Our day started with a walking tour of Montmartre, the bohemian heart of Paris. We started off in front of the infamous Moulin Rouge and then walked up the winding streets, littered with charming cafes and interesting shops. We even got a glimpse of the cafe where Amelie works (in the movie, of course!).
Montmartre was once a village on the outskirts of Paris, and the genteel Parisians came to the boisterous taverns of the village to drink cheap liquor and let their hair down anonymously. Over time, struggling artists made the area their home because it was much cheaper than living in Paris – Van Gogh, Picasso and Edith Piaf all lived here at one time. Now Montmartre is very much a part of Paris, and is home more to the bourgeois than the bohemian, but it still has a very artistic vibe. It’s one of the few places in Paris where you can find houses, rather than just apartments – and such lovely houses too they are, with large glass windows, sloping tiled roofs and ivy creeping over the walls.
Our tour ended at the Basilique du Sacre-Couer. The basilica, which is a strange amalgam of many architectural styles, was built to mark the state suppression of a revolt by some local citizens – and thus, is a church that not many locals care for. Still, its an impressive structure, and more impressive is the view from the church – for all of Paris lies at its feet.
We wandered around the Place du Tertre, the artists square, where artists where drawing portraits, miniatures, sketches and cartoons for their customers. We then headed to la Grenier a Pain for lunch – this place won the Best Baguette in Paris award for 2010 (yes, they really have such an award. Though it’s the French we are talking about so I dont know why you should be surprised). However, I couldn’t quite figure out how or why this particular baguette was superior to its fellows (apparently, an epicure I’m not).
We spent the second half the of the day cycling around the city on Velibs (the public bicycles). Nike had registered us for the day and was determined to use the damn bicycles so we took the metro to Saint Michel and then rode the Velibs in the lovely area around the Seines riverbanks – I would have enjoyed the ride much more if I wasn’t so focused on making sure I was on the right lane, and on not crashing into any of the billions of tourists milling around, all while looking out for the closest Velib stand AND keeping an eye on the watch (the first 30 minutes are free, then you get charged).
As if this weren’t excitement enough, we then took the metro to Republique, with the intention of riding the Velib around the Canal St.Martin area. First, it took us about half an hour to find the damned canal. On top of it, we had to walk all the way to the canal because all the Velibs in the stands in that area were out of order! Our guidebook had called the area “picturesque”, describing that it had undergone an “urban renaissance”. What actually happened was that we walked, lost, through many dirty streets, before finally arriving at a forlorn looking canal in the middle of a busy road. Not our idea of “picturesque”, no. And I can’t imagine how it would have looked before it underwent the supposed renaissance.
We hurriedly got out of the area and, as if to make up for it, headed to the Champs-Élysées. We started at the Place de la Concorde, which had so many grand buildings and lovely little parks, that we spent a few hours there to stare and take pictures.
We spent a frustrating hour searching for a Velib stand – our strategy was to look out for people riding Velibs and then to chase them, in the confidence that they would lead us to a close by stand. The strategy failed spectacularly for none of the cyclists headed to the stand, and we ended up wandering around in circles! We finally decided to give up and started walking along the Champs-Élysées, and of course we chance upon a Velib stand within a few minutes. Gah!
We then cycled along the Champs-Élysées, all the way to the Arc de Triomphe. This was the highlight of the day for me – imagine cycling down one of the worlds most famous avenues!
By the time we reached the Arc de Triomphe, a light drizzle had started, and since neither of us were interested in climbing up to the top (I had done it before on my previous visit to Paris, and it was at the end of a long and tiring day, and I literally had to crawl up the last few flights of stairs, and had absolutely no intention of repeating that scenario) we quickly (!) found a stand to deposit our Velib cycles, took the metro to Saint Michel for dinner and gelato before going back home*.
*Nike argued that the Velib was much more efficient than the metro, and we had a competition for a short leg of the journey, where we started from the same point and he took the Velib and I took the metro to reach an appointed destination. Of course, I reached faster. But the man still remains convinced that the Velib is Gods gift to mankind! Huh.