Paris Part II: The ‘village’ of Montmartre…

View of Sacre Coeur

A follow-up to my original post about Paris with Mom.  Every girl should get the chance to spend a week in Paris with their mother and pretend that they are one of the Audrey’s (Hepburn or Tautou?)

Here’s a link to ‘Paris Part 1‘ in St. Germaine des Pres…the neighborhood that stole our hearts:

When planning our trip, we wanted to get a feel for as much of the city as we could. After a few days on the Left Bank in a boutique hotel, we moved up the hill to a tiny studio apartment in Montmartre. I mean…Paris is Paris. Magic can be found around every corner.   

Prior to this trip I hadn’t really explored Montmartre. I had no idea that it’s like a tiny village with narrow side streets leading you on a maze that artists of the past used to walk on. In fact, it apparently was a village that was only added to the city of Paris in 1860 and it still has some evidence of that provincial style with one of the few vineyards in Paris and the only remaining windmills.  It was really quite cute and quite quaint. The only problem is that we weren’t the only tourists who found it quite cute and quite quaint.

To be fair, I’m one of these tourists…But… it has to be said that Montmartre was crowded in a way that was stifling. The crowds were inescapable and at times I would find myself pressed shoulder to shoulder with strangers. The benefit to staying in an apartment however was that we really did have the mornings and evenings to ourselves.  The tour groups with the matching hats and ‘walkie talkies’ would arrive close to lunchtime and then dissipate after dusk.

Another phenomenon Mom and I witnessed (all over Paris to be fair but especially in Montmartre), were the instagram influencers who descended upon picturesque cafes, particularly Le Consulat and Le Maison Rose. Mom and I witnessed, at least ten times, being near a famous-ish place and seeing girls dressed in usual tourist clothes (jeans, t-shirt, backpack, ponytail) suddenly pull stilettos out of their backpack, unshake their hair, throw on an amazing tunic and start posing.  Never once did I see these people actually buy anything at the shops or ever sit down and order at the cafe they were posing in front of. I just witnessed them having a full on photo shoot with their phone in the midst of everything going on. It was impressive. It was also distracting. 

At the end of our stay in Montmartre, my mom could have been mistaken for an official tour guide who gives the famed ‘windmill walk’ tour. We left no stone unturned, wanting to walk in the footsteps of Toulouse Lautrec and see Picasso’s first studio. My favorite place was actually Cafe Renoir which is inside the Musee Monmartre. Renior himself lived at the property for a while and the gardens inspired him to paint many of his works. The cafe is set in this very garden and it’s charming and quiet and serene.  You can see the back of Sacre Coeur while you read and drink coffee. It was a totally different feel from our stay on the Left Bank and although we did prefer one area more in the end, we were both happy that we got the chance to experience the two different vibes.

Abbesses Metro with Art Nouveau architecture

The first day in Montmartre, we checked in to our apartment near the Abbesses Metro

The location was perfect: directly across the metro, close to the steps leading to Sacre Coeur.  The listing had gotten stellar reviews…but… Mom and I decided that these reviews were for the view alone.  It was a studio apartment on the 5th Floor rooftop, in fact I think originally it was an attic space the building converted into living quarters.  The listing said it had an elevator…but the elevator only went up to the 4th Floor leaving us to walk up a steep spiral staircase. The elevator was also big enough for only one person.  After living in Italy, now in Istanbul, these things don’t really bother me. However, I was with my mom and wanted us both to be very comfortable and had tried to do my research well… thus wasn’t too pleased with the result.  The door to the apartment didn’t shut. The girl who let us in told us ‘Don’t worry, just run and slam it quick and it will just close behind you!’ Was this a daily obstacle called ‘How do we leave‘? Yes. The bathroom was in the front hall that attached to the kitchen. Not the most ideal. The double bed was a loft with each side exposed. With one wrong turn, you could roll over and fall onto the bathroom floor.

