On Thursday, Lily and I took the Metro up to Monmartre, a district in Paris famous for its artists. Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Toulouse-Latrec, and Dali, among others, all lived and painted in Monmartre at some point in their lives. Monmartre is situated on a fairly steep hill at the top of which lies Sacre Coeur, a giant white church. To get up to the top of the hill, you must find your way through the souvenir-shop lined base of the hill and climb several long staircases. Not only that, you must dodge the men trying to tie bracelets on your wrist and the eerily silent women holding out petitions for you to sign. Once you get to the top, though, you are rewarded with a wonderful view of Paris below and a closer look at Sacre Coeur just behind.
Like at Notre Dame, I was surprised at how many tourists were at Monmartre and Sacre Coeur on a Thursday morning. At the top of the hill, past Sacre Coeur a little bit, there is a square full of artists stalls and little cafes. Dozens of street artists roam the square and surrounding lanes drawing portraits of tourists for a modest fee. Surprisingly, most of the portraits I saw were really quite good. And the art being sold at the stalls was decent as well, if overpriced.
It was a really pleasant area to walk around. Even though it’s pretty touristy today, I could definitely see why so many artists were drawn to the place. There’s something magical about being at the highest point in the city and being able to look out over Paris.
After wandering around for a bit, we decided to embrace the French spirit and eat some bread and cheese for lunch. We bought a baguette from a boulangerie and some brie from a small grocery store and sat on the steps of Sacre Coeur to enjoy our le dejeuner. It was so nice to just sit and look out on the city. And people watch. Nearby, a man played the harp, and farther up the steps, another man played nineties American rock songs on his guitar. Pretty lovely way to have lunch if you ask me…
After lunch, we decided to go the Musee d’Orsay, the second most famous art museum in Paris (aside from the Louvre). Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed in the Orsay so I don’t have anything to show you, but you can check out their website here. It’s housed in a giant old train station and the building almost outshines the artwork. Unfortunately, half of the upper level was closed for renovations so we didn’t get to see everything, but what we did get to see was pretty cool. The Orsay has a pretty big collection of Impressionist paintings, by painters like Monet and Seurat, which was by far my favorite part.
One thing I’ve learned from my travels so far is that museums take a lot of energy. You can’t go to a museum tired and expect to be able to appreciate it fully. Walking around and reading signs and looking at paintings doesn’t sound hard, but after having walked up and down Monmartre that morning, both Lily and I were pretty tired. And the low lighting in the Impressionist exhibit didn’t help much. So after the Orsay, we got a couple of very overpriced Cokes and sat on the ledge of the Seine for a bit, trying to regain some energy.
Sufficiently energized, we decided we would go try to find Shakespeare and Company, a famous bookstore near Notre Dame. We didn’t have any directions so we just sort of wandered around a bit in the hopes that we would stumble upon it. After a while, we still hadn’t found the bookstore so we decided to just sit in the little park behind Notre Dame and enjoy the afternoon. I didn’t really mind as it was another beautiful fall day.
It was Lily’s last night in Paris and she wanted to have some real French food, so after our failed attempt to find Shakespeare and Company, we went back up to Monmartre to find a bistro. We found a nice little place and sat outside on the patio (beneath a heat lamp) to enjoy our roast chicken and frites. It might not have been the best, most authentic French food ever, but it was pretty delicious, especially after a full day of walking.
After dinner, we headed back to the hostel to await the arrival of Ariel and Colleen, who were flying in from Glasgow. Unfortunately, due to the strike, their flight got rerouted to Brussels. Fortunately, the airline arranged a bus to Paris for them. They finally arrived, a couple of hours later than expected, but no worse for the wear. We got Ariel checked in to the hostel and took a cab to Colleen’s hotel. After that, at about 1:30 am, I crashed.
I think I will stop there for now. Next up: I revisit the Eiffel Tower, go to the top of Notre Dame, see the Mona Lisa, eat some delicious ice cream, return to Monmartre, see the Moulin Rouge, and see some intriguing street musicians (complete with firebreather). Well, until next time…