Montmartre, Sacre-Coeur et les artistes…

A must-see when travelling to Paris is Sacre-Coeur, a white domed 19th century Romano- Byzantine inspired Basilica situated at the top of the hill in Montmartre, in the 18th arrondissement.  Built in 1875, the church, famous for the panoramic view over Paris, is just as well-known for its crypt, housing a relic believed to contain the sacred remains of the heart of Christ, hence the name Sacre-Coeur (Sacred Heart).  Constructed with a type of stone known as the Chateau-Landon, the unique calcite properties of this rock are resistant to rain, frost and pollution, bleaching the Basilica whiter and whiter as it ages over time.

And so it was on a picture perfect day, fluffy white cotton candy clouds speckled along the aqua marine blue heavens, that the pink-sneakered kid and I set out upon our journey to explore the outer edges of Paris, traipsing along the cobblestoned alleys in search of the next best whatever.  To add complications to the matter, we rarely travelled with a map, preferring to amble along the laneways, stumbling across hidden cafés and boutiques, uncharted gems haphazardly tucked away along the route.

It was a Sunday and we were on our way to gawk at designer handbags and outlandishly unaffordable and unattainable runway frocks at the Chanel store on rue Cambon.   Having placed my pink-sneakered foot in the designer emporium the previous year, I was hell-bent on tracking down Coco’s fancy smancy boutique, relying on my somewhat vino infused cloudy memory to guide the way.  

By now you must know the drill, as having posed, drooled and salivated over Chanel’s aristocratic duds, the kid and I were as determined as ever to accumulate as many digital imprints as our camera’s memory cards were capable of storing, our super glam model personas camped out in front of 31 rue Cambon.

Unable to gain access to the famous emporium, its doors shut tight till Monday morning, our fantasy of pretending to experience a day in the life of the rich and famous now nixed, my French Revolutionary charge and I hit upon a contingency plan, deciding to instead soldier on towards Sacre-Coeur.  If memory served me correct, we were about half way to Montmartre, so why not traverse ahead, the spectacular views of the city waiting to greet us. With neither a map nor a guide book to direct us, all that I was able to rely on was that Montmartre was north of Paris and that the Dome of the Basilica was the 2nd highest point in the city.  Encouraged by each hill and steep incline, trying not to be distracted by the plethora of cheapo fabric outlets and tacky souvenir shops, the kid and I ascended the now congested streets, anxious to glimpse the gleaming white dome and rest our weary pink-sneakered tootsies.

 Huffing and puffing, our energy spent on clambering uphill towards the summit, fatigued from jostling the crowded walkways, my niece and I were anxious to just chill and hang-out in one of the cafés that littered artsy touristic Place du Tertre.  The well-known square is a favoured haunt of up and coming “artistes”, sketch books in hand, paint brushes dipped in oil, their blank canvas easels primed to discover the next Mona Lisa.  The colourful square, overrun by tourists seeking a glimpse into what Paris might have looked like in the early 20th century, is nonetheless a must-see attraction, crowded with peddlers, musicians, painters and curiosity seekers alike.

We must have made quite an impression on “les artistes” for my pink-sneakered niece and I were deluged with requests to have our likenesses painted by each and every one of these visionaries.  For a mere 80 Euros, our images would be transferred to canvas, ready to be displayed in the Louvre, “the kid and Auntie Nora Paris Series” delighting future pink-sneakered generations. Like, seriously??  Unwilling to fork out this exorbitant sum, we politely declined their offers, the price falling lower and lower to a somewhat reasonable 30 Euros, the kid begging “swell ol’ Auntie Nora” to let her have her Mona Lisa moment.  It was only much later that we were made aware that a majority of tourists are easily conned by a few of these painters, all demanding triple or quadruple the price of a 25 Euro worth 15 minute portrait sketch. Therefore, Pink Sneakers on the Go advises not to succumb to their cajoling and flattery, no matter how tempting their insistence that you are the next “It girl” who is on the cusp of being discovered by an up and coming future Picasso.  If you cannot resist and fall under their seductive spell, haggle back and forth for a more reasonable price, and insist that you will not pay more than 35 Euros or whatever you feel is a fair deal.

Having now sat for her “official” portrait, successfully knocking Wish No 2 off of her “Top 10 Wish List” (No 1 being to step foot in Versailles and hang out with the ghost of Marie-Antoinette), the kid was now focused on seeing Wish No 3 come to fruition.   Mesmerized by the French foreign film “Amélie”, the kid dreamt of re-creating a scene from her newly favourite movie, pretending to be the dark-haired heroine who traipses around Montmartre.  Posing against the backdrop of the steep concrete stairs leading to Sacre-Coeur, the kid was in her glory, channeling her inner French “enfant terrible”.  I, on the other hand, felt as if I were in the company of two starkly different youngsters, one an 18th century aristocratic wanna-be, the other a mischievously lovable modern-day French heroine.  Who says that travelling with kids can be challenging? More like entertaining, as you never know which persona you’ll end up on the road with.

Painting quite the picturesque romantic atmosphere, the dimly lit lamp-posts casting seductive shadows on the leafy shaded steps, the staircase leading towards Sacre-Coeur is a visual representation of the allure and mystique of Paris.

The village of Montmartre is an assault on the senses of “all things Paris”, both past and current, as throngs of tourists descend daily upon this hilly enclave, eager to worship at the Basilica, as well as to amble along the cobblestoned laneways, anxious to mingle amongst “les artistes”, hoping to perhaps bump into the ghosts of Van Gogh or Picasso, or even charming Parisian shop girl Amélie. 

You never know...anything is possible in this magical city…you just have to dream and believe.   After all, take a cue from the kid and let your imagination run wild…

Come hang out with "les artistes" in Montmartre and come travel with us...

Pink Sneakers on the Go -  Helpful tidbits of info:

·         Beware of the so-called “bracelet peddlers”, who hang out around the vicinity of Sacre-Coeur,  approach you, grab your arm and before you know it, have tied a colourful string around your wrist, and demand that you now pay 10 Euros or more for your new “souvenir”.

·         Haggle with the artists when approached in Place du Tertre and negotiate a fair and reasonable price before agreeing to sit for a portrait sketch/painting.

·         Did you know that Montmartre is 130 metres above sea level?

·         The church bell tower is one of the heaviest in the world, weighing in at 19 tons!

·         Try to avoid dining in the square, as it is a tad expensive, catering to the monied pockets of foreign tourists. Go around the corner for a quieter and more authentic eating experience.

·         If claustrophobic and not a huge fan of crowds, Pink Sneakers on the Go doesn’t recommend that you visit the Basilica on major holidays as you will be just one of the million or so other tourists who have also ventured out to experience this same event. This happened to myself the previous year on Easter Sunday, when I foolishly thought that the white-domed church would be empty, serene and devoid of visitors; instead I was close to being overrun and trampled by what felt like truckloads of tourists, all seeking a once in a lifetime experience of visiting the Basilica on a holy day.



Next week – A little bit of everything…Eiffel Tower, le Centre Pompidou and much more…

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