Sunday, March 15, 2015

Paris on wheels

Up early again today and onto the Metro as if we'd been doing it all our lives. What a remarkably efficient way of getting around the city!

I was glad we were early because we (just) beat the Sunday crowds to Sacre Coeur in the Montmartre, enabling us to have an uncrowded glimpse of the city and the basilica before being joined by hundreds of others. After we got off the metro we took an interesting little cable car called the funicular to the top of the hill. The funicular runs parallel to a set of very steep steps that were being used as a training circuit by some very fit people. The funicular is a great way for the less fit to get to the top and you can use your metro ticket to access it.

It was a bit grey and drizzly this morning but the view across Paris was nonetheless spectacular, the cloudiness of the day accentuating the grey- brown palette of the city. There was a group of vintage car rally enthusiasts parked around the road at the base of the basilica, giving the whole place an Audrey Hepburn movie feel.

Unfortunately the movie feel didn't last long once we started down the steps of the garden. The hawkers and scammers who haunt the other tourist spots in Paris have nothing on those in the Montmartre. The guys selling 5 Eiffel Tower keyring for 1 euro are one thing; the friendship band hustlers are a level up of intimidation and I was really glad to be away from them.

The Montmartre itself is charming. Away from the first few streets of tourist market crap, the people of this arrondissement  seem to be going about their lives the way they have done for decades in cobblestoned streets and tiny, steep alleyways filled with window boxed apartments. People were lined up out the doors of some of the patisseries and boucheries. I managed to make an entire transaction in French at the boulangerie, coming away with a baguette and some beignets that rivalled the famous ones we ate in New Orleans.

A quick trip back to the hotel gave us a chance to add some layers before jumping back on the train to St Michel where we met up with our tour guide for a Blue Bike Tour of central Paris. We'd initially intended on biking our own way around the city on Velib bikes but having struggled with the traffic as pedestrians for 2 days ( and given my recent bike clumsiness, resulting in broken elbowness) we decided to let an expert lead us around. It was a good decision. Our trip took us on a 12km circuit past all the iconic Paris sights and even though we've seen quite a few on our own, Letitia ( the guide) had some interesting background info to add to them.

One of the areas we hadn't seen yet was the riverside below the Musee d'Orsay. It's a wonderful family area full of free giant boardgames and fitness stations, accessed by bikes and skateboards and scooters.

We rode down the Champ de Mars, across the Champs Elysees and the forecourt of the Louvre. It was freezing cold and nearly dark by the time we finished but it was so exhilarating! When Taine was little and he saw something like a shooting star, he would say, 'Can this be real Mummy?' I felt like that all day today.

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