Paris from top to bottom

21 Feb

Our last full day in Paris I was up and out the door early to grab some breakfast from the patisserie on the corner, pick up our laundry, and buy stamps at the post office.  This last errand filled me with dread since the single most unpleasant encounter during my previous visit to Paris in the late 80’s had been with a postal clerk.  (I really only had two unpleasant encounters during the months I spent in Europe in 1989.  The other episode involved two deaf-mute gentlemen in the pub near the university.  I held my ground long enough to finish my drink and then retreated with as much dignity as I could muster before I got a right kicking) My fears were unfounded however, as the clerk was pleasant and efficient and despite the fact that neither of us spoke the other’s language, the transaction was completed without any further rift in Franco-American relations. I returned to the hotel with croissants, pain au chocolate, a costly bag of my own clothes, and eight postcard stamps.

Today’s loosely planned outings would begin with a visit to Sacre Cour, the cathedral that sits atop the highest point in Paris.  It had not been part of my planning for the trip but we’d noticed it from a window at the Musée d’Orsay and decided to go have a look.  In fact, with the exception of a visit to the Tuileries, we’d hit all the locations I had planned on seeing in advance and now we were just winging it.

We took a crowded workaday Metro to the Anvers station on the 2 line.  If I have not mentioned it before I will do so now, the Parisians love their dogs.  Outside the patisserie where I had purchased that morning’s breakfast there was a steel plate with a hook for a leash set into the wall.  The plate was forged in the shape of a terrier and in fact that exact breed of dog was at that moment tethered there.  (No, I did not get my camera unlimbered fast enough to take a picture before the owner left with the dog).  I mention this now because we saw a number of dogs on the metro that morning.  Not just your standard purse-friendly Chihuahua, but respectable dog-sized dogs on their morning commute.

We arrived at the base of the hill and began to walk up the narrow Rue de Steinkerque to the steps leading to the cathedral.  The street was lined with several kitschy tourist shops and bakeries.

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Helpful hint: if you absolutely must buy a doughnut from one of these shops, request one from the case. 

There is an esplanade at the base of the steps leading up to Sacre Cour.  From this point you may make your way to the top via one of two sets of switchback staircases leading all the way to the cathedral, or purchase a ticket for an electric tram just off to the left (I do believe the price at the time of our visit was €2). As I took several photographs from this vantage point we were approached by an elderly couple who asked if I could take their picture.  I said that I would be happy to, took the man’s camera, took a photograph of him and his wife with the cathedral situated just over their shoulders and handed the camera back.  I gave him the standard admonishment “Have a look at that and make sure it’s okay,” and made ready to walk away.  I’m sure we’ve all been in his situation and what normally happens at this point is that no matter what the picture looks like you say “Thank you” and go about your business.  If the picture is dreadful you quietly wait a moment and ask someone else to take another photo.  At least that’s what I do.

That’s not what this guy does.  He had a look at the camera, shook his head, and said “No no no no no.  Here, let me show you how to take a photograph.  See we’re standing here, that tree should be lined up here, and then the building centered above, here.”  While he’s saying all this of course, his wife is looking absolutely mortified but not, I noted, particularly surprised.  I took the camera back, situated myself so as to line up the pertinent landmarks the way he wanted them, and took the photograph again.  I handed the camera back.  He said “Yes, yes, that is much much better,” as his wife grabbed him and hustled him away with quick thanks to me and Julia.  Well, now I know how to take a picture.

As we are young and spry (And I am cheap) we elected to walk up the steps to the cathedral.  It was a beautiful sunny day, the grass was green, and the terrace was bordered by thousands and thousands of bright flowers.  We made our way up slowly, taking our time and enjoying the view.

Approximately halfway up we encountered a large group of African men in plain clothing trying to get our attention with shouts of “Sir, sir, you want to be happy married man?”  I know a street scammer when I see one, and even though I didn’t know what his particular game was I knew enough to just keep walking.  We lived in New York for over seven years and we both have pretty good street faces and are pros at simply ignoring people and continuing on our way.  Not being certain what the particular game was I looked online later and discovered that these guys approach tourists and tell them it is tradition for lovers to bind their hands together and make the walk up to Sacre Cour.  This guarantees a long and happy relationship.  They offer to sell the band for a euro, a dollar, whatever, and if the couple agrees their wrists are bound together tightly with a heavy-duty zip tie plastic band.  The scammer then demands a larger amount of money to cut the band off.  A number of tourists have also complained of having cameras and smart phones stolen.  Simply keep an eye out and avoid them, or if you must walk through the group, ignore them and keep going.

Sacre Cour

Sacre Cour

We reached the broad terrace in front of the cathedral and looked out over the city.  Sacre Cour is at the highest point in Paris and you can see for many miles.  Several famous landmarks stand out; the Eiffel Tower of course, and Notre Dame as well as the Pompidou Center, but if I am being honest… as a skyline Paris is not terribly inspiring during the day.  We made our way around to the right side of the cathedral to a semi-secluded grotto where we found a statue of two lovers in an embrace.  I suspect that at twilight this is a romantic spot.  It appeared in the early morning to be the spot where all the local cats come to bathe.

We climbed to the top of the stairs and entered the cathedral.  The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris is a fairly “New” cathedral. Construction began in 1875 and was completed in 1914. It is constructed of travertine and is a blinding white in the sun. Video recording and photography are forbidden inside the basilica and visitors are requested to observe complete silence as perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has been ongoing in the Basilica since 1885.

We walked through, admiring the stunning mosaic ceiling and exited via a side door. We located a pub just outside. The Irish are everywhere.

