|Rue Cler, Basilique du Sacré Cœur, Montmartre, and Geocaching|
This man patiently helps a woman light a cigarette that he has just given her.
You can see Sacré Cœur peeking above the shop rooftops.
A photographer and Lydia check out the Basilica.
An artist examines the Basilica, which he is sketching.
This sculpture adorns a grave in a cemetery that contains a geocache.
Even graffiti is artistic on Montmartre.
Sunday, October 23
It was our last day to tour. Perhaps as a consolation, the weather was gorgeous. The air was cool and the sky was a perfect blue with a few white streaks. We slept in a little bit that morning and then headed over to Rue Cler for breakfast.
Before we got to our destination, however, the funniest thing happened. An old, haggard-looking woman stopped us. She asked if we spoke French, to which Lydia said, “a little.” She then asked us for a cigarette, which we could not supply, since neither of us smoke. With only the briefest visible disappointment, the woman went on to tell us how we could take the bus to a beautiful garden where, we learned, one could get a very nice hamburger.
In the middle of this tale of discovery (which Mr. Steves carelessly left out of his Paris travel guide,) an unsuspecting man passed. The woman interrupted herself to ask him for a smoke. He was far more likely to have one, since he had a lit cigarette between his lips. After a moment’s hesitation he began to dig into his coat pockets for the requested item. In the meantime, we were further enlightened on the beauty of this garden and the superior nature of the hamburger there to be had.
The man handed the cigarette to the woman and turned to leave, only to be halted again by her, this time with the request for a light. The expression on his face was priceless. Nonetheless, he did as bid. After the woman had her lit cigarette, the man asked, “Bon?” meaning, “Are you okay, now? Can I get you anything else?” Just one word, one syllable in fact, delivered a massive payload of Parisian sarcasm. Fantastic.
As far as I could see, though, it was all lost on the woman. She turned back to us as if her donor never had existed and urged us not to miss the unearthly wonder of flora and the life-changing miracle of seared ground beef that awaited us at the terminus of the specified bus route. We thanked her and continued on to breakfast. I tell you, the characters one meets in a city.
I guess it had been too early for much activity on Rue Cler last Sunday, because this morning, having arrived a little later, we found the joint a-jumpin’. We even had on-street entertainment. A gentleman was playing his 19th century mp3 player (actually, it was a crank organ that reads music from punch-cards.) The expected monkey was notably absent, however.
Breakfast was a croissant for each of us. I had mine with a café au lait. As we sat and ate and sipped, we watched the throng of people pass along this busy street. Before leaving for the day’s touring, we strolled the street ourselves, took pictures, and bought chocolate. Being thus encumbered suggested a pit stop back at the hotel to unload our booty.
From breakfast to the hotel, from there to the Metro, and off we were to Montmartre, the only real hill in Paris and site of the Basilique du Sacré Cœur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart). Though it looks it, the church is not old. It was completed in 1919, which is young by Paris standards. Being situated on the only hill in Paris, it has a spectacular view of the city spread out before it.
That meant lots of people and lots of pictures. For me, it included a monstrous hike up 300 and more steps to the dome of the basilica. Why? For more pictures, silly. Before my climb, however, we ventured behind the church to a quaint park, remarkably void of tourists considering the masses out front. Here we tracked down and found the first geocache of the day.
Following the find, I made my way to the bottom of the stairs that lead me up to the dome. I mounted the cramped, stone, spiral stairs, which turned endlessly upwards. I could hear the voices of other climbers both below and ahead of me, but saw no one until the top. There, I came to a door that opened to a catwalk out onto the roof, but I was not there, yet. More stairs, both up and down along the rooflines brought me to another door.
I headed through and into gloom again for a further ascent. Once to the top, I was in a narrow, curving walkway no more than a couple feet wide. On the right there was a stone wall and, to the left, a short ledge that separated me from open air. My thighs and lungs were screaming. The view was fantastic.
The walkway circled all the way around the base of the dome to a second staircase that lead down. As I poked along among the other tourists, I heard English from a few folks, obviously traveling together. It was British English, which, to my ear, sounds more pleasant than my bland North American variety.
As I stood to frame a shot, one of the ladies in the British contingent, standing beside me, asked a question (which I have forgotten) to someone in her party. Her companion didn’t know the answer, so I offered one. At first, I think they were surprised to discover that someone had understood them, finding out that their secret code had been broken. Then, I imagined them wondering to themselves what else I may have overheard.
What surprised me, however, was that the lady’s male companion, after hearing maybe two or three sentences from me, nailed me as Canadian. When I told him he was correct but that I now lived in Pittsburgh, he said, “Ah, a Steelers fan, then.” I was quite surprised, first at his perception and then at his awareness of facts from other places. After all, I couldn’t have told him squat about the sports teams of his hometown, let alone nail his birthplace from his accent. Experiencing this kind of encounter is among the reasons I love to travel.
While I was torturing myself with the “spiraling stairs of death,” both up and down, Lydia had hunted down the second cache. After our rejoining, we were off on a Rick Steves-guided walk of the hill-top community. Back in the day, when Montmartre was actually outside the city, artists and free thinkers called this area home. Or, at least, they visited often. (Picasso is one who comes to mind, but there were others.) Along the way, we had lunch (with wine, naturally) and found our third cache, this one in a cemetery. Here, we released a travel bug, (which, at last recollection, has made its way to Germany somewhere.)
The hilly terrain put me in mind of Pittsburgh, but just a little. Our meandering stroll took us back down the hill to the Moulin Rouge (Red Mill.) The famous cabaret is located at one end of a stretch called Pigalle (pronounced incorrectly by WW II service men as “Pig Alley”.) This is the red light district. We didn’t venture in.
Instead, we hopped on the Metro (you didn’t see that coming, did you?) and headed into the heart of Paris, Ile de la Cite, once again. We had hoped to locate the cache that we had started earlier in the week, but we couldn’t find it. Lydia, who bristles at having to log a “did not find,” expended a sizable effort on the hunt. In the end, we came to the conclusion that the cache had been either vandalized or moved.
On that somewhat disappointing note, we headed back to our hotel. Tomorrow we were to head back home.
Sometimes when one visits a place, by the end of the trip, one is glad to leave. Like the familiar expression, “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
Paris didn’t give me that feeling.
If I had the opportunity (and a better command of French,) I would have stayed. I would have just told the folks back home, “Sell everything and send a check.” Seriously, I could see myself living in Paris, at least for a while. I believe that Lydia feels this way, too.
Read more about day 9 on Lydia’s blog.
Paris Vacation, Day 9 6 comments