Montmartre, high above the city with a spectacular panorama of Paris is one of my favourite places. Every time I visit Paris I go there, this trip was no different. We did take a different way to get there though. Montmartre’s metro stations are on the edge of the district and leave you with a real uphill walk to reach Sacre Coeur and the main sights. Fine on our previous trips, maybe not so much fun with a three year old. We took the funicular from the Place Willette – lazy, but quick and easy to get to the top. Son loved the funicular but even more the carousel by the entrance. Everyone was happy – a good start.
Right at the top of the hill, towering above everything and sparkling white is the basilica of Sacre Coeur, one of Paris’ most familiar landmarks. Some are not so keen on it, I love it – a bit kitsch to be sure but it never fails to impress me.
The history is interesting too. It was built between 1876 and 1914 as atonement for the 58,000 people who died in the Franco Prussian War of 1870-71. Lots of problems and it took years to finish. Then World War I came along and the Parisians had to wait until 1919 for the consecration. Apparently priests still work in relays here to maintain constant prayer for forgiveness of the horrors of war. Inside the church was really crowded, but there was a hushed and spiritual atmosphere. We looked around speedily – Son was pretty good but we couldn’t be sure how long the hushed conditions would last with him around. Outside we checked out the big statues of St Joan of Arc and St Louis on horseback. I love the white exterior – the church is built from stone that secretes a white substance when it rains. How cool is that.
The view from the terrace in front of the church is superb – 180 degree panorama taking in the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Les Invalides – even Son was (mildly) impressed.
There is only so much panoramic stuff a 3 year old can take however, so when he spotted the little tourist train in front of the church, we gave in and got on board. It travels around Montmartre and Pigalle, I thought initially we were just indulging Son however it was a fascinating and informative 45 minute trip with great commentary – I would do it even without children! We saw the only vineyard in Paris – apparently the wine is not too great, but it’s a reminder that this hillside was once covered in vines.
We ambled around Montmartre, all cobbled streets, lovely views and a bohemian, village feel. Son adored the Place du Tertre teeming with street artists and portrait painters. He could have watched them for hours – I think we did. The crowds are pretty intense here though, the main drawback.
Wandering a little off the beaten track, we found some really quiet back streets with whitewashed cottages – it felt as if we found the real village of Montmartre. Quite a contrast to the crowds and tacky tourist shops just a street or two away.
Downhill after this to Pigalle – a bit seedy with some dubious establishments. We saw the Moulin Rouge but it must be said, despite the plethora of sex shops and such like, we felt completely safe here. Son was still too young to ask any awkward questions.
Son saw some teenagers having fun on an air vent above the metro and did the same….. according to him watching his coat “fly” was the best part of the whole day!