MONTMARTRE:THE SOUL OF PARIS
Visiting our daughter Jessica in Paris inspires a vacation extraordinaire! An Air France upgrade provides immediate haute cuisine, cozy sleeping spaces and very entertaining French films! Our favorite reveals the life of Dalida, a beloved Parisian singer.
Trains shuttle us from Charles DeGalle Airport to Jessica’s Montmartre neighbourhood. Meeting us at Pigalle Metro, she leads us up a quiet street to a small square near our rental flat. Tall trees shade its colorful merry-go-round, stylish water fountain and Metro station. Developed during the turn-of-the-century, Montmartre teems with Art Nouveau designs and architecture. Across the street, Saint Jean Church exemplifies a timely masterpiece.
Opposite, a wrought-iron fence encircles an old Abbey garden—now a small park. Inside, we discover the ‘I Love You Wall.’ Its forty square-meters of blue enamel tiles endearingly repeat ‘I love you’ in 250 languages. Posed in front, couples clutch roses, hold hands, embrace and smooch. Romance, like a gentle breeze, seems to float through the neighborhood.
Tonight we head to Café Des 2 Moulins, the setting for Amélie, France’s most successful romantic comedy. En route, inviting aromas waft from other bistros and bakeries as Jessica identifies Paris’s best bakery for baguettes. Arriving at the café, a movie poster of Amélie adorns the dining area. And this mischievous waitress’s gnomes decorate the bathrooms. Seated outside, we observe a parade of fashionable Parisians, savour luscious dinner salads and chat about lovable Amélie’s adventures.
Two blocks below stands the Moulin Rouge. Popularized by Toulouse Lautrec’s portrayals of its can-can dancers and recent Oscar winning musical Moulin Rouge, it’s very busy. Many tourists, like us, snap selfies with this iconic nightclub in the background.
Next morning, a petit dejeuner of cafés and fresh pastries fuel further explorations. Ambling along narrow hillside streets, Jessica then leads us up a lengthy stairway pointing out pun-filled graffiti like De Niro’s surreal portrait: Robert de Miro. She recounts how Van Gogh, Picasso, Utrillo, Modigliani, Miró and other artists famously lived in Montmartre. Espace Dali displays this famed resident’s interesting work.
At lively Place du Tertre, street artists sell pastel, watercolour and acrylic creations. Their small canvases often depict familiar Parisian scenes with an endearing flair. Several stand ready to sketch portraits and caricatures of passers-by.
Approaching the highest point in the city, we encounter one of city’s oldest churches, St. Pierre. A bronze plaque explains its walls and columns once surrounded a Roman temple dedicated to Mars. This Mount of Mars inspired the name Montmartre. Sacre Coeur Basilica towers above, topped with three egg-shaped white domes. Equestrian statues of two French saints, Louis IX and Joan d’Arc flank its roof. From the terrace, we view Paris sprawling below. Montparnasse tower looms just beyond the famed palaces, churches, museums and monuments. “Parisians call that skyscraper ‘the wart,’” Jessica grins. “Yet Montparnasse tower provides another great panorama of Paris.”
Inside, a plaque describes Sacré Cœur’s creation. Paris was threatened during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. Two prominent businessmen prayed for a miracle. As Paris was saved, they gratefully funded the creation of this Basilica. Above the altar two stone angels trumpet their savior’s glory. In the cupola a huge mosaic depicts Christ in Majesty.
Our return route skirts Museum of Montmartre and Renoir Gardens, standing on the site of Auguste Renoir’s home. We walk past Close de Montmartre, Paris’s last working vineyard, and two 17th century windmills, one of which milled grain for brown Gallette bread. Centuries later this Moulin de la Galette became an avant-garde restaurant, which Renoir, Pissarro and Van Gogh immortalized in paintings.
Strolling onward through a quiet neighbourhood, we encounter the former mansion and bronze statue of Dalida. A signpost explains she lived here until her death in 1987. Many renowned singers, we learn, resided in this district.
Our family tour ends at Montmartre Cemetery. In this renowned necropolis, maps help us locate several graves of its many notables. A lyre interestingly decorates romantic poet Heinrich Hein’s gravestone. Alexandre Dumas’ marble statue reposes in a portico. Just beyond, Dalida’s statue appears saintly, as a stylized sun creates a halo behind her marble head.
Our last day’s stroll heads to Place St. Pierre for the best view of Sacre Coeur…and to shop. While tourists tackle the 222-steps up to the Basilica, Jessica and her mom enter several of the surrounding stores. They buy boxes of fine chocolates and traditional macarons for homefolks. Meanwhile ducking into a wine outlet, I purchase a souvenir merlot.
Homeward bound, we carry these and treasured memories of Montmartre, the soul of Paris. ______________________________
IF YOU GO:
• Check out direct services to Paris with Air France: www.airfrance.com
• See Eurorail schedules and book tickets at: www.raileurope.ca/
PHOTOS By Rick Millikan:
1 Montmartre Art Deco Church
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