It was a beautiful early, sunny morning when we left the apartment. Stopping by at Eric Kayser, we grabbed our usual morning croissants and coffee, before heading to the Odéon metro station. Our first destination for the day was Montmartre. Plagued by hordes of tourists and scammers, it was a destination we decided to give a miss on our last trip.
Montmartre is a busy tourist hub. The best way to avoid the throngs of tourists is to get there really early in the morning. From the Odéon metro station, we took Line 10, changed lines at Sèvres-Babylone to Line 12 (Porte de la Chapelle) and got off at Abbesses. My tutor owns an apartment just behind Montmartre so she is quite familiar with this neighbourhood. According to her, this is the best way to avoid the crowds. She was right, there was hardly anyone around when we got off at the station. There is mention of the Belle Epoque canopy over the exit of the station in some guidebooks but I personally did not find it very interesting. The neighbourhood is rather quaint though, with an almost village feel to it, something I did not expect to find in the middle of the big city. We had the streets to ourselves as a slowly strolled down rue Yvonne le Tac and rue Tardieu to Place St. Pierre, making sure we stayed away from rue de Steinkerque.
Much to dad’s dismay, we decided to walk up the hill through Square Willette, through the tiered gardens to the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. The sun was shining by the time we got to the top of the hill and the basilica rose before us, gleaming white like a huge pearl.
Climbing up the hill.
At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, two Catholic businessmen made a private religious vow to build a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Christ, if France was spared the impending doom. The two men, Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury, lived to see Paris saved and the start of the work on the basilica. The church is inspired by the Romano-Byzantine church of St-Front in Perigueux. The basilica was completed in 1914, but it was consecrated only in 1919 because of WWI.
The style and design of the basilica is rather polarizing – you either love it, or hate it. I personally did not like it very much. I don’t know if it was because of the guy who stood at the entrance and barked at every single person that entered, ‘No photos!’ or if it was because it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I vividly remember the beautiful interior of Basilica di San Marco even though we didn’t take any photos as it was prohibited there too, but I do not have much recollection of the interior of Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.
La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre in the early morning sun.
The view of Paris from the steps of the basilica though is most definitely worth the climb uphill. It is after all the second highest point in Paris after La Tour Eiffel. If you’re not up for the climb, there is a little train that takes you up the hill for the price of a métro ticket. (This was something I did not share with everyone our party as I was sure dad would have opted for the train.) However, the train does not give you any views.
Moving on, we stopped by at Place du Tertre, also known as ‘tourist trap’. Because it was still early, we didn’t get hassled much by ‘artists’ who would offer to paint your portrait. We did stop by a few souvenir shops and picked up some printed sketches of local scenes in Paris. We got to L’Espace Dali just before 10am. In fact, the lady was just placing the ‘ouvert’ sign as we rocked up.
Being an Impressionist girl myself, I have never paid much attention to Dali’s work. To me, his work had always seemed bizarre, surreal and just didn’t seem to make much sense. But since hubby is a fan of modern art, I figured he would enjoy this museum. We hired the audioguide. I think to fully appreciate Dali’s work, you do need to use an audioguide. To my surprise, I really enjoyed our visit. While I won’t say that I am now a convert of Surrealism, I did find his work interesting. I especially loved his L’Horloge Molle and his series of Alice aux Pays des Merveilles. I found the symbol of Alice had a striking gracefulness and playfulness that I did not expect.
L’Horloge Molle by Salvador Dali.
The recurring symbol of Alice.
Dali created 13 new illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The interesting part of the illustrations is the common symbolic theme of Alice on every single piece, sometimes in plain sight, but sometimes hidden. For some reason, there were only 11 illustrations on display at the museum. The Mock Turtle’s Story and the Lobster Quadrill were missing. And for some bizarre reason, the final two illlustrations did not bear titles. I have not been able to find the reason for this.
Alice au pays des merveilles.
Dans le terrier du lapin – Down the rabbit hole.
La mare aux larmes – The pool of tears.
Une course au Caucus et une longue histoire – A Caucus race and a long tale.
Le lapin envoie Pierre et pierres – The rabbit sends in a little bill.
Conseils d’une chenille – Advice from a caterpillar.
Poivre et cochon – Pig and pepper.
Un thé extravagant – A mad tea party.
Le terrain de croquet de la Reine – The Queen’s croquet ground.
Who stole the tarts?
We spent close to two hours at this little underground museum. It was a rather different experience, one which we enjoyed very much. Leaving the museum, we made our way through the crowded Place du Tertre. The square was now teeming with tourists and scammers. We hurried along the street towards the back of Montmartre. Our next planned stop was Le Marais but mum had her heart set on buying herself some Chanel, so we headed over to Le Bon Marché instead.
Walking down the backstreets of Montmartre, we headed down to Lamarck Caulaincourt métro station. taking Line 12 (Mairie d’Issy) we got off at Sèvres Babylone. Le Bon Marché is my favourite department store in Paris. The last time I was there, I think we were the only tourist. Compared to the tourist-centred Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, Le Bon Marché was free from hordes of tourists queueing to get in to designer boutiques. However, I think the secret is now out as there were definitely more tourists around this time round.
