Thursday, December 08, 2005

Day 5 - Just a lazy day in Paris

Welcome to Day 5! Sit back and relax.

Unlike our prior days in Paris, we had reached the point where we wanted to have a lazy day; we wanted to enjoy Paris at the rate it was supposed to be enjoyed. With no place to be, we headed off to Montmartre.

Sacre Coeur and Montmartre

Situated further away from the city center, The Basilica of the Sacre Coeur is a cathedral high atop the the hill of Montmartre. Aside from being a beautiful site surrounded by a neighborhood that feels like authentic “old world” Paris, the neighborhood surrounding Sacre Coeur was and still is a haven for artists.

As you exit the Metro station you realize that you are at the bottom of a very steep hill. Although we were pretty sick of climbing at this point in our trip, at least we were ascending an incline rather than stairs. It didn’t hurt so much.

After a steep climb through a block or two of shops, you reach the base of the hill actually leading up to Sacre Coeur.

Sacre Coeur is a bit of an anomaly. Despite the appearance of its architecture, construction only began on it in 1875, with it being completed in 1914. There are also all sorts of controversial reasons for its construction; some even suggest it was built to atone for the behavior of the artists in the surrounding area, and that their loose living may have even lead to France’s loss in the Franco-Prussian war.

Regardless of the reason for its construction, it was a beautiful place and a great place to spend a day.

At the front of the church, which is a shrine to Joan of Arc, we encountered a blend of the sacred and the profane; a Japanese model in hot pants was posing for a photo shoot by doing the splits on the stone steps in front of the church. I was taken aback a bit, and I apologize for not having a photo of this, but I was using my video camera at the time.

Inside the church, I once again encountered the thing that had most perturbed me at Notre Dame – the lack of respect for a holy place. Bear in mind that Advent had just started, and not only were people carrying on with the usual things I had complained about at Notre Dame, they were doing so oblivious to the fact that Mass was going on! Next Sunday, go down to the local Catholic church during Mass, and wander about, inspecting the art. Talk loudly as you do so. See how much of an ass you feel like, and wonder how others can be so oblivious.

Walking through Montmartre

As we left Sacre Coeur, we wandered through the streets of Montmartre. At this point, I must deliver the highest amount of praise for Rick Steves’ Paris 2005 book. Its walking tour of Montmartre was exemplary in that it not only called out the traditional sights that every book called out, it also pointed out the sights that we wanted to see, and yet books fail to mention because they are private residences, not tourist attractions.

So, not only did we see the Place du Tertre, the courtyard where artists sit outside selling their paintings, we also were able to find Le Bateau-Lavoir, the laundry boat, a block of houses that used to be an artist compound. It was here that many people who would become famous artists lived and played, and it was within these walls that Pablo Picasso invented cubism.

In addition to Le Bateau-Lavoir, we saw the house where Vincent Van Gogh lived with his brother Theo, and our favorite – a non-descript little house where Toulouse-Lautrec lived…

where every night he would dress up and wander down the hill to what is still, within a few blocks of the Cathedral, Paris’ red light district. As we reached the bottom of the hill, we stumbled upon the Moulin Rouge. There is very little glamor to it. It sits on a strip of seedy strip bars and sex shops. That being said, we of course wandered down the street scoping out the sights, spying a French prostitute here and a dirty old man there, then we boarded the train at Pigalle (pronounced “pig alley”, and a more appropo name does not exist), to do a little shopping over by Sacre Coeur, then it was back into the city proper.

After a bit more last-minute shopping by the Louvre, where I got into a scuffle with a Japanese tourist. Yes, that’s true; although it was actually more of a shoving match than a scuffle… not proud of it, but it happened…. Then it was time for a drink.

Harry’s New York Bar

One sight we had promised Nicole’s dad we would take in was Harry's New York Bar. When he was in Paris, it was one of his favorite places, and a stop for a drink fit well with the pace of the day.

Harry’s New York Bar was opened by an American in 1911. it was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite hangouts, and rumor has it that the Bloody Mary was invented here. With this in mind, this is what we ordered.

First off, that was probably the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had! The bartenders are masters of their craft. No only were the Bloody Marys made from scratch, while we sat at the bar we watched the bartenders, in white lab coats, make an array of drinks from scratch, including a mojito where the bartender first ground up the mint leaves with a mortar and pestle.

The walls were adorned with pennants from every American university you could think of, and the placed just oozed with class, albeit an American brand of class. You could really feel why American expats have made this their watering hole through the years. Even the price (the Bloody Marys were $12.50 a pop, but well worth it) didn’t turn me off of the place.

Now it was back to the hotel for one last drop off, one last freshen up, and a glass of wine before our last meal in Paris.

We wanted our last meal in Paris to be extra-special, so I consulted Rick Steve for another suggestion, and found a restaurant he raved about for its “traditional French dishes”, which is what we had been eating all week. I would never go so far as to say that Rick Steve steered us wrong at this point; I just wasn’t expecting what we’d find. A glance at the menu on the door outside revealed that the place specialized in tripe dishes, as well as a few other items made from organ meat. While it was traditional, it wasn’t what we were looking for, so we moseyed on.

Our second choice looked very nice and we walked in and sat down. When the menu came, we realized that, although it was a nice restaurant, it was a nice Italian restaurant, and we really wanted French food. It was now nearing 11, and in a bit of a panic, we simply chose the next restaurant we saw.

Le Bistrot du 7

Le Bistrot du 7 looked like a nice enough place, and they did offer a price-fixe menu. This is the way we ate almost every night. Price-fixe simply means you choose an appetizer, entrée and dessert from a set list, and there is a set price for the trio.

At first, we thought we were getting bad service here, but after observing a bit, we realized the waiter was simply brisk and formal with everyone, and he was actually quite nice.

The food was the best we had in Paris! We started with a tomato, basil and mozzarella salad, and the tomatoes were the freshest I’ve had since August. Once again, I had duck; this particular duck was a leg and thigh that had been soaked and then cooked in duck fat. It sounds odd, but it’s very rich and very tender. Nicole had veal in a mushroom cream sauce, served with pommes frites, of course, and we finished the meal with crème brulee of course. Add a bottle of excellent wine, and it was a great meal to finish our trip.

Hustling back to a Metro stop in order to get on before the trains stopped running, something wasn’t right. According to my map, we should have been by a stop, but we just weren’t seeing one. I asked a passing pedestrian for help:

Me: Pardon, s’il vous plait. Ou est la metro? (Excuse me, please. Where is the metro?)
Woman: La metro? (The metro?)
Me: Oui. (Yes)
Woman: Ici! (Here!)

She then pointed at a point 10 feet behind where we were standing, where, sure enough, the stairs of the metro went down below the street. I gave her a laughing shrug which is the universal symbol for “I am a drunken idiot!” and we laughed and went on our way.

Not too bad for the final conversation of the trip completed entirely in French.

That concludes our trip journal. The next day consisted of checking out, taking a cab to the airport, and flying for nine hours. A liberal amount of bourban facilitated this flight quite nicely, and we slept through most of it.

Thanks for playing along at home during this special miniseries, and we take you now to your regularly scheduled blog.


fineartist said...

Thank you Alpharat, for this wonderful tale of European delight. Now I’m going back down to read about the catacombs, as I didn’t get to complete that post.

stray_thoughts said...

I'm sad to see the travel blogs go away.

When is your next trip?

Jennifer said...

I really enjoyed reading your travelogue. I'm going to miss it like I miss reading a good book. Thanks for sharing!

alpharat said...

I don't know Mark, why don't you pay for me to go somewhere and I'll blog about it!