The day starts of early with hotel coffee and croissants, followed by the best coffee sipped slowly in the Luxembourg Gardens as we wait for the first hop on, hop off bus of the day. Joggers of all shapes and sizes run past and Parisians take their dogs for a walk in the grounds of the garden, you can pick out the tourists, we’re the ones with cameras dangling from our necks and photographing flowers, gates and trees. It is a wonderful and relaxing way to start our day of sightseeing.
There are four bus routes for the hop on, hop off buses and today we going to spend time on three of them just getting to the area below Montmartre to see Moulin Rouge and red light district, then we head up the hill to the Sacre Couer Church. Again the buses allow us to see more of Paris than we would on the metro and we can listen to the audio commentary to find out the history and detail of what we are looking at.
The streets around Moulin Rouge in the Pigalle are dirty and seedy looking, there are cheap and tacky shops lining the streets and plenty of interesting pictures posted in windows of the shopfronts. The overcast day contributes to the grey and grubby atmosphere. The walk up to Montmartre and Sacre Couer is via narrow cobblestone streets and of course we choose the street that all tourists use and on either side there are numerous souvenir shops selling the same t-shirts, magnets, posters and bags. Having read that this place is particularly popular with pickpockets and scammers we keep close to each other and pay attention to the surroundings. By the time we get to the bottom of the steps at Sacre Couer it is easy to see all of the guys preparing to wrap a rope bracelet around your wrist and a few children wanting you to sign something, we had seen them at Notre Dame as well and everybody gives them a wide berth so we follow suit. A couple in wedding attire are having their photos taken on the steps, it is quite cold and she is in a pretty white strapless gown capturing everyone’s attention. Police are about, we didn’t know we were there until all the men selling souvenirs and fake designer goods started packing up the wares and walking towards a side street, the area was scammer free for a short time.
Sacre Couer is a magnificent building and on a sunny day I imagine that it glows, the white material it is made of is apparently self cleaning, we walk around the back of the church to a garden and it certainly doesn’t look so clean from behind. The streets of Montmartre are hilly, the cottages and gardens are cute and there are a few little cafes away from the craziness of the overpopulated main street. Montmartre has always been a haven for artists, not sure if the artists are as successful as famous as previous inhabitants but if you want a portrait, caricature or painting of the local area then this is the place to go.
Lunch today was courtesy a most unfriendly lady in a stall on the Champs Elysee, still we enjoyed the double hotdogs with cheese in the Vincennes garden and they gave us the energy to climb the hundreds of spiral steps to the top of the Arc d’Triomphe. What a spectacular view and what a monument! From the top you can see the line formed by the 3 arches: Arch of Defense, Arc d’Triomphe and the Triumphal Arch – the Carousel in the Tuileries Garden. The trip down is easier, legs are a little wobbly and it is easy to miss a step when they’re narrow and spiralling downwards. From the Arc d’Triomphe it is a natural progression to wander down the Champs Elysee, about 2 kilometres in length it is home to expensive boutiques, car showrooms, restaurants and Laduree which sell expensive macaroons and is too busy for us to contemplate venturing in – we have to get to the Louvre.
The fountains in Paris are empty and those in the Tuileries Garden are no exception, it is a tad disappointing however I’m sure that I will see enough fountains when we go to Versaille. The weather appears to be improving as we head into the glass pyramid outside the Louvre, queues are non-existent but we had read that the crowds were smaller on a Wednesday or Friday night when the Louvre was open until 10pm. The Louvre is incredible and we are easily confused so the ladies on the help desk come in handy, we head to the Sully wing to start our adventure and walk through the former medieval moat that has been excavated under the gallery – the temperature drops and behind us we can hear the clip clop of a woman in high heels (slightly annoying). To cut a long story short, we saw the big 3: Mona Lisa, Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo plus the Wedding Feast at Cana which is an absolutely monstrous painting that has us wondering where do you start when painting such a large artwork. The Louvre itself is a work of art, the frescoes on the ceiling causing me to look up regularly. There was no way that we could attempt to see it all, the focus was on the ancient Egyptian and Greek sculptures as well as some Roman and Etruscan artifacts (although we’ll see plenty in Italy), the big 3 and a few inspiring pieces in between by Botticelli and unknown artists – at least unknown to me. Outside the sun is shining at last and the sky is blue, it is the perfect opportunity to take a break and enjoy the view of the fountains and do a spot of people watching.
Tonight is dinner at a local restaurant in Rue Mouffetard, it is called the Grange and they have a 14 euro, 3 course menu to choose from and for another 8 euro we get a carafe of red wine. The Grange specialises in fondue and raclette, I can smell the cheese and although it is appealing both of us are keen for something a little more substantial and preferably with some form of vegetable. Marty chooses the steak with pommes and salad, I devoured the lamb chops and we both tried escargot with herb and garlic butter for an entree, the bread is free and keeps coming as we slowly eat our way through generous portions of food. The waiter does not speak much English – only a little as they all say in Europe, he sends his wife over instead and she speaks English well, if not a little gruffly. Most of the tables are full, customers are still walking in the door at 10.30pm – the French eat a little later than most we have been told. It was a wonderful evening, sleep came easy that night.