The kids would call this a “latergram,” but I’m just getting around to posting about my second visit to Paris. What was originally intended to be a three night stay in Mallorca, Spain (resort, plane, rental car all booked) turned into a last minute cancellation due to COVID numbers, and changed to maybe Italy, then maybe Malta, then settled on Paris. If you know me, you know that Paris isn’t my favorite. It’s one of those places that I’ve marked off my bucket list, but if I never go back before leaving Europe, I won’t be sad. And, since I’d visited Paris in 2019, before moving to Europe and creating this blog, I thought I would write about my (now) favorite part of Paris that I’d not visited before.
The great thing about Paris, is that it’s an easy trip from where we live. Simply book a couple of tickets on the ICE train through Deutsch Bahn, and you’re there in about 2ish hours (from Kaiserslautern bahnhof). We left the car in the train station parking lot and didn’t look back for three nights.
I booked a hotel room in the Champ de Mars area around the Eiffel Tower, and I have to say, I was so pleased with this decision. We stayed at the Hotel Relais Bosquet, which was surrounded by shopping, cafes, and the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood around us. The hotel staff, breakfast, and cleanliness were all exceptional. It was the perfect basecamp for our travels.
What many fail to realize about Paris is how large and spread out it is. It’s not like many German cities were most of what you wish to see is all in the mitte. Montmarte is on the North end of the city, the Eiffel Tower is near the middle by the River, as is the Louvre. The Latin Quarter is south of the river, and Versailles and Disneyland are both outside of the city. It’s a lot of walking, a lot of Metro riding (if you can figure it out), and a lot of taxi/Uber taking.
We split our days into different parts of the city: arrival day we did a self walking tour around the Eiffel Tower, down the river by the Lourve, past Notre Dame, and into the Latin Quarter for dinner. The second day we spent at Disneyland, the third in Montmartre, and the last we spent in Champs Elysées shopping before catching the ICE train back to Kaiserslautern.
When I’d imagined Paris before ever visiting, I’d envisioned it as Montmartre. Artists, poets, and musicians alike have frequented the area since the 19th century, but its history stretches back into the times of the Druids. According to one website, the Montmartre hill has always had one group or another worshipping in the area. After the Druids, the Romans built temples to Mercury and Mars. Later, Saint Denis, a Roman missionary, was beheaded on the hill in 250AD. The first bishop of Paris then carried his own head to the city of Saint Denis. Louis VI rebuilt Saint Pierre’s church near the old abbey in the 12th century. Nuns from the nearby nunnery tended vineyards that can still be seen on the North Slope. The bustling village wasn’t always a part of Paris. In fact, Parisians would often have “outings” to the area which was known for its vineyards and windmills. It didn’t become a part of Paris until the 1860 administration reform by Baron Haussmann. (A French Collection) (MontmartreTours.com)
Montmartre is also home to many scenes in movies, the Sacré Cœur, La Maison Rose, modern art, and, of course cabaret. We opted to skip the main boulevard which houses the Moulin Rouge, Le Chat Noir (the world’s first modern Cabaret), and Folies Pigalle (formerly Nouvelle Athènes, the frequented cafe of many artists). We began our self-guided walking tour with the cafe from the movie Amélie: Café des Deux Moulins.
We then made our way through the bustling streets to the apartment of Theo Van Gogh, the art dealer brother of Vincent Van Gogh. The now famous artist lived with his brother from 1886 to 1888 on the third floor. During this time he painted the windmills and fields of the still semi-rural area.
From here, we stopped at Le Moulin de la Galette and spotted some amazing views through the buildings and down the hill into Paris. Every so often, we’d get to peek between the buildings and down the hill.
There was a time in the past that Montmartre was home to fifteen windmills (hence the windmill at Moulin Rouge). However, the last original windmill now sits on Rue Lepic atop its operating restaurant.
Moulin de la Galette has been around since at least 1622, when it was first mentioned. It was well known for its milling capabilities, and especially the brown bread product, galette, the Debray family made in the 19th century (Wikipedia). During the siege of Paris in 1814, the Debray family lost lives when the Cossacks attacked the mill. Montmartre was also attacked during the Franco-Prussian War, during which Pierre-Charles Debray was nailed to the wings of the windmill after being killed (Wikipedia). Over time the property and its windmill has been a cabaret, cafe, television studio, and has become the subject of many artists paintings – but now it rests as a private property with with a bistro: Le Moulin de la Galette.
Our next stop was Square Suzanne Buisson, a small park that features a statue of Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris. As mentioned previously, Saint Denis was beheaded on the hill of Montmartre in the 3rd century, where he then picked up his own head and carried it to the location of the Cathedral of Saint-Denis. It’s said that the name of Montmartre (the Hill of the Martyrs), can be attributed to the beheading of Saint Denis, but more than likely, it was already named Montmars (the Hill of Mars) before the advent of Christianity due to the pagans that populated the area (freetoursbyfoot.com). It’s a peaceful little park that is fragrant with the aroma of the lavender planted.
Next on our walking tour was the Buste of Dalida. Truth be known, I’d no idea who Dalida was until we stopped in front of the statue and read the guide on our tour. The Egyptian-Italian-French Dalida was a well known singer, known just as well for her tragic love life. Over the course of her life, a fiancé, husband, friend, and lover died by suicide. In 1987, she too died by suicide. (freetoursbyfoot.com)
The statue of Dalida sits on the turn from Rue Girardon to Rue L’Abreuvoir. the street itself is known as the home of Maurice Utrillo, a Montmartre-born artist. But what most come to see sits on the corner of Rue L’Abreuvoir and Rue des Saules: La Maison Rose.
