Timeline: July 24th – 30th
To put it bluntly, our plan for the two weeks with Bev was to walk her hard and keep her so busy we’d have to pour her on the plane for the return trip to Kansas. Looking back in hindsight though as I write this a week or so later, I’m not sure who came out best in that strategy as Joanna and I are still trying to recover.
Sunday was to be a day for walking, sightseeing and to finish with the last stage of the Tour de France. We jumped on Bus 56 one of two that ran nearby and that in a number of instances, prove much more efficient than taking the Metro. Our destination was Sacre Coeur and our bus deposited us a couple of blocks from the base of the climb up to the top of Montparnasse and the church itself.
We’d opted not to buy the breakfast at Cosmos; at 8 Euros apiece a day it quickly adds up and we’ve become pretty adept at making breakfast in the room with ingredients purchased nearby. I’ve brewed many a pot of hot water for coffee on the MSR Firefly in a bathroom. We were hungry though when we hit the climb so we stopped at a very busy crepe and sandwich joint on the corner and ended up splitting two crepes, one with ham and cheese and the other with Nutella.
At about 4 Euros apiece, each of these offerings was filling and well worth the price. Indeed one of the curious things I’ve observed as we travel is how varied the food can be, but how often, even in a heavily touristic area where you would expect so much less, it is genuinely good. Duly fortified we climbed the many steps up to the summit; mainly because we were halfway there before we identified the entrance to the funicular, back down at the bottom of the hill.
Like many sites in Paris, I never tire of visiting Sacre Coeur. It is one of the highest spots in the city with a breathtaking view and a spectacular location in and of itself. Not as old as many things in Paris, but still powerful its presentation; built a century ago as a reaction by Parisian Catholics to having been humiliated by Otto von Bismarck’s siege of the city for more than four months in 1870.
It was a very warm day and by the time I entered the church the accumulated effects of the walk over to the hill and then up it made me appreciate the cool, inviting environment of its interior. I’ve traveled for a long time and visited many, if not most, of Europe’s most spectacular cathedrals.
But none are as powerful as the one you currently sit in, this place designed to make you respectful, worshipful. As crowded as they can get during the season, you can usually find a quiet spot a few pews in and spend some moments cooling down physically, the mental cool down following, as you relax and find a peaceful place that calms your scattered thoughts, recharging your battery for the afternoon ahead.
We left the church and walked back trough the Montparnasse area, once the home of those well known artists of the early 20th century (Picasso, Hemingway, Faulkner, etc.) but now another very crowded tourist attraction, not quite as Disney-esquse as others we’d seen, but still bordering on a cliché.
We proceeded to walk a couple of miles back towards the Seine and the Tour de France madness that was developing down around the Place de Concorde and the Champs Elysees. We passed down Place Pigalle through the area of that name, once famous for being the red light district of Paris and the home of the Moulin Rouge. Along the way we made a much-needed stop at a small cupcake shop, where after a delightful exchange with the shop clerk we devoured a cupcake. Want to know how to loose weight and still eat a taste of all of Europe? Travel with people you like and split everything you eat. It’s the best of both worlds; tasting it all without the calories.
On the way down to the area around the Place de Concorde we passed the old Opera House, designed by Garnier and where we had a good tour back in 2007. On a different mission today, we kept on walking and soon found our selves on the Boulevard blah. The grounds of the Louvre sat across the Rue de Rivoli from us and the beginnings of madness associated with the last day of the Tour was getting wound up with hours to go yet until the riders came into view.
We walked around for an hour or more figuring out which vantage points might work and which pathways were now closed off to accommodate the race. We had originally planned to cross the river and work our way towards the Eiffel Tower, there to see the race come through on its initial entry into Paris. But as luck would have it, we’d spent quite a bit of time getting there and had cut our selves short on time.
At first it appeared bleak, as we looked up and down the Quai des Tuileries atop a terrace from which we couldn’t see a way to cross the street and get to the Seine. We finally decided to walk back up towards the Latin Quarter to see if there was a break and sure enough, where you wouldn’t expect it there was a tunnel under the road that took us across and onto the sidewalk that bordered the river.
Curiously this area wasn’t that crowded, had a metal barrier we could lean on to watch the race go by and if tired, we could cross the sidewalk and sit on the ledge overlooking the river. So we settled in to wait the hour or more it would take for the riders to get to us. Looking at a long wait in the hot sun, I set out to see if I could find some refreshments. As I walked up towards the tunnel I spied a young man with the big plastic glasses of draft beer in his hands.
I pointed at the beers and he replied in English to walk back under the road, turn right and go a bit into the park (Jardin des Tuileries) and I’d find an open stand with beer. Sure enough, it was there and after quickly downing a small one, took two large ones back to split with the girls. After rehydrating, we passed a peaceful but boring time waiting for the riders to come through.
As in Tarascon, you could sense their approach by the crowd’s building excitement. At one point, we realized the riders had come into town and were riding on the other bank of the Seine, over by the Musee d’Orsay. Soon there after, the first of the official cars came by and then before you knew it, the riders came through.
Through blind luck, we’d managed to position ourselves on the inside loop of the last part of the final stage, which meant that the riders would make nine runs past us before their final sprint down the Champs Elysee. After the long day we’d had, and the growing dark, we sat through five laps and then decided to call it day and go look for some dinner.
We crossed over the Seine and began to walk down Blvd Saint-Germain in search of sustenance, but found little as that part of town caters mostly to high-end shoppers. After what seemed like an interminable amount of time, we hit the edge of the Latin Quarter and its many restaurants. We staggered around a bit longer until stumbling upon an Italian place and were drawn in by the persuasive maître d’.
We sat down it what was a very small restaurant, ordered a carafe of the house wine, a Hawaiian pizza and a plate of Spaghetti Carbonara. The food came incredibly fast, it seemed like in less than ten minutes. It was all good, hungry as we were and revived our flagging spirits enough to finish dinner, make the walk back to the metro station and quickly return to the Cosmos Hotel.
It had been a long hot day of walking and standing, and yet a rewarding way to introduce Bev to some of the iconic parts of Paris, and to witness the crazy energy that is the Tour de France. We all slept well that night, wondering what other delights Paris might reveal for us in the coming days.
Sacre Coeur: http://www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/
Sacre Coeur Funicular: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montmartre_Funicular
Quartier Pigalle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quartier_Pigalle
Moulin Rouge: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moulin_Rouge
Palais Garnier: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palais_Garnier
Love Locks; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_lock