Smog and Sun in Gay Paree

If our jam-packed first day in Paris taught us anything, it was that relaxing breaks most certainly aren’t our forte. We did at least think about having a relaxing weekend and, after all, it’s the thought that counts. Day two in Gay Paree began (of course) with a trip to a conveniently-located boulangerie for breakfast; opting to save a few cents, we consumed our torsades au chocolat and delicious hot chocolate outside on a bench.

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With Sacré-Cœur taking pole position on our to-see list, breakfast was followed by a short metro ride up to Montmartre. Stepping off the metro at Abbesses, we climbed hundreds (hardly an exaggeration, as those of you who’ve been there will know!) of steps to exit the station before taking a short detour to Le Mur des Je T’aime (Wall of Love) located in a small park adjacent to Place d’Abbesses. The enamelled tiles feature the words “I love you” 311 times in 250 languages; the flecks of red are said to symbolise a broken heart.

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After a few pictures, we set off up a flight of steps for Sacré-Cœur. We joined the small queue to enter the basilica, but as there was a service in progress we weren’t able to wander round, which was a bit of a shame. Being suckers for an aerial view, we decided to pay to go up to the top of Sacré-Cœur. When we emerged at the top of the spiral staircase, we could barely make out the Eiffel Tower in the distance due to heavy smog. Fortunately, while we were up there the smog began to lift and clear, blue skies crept in.

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I (can barely) spy with my little eye . . .

Scattered around Sacré-Cœur were dozens of small marquees and food carts; it was the Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre, an event which celebrates the wine harvest in this area. Neither of us are wine drinkers, but there were stalls selling everything from cheese and sausages to macarons and nougat. After a comprehensive browse and a few free samples, we headed down the steps away from the basilica. Navigating the slightly bonkers lady with her multi-coloured pigeons (unfortunately I didn’t manage to get a picture, but imagine neon-coloured spray-painted pigeons and you’ll get the idea), the rather aggressive petitioners (who in fact are just scammers) and the groups of bracelet sellers made it a rather unpleasant experience and detracted from the beauty of Sacré-Cœur. We completely forgot to take a detour to see the Moulin Rouge, but only realised as we boarded the metro to Notre Dame. Oops.

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After picking up a baguette from one of the many boulangeries, we ventured across to Île Saint-Louis. At last, the Paris I had imagined: bistros spilling out onto the pavements, townhouses with window boxes bursting with trailing plants, joie de vivre lingering in the air. Pre-trip research led us to Berthillon, a renowned Parisian glacier with an astounding choice of sorbets and ice creams. Breaking with tradition, we opted for a cone each – pêche de vigne (wild peach) for me, melon for Laurence – and savoured every last drop as we wandered the narrow streets of Île Saint-Louis.

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Housed in a former Beaux-Arts railway station, the majestic Musée d’Orsay was next on our itinerary; our EU citizenship enabled us to both skip the queue and enter free of charge. On a side note, for 18-25 year olds visiting Paris and finding it incredibly difficult to locate public toilets, your EU citizenship can basically double up as a free toilet pass. After touring the Impressionists section and admiring the ground floor’s sculptures, we continued on towards the Eiffel Tower, stopping en route for a hot chocolate near Les Invalides.

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Nearing the Eiffel Tower, we decided to pick up some snacks and have a late afternoon picnic of sorts beneath the Eiffel Tower. Although there were plenty of others who had had the same idea, it wasn’t difficult to find a spot. The incessant cries of “vin” and “bière” from the all-too-eager salespeople drove us slightly nuts – and even our litre bottle of Coke in plain sight didn’t seem to be a big enough hint that we weren’t interested! As the afternoon drew to a close, we headed off to locate a classic steak-frites; two women nearby were tucking into their mussels in a rather bizarre fashion with their knives and forks. After tea, we wandered back over to the Eiffel Tower to see it close-up in all its golden glory, before heading back to the hotel via the illuminated Louvre.

Tips:

  • Purchasing un carnet (car-nay) of metro tickets will save you a fair few cents per ride; in October 2016, it cost €14.50 for a booklet of ten.
  • Sharing close-up night-time images of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre on social media is against copyright law, so feel free to peruse Google Images at your leisure. Hypothetically, you can contact the Société de l’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel requesting permission to share your image, but since their “contact us” page doesn’t actually work it may as well be a “don’t contact us” page.
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10 thoughts on “Smog and Sun in Gay Paree

    1. I love sorbet, I find it much more refreshing and usually it actually tastes of the chosen flavour (ice cream doesn’t always, in my experience). Though a dark chocolate gelato is always a good choice… Always something new to learn about a place, it took me ages to spot the languages I could actually read though! It really does, so typically French!

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  1. I was just in Paris today and like you had a whirlwind of exploring several neighborhoods in the city. Never been to le Murs des Je t’Aime, but sounds nice, not to forget romantic! I’ve yet to climb up the Sacré Coeur; I just did the Notre Dame, so more views to look forward to! As for free public toilets, they’re actually everywhere in Paris; they’re also fairly clean as well, so it helps to keep an eye out for them. I mainly use the metro if it takes over an hour to get from one destination to the other- otherwise, I walk (and subsequently burn off the delicious pastries I’ve eaten!).

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    1. The Mur des Je T’aime is a nice detour if you’re around Sacré-Cœur, quieter in the morning though as crowds accumulate as the day goes on! The view from Notre Dame was by far my favourite (I really liked the gargoyles), but the views from the Arc de Triomphe and Sacré-Cœur are also stunning – can’t beat an aerial cityscape. (It’s the one thing I make a point of doing wherever I go, where possible!) Public toilets are one of those things that seem to be everywhere when you don’t need one, and the second you do you can’t spot one to save your life. My dad once sent me the link to this webpage that you can use to find public toilets in the vicinity! The metro’s really good for covering longer distances; when it’s nice weather/ not raining it’s nice to travel above ground to get a feel for the place and, as you say, burn off the pastry calories!

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    1. I think that’s exactly it – especially when visiting a place you’re unlikely to go to again soon/ haven’t been to for a long time, there’s always this urge to see as much as you possibly can! I wouldn’t change it for the world though, as it’s the sort of travelling I’ve always known.

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