europe · france · paris · Travel

April 2011: Paris in the Springtime (Part 3)

Another church bell alarm call – and I awake in a panic – someone has cut off my legs in the night! I can’t feel them at all! And when I step out of bed, I almost fall to the floor in a graceful heap. Mr Fletche reassures me that my legs are still intact, and points out that walking ten miles the previous day, and then sleeping in one position all night has resulted in this bizarre numbness. And sure enough, the feeling slowly starts to return, and I am once again complete. But the idea of walking too far today strikes fear into my heart, so we plot our Metro route to Sacre Cœur. Emboldened by our introduction to the Metro by Mr Pepper on our arrival, we head to St Michel metro station to catch Line No 4 (aka the Purple One) to Chateau Rouge.

Purchasing single journey tickets (1.70 Euros each) is extremely simple from the automated machines – from which you can handily select your native language if you don’t trust your French… If you can use the London tube, then Paris works exactly the same. Oh, apart from the manual door handles – no automatic opening doors here… It appears that most tourists going to Sacre Cœur must embark at some other Metro station, because we find ourselves almost alone in a slightly grim area – with no sign of the huge basilica which must be around here somewhere… We appear to have disappeared off our little tourist’s “Heart of Paris” map, so we decide to stop for the obligatory coffee, hot chocolate and pastry while we find ourselves again.

Guessing that we must need to go ‘up’ – and there are a handily placed flight of steps next to the cafe – we ascend to what must be the top of Paris… wait a minute, one more flight… and finally! We’ve approached Sacre Cœur from the rear, and as we come around the front we find where all the people went… it’s bustling with people, taking photos, chilling, gossiping, listening to the wonderful harpist who is playing familiar French and traditional tunes. I love it up here! The views are marvellous – you can see from here just how tightly packed Paris is – the sun is out and I could spend all day up here just people-watching. The peace is disturbed slightly by the arrival of the ‘tat-sellers’… (No, I still don’t want a metallic purple Eiffel Tower keyring. Or a wooden train with my name on it. Or a genuinely fake designer handbag. Which Mr Fletche suggests would be handy to carry all the tat home in).

In April 2011, we visited Paris for the first time
Sacre Couer
In April 2011, we visited Paris for the first time
View from Sacre Couer

We wend our way through tiny streets before reaching Place du Tertre. I know it’s touristy and I know all the ‘traditional’ cafes and stalls and street artists are all exaggerated to please the visitors, but hey, I’m a tourist. And I fall for it all completely. The sun is past the yardarm; therefore it’s perfectly acceptable to have a glass of wine at Le Sabot Rouge, whilst watching portraits and caricatures being created right in front of us. We also spy the ‘Frenchest’ man we think we will ever see.

Place du Tertre, Paris, France
Place du Tertre
The Frenchest man we've ever seen...
The Frenchest man we’ve ever seen…

We leave Place du Tertre behind; and descend what seems like a thousand steps. We are just past the funiculaire station when I am hounded by a ‘bracelet man’, eager to weave me an individual and unique bracelet for “very cheap price”. I am polite but firm with my rebuffal and look around for Mr Fletche to rescue me. Mr Fletche is attached to a bracelet man by a length of string, listening intently to stories of Gambia and Senegal…. How can I escape now, when Mr Fletche has been captured? Long story short, we now have two matching ‘lucky’ bracelets for the value sum of 5 Euros… oh, and the promise that these bracelets will apparently bring us five babies…..

As we’re in the area, we can’t not visit the infamous Moulin Rouge. For a start, it’s the setting of one of the only films that is guaranteed to make me sob my heart out, and I can already hear “Come What May” playing softly in my head. Only problem is, that from Montmartre to the Moulin Rouge, you have to walk through a district that I could only describe as ‘Stag Night Central’. Put it this way – you wouldn’t feel comfortable taking your small child for a stroll down to the famous Red Windmill past some of these shopfronts. I’m sure that even I blushed and tried not to make eye contact with anyone here…

It’s red, it’s iconic, it’s a windmill… but I was more than a little disappointed. But of course, we weren’t here to see a show, simply to pose outside (doing my best “auditioning for Moulin Rouge” impression – I stopped short at a full-blown can-can), and I’m sure that the show & dinner combo, although pricy, would be magnificent (or “Spectacular, Spectacular” as they sing in the film…).  However, Mrs Fletche almost creates her own naked cabaret show right in the middle of Boulevard de Rochechouart – NEVER trust those public toilets with the automatic doors. Only my quick-thinking and a well-placed hand protect my modesty. Mr Fletche of course thinks this is all hilariously funny, and can’t quite understand why I refuse to enter another one of these monstrosities. I will wait, I declare haughtily, until I can ensure that my privacy will be assured.

Moulin Rouge, Paris, France
Moulin Rouge

Our Metro Station of choice – Barbes Rochechouart – is quite a trek, but this returns us on our favourite Purple line to Chatelet. Our ultimate destination from here is La Bastille, via Place Des Vosges. We stop for a baguette from a streetside seller and eat our picnic lunch in the shadow of Tour St Jacques. The weather today has been more pleasant than the previous day, with my sunglasses an almost permanent fixture, and it is lovely to just sit here in Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques – a peaceful oasis among all the hustle and bustle.

