Montmarte, Mussels and Moulin Rouge
17.08.2015 - 21.08.2015 -24 °C
Can you believe it’s only 30 minutes flying time and, for me, just 200 miles from home. Even Manchester is further!! Paris, the French capital and London’s nearest rival for best European city. But did you know that Paris is considerably smaller than London, and in fact you can fit Paris into the land area of London’s parks when they are added together. However, Paris still feels like a big city and certainly crams a lot in to its modest size.
We visited for five full days, taking an early Monday flight and returning home late on the Friday. The taxi took about 40 minutes from Charles de Gaulle airport to our hotel brilliantly located between Sacre Coeur and Place de Clichy. So, safely installed in our room before lunchtime we headed for the terrace bar at the hotel to decide what we would hit first. Taking the easy option we walked to Montmartre, through the main thoroughfare and onwards and upwards to Sacre Coeur.
The final bit, up to the church, was made easier by the convenient funicular that quickly transported us to the bottom of the steps that led to the main door. Inside, precisely what you would expect. Nice enough but for me not amazing in the way that St.Marks Basilica in Venice and Haghia Sophia in Istanbul are. Having said that it is still a ‘must see’.
Wandering back through Montmartre is a treat with the various Patisseries, Bars, Cafes and Restaurants just waiting to tempt you in. And to be honest our willpower to simply walk past was never going to be adequate. Macaroons, Coffee, Chocolate, Cakes, Biscuits, Beer, whatever ……. you know you want to! Later we wandered for our first view of Moulin Rouge which turned out to be less than five minutes walk from the hotel; ideal as we had tickets for Tuesday’s late show. We were back to Montmartre a few hours later for dinner when, at night, the area looks different again with all the bars, cafes and restaurants all lit up.
As in many other cities, Paris offers a ‘Big Bus’ to help get around the city and we bought a two day ticket so for the Tuesday and Wednesday we planned our days around the route that the bus would take us. But first we made our way to the area around the Assembly Building and Pont Alexandra III via the Metro, getting off at Invalides and walking through to the Eifel Tower which by now was easy to spot and follow.
Paris so far had appeared relatively quiet compared to what we were used to in the UK but, of course, we soon discovered that the majority of people had homed in on the tower, Notre Dame and the Palace of Versailles. This, combined with many Parisians taking their holidays away from the city in August meant that apart from the main attractions it was relatively easy going around the city.
Back on the Big Bus we decided to simply sit there and take in the full route for an hour and then make decisions on where to get off second time around. Notre Dame got the vote but rather than battle the lengthy queues to get in the church we walked over the bridge and along the river before heading to the Latin Quarter where we found a café to break the day.
A few of the bridges along the Seine have become targets for couples wanting to attach padlocks as a symbol of their relationship and this has applied sufficient stress to the bridges to require the padlocks to be moved off the Pont de l'Archevêché and relocated along the side of the bridge thus taking the weight away from the main span.
Back on the bus, our next stop was the Eifel Tower where we lingered a bit longer on this occasion, taking photos and walking among the hundreds of people that were visiting this iconic landmark. There’s plenty to see even if you are just passing rather than stopping, with numerous views of the River Seine, the bridges, the monuments and the buildings with their classic architecture and contrasting roof colours and styles. For example, the Obelisk in the Place de Concorde - surrounded by fountains, ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’ stands centrally at one of the highest points in the city having been donated to the French by Egypt many years ago.
One of the most impressive, architecturally – both outside and inside, is Opera, the National Academy of Music which we decided to make a point of visiting before the end of our stay. Similarly, we decided that going up the Arc de Triomphe for views over the city would be preferable to the Eifel Tower as the queues for the Arc were significantly smaller and also it would be good to see the tower from that particular viewpoint.
It felt like whenever we walked for a while there would be either a café or restaurant luring us inside or to a table just outside. But why not?
Tuesday evening was set aside for finding another nice restaurant before changing and walking to the Moulin Rouge for the late show at 11 pm. It’s really worth seeing. We were a group of four as we had a couple of friends with us on the trip. Three of us were really keen on the trip but the fourth would not have come had we not already bought the tickets before mentioning it too him. But, as it turned out, he announced at the end of the week that his number one highlight from Paris was the Ferie Show at Moulin Rouge. And it really was. Two bottles of champagne on the table was enough for an after-dinner show which lasted for about 85 minutes. A mixture of tradition plus one or two new international acts made for a fabulous spectacle and night out, worth every penny. Recommended.
The following day, our middle day of five, we still had our Big Bus ticket to get around with so it was back to Cite and Notre Dame for a proper visit. This obviously meant queuing but to be fair the lines of people were moving fairly quickly and within 45 minutes you can get in, around and out again to find a restaurant a few roads back for lunch.
With lunch out of the way we jumped back on the bus to the Arc de Triomphe to buy tickets and join the very short queue to get to the top. There are also things to see around the base of the Arc including the eternal flame but don’t dismiss the views from the top as these are fairly unique with the main Parisian avenues including the Champs Elysee all extending from the Arc de Triomphe like spokes on a wheel.
The drive down the Champs Elysee is predictable; lots of very nice shops, restaurants, cafes, apartments, Ferrari’s and the occasional Lamborghini. However, don’t be put off. We had lunch on the Champs Elysee close to the Arc and the price wasn’t any more than anywhere else that we had eaten in Paris.
