Day Four: Montmartre, Champs-Elysees and the Velib

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.

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15 Responses to Day Four: Montmartre, Champs-Elysees and the Velib

  1. Shubha Hegde says:

    Lovely post Ramya!

  2. hAAthi says:

    Velibs sound so fantastic!
    clearly a lot has changed in Paris since I visited..
    This is full vicarious pleasure for me, I tell ya!

    • I’m conflicted about the Velibs – they are fun and convenient, but you really need a sense of where the stands are to pick them up and drop them off, otherwise it can be a major pain, we’ve learnt. But that said and done, what’s not to love about free bicycles as public transport!

    • Also, when was your last visit? If things have changed, it’s time for another visit…this time, with VC 😉

      • hAAthi says:

        I visited all by myself when i was 19 😛 it really was a trip of a lifetime.

        And I have been on VCs case about going to europe for the last 3 yrs. Same story with leh. The boy is not as romantic about travel as I am. He starts thnking about the money and pussies out 😛 once we go though he ALWAYS ends up loving it and wishing we’d done it sooner. And I have no doubt he will do that with europe..

  3. Karen says:

    The Champs -Elysees is so busy and crowded…maybe a bike is best although a little dangerous.

    • Karen: I know, I was a little nervous for the first couple of minutes, but once I got the hang of it, it was quite comfortable. Also, after driving a two wheeler for many years in India, the streets of Paris can feel very organised.

  4. Sanjana says:

    oooh! I can’t believe I missed out on the velibs! I was in France in June and lovvvvved Paris! I liked the Luxembourg gardens the best (and the Louvre a close second). We rented vespas, which was a lot of fun too! 😀

    And I didn’t climb Arc de Triomphe, but I did go up the 700 steps of the Eiffel Tower! The queues were horrendous for the lifts so in a sudden case of insanity, me and 2 of my friends (the rest wisely stayed back and took pics of the tower from the ground :P) climbed all the way to the top! NOT recommended!

    • I can imagine how gorgeous the gardens would have looked in summer. We went this time, and the fall colours were absolutely gorgeous. Oohh…and I didn’t know we could rent Vespas. Would have loved to do that for a day!

      Next time you go to Paris, you should book the lift to the Eiffel Tower online to avoid the lines. We didn’t do that, but we ended up going there on a rainy day when there was absolutely nobody! Not one person in front of us for the tickets. But yeah, I walked up the stairs too, on my last visit a couple of years ago, and I know how it feels!

      • Sanjana says:

        oh we tried booking tickets online, but there was some problem due to which we couldn’t.

        Oooh! Fall colours must be absolutely lovely! *sigh*

        • Ah! Yeah, the tickets had sold out when we tried booking online. And yes, I think we lucked out in terms of the weather – it rained only on one day, and the fall colours were amazing.

    • hAAthi says:

      I think the ticket to use the lift all the way up was expensive (to my student pocket allowance) when I went, so I too climbed up all 700 steps. But I did it at an easy pace, took a while, stopped for pictures all over..loved it!

      • Did you go as an exchange student? Because your experience sounds suspiciously close to my own – I went when I was 21, as an exchange student for three months in Brussels, and managed on a tight student budget. I walked up the 700 odd stairs too because the lift was too expensive. It was fun then; now I’m glad I can afford the lift 😀

        • hAAthi says:

          Hehe, not as an exchange student, but its an interesting story. Will email one day 😛
          I was alone too, spent a week in Paris, 1 week in belgium, where I was based in brussels but did day trips to amsterdam, antwerp, waterloo etc and stayed a weekend in Bruge (which I hope youre going to see — it is BEAUTIFUL!). Then I stayed in an island in greece for 15 days or so.. But yes, I was a student and tight on money so it was all a very different experience than any of my holidays as an adult. Im pretty sure Id take the lift this time around 😛

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