Paris,  Travel,  Uncategorized

French Friday: Montmartre

Sacre-Coeur
My first visit to Montmartre was in 2006 during a brief stay in Paris. Prior to this trip, I knew nothing about Montmartre except for the iconic white basilica at the top of the hill. After spending a couple of hours in this quaint neighborhood, I fell in love. Five years later I returned to live here for two short, glorious weeks.

The first point of interest as you venture into the area is the elevation. While the narrow roads slightly incline as they wind their way through the 18th arrondissement, visitors must be in good shape to hike to the top. A funicular provides effortless travel up and down (for the cost of a metro ticket), but there is a certain pride and satisfaction in conquering all those steps.

LOTS of stairs

After a brief recovery, it is but a short walk to Sacre Coeur – and the spectacular views. On a clear day it is easy to spot the Eiffel Tower. The perspective from up here is magical. Even though the area is crowded with tourists, Montmartre still maintains the air of a provincial village. It is a delightful respite from the urban hustle-and-bustle below.

The second most popular attraction in this area is likely the Moulin Rouge. Best known as the birthplace of the can-can dance, the theater now caters to tourists seeking a glimpse of the risque cabarets of the past. I passed by the exterior of the building, but never had a desire to venture inside.

Moulin Rouge translates as “red windmill” and the Montmartre region was once home to dozens of windmills in the 18th and 19th centuries. While Paris is known for its haute-couture and high society, Montmartre is often associated with everyday workers. This is probably why I fell in love with the area immediately.

Windmill at Moulin de la Galette

Today only two windmills remain: Moulin Radet and Moulin de Blute-Fin, the latter is best known from Renoir’s famous painting, Bal du Moulin de la Galette. I never tired of walking by this famous landmark and witnessing the serene windmill behind the restaurant. For a brief moment it offers a return to a simpler time.

While tourists flock to the area to visit Sacre-Coeur and Place du Tertre (the subject of next week’s French Friday), this is a residential neighborhood. I had the good fortune of renting a one-bedroom apartment on Rue des Trois Freres, a short five minute walk to the basillica in one direction, and the Abysses metro stop in the other.

My view from Relais de la Butte

There was a convenience shop directly across the street, which happened to be the same storefront featured in the popular French movie, Amelie.  A little ways down the road was a lovely cafe, Le Relais de la Butte, where I enjoyed my first cafe creme overlooking the city. On the way home from the metro, I would often stop by the neighborhood boulangerie and purchase a crusty baguette and perhaps treat myself to a tarte d’abricot.

I adore the iconic Paris – the Eiffel Tower, the museums, the Ile de la Cite… but Montmartre is my home away from home.

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