The walking is relentless… Mr Fletche keeps dragging me down little streets and alleyways and I’m never quite sure if we’re heading to or away from our destination. We admire the carousels and fountains (finally, fountains that are working!) at Hotel De Ville; the inside-out architecture of the Pompidou Centre (“Are those the pipes? On the outside? How bizarre!”); people enjoying the afternoon sunshine around the Stravinsky Fountains and at the beautiful Place Des Vosges; the falafel sellers, bookstores and bistros in Le Marais; finally finding ourselves at the site of La Bastille. And as with the Moulin Rouge, I think I expected so much more than a monument surrounded by a traffic roundabout. Ho-hum… if only we’d come 223 years ago – I guess more would have been going on then? (Mr Fletche: “Yes, like the French Revolution…).

Hotel de Villes, Paris, France
Hotel de Villes
Place des Vosges, Paris, France
Place des Vosges

It’s been another day of lots of walking, walking, walking… so it’s back to home base once more to rest our aching bones (via Erik Kayser Boulangerie for a couple of chocolate pastries….) But just one evening left – and there’s still so much to see! So, a quick freshen up and it’s back out on the road once more.

First stop – the Pantheon. This is just a five minute walk from our hotel, and is a very impressive final resting place for such notable names as Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and Marie Curie. There are also wonderful views across the city to the Eiffel Tower from Place du Pantheon. We continue down to Jardin du Luxembourg, and enjoy the evening sunshine, joining the ranks of many others doing the same. Leaving the park, we wondered on to Saint-Sulpice… another magnificent church and another working fountain! Now I wish I’d paid more attention to “The Da Vinci Code”…

The Pantheon, Paris, France
The Pantheon

Getting hungry again, we make our way back towards the Seine, and after last nights brief walk-through, we decide to eat at Rue de la Huchette. It’s still touristy, colourful and noisy but 10 Euro / 3 course set menus abound so we select a suitable looking establishment and settle down on the heated terrace. I can’t remember the name (Latin Cafe maybe?) but the food was reasonably good quality and plentiful considering the price – the French Onion soup was amazing – and the wine – as always – was wonderful.

We purchase the obligatory souvenirs for back home (no metallic purple sparkly Eiffel Tower keyring though…) but we want to extend our final evening as much as possible, despite an earlyish start tomorrow morning. So we decide to finish as we started, with a glass of wine of two at The Long Hop. We’re moved inside from the outside terrace at 11pm – there’s a music quiz going on! Mr Fletche and I LOVE music quizzes – and if I say so myself, we’re very good (Mr Fletche knows all the obscure and old stuff; I have an embarrassing knowledge of 80s & 90s pop music…). However, the quiz is halfway through (and they throw in a random French record every so often which throws us completely) so we content ourselves with smugly muttering the answers to ourselves while others struggle and argue… We force ourselves to leave before the final answers round (now I’ll never know if “Maroon 5” was the right answer….) – it would be so easy to carry on drinking but we have a 7am alarm set for tomorrow morning, and I really don’t fancy the train journey back home with a wine induced hangover…

Final Morning and Final Thoughts

Happy Birthday Mr Fletche!

It’s harder to get up today than any other… the 7am alarm means we’re going home. No lounging around in a Parisian cafe drinking coffee and eating pastries. No watching the clock to see if it’s ‘wine-time’ yet. No photographs of stunning buildings and interesting alleyways. No walking miles and miles and miles…. (Ok, so we’re thankful for the last one…)

It’s time to check out – bill as expected, slight mix-up when I’m trying to use Mr Fletche’s pin number with my credit card… – and a taxi is called. We arrive at Gare du Nord with just enough time for a final coffee, hot chocolate and pastry at the station…

We approached this trip knowing full well that we would not be able to see, do or appreciate everything in such a short time. However, looking back on what we did do, we made the most of every minute that we there. We walked as much as possible, so as not to miss anything between sights. We strayed down alleyways and tiny little streets. We sat and people-watched – a favourite hobby. And most importantly, Mr Fletche and I enjoyed experiencing this city together.

Bad points? The amount of beggars, and people asking for (or demanding in some cases) money or cigarettes was astounding, particularly around the station and at tourist hotspots. We politely answered everyone; however in a few cases we were met with shouting and muttered insults. This happens in all major cities, particularly where there are lots of tourists, but I found that Paris was the worst that I had experienced for this. Also, although you could eat quite cheaply with a little research, the price of drinks was astonishing – particularly soft drinks. Maybe sometimes I didn’t want a glass of wine, and would have preferred a nice chilled Coca-Cola? (ok, who am I kidding… that never happened)

But despite these minor points, Mr Fletche and I had a wonderful time in Paris. If I had a tip for anyone visiting it would be not to worry about the tourist hotspots – they’ll always be there – but will you ever again stumble upon that interesting little alleyway which may lead somewhere amazing? Explore!

All photos in this post are a mixture of my own and some of CPF Photography’s very early shots 🙂

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