We quickly headed to Chanel. It was swarming with asian tourists. This group of asian ladies were extremely annoying. They couldn’t decide on what they wanted. One lady was on the phone with a friend trying to decide if she wanted to purchase the bag she saw on display. Her other friends were keeping another sales person busy by asking to see every single bag they had on the shelf. The salespeople were polite but their patience was wearing thin. When I finally got the chance to ask for assistance, I figured it was the best time to practice my French. The guy who served us was lovely. He spoke to me in French but spoke to mum in perfect English. Mum ended up having to choose between a wine red and snakeskin beige bag. In typical French fashion, the guy told mum the wine red bag suited her better (it was true), instead of trying to sell her snakeskin, which was the more expensive bag. He was also quick to explain to her the process of getting her detaxe form and even advised her not to take the cash refund that was on offer as they take a cut of the refund. It was a very pleasant shopping experience, one that mum thoroughly enjoyed, I think.
Our lunch was at La Grande Epicerie. I don’t think I will ever tire of looking at all the wonderful food and produce that is on display here. We chose our lunch from a selection of dishes made fresh with the produce sold at this famous market hall. We had a simple lunch washed down with down with a couple of glasses of wine.
Having satisfied mum’s shopping craving, we walked to Place Saint-Sulpice. Our next stop was Église Saint-Sulpice. Saint-Sulpice is the second largest church in Paris. It has a beautiful baroque facade which is slightly lopsided as the south tower was never finished. It took 135 years and six architects to finish Saint-Sulpice. It boasts a trio of murals by Eugène Delacroix and one of the world’s largest organs with 6588 pipes.
Inside Église Saint-Sulpice.
The organ at Saint-Sulpice.
Leaving Saint-Sulpice, we walked along Place Saint-Sulpice. It is a beautiful square with the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice set in the middle of the square. The fountain sits in front of the church, the four figures on the fountain representing four French religious leaders of the 17th century.
Still in shopping mode, mum was quick to spot an Annick Goutal parfumerie. Crossing the square, we made a beeline to the wonderfully elegant boutique. I must admit, I had my reservations. Sometimes the salespeople in boutiques like this can be rather snobby towards tourists and other ‘riff-raff’ that wander into their stores. So I steeled myself for the proverbial French snobbery that was sure to ensue.
When we stepped into the boutique, we were suddenly enveloped in a delicate cloud of fragrance. We were quick to call out ‘bonjour’. Wandering around, feeling lost, I finally plucked up the courage to ask the impeccably chic saleslady for some help in choosing a fragrance. Maybe it was the effort I made to speak to her in French, maybe it was our lucky day but she turned out to be most helpful and obliging. She spoke to mum in English and to me in French. She quizzed mum on which perfumes she likes, pulled out various bottles for her to try on and would not let us buy a bottle until we were completely satisfied that it was the perfect choice.
After carefully wrapping up our purchases, she even got chatting to mum, asking her if she was visiting me in Paris. She thought I was an expat living in Paris!! (I have to say that made my day and I couldn’t wait to report back to my French tutor that night. Although I’ve never officially tested, she ranked me at FLE B2 so it was encouraging that someone else thought I was at least FLE B level.) We were also given parting gifts of perfume samples ‘for use on the flight home’, the lady tells us.
Lugging our shopping bags, we decided it was a lovely day for a stroll so we walked back to our apartment. It gave us a chance to discover the beauty of the 6ème neighbourhood. The Rive Gauche style and poshness was on full display – the boutiques, the elegantly dressed people walking down the streets, or sipping their coffees and smoking their cigarettes at a café… We walked past Poilâne’s bakery on rue du Cherche-Midi and I went in to buy us some of that famous bread. Being so late in the afternoon, there wasn’t much left but I was lucky enough to score us half a loaf of the sourdough.
After dropping off our bags at the apartment and a quick freshen-up, we wandered down the streets near the apartment. Dad wanted to buy some souvenirs and I was hanging out for more girolles fried in garlic and butter. I finally found some at a grocer. He was friendly and chatty and it was a great way to practice my French. Asian tourists are a bit of a rarity in this part of town, I think, or maybe he was trying to set me up with his friend. He called another guy he was working with over and introduced us. And then he made my day with his comment ‘Vous êtes très chic, madame.’ I knew my beloved Hermès carré would score me a compliment one day 🙂 For the moment, I was floating on cloud nine, feeling very Parisian. Where else but in Paris?
Soon it was time to head off to Musée du Louvre. The museum is open till 10pm on Wednesdays and we thought that would be the best time for mum and dad to check it out as there would hopefully be less crowds. Seeing how the Carrousel entrance worked so well for us last time, we decided to use it again. Voilà! No queues. Mum and dad walked straight in.
Strolling through the garden at Palais Royal.
