You might remember that I was given the advice to get up as high as possible above any city I visited to see the view. I think I did a good job following this advice this past weekend…
My first stop was at the Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum located in what I understand to be the charming Beaubourg district (in the 4e arrondissement). Narrow cobblestone streets wound around the museum, studded with everything from darling boutiques to bubble tea shops to gelaterias to picturesque cafes. The museum itself was situated on a giant square where people sat having picnics, enjoying the weather, selling jewelry, and strumming on guitars. I absolutely loved the atmosphere of this area. Granted, we were there on a Friday night, so it felt particularly lively and inviting, but still, I can’t wait to go back and explore some more.
The museum exterior was pretty interesting…
Giant hamster cage?
But the real treat was found on the roof of the museum, which boasted a stunning view of Paris in almost every direction.
Disclaimer: The last two were actually from balconies on other floors of the museum. But I thought the view was still pretty stunning.
My first week in Paris has been glorious, but I’d be lying if I said it’s been without difficulties. I underestimated just how much harder everything would be in a foreign country. I don’t mean to complain…everything has been about 99.99% perfect, and I know I’m very lucky to be here. Already, the past two weeks have been among the very best of my life. I just want to clarify that in between the culture shock, the language barrier, and the jumping through endless hoops of French bureaucracy, life here hasn’t always (just usually :)) been quite as idyllic as…well, as idyllic as living in France for four months sounds.
The reason I clarify this is because standing on the roof of the museum, all the difficulties fell away. The city looked so peaceful and regal and arrestingly beautiful spread out before me. From up above, you can’t see the occasional disdainful Parisian, the endless piles of paperwork, or the metro card that just won’t work. So much of the Paris in my mind this week has been Paris, the place where I’m negotiating a strange new life, where I’m tripping over my bad French, where I’m lost again, where I just can’t figure things out. When I took a step back (or rather, a step up), I could finally see Paris as it really is. Paris in its entirety. Paris the city. The worldwide travel destination, the most visited city in the world. The near utopia where each building and monument is more beautiful than the last, where parks overflow with vivid flowers and laughing children, where bread is bountiful and wine flows freely. Paris in its essence. Paris at its best. Paris as I will love it and remember it forever in my heart.
Anyway, all this is to say that my mom gives good advice. Whenever you travel, go up high and drink in the view. You’ll love the city even more because of it.
In fact, I loved it so much that I did it again on Saturday! This time, though, we headed to Montmartre, the district at the edge of Paris that famously plays home to Moulin Rouge, Sacre Coeur, and, most importantly, the view from the steps of Sacre Coeur.
Let me start by saying that I would have loved Montmartre even without the view. If you go to Paris, it is absolutely imperative that you visit this area. I loved it because it had all the same qualities I loved in the Beaubourg district, but magnified. All of the streets were winding, hilly, and paved with cobblestone. People overflowed from the charming cafes, spilling onto the narrow sidewalks as they ate, talked, drank, and laughed. Artists sold their work in a square that boasted several outdoor cafes of its own. It felt very European and very enchanting–almost quaint compared the rest of Paris. I was instantly smitten.
We wandered around for a bit, got crepes (Nutella et banane has quickly become my favorite crepe flavor–no surprises there), and then began the trek up many a staircase and hill to Sacre Coeur.
Oh my goodness.
I’d consider myself to be in pretty good shape. I run like I breathe and can barely go a day without breaking a sweat before I start feeling like I’m itching in my own skin. So, maybe my legs were just a different kind of tired after a week of walking daily marathons in inadequate ballet flats. Maybe I was dehydrated. Maybe I needed sleep. Maybe all the crepes are getting to me. But…I’m pretty sure my calves caught on fire on the way up.
Seriously. At the top of each new climb, I was sorely tempted to turn around, snap a picture of the view, then throw myself onto the back of a passing stranger while waving euros in their face and begging them to take me to my seat on the metro. Or at least to a cafe where I could order a Panaché (my new favorite sightseeing drink, a combination of beer and lemonade that sounds foul but tastes ten kinds of refreshing or at least satisfying after spending all day on your feet). Luckily, we persevered.
