacombs and underground. National Geographic wrote an excellent piece with amazing photos detailing the activities that take place below Paris’ cobblestones.