After dropping mum and dad off, we headed over to Palais Royal. Now I had high hopes for Jardin du Palais Royal and the arcades that surround the garden. The garden was unremarkable but nice enough. There were people strolling around like us – some were meeting friends, some were seeking refuge from the city… I had wanted to visit Les Salons du Palais Royal in Galerie de Valois but when we got there, we realised it was close to closing time. Not wanting to be ‘that annoying tourist’, we decided I would have to try on their perfumes another time.
By this time, I was feeling rather disappointed. I had expected elegant and chic boutiques in the arcades but instead, there were a handful of old and tired-looking shops. There was also obviously a very low rate of occupancy with many shop fronts completely empty. Don’t get me wrong, the wares on display were of the highest quality. (We saw a pair of leather gloves retailing for close to 1000 euro.) But the shop fronts just looked tired.
We were just about to wander off when we found Gabrielle Geppert’s store dépôt-vente store. But this was no ordinary second-hand store. Birkins of different sizes sat proudly on display shelves. And then I fell in love… Now I have never been a fan of the Birkin. Yes I know it’s world’s most coveted bag and it’s not because I’m sour-grapes of not owning one. I am a practical person when it comes to my bags – they have to serve their purpose and be functional. The Birkin is not very practical. For starters, it is ridiculously heavy (can you imagine the weight of it after you’ve put your stuff in it). Secondly, it’s hand-held which in many instances is a huge inconvenience. Thirdly, the clasp is impossible to undo. But for all my well-thought out reasons, they flew right out the window when I set my eyes on a beautiful red 25. It was 15 years old in red leather. The leather was buttery and soft, the hardware had lost its brand-new shiny lustre. It was a work of art! And the price tag? 8000 euro. Even hubby remarked that it was the most beautiful bag he had ever seen. Ooo… I was so tempted but practicality won in the end. How paranoid would I be if I had a 8000 euro handbag in my hands when I’m out and about. We’re not regular visitors to restaurants that offer their patrons a handbag chair to sit your bag on. And what about public toilets… How could I bear to set a bag like that down on a counter that is no doubt teeming with germs. And we haven’t even considered the danger of scratching the leather or hardware, or having spills or stains… Ah…. too stressful. Maybe in another life when 8000 euro is like loose change to me. But for one fleeting moment, I got to hold the bag in my hands and I glimpsed a reflection of myself, holding THAT bag in the mirror.
Moving on from there, we still had time to kill before we had to meet up with mum and dad. So we headed down past the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. The sun was setting and there were many people out and about. There was a group of friends sitting on the grass, having a picnic of some sort. The air was getting chilly but the colours of the sky was reflected in the buildings and the lake in front of the arch. It was beautiful.
Arc de triomphe du Carrousel.
This Arc de Triomphe is not to be confused with the other more famous Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. Built to commemorate Napoléon’s victory, the arch was originally surmounted by the famous horses of Basilica San Marco in Venice, which were captured by Napoléon in 1798. After Napoleéon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, the horses were finally returned to their rightful owner.
We were interrupted by a couple of gypsies trying to hawk their wares but a firm ‘non’ was all we needed to send them on their way. We were hoping to see the twinkling lights of Tour Eiffel so we decided to sit on the many benches at the lake and waited.
Sunset at Jardin des Tuileries.
We waited and it got colder and colder… Finally we had to concede and hurried back into the warmth of the Carrousel. Seeing a Ladurée store, we decided to get mum and dad some of those famous macarons. But we lucked out again as it was closing time. It was now time to meet up with mum and dad anyway. We met them at the Carrousel entrance before taking the métro back home to the apartment.
Now we had a dilemma – what to have for dinner? It was too late to head out to a restaurant. We decided to walk down rue de Buci. There was a band playing on the corner of the street. They were really, really good. A small crowd had gathered to watch them. There was even a couple dancing on the street to the music.
Walking past L’Atlas where we had our dinner the other night, hubby had a brilliant idea – a takeaway seafood platter to share. Turns out, it was a great idea. Hubby decided that he was going to try ordering in French (for the very first time). There was a guy standing in front of the restaurant shucking oysters continuously all night. He was clearly in-charge of the fresh seafood section. Hubby and him became fast friends. He was very patient with hubby’s schoolboy french and even encouraged him by asking him a few questions in French in return. He recommended the ‘crevettes rouges’ over the giant prawns hubby was going to get. ‘C’est mieux’, he said, and his recommendation of Gillardeau medium sized oysters were spot-on. Our platter were presented beautifully, with a side serve of mayonnaise (for the prawns, we were told). I quickly ducked down to our local caviste Nicolas for a chilled bottle of champagne.
Back at the apartment, I quickly pan fried the girolles I bought earlier in the day with some garlic and butter. We took turns tearing hunks out of the Poilâne loaf we bought earlier, mopping up the pan juices from the girolles. The band was still playing on the street. I opened the double-glazed window and the music and sounds of the busy street below wafted into the apartment. It was to this amazing backdrop that we popped open the champagne and sat back to enjoy our seafood platter, soaking in the atmosphere. It was mum and dad’s last night and it had truly been a wonderful day in Paris.