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Exploring Montmartre

Anniversary trip to Paris day two


View Anniversary trip to Paris on ToonSarah's travel map.

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The Sacre Coeur

I slept well in our comfortable room at the Jeu de Paume. We decided to have breakfast out and chose the St Regis brasserie at the western end on the island where we had good coffee and pastries.

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The St Regis and another nearby café

Then we crossed to the Ile de la Cite and walked past the side of Notre Dame. It was sad to see the damage caused by the fire of April 2019, but at the same time both interesting and inspiring to see what was being done to help her recover. Scaffolding shrouded much of the cathedral, but the West Front was clear and still looking stunning. A giant crane loomed over her, removing damaged wood I think. Ancient gargoyles jutted through the scaffolding. And along the northern edge a fascinating series of information boards described the work being done and highlighted the many roles of those involved in it. There are scaffolders, art restorers, crane operators, architects, carpenters, historians, archaeologists, scientists, engineers and many more.

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Notre Dame under scaffolding

We took the Metro to Anvers and then the funicular to the Sacre Coeur. It is many decades since either of us was there but with tourist numbers so low in the city it seemed a good time to visit and to rediscover Montmartre.

The Sacre Coeur

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, to give it its full name, seems to divide opinion. Built only in the early 20th century, I have seen some commentators criticise it as an eye-sore and others (actually often the same people) abhor the reasons behind its construction. Its inspiration was the defeat of French troops during the Franco-Prussian War, which some felt lay in had spiritual rather than political causes.

Proponents of this view vowed ‘to build a church in Paris dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as a sign of penitence, trust, hope and faith’, as the basilica’s website puts it. But others, even to this day, see it as a symbol of the church’s too-strong hold over the country and over-involvement in its politics.

I have some sympathy with the latter concern but as to the view that it is an eye-sore - no, not to me. I like its prominence, its whiteness, its rounded shapes which echo those of buildings in more ‘exotic’ lands. And I love the view from the terrace in front, although it was rather a hazy morning. On the plus side, with tourist numbers down, we didn’t have to jostle for position on the terrace to take our photos!

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View from the terrace of the Sacre Coeur

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View of Notre Dame from the terrace of the Sacre Coeur

Inside the Sacre Coeur

After enjoying the views from in front of the basilica we decided to go inside. Entry is free, although of course donations are strongly encouraged.

Masks on, we entered the basilica to find that a mass was in progress. I thought at first that this would limit our explorations; but we soon realised that the handful of other visitors were respectfully making their way around the fringes and that we could do the same. I have since read on the website that photography inside isn’t permitted but I saw no signs to that effect and wasn’t challenged at all. But of course I didn’t even consider using flash (something I would avoid in any case, as it kills atmosphere).

I won’t try to describe the interior except to say that on this bright September day it glowed in the colours diffused through beautiful stained-glass windows.

The apse mosaic is the most striking feature. From the official website:

It represents the risen Christ, clothed in white and with arms extended, revealing a golden heart. Surrounding him, in various sizes, a world of adorers is represented, including the Saints who protect France: the Virgin Mary and Saint Michael, Saint Joan of Arc, as well as a personification of France offering her crown and Pope Leo XIII offering the world.

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Apse of the Sacre Coeur

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Detail of apse mosaic

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Beneath the dome

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Stained glass

Walking in Montmartre

After our visit to the basilica we stopped for a coffee in a nearby street, marvelling at the relatively low number of tourists that meant we could quite easily get a seat at a pavement café.

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In the Rue Poulbot

I had come across a suggested walking tour of Montmartre which took us not only past some of the district's best known sights but also down some quieter and less visited streets.

We spent the best part of a day weaving our way around the lanes of Montmartre, passing some of its most famous sights and some much less known. Close to the basilica there were some knots of tourists but as soon as we got even a short distance away the streets were, if not deserted, quiet enough that the magic of the Montmartre of old was apparent.

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The Rue Norvins, and the Rue du Mont-Cenis

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In the Rue du Mont-Cenis, and near the Place du Tertre

This was the village that artists such as Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, Picasso, Monet, Pissarro and many others flocked to. This was the village that drew bohemians, writers and poets. And this was the village that tourists expect to see and are so often disappointed to find over-commercialised and even a bit tacky.

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Rue de l’Abrevoir

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Rue de l’Abrevoir, and Rue du Mont-Cenis

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Le Consulat, and the shop featured in 'Amelie'

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Le Bateau Lavoir, where Picasso once had a studio

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Artist's studio in Rue Orchampt

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Artist's studio in Rue Orchampt

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The Passe-Muraille

Not so today, although of course there were the portrait artists and caricaturists touting for business around the Place du Tertre, and shops trying to sell cheap and gaudy souvenirs to the few tourists passing by.

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Artist near the Place du Tertre, and souvenirs for sale

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Street art in Montmartre

We finished our walk at the Place des Abbesses where we relaxed for a while with a cold drink, while indulging in that favourite of Parisian pastimes, people-watching.

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In the Place des Abbesses

Then we took the Metro back to the hotel, of course stopping off for Berthillon ice creams on the way.

Evening in Paris

In the evening we went for aperitifs at one of the bars on the banks of the Seine, just across the Pont Marie. This stretch of quayside was once a very busy road but the current mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has led a project to close them to traffic and free them up for pedestrians and cyclists as part of her Paris Breathes initiative. On this pleasant evening they were a buzz of activity – the many bars full; people drinking and talking with friends; others passing on foot, on bike and on scooter; dogs being walked … How much better than speeding cars creating a barrier between us and this beautiful river!

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Bars on the Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville

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The Pont Marie from the Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville

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The Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville, early evening

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Aperitif on the Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville

We had dinner in Les Fous de l'Ile, a popular restaurant around the corner from our hotel. We enjoyed people-watching from our pavement table, but the food was disappointingly less good than the previous evening's.

Posted by ToonSarah 17:38 Archived in France Tagged paris city cathedral street_art street_photography Comments (8)

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