But… the apartment’s two saving graces were it’s two breathtaking views.  The first was of the Eiffel Tower. The large window looked out over all the rooftops with the tower in the middle. You could sit and watch the lights dance up the tower all night long. The other view, out of the bathroom and onto the balcony, had a jaw-dropping showstopper of a view. Upon opening the balcony doors you could practically fly along the edges of Sacre Coeur.  I soon understood that the people who gave the listing rave reviews had forgiven the lack of comforts and fallen in love with the view. We also fell under its spell and instead of waking up to meander along the Seine and find a bakery, we found ourselves making any excuse to eat on ‘our’ balcony.

After unpacking we went to explore.  We wandered the back streets meandering along.  We walked by the ‘Love Wall’ then found the windmills and the bust of Dalida. We walked past Lapin Agile, the old cabaret once visited by all the artists. We found the vineyard and looked out across the city. We wandered along the winding roads that twisted up and around until until we were at Sacre Coeur. Once there, we just sat on the steps, looking down at the city. It was one of those moments that seems to stop in time. Montmarte reaches its most magical moments around the time of twilight.  This time of day in Paris is generally the magic hour. The sky turns first clear gray-blue, eventually grows pink and then purple.  That whole saying about La vie en Rose might really just be about sunset hour in Paris: people watching when the city goes quiet… as if everyone is admiring this place together.

Basic Margherita Pizza from Pink Mamma.because I have an Italy obsession…

For dinner, we decided to change it up from French Cusine and head to a place near Pigalle for pizza.  I had read that there was a great chain of family run Neopolitan style pizzerias. My love of pizza. Gets me everytime.  Pink Mamma is part of the ‘Big Mamma Trattoria” chain throughout Paris offering traditional and authentic Italian food. We entered without reservations, were greated with a warm ‘Ciao’ (the owners are French but our waiter was from Rome), and ordered two giant pizzas.  It was great…trendy, a bit upscale, but still affordable and delicious pizza. These guys know their stuff…having been to Napoli many many times, I was impressed with the pizza here. Chewey, stretchy crust. Tomato sauce that tastes like tomatoes (not sweet).  Gooey, fresh mozzarella. It was a nice change of scenery and I would definitely recommend to anyone in Paris.

We went back ‘home’ to the studio.  After trying many times to figure out the loft situation, we ended up with Mom in the loft and me on the pull-out futon.  I have to say, my mom was a trooper and never complained once…even when one day we walked 11 miles and even when I made her climb the rickety staircase to sleep in the loft.

I miss this…

We woke up early the next morning and had breakfast on the balcony.  Le Grenier a Pain Boulangerie, one of the boulangeries in Paris that won ‘best baguette’ twice in a row, was close to our apartment and we had been smart enough to stock up on bread and wheels of camenbert.  

Somewhere in the metro tunnels… this was when we were lost…

After stuffing ourselves with salami and camenbert and tomatoes and a whole baguette, we attempted to figure out the metro and go visit The Basilica of St. Denis.  We tried. We failed. We ended up in front of the ticket counter, so defeated that I couldn’t attempt using any of my High School French, saying “Excuse me Sir, we are lost.’  The man behind the counter took one look at me, at my mom beside me, smiled and said ‘Where do you want to go?’ When I told him St. Denis he just laughed and said, “No no, you need to go here, and take this line, and it’s a new ticket.’ As we started to take out the money he just said ‘No don’t worry,’ and opened the gates for us.  It was a moment of kindness that will always be remembered! Seriously, we only ever experienced warmth, smiles, and friendliness from the locals throughout our whole trip. We finally made it all the way to St. Denis and it was WORTH EVERY MOMENT spent lost on the metro.

The Basilica of St. Denis

I had studied the architecture as ‘the birthplace of Gothic architecture’, however I somehow missed that not only is St. Denis architecturally STUNNING but it’s where all the tombs of the kings and queens of France can be toured. Aside from this, the stained glass is famous for creating colorful kaleidoscopes on the cathedral floor at certain times of day.  We stopped by the tomb of Catherine de’Medici and walked through rainbows. Literally.  