Having now ticked off Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Eifel Tower, Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe we now looked towards the Louvre as our next port of call. Obviously, you can venture inside (no queues) but we chose not to as we still had plenty we wanted to see and do before Friday evening. The Louvre is sat in an amazing space in the centre of Paris. The area is very photogenic and the walk through the gardens down towards Place de Concorde has a few surprises along the way.
It was getting towards dusk and after dinner we wanted to take a night-boat trip on the Seine from near to the Eifel Tower, giving us a great opportunity to see the tower lit up at the same time. So, we took a taxi from the Louvre to Invalides and then walked towards the Eifel Tower which, by the time we got close, was fully lit and, on the hour every hour, bursts into sparkling lights for a couple of minutes.
Some of the night-cruises finish at 9 or 9:30 but we fortunately, after letting time run away from us, managed to get to the dock next to the Eifel Tower to get the 10 o’clock cruise. Unsurprisingly, it was full and we weren’t in ideal seats but it was still a nice way to spend an hour at the end of a day.
By Day 4 we had properly worked out central Paris and realised that we could in fact walk down to Opera to have a look round the old theatre. It turned out to be a real highlight despite the change in the weather. The Opera House is a fantastic building both inside and out and should really be added to the ‘must see’ list.
Our intention after (another) lunch was to visit the Paris Catacombs to see the underground system that the Resistance developed and used during the war. Shouldn’t be a problem I thought. Get a taxi, buy a ticket from the office and walk around under ground for a while, seeing how it all worked. WRONG! There was a slow moving longish queue around the entire roundabout upon which the main office and entrance stands. Just outside the ticket office is a cross-section model of a part of the system and only then did I appreciate why there would be so much interest in visiting the Catacombs. It’s not just about a few tombs and a couple of thousand bones, it’s much more than that, including a railway system and two miles of tunnels. The time required to first queue and then enjoy this attraction proved too much for us in the end which was a real disappointment and I’m sure it would have been a highlight if we had been able to do it. Maybe another time.
Our alternative destination became the Pompidou Centre which was a short ride on the Metro from the Catacombs. The area around the Pompidou Centre, like the centre itself, is very ‘arty’. I was more interested in the outside of the centre than venturing inside for an hour and that was in no small part due to the surrounding exhibits and square and, of course, one of the bars that eventually proved too welcoming to walk past without stopping. It was all very ‘laid back’ which, in the middle of a busy city, is good to find every now and then. The church that sits along one side of the square is a very imposing building and draws you inside the open door, if only for a couple of minutes. It’s large, for the area, and would have been quite impressive in its heyday but right now it’s looking tired and in need of some TLC. Onward.
With one day remaining of our Paris adventure we had the pre-booked visit to the Palace of Versailles to look forward to on our last morning plus a ‘pencilled-in’ look around the Basilica St. Denis in the afternoon; said to be the first ever church (although in all honesty I think there are a few claiming that honour around the world). But, before all of that, we had dinner in Montmartre to take care of.
It was an enforced early start for the journey to Versailles which would get us there before opening time. Not much more than a half hour bus ride through Paris took us to the gates of the Palace but not before hundreds of others who were already in line to get in. And therein lies the problem with the Palace of Versailles. It is a fact that it is immense both in structure and the grounds it resides in but there are no controls on the numbers of people allowed to visit. So, there were three main things that made this part of our trip to Paris a real low point of the trip. The sheer numbers (and rudeness) of the people in and around the Palace; the total cost of the visit, and the fact that none of the numerous and impressive fountains were functioning. In hindsight, we wouldn’t have bothered. The gardens would have been ok although without the fountains quite ordinary really but the fact that it was a further seven and a half Euros to get around the huge area took the experience well below the average. The Palace itself was simply disorganised chaos with ‘selfie sticks’ proving to be the weapon of choice for many.
[Selfie Sticks have now become a pet hate since our Parisian city break and I fully endorse the banning of them in certain popular attractions/places].
Back to the hotel to check out and find lunch nearby. The Basilica of St. Denis would be our final destination before travelling to the airport for our very short flight home, or at least that’s what we thought. The Basilica, claimed by some to be the first ever church, is at the end of the line on the Metro but the station information explained that the station was unavailable today. Typical. Oh well, jump in a taxi instead. Seconds after pulling away the taxi driver informs us that the church will not be open as it is market day and did we still want to go. Well, quite frankly, we didn’t, but what’s the alternative? Trying to make a quick decision as the taxi fare racked up we decided on going back to Notre Dame and seeing the other end of the isle of Cite upon which the Gothic cathedral sits.
This took us to the Palace of Justice and the Conciergerie. In particular, the Conciergerie proved to be an interesting find as it is the old royal prison where Marie Antoinette was held so the afternoon, along the River Seine for the last time, proved to be well spent with lunch taken just outside the Palace of Justice in a really nice ‘art deco’ café/restaurant called Les Deux Palais.
Then, it was back to Place de Clichy in time for the taxi to the airport. Paris had been great. If you ever go there, don’t miss Moulin Rouge or Opera but don’t stress too much if you don’t see the Palace of Versailles, seriously.