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Walking through Paris, Montmartre

Home -> City trips -> Paris -> Travelogue Paris -> 15 December 2013

Sunday 15 December, walking through Paris, Montmartre

After the tiring day of yesterday we slept like roses, but we are awake again in time for breakfast and the continuation of our exploration.
Cemetery Montparnasse Tomb of Sartre and De Beauvoir, MontpernasseWe want to see at least one of the famous cemeteries in Paris and have chosen for the Cimetière du Montparnasse, named after the district where this monumental park is located and where many celebrities are buried. We specifically look for the grave of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, which we both admire. It is like a quest where we meet more celebrities like Samuel Beckett and Guy de Maupassant. After an hour and a half searching Elisabeth goes to sit on a bench while I keep looking around. And it turns out she is actually sitting in front of the tombstone.
It is a simple grave, but in other parts of the cemetery it looks like you are walking through a monumental garden, some of the graves are so artful.
Then we walk a bit to the south to the entrance of the famous Catacombs. Under the ground, Paris has at least 290 kilometers of tunnels, and in a part of it for hundreds of years the bones of overcrowded cemeteries have been dumped, from at least 6 million Parisians. Today, a 1.7-kilometer section has been opened to the public but when we arrive there is a long line. We first sit down on a terrace on the corner for a cup of coffee and watch how slow the queue continues. After half an hour of watching, we know that the waiting time is at least two hours. As much as we would like to see the catacombs, we do not have that much patience right now.
Fontaine Saint-MichelSo we walk back to the north, towards the Seine.
It is a walk of more than half an hour and even now we come across all kinds of beautiful buildings and artworks. Halfway we pass Le jardin du Luxembourg, a gigantic park with hundreds of statues. Although Paris is a very busy city, there are countless large and small parks that are oases of peace and at the same time form the green lungs of the city. Really a relief when you have walked along the busy traffic routes for too long.
Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral Notre-Dame de ParisFrom the Pont Saint-Michel we see the famous Notre-Dame de Paris on the island of Ile de la Cité. On this island Paris was founded in the Middle Ages, although there had already been many settlements on the banks of the Seine before. But it was not until the 11th century that Paris really became a city of interest within France and not much later became the capital of the empire.
In 1163 the first stone of the Notre-Dame was placed by some pope and for two centuries after the works continued on intermittently. It is a beautiful example of early Gothic architecture. Visiting a cathedral I always have to think of the book The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, a beautiful story about generations of cathedral builders. That is situated in England, but it happens in the same period that the Notre-Dame was built.
Inside the Notre-Dame, Paris Procession in the Notre-Dame, ParisAnd at the Notre-Dame, everyone automatically has to think of the Hunchback of the Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo, another fantastic book that tells the story of life in Medieval Paris. Ok, you have to go through the very lengthy descriptive (and for some probably boring) pieces about architecture, but you could use those chapters as a travel guide for this large cathedral. And when we're inside I can imagine all kinds of scenes from the book that took place here. While we look around, a procession passes by, which will probably happen here every day, but it gives the place an authentic atmosphere, as if it is still something more than just a tourist attraction and the cathedral is proud of a few relics such as the crown of thorns of Jesus.
Back side of the Notre-Dame, Paris Sculpture group in the Notre-Dame, ParisIn the back of the cathedral, which is 130 meters long, we see a beautiful tableau of wooden statues. Beautiful because it is simple and refined and not so gilded adn shiney, which always disappoints us in (especially) Catholic churches. We still do not understand why all that splendor is needed, as if a deity would have need for it.
If the church had invested a little more in the first 1500 years of its existence in education and less in keeping the masses down and collecting power and money, the world have been totally different!
Front of the Notre-Dame, Paris Detail Notre-Dame, ParisAs beautiful as the inside is, so impressive are the details on the outside of the building. Because different architects were in charge during those centuries, there are various styles to discover and new architectural styles were incorporated in the cathedral. You actually need binoculars to see everything right.
The photo on the left shows the entrance on the west side and on the right a detail on the back (east side) of the cathedral. The now more than 850-year-old building has experienced quite a lot in its history like the iconoclasm, the French Revolution and two world wars but is still largely the way it was originally built.
Gargoyle at the Notre-DameAs a boy, I was always fascinated by gargoyles as described in Victor Hugo's book. In fact, they are the drainpipes of gutters to drain overflowing water. They are often creepy figures, monsters or devils from stone that ensure that the water does not flow along the walls to prevent them from erosion. Later, drain pipes were often placed underneath, but because of the artworks the gargoyles often stayed in place. And they are almost all different, an artist could really let his imagination run loose and there are a lot of funny gargoyles to be found. According to some, the gargoyles on churches are meant to ward off evil and in that case the Notre-Dame is well protected because there are about 5,000 gargoyles on the walls!