We strolled through the Montmarte, an area famous at the end of the 19th century for its windmills and impressionist painters.  To this day the area retains some of the charm of a small village despite being well within the bounds of one of the greatest urban centers in the world.  We passed homes with beautiful architectural accents, Day9.P.5 Large Web viewstunning gardens, and even encountered a still-intact windmill (Moulin in French).  We continued along the streets, strolling mostly at random, and making our way ever downward.  We found a number of fascinating shops along the Rue des Abbesses and the Rue Lepic.Day9.P.4 Large Web view We stopped in to look at sculptures, soap, and teapots in little boutiques interspersed among the patisseries, dairies, and butcher’s shops.  We passed the Two Moulins Café, made famous by the movie Amilie, and eventually landed up at the intersection of the Rue Lepic and Boulevard de Clichy, directly in front of the Moulin Rouge.

Here we stood in a median to photograph the Moulin Rouge and chatted with a very nice couple from central England.  They were retired teachers, and the man was the living breathing model of the stereotypical older man from the Cotswolds.  Sturdy trousers, jumper and a hunting jacket topped off by his Barbour cap.  There was a truck delivering drinks to the Moulin Rouge, and his wife was waiting for it to clear out so she could get a good picture.  They were in France for the week, and he bemoaned the cost of bringing a vehicle over from the UK.  We learned all about their daughter’s upcoming wedding and the difficulties of the booking travel in and out of the UK during the Olympics.  We talked a little about the Moulin Rouge.  I mentioned the fact that Julia and I had looked into seeing a show, perhaps the lunch show, but even that was €50 per person.  The fellow smiled, and with a furtive look out of the corner of his eye to his wife confided to me “Oh I didn’t dare look into that!”Day9.P.6 Large Web view

We looked around the lobby at the posters and around the corner in a small gift shop that sold the usual fare, postcards, T-shirts and other accessories, pens and glasses all emblazoned with the name Moulin Rouge.  There were display cases with historical items of costume, headdresses, jewelry, shoes and the like.  There is a Metro stop nearby and we decided this was a good place to hop on and make our way to the Tuileries.

Day9.P.7 Large Web viewWe got off the Metro at the Tuileries station on Rue di Rivoli and walked west to Place de La Concorde, where you will find some really awesome fountains and the Obelisk of Luxor. We all remember the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror? Well this is where they set up the guillotine. We made our way through the Place de la Concorde to the western entrance to the park (Pay toilets!) and had a very nice picnic before it began to rain. The Tuileries were commissioned by Louis XIV in 1666. There are classical and modern sculptures throughout the park, reflecting pools and even a small pond where you can rent model sail boats, all situated around the broad central lane.

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Looking east toward the Louvre.

Fun Fact: We picnicked just about every day in Paris. Fruit, cheese, bread, and wine. It is actually illegal to have an open container in Paris parks. Ooops.

We passed through the Louvre’s Porte des Lions and crossed the Ponte du Carousel to stroll along the Seine, looking at the artists’ and booksellers’ stalls that were open all along the sidewalk. . The rain had cleared off and it was again a gorgeous spring day! We bought ice cream and sat eating it under a tree in the Square du Vert-Galant, a lovely spot at the very western tip of the Ile de la Cité. For you history-minded folk, this is the spot where the last Grand Master of the Templars Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake in 1314. We didn’t see any Illuminati. We might have been busy making out a little.

Day9.P.11 Large Web viewWe continued along the river looking at the stone details and stopped by the Zero Point in front of Notre Dame again (Just to be on the safe side). We crossed over to the Left Bank to Saint Michael’s Square. The fountain is very impressive and from the street you have a good view of Notre Dame. We meandered through the Latin Quarter, ducking into the shops whenever it would begin to rain again to find souvenirs for family and friends (As think I mentioned before, Rain = Purchases) before hopping on the Metro and riding out to Père Lachaise.

Day9.P.12 Large Web viewPère Lachaise Cemetery is likely known to most Americans as Jim Morrison’s final resting place. A massive garden cemetery (And, apparently, the first municipal cemetery), Père Lachaise opened in 1804. At the time it was considered to be too far from the city and garnered few burials. In a brilliant marketing ploy the cemetery administrators moved the remains of Moliere and other notables to the site and Parisians began to clamor to be buried among the celebrities. It is stunningly beautiful. We arrived late in the day and were unaware of the 6:00 p.m. closing time. I recommend leaving yourself at least half a day.Day9.P.13 Large Web view

You will find simple marked graves, small chapels, and massive mausoleums (All in various states of repair). The place is practically crammed with gorgeous statuary and unique markers. It was interesting to see trends in funerary across a couple hundred years. Plots can be leased for 30 years and often later deceased members of a family will be placed inside the same tomb when an ancestor’s body has decomposed. If a family does not renew a  lease the remains in the tomb are cataloged and removed to the Ossuary so that the site can be converted to a new grave. According to the City of Paris website one million people have been buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. When the remains in the Ossuary are added, the number reaches perhaps to three million

Some of the notables interred at Père Lachaise;

Isadora Duncan

Edith Piaf



Oscar Wilde

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After being pretty much run out by a security officer ringing a large bell we decided to simply walk back to our hotel (A distance of about a mile and a half). We made an early evening of it, since we had to pack up to leave Paris. The next day was going to turn out to be difficult.

Next time: Omaha Beach

Take good care.

© 2014 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator


One Response to “Paris from top to bottom”

  1. Mary Evelyn February 21, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    felt like i just took a mini trip to france!

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