Wednesday, June 28, 2006: This morning, we all have a rude awakening. We’re sitting at the Brioche having croissants when we see the proprietaire ushering a decrepit old woman out of the restaurant. The woman sits at an outdoor table and keeps trying to light a skinny cigar. She lights the match and holds the flame about an inch away from the end of her cigar. One time she holds four matches and lights them all together, but she still holds them too far away from her cigar to set the cigar afire. Soon she gives up and takes a T-shirt out of a bag. She then starts undressing. She pulls off her pants first so her bottom is bare. She stands up, giving everyone a first class view of her sagging buttocks! Alex and Adam are totally disgusted.
“What a way to ruin my day!” Alex says.
The woman has on what looks like a hospital gown under a T-shirt. I say it looks like she’s escaped from a mental hospital and is doing a quick change. She takes off the hospital gown and puts on the T-shirt from the bag. She has a T-shirt on under her gown too, so at least she never gets naked on top.
A rather shocking episode on our first true morning in Paris!
We get on metro heading to Montmartre. Montmartre is a 130-meter high hill and surrounding district, in the 18th arrondissement in the north of Paris. It is primarily known for the white-domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica on its summit and as a nightclub district.
When we arrive by metro in the district, we walk through the busy streets lined with tacky shops. We climb the thousands of steps to Sacré-Cœur, where midway we’re accosted by African guys who swarm all around us trying to make us braided bracelets. Alex is the only one who allows them to make one for him. The guy wants 2 euros for it, but Mike only has 1.20 euros. He tells the guy, “I couldn’t even afford to buy my kids a drink earlier.”
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica is a Roman Catholic church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A popular landmark, the basilica sits atop the summit of the Montmartre, the highest point in the city.
After sweating and huffing our way to the top, we sit quietly in the church and look up at the mosaic of Jesus and his gold heart.
The Sacré-Cœur Basilica was designed by Paul Abadie. Construction began in 1875 and was finished in 1914. It was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919. (Wikipedia: Sacré-Cœur, Paris)
By the end of the 19th century, the district had become the principal artistic center of Paris, frequented by artists such as Camille Pissarro, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and African-American expatriates such as Langston Hughes. These artists worked in Montmartre and drew some of their inspiration from the area.
Since Montmartre was outside the city limits, free of Paris taxes and no doubt also due to the fact that the local nuns made wine, the hill quickly became a popular drinking area. The area developed into a center of free-wheeling and decadent entertainment at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. (Wikipedia: Montmartre)
After leaving Sacré-Cœur, we walk around the square in Montmartre where all the artists are set up. We buy two watercolors of Sacré-Cœur and the Eiffel Tower. We eat lunch in the middle of the square. I have a salad with warm goat cheese. Yum!
In a little shop downhill from Montmartre, I buy a turquoise flowered wrap shirt and Alex buys a cool looking hat and a T-shirt.
After lunch, we wander around Montmartre, where we come upon this cool sculpture, Le Passe-Muraille (the Passer-Through-Walls). Le Passe-Muraille is the title of a story by Marcel Aymé about a man named Dutilleul who discovers that he can walk through walls. (Cool Stuff in Paris: Le Passe Muraille)
We stop in to visit the Montmartre Cemetery (Cimetière de Montmartre), which is built below street level in the hollow of an old quarry, with its entrance on Avenue Rachel under Rue Caulaincourt.
A popular tourist destination, it is the final resting place of many famous artists who lived and worked in the Montmartre area. Some artists and famous people interred there include Edgar Degas and Alexandre Dumas.
We head next to Moulin Rouge, the famous cabaret, co-founded in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, who also owned the Paris Olympia. It is marked by the red windmill on its roof.
Moulin Rouge is best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe. Today, Moulin Rouge offers musical dance entertainment for visitors from around the world. (Wikipedia: Moulin Rouge)
We take metro back and have drinks at Les Éditeurs, a hybrid cafe, restaurant, bar and library with over 5,000 floor-to-ceiling books. Feeling a little sleepy from our drinks, we head back to our rooms for naps. Later, we have dinner at Creperie des Arts, where we unanimously decide we like crepes best for dessert. We then take the metro to the Pont-Neuf station to visit the Arc de Triomphe.
We pass some lively street musicians on our way.
We make a stop at the Arc de Triomphe but sadly, I don’t take any pictures of the Arc itself, as I took pictures of it when I was here in 2003. What am I thinking? Now, when I travel I take hundreds of pictures, even if I’ve been to a place multiple times. This evening, I only take pictures from the top with a view of Paris.
Beneath the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I, interred here on Armistice Day in 1920. It has the first eternal flame lit in Western and Eastern Europe since the Vestal Virgins’ fire was extinguished in the fourth century. It burns in memory of the dead who were never identified (now in both world wars). (Wikipedia: Arc de Triomphe)
We walk back along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées until we reach a metro stop. After we return by metro, we find a glacé place, where I enjoy a delectable walnut caramel glacé.