Stained Glass…

We somehow managed to take the metro back and got out near The Galeries Lafayette.  We took the escalators all the way up the roof and took in the view. I have to say…better view than from the Eiffel Tower and it was free.  Then we headed into the food court and got a pretty good ‘food court style’ tarte tatin for lunch. Leaving there, bellies full of caramel and apples, we still had one final big tourist moment left to accomplish.  We had yet to walk up the Champs Elysees and see the Arc de Triomphe. We made it about a third of the way there, close enough to see the Arc in the distance…and (music to my ears) Mom exclaimed that she had seen it, had fulfilled her life dreams, and now would like a rest and a coffee.  So we turned around, stopped in The Tuleries, rested with our feet up on the fountain, and headed to Angelina’s. This time we each got a cafe au lait and one huge ice cream sundae to share. All in all, a very perfect day.  

Tarte Tatin
Best chill-out spot near the Tuleries…

After Angelina’s we made it up the hill to Abbesses and stopped into the local Nicolas Wine Shop, bought an 8 euro bottle of Bordeaux, and watched the sunset on the balcony.  Tired from all the walking, we looked down and saw the place across the street from us seemed open and nice, so we decided to try it for dinner. It was a happy impromptu choice and we would later come to just call it ‘ The Salad Place near home’.

Aperitif Time on the Balcony

It’s actual name is Le relais Gascon.  Upon sitting down I remember we looked at the menu and the salads caught our eyes.  We had been on a strictly butter-bread-duckfat diet. The idea of something green was appealing.  When the waiter arrived with a mixing bowl filled overflowing with salad, we were speechless. There was green somewhere…  but deep and buried down under fried pork bits, caramelized onions, duck confit, two entire wheels of goat cheese, oven baked potato chips, and a sweet garlic creme- fraiche… it was awesome.  

I promise, it’s a ‘salad’…

Coincidentally my Aunt was in town on a tour and coordinated with us to break away and walk around Montmarte with us the next day.  We met her and her husband, did the windmill walk again (yes, my mother, the Parisian tour guide), stopped at Cafe Renior and headed back to Le Relais Gascon for lunch to have wine and salad

Inside the Gardens at Cafe Renoir

After saying ‘bye to family, we had the whole afternoon and evening ahead of us. I remember Mom and I had this moment where we just kind of looked at each other and both knew what the other was thinking.  I can’t remember who said it first, but I know one of us just said “St Germain?’. And… that was how we found ourselves in an Uber with a Turkish driver, me speaking Turkish and translating for Mom (yup, it happened), then in front of Cafe de Flore. We had coffee and people watched.  We walked to the Luxembourg Gardens and sat and soaked up the sun, walked back past Odette’s and along the Seine, and headed back to Notre Dame to see it during sunset. For me, as long as I live, I’ll never forget those moments by Notre Dame with Mom. When I think of our trip, that’s the first image that comes to my mind.

And then, before we knew it, it was that magic time of day again. We sat at Pont Neuf and watched the boats underneath. There wasn’t music playing, but I swear in my memory, that moment always plays back in a kind of slow motion with music in the background. Pitch for a new film: ‘Twilight in Paris’.

On the Pont Neuf

We circled back to the Sulpice area to have a final dinner at Le Bistrot d’Henri. Sadly, it just wasn’t as amazing as it had been the first time around. I would still absolutely recommend this restaurant, but the boeuf bourguignon just wasn’t quite as tender. We still practically drank the sauce left in the bowls however.

Boeuf Bourguignon at Le Bistrot d’Henri

The next day was our last full day in Paris.  We wanted to recreate our favorite moments, or well, as much as we could.  We got an Uber to the Illes St. Louis to eat brunch again at St. Regis Cafe.  Then we walked one more time around Notre Dame to say ‘bye. During our farewell visit to the Cathedral it started raining. It was like fate was stepping in to help us realize the journey was ending. We wandered around some more and got ice cream from the famed Berthillon.  Yes, ice cream in rainy cold weather is still a good idea. We walked by the Seine for one last look. Then we headed back to ‘our’ apartment and spent the night packing and finishing off the wine and cheese, looking out both sides at the views.  

We left for the airport the next morning, mom to one terminal and me to another.  You know it’s been a trip well spent when you have to leave your shoes by the trash bins because they are split in half from so much walking.  Yes. True story. It was sad to leave such a perfect, ideal trip. To say that “Paris is always a good idea” might actually be an understatement. Looking back on that week, I’m left with a final remark from Mom in which she said “Why don’t people, or we, do this all the time?“. Anytime you want to go back Mom, I’m ready!

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