According to A French Connection, the cafe and boarding house was opened in the early 1900’s by Laure “Germaine” Gargallo Florentin Pichot and her husband Ramon Pichot Girones. During the time they ran La Maison Rose, artists such as Vincent Van Gogh (also rumored to have contracted syphilis in the brothel upstairs), Picasso, Albert Camus, and Maurice Utrillo. Pichot even mentored a young Salvadore Dalí.
This little pink house has sat pretty on the corner for a century, unchanged except for its paint color over the years – from beige, pink, to white, and pink again.
Our little walking tour took us passed a vineyard (I’ll come back to that), to the Au Lapin Agile (The Agile Rabbit). This little cabaret has also seen quite a bit of history – about 150 years worth. About 1850, this little building with a big history opened for the residents of Montmartre as a place to gather, sing, and carry on. During this time, it wasn’t well known for it’s morales. According to freetoursbyfoot.com, it was the gathering place of “low-lives and criminals” – the owner’s son not even spared after he was killed during an attempted robbery. From then on, it was known as the Cabaret des Assassins.
The name changed again when, in 1875, Andre Gill pained a rabbit jumping from a saucepan and so it eventually became known as Au Lapin Agile. As La Maison Rose was to artists, so too was Au Lapin Agile. Picasso was especially known to frequent the cabaret. To this day, it continues to operate as a cabaret.
I really loved this little building for some reason. It was almost as if it had this bit of aura left behind from years gone by. The ghosts of Picasso, Van Gogh, and Dalí stumbling along the cobblestone road from their afternoon coffee at La Maison Rose to Au Lapin Agile for an evening of frivolity, camaraderie, and drinks. What a time it must have been!
Turning back to the vineyard – it was planted along a hill on Rue de Saint-Vicent and the wine it produced was Beaujois, a cheap wine. The vineyard itself is rather unremarkable and so I didn’t take any photos of it. I found the history of it to be interesting, however. According to the walking tour we followed, in the late 19th century, the crops failed, and so, it is said, that absinthe become the drink of choice, instead. The crops were later plentiful, the wine stocks replenished, but the poor artists of the area continued to drink absinthe because it was cheaper. Unsurprisingly, the vineyard owners were upset. As a means to win customers back, the vineyards said that absinthe drove its drinkers to hallucinate, go mad, and commit crimes. Fascinating, isn’t it?
The houses that lined the street as we trekked up the incline were picturesque, as were the views down the hills on the crossing streets. And as the road turned, our grand item on our little walking tour peeked through the buildings and trees. A small park sat on the left, and needing a break, we made our way into the bustling, but quiet rectangle. People practiced yoga, lounged around, and soaked in the sunshine. We sat in the shade on a little bench and relaxed for a while before making our way up to the sparkling white splendor that is Sacré-Cœur.
Sacré-Cœur Basilica sits on the highest point of Paris. This beautiful monument of Paris was designed by Paul Abadie and construction began in 1875. It wasn’t finished until 1914, and later consecrated at the end of WWI.
It was in 1870 that the Bishop Fournier made a speech in which he blamed the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War as punishment for growing “moral decline” since the French Revolution (Wikipedia). After the French surrendered to the Prussians, an autonomous commune was created by the working-class of Paris in Montmartre called the Paris Commune. This was short-lived as French troops destroyed the commune. In 1873, the decree of the Assemblée nationale, voted for the construction of the basilica to “expiate the crimes of the Commune” (Wikipedia).
The views from the basilica are breathtaking. One can see nearly the entirety of Paris sprawling outward into the skyline, blanketing the Seine in centuries of history.
After we took in the views from Sacré-Cœur, it was time for lunch. The perfect stop for this was next on our walking tour: Place du Tertre. Here you will find a square full of artists selling their work and painting portraits of those willing to pay. Bistro’s line the square adding to the bustling activity in the streets. Restaurant owners, managers, waiters and waitresses turn over tables in the blink of an eye and encourage people off the streets to fill the tables again. According to freetoursbyfoot.com, the first bistro in the world was born here at the end of the Napoleonic wars: the Mere Catherine. The bistro served Russian soldiers that yelled “bystro!” (“quickly” in Russian), and so the rapid restaurant, or bistro, came to fruition.
I really enjoyed sitting in the square at our little bistro table, nibbling on delicious French cuisine and watching people from all over the world immerse themselves in the Montmartre tradition of artistry, wine, and delights. And of course, I had to stop and buy some art for myself before we walked on to finish off our self-guided walking tour, which ended with the Murs de j’taime: The Love Wall.
As appropriate to the Montmarte tradition, The Love Wall was created by artists. Frédéric Baron and Claire Kito created this wall in 2000. The wall itself has 612 enameled lava tiles over 430sq ft of wall. “I love you” is written in 250 languages, 311 times. The red pieces amongst the writing are meant to represent a broken heart, and when arranged together, complete a full heart.
There were many people enjoying the park around it and taking photos in front of it (hence I don’t have a photo of the complete wall).
After buying some trinkets to remember our visit to Montmartre, we called an Uber and made our way back to our hotel, worn out and hungry, but satisfied with our self-guided walking tour.
As someone that doesn’t fully enjoy Paris, I certainly enjoyed Montmartre to the fullest. I would easily visit this 18th arrondissement of Paris and spend more time exploring the haunts of these now-famous artists – drinking a cafe crema at La Maison Rose before walking down the hill to enjoy a cabaret at Au Lapin Agile. I’d visit Espace Dalí Montmartre and Bateau Lavoir, maybe even catch a show at Moulin Rouge. I’d sit for a portrait, meander the cobblestones and take in the views from the hill.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy some of the other photos of both Montmarte and the rest of Paris in the gallery below.