Behind the Notre-Dame, Paris Nice and sunny, ParisBehind the cathedral is the square Jean XXIII, a quiet park where you can sit in the sun. With about 15 degrees and sun we are very lucky with the weather and this is a lovely place to rest because we have already walked a lot and also in and around the cathedral we were busy for one and a half hour.
At a foodstall we eat a quick bite and then we go on the road again.
Locks on the Pont Neuf Elisabeth on the Pont Neuf, ParisFirst we cross a few bridges over the Seine. The oldest existing bridge is the Pont Neuf (new bridge) which consists of 2 parts and connects the left bank of the Seine via the Ile de la Cité with the right bank. The bridge is more than 400 years old and has 12 curves. In a corner a lot of locks are hung to the fencing by couples as a symbol of their connection. It seems that in 2017 all those locks have been removed by the municipality.
There are several seating areas on the bridge that play a major role in the beautiful drama film Les amants du Pont-Neuf although the bridge in the recordings is a replica copy and not the real one!
With the tram up Montmartre The Sacré-coeur, ParisThen we take the metro and head for Montmartre, a 134 meter high hill and neighborhood in the 18th district of Paris. The hill is visible from afar with the white Sacr&eactute;-Coeur Basilica at the top and one of the most touristic places in the city. That is not only because of the view but also because Montmartre has retained its village atmosphere. Fortunately for us you can also go up the hill by a cable car. We will go down later by foot.
Acrobat at Montmartre Crowds at Montmartrein fornt of the Sacré-Coeur it is a busy activity and it is teeming with street artists who try to earn a penny and of course enough crooks who you recognize easily when you pay attention. Originally Montmartre was an independant village but it was annexed in Paris in 1860. The name comes from an ancient Roman temple dedicated to Mars but a more appealing explanation is that the mountain was first called mons du martyr (martyrs mountain) after the 1st bishop of Paris, Dionysius, who was beheaded here. He was not satisfied with the place, however, so he took his head under his arm and walked several miles to the north where he wanted to be buried.
Christmas market at Montmartre View of Paris from MontmartreWe look briefly inside the church. There is also plenty to see here, but we have already visited the Notre-Dame extensively.
Around the Sacré-Coeur is a Christmas market and that is much more fun and cozy than the market along the Champs-Elysee, but that is mainly because Montmartre still seems to be a totally distinct village with its very own character.
From up the hill we have a misty view of the city and the Eiffel Tower.
Painter's market, Montmartre Painter's market, MontmartreMontmartre is also known as an artist's district. Especially in the 19th century, many writers and artists moved here, including very well-known artists such as Van Gogh and Picassso. Today there are still a lot of painters, but they are more painters who try to sell their work at the art market in Montmartre itself to make a living. With all the tourists who come here, that will probably be possible and the paintings look fine (but we have no knowledge of art, so who are we to judge). A very pleasant market to visit and occasionally have a chat with the sellers and painters.
Painter's market, Montmartre Painter's market, MontmartreFrom the square we see now and then a glance of the Sacré-Coeur and the building is also present on many paintings. The basilica is built of limestone (travertine) that forms a white layer of lime when it rains, so that the church always looks radiantly white despite all the dirt and pollution of the city.
In this district is also the famous Moulin Rouge, a cabaret with extravagant shows.
Famous restaurant Le Consulat Water tower in MontmartreWherever we come in the neighborhood, everywhere are large crowds of tourists who visit the famous places such as restaurant Le Consulat where famous writers, painters and other artists came together. Not far from here is the Musée de Montmartre where we learn more about the history of this part of the city. It is in a house where the painter Utrillo used to live (I had never heard of him before) and just behind the former house of Renoir which we do know.
Which color of the Eiffel tower do you want Dome of the Sacré-coeurWhen we walk down a bit again, we come across a lot of souvenir shops: try to choose out which color Eiffel Tower you want to take home. But just like on the Cjamps-Elysee, the souvenirs here are quite expensive.
Between the streets we have a beautiful view of the dome of the Sacré-Coeur.
The Sacré-coeur, Paris Front of the Sacré-coeurIn the setting sun, the basilica looks really beautiful. Its construction began in 1876 and lasted 38 years and from the beginning it became an important pilgrimage site. The clock that hangs in it is one of the largest in the world with a weight of 19 tons. We think this trip to Montmartre was definitely worth it, especially because of the atmosphere of being in a romantic and lively village instead of roaming through a megacity.
View from the Sacré-coeur View from the Sacré-coeurWhile we are descending, we occasionally stop for a photo of the view and we are still on the hill when we find a roofed terrace to recover from the long walk. We have blisters under our feet and we remain seated until the sun goes down. Then we go to the nearest metro station at the foot of the hill and then choose some random stations to get out and just look above ground but we have not exactly written down where we were. Occasionally we are treated to a musical orchestra by artists who want to earn some extra money.
We find somewhere a nice restaurant to eat something and at 9 o'clock we are back at the hotel.
It was an intensive day again, but we saw what we wanted to see. Except for the catacombs, that was a shame. So we have a good reason to come back here again.
In the hotel we think that we still do not want to go home tomorrow and spontaneously we book one more night in a hotel in Bruges. Then tomorrow morning we can walk through Paris and in the afternoon visit Bruges, also a nice city.


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