It was completely worth it.
These photographs do the view about .001% of the justice it deserves. Sorry, friends. I tried.
After taking in the view for a bit (if I’m completely honest, I should say, “After standing around with my mouth gaping open in wonder, half-heartedly attempting the occasional picture…”) I actually got to walk around the church, which was really incredible. I know I’ve used the word “breathtaking” a lot on this blog, but I’ve meant it every time. That’s Europe for you. Sacre Coeur is certainly worthy of the description, what with its towering domed ceilings, intricate stained glass windows, dozens of statues and altars (there’s an art history term for those little side altars that I should definitely know…), and touching display of lit candles left by visitors. Pictures weren’t allowed, which I was bummed about at first, but the more I walked around, the more I realized it was for the best. I don’t mean to taunt, but something as magnificent as Sacre Coeur really cannot be captured in a photograph, even by someone with exceptional skill. (My very amateur skills were going to get me nowhere.) There’s just no way to fit that kind of splendor into one image–it really has to be experienced in person. I did, however, snap one illegal photo right before leaving.
I always light a candle when I visit a church that offers them. I’m not sure, but I think it’s a Catholic thing. I’m not Catholic, but my mother comes from a Catholic family, and my Catholic grandmother (who now goes to an Episcopal church–so proud, Amma! Isn’t it nice over here with the other Catholic Lites?) always urged her to light a candle when given the opportunity. My mom did the same to me, as did my grandmother, so now I always have two voices in my head imploring me to light a candle when I enter a large church. So, here are my two candles, illicitly photographed. One for my mom, one for Amma. As requested.
(Sidenote: I think it might be more customary to light a candle for someone who sort of needs the extra prayers, but I’m happy to report that my mother and grandmother are both happily alive and well. But I guess everyone could use a little extra attention from some higher powers, right?)
I actually really love lighting the candles. It’s very cathartic, and it’s nice to think of candles burning for the ones you love in a beautiful church thousands of miles away from them. It’s a fun tradition to have when you travel, as well, especially to somewhere like Europe that’s so full of beautiful old churches. Totally worth paying the “suggested” 2 euro offering for. (The angry-looking guard nearby seemed to think it was a lot more than “suggested”, if you ask me.)
After leaving the church, my roommate and I relaxed on a grassy hill near the basilica, enjoying the perfect view, the perfect light, the perfect weather, and the perfect city. Someone nearby was playing a guitar, and I honestly think I could have just stayed there forever. We both agreed that we didn’t ever want to leave. Who would?
Reluctantly, though, we wandered back down into Montmartre to explore a bit more before even more reluctantly boarding the metro to return home. (God, it’s such a pain when you have to leave one beautiful part of Paris to go to another beautiful part of Paris. My life is so rough. Send help. In the form of Annie’s microwavable mac & cheese and Lindt sea salt dark chocolate, please.)
It’s not too sad, though…we’ll go back. In fact, I already have…but that’s another post for another day. 🙂
Sending you much love & light from La Ville-Lumière!
P.S. I also paid the obligatory visit to Moulin Rouge while in Montmartre. Listen closely: this is a sight worth seeing once and exactly once in your life. Actually, I take that back. Just Google it. We’ll have had comparable experiences. Actually, that’s not true. Yours will be better, because you didn’t have to embarrass yourself by fighting your way through a group of overeager tourists to take a picture, smell the homeless guy on the ground, or make yourself feel generally dirty because you left the cute, charming part of Montmartre and ventured into the gross red light district part, where every other place on the street is named (no joke, literally, apparently Parisians don’t have much imagination in this department) “Sex Shop”. Actually, there was the occasional “Chicken Bucket”…and a few other shops whose names are not blog-appropriate.
I did it all for this. The picture you all have seen approximately 757 times before. Remind me why I thought this was necessary?
P.P.S. Bonus points if you know the song I stole the post title from!