Paris: Sacre-Coeur, Baguettes and American Friends

Courtney and I didn’t wake up until about 11 on Sunday and we didn’t get out of the apartment until about one. We spent most of those two hours on the Internet trying to find any bakery open in our neighborhood, but without any luck. We knew only two things of the day at that point: 1) we wanted to see Sacre-Coeur; 2) we wanted to have another picnic with the leftover food, which would require us to purchase bread. We also knew that we were quite hungry and need to eat as soon we possible. Unfortunately, even though I find this says a lot about the French people’s love of life over money, almost nothing is open on Sundays. In our neighborhood, for example, where there are bakeries, cafes and restaurants everywhere, Courtney and I literally could not find any place open for food even after spending nearly an hour on the internet.

Montmartre on a Sunday

Luckily Courtney is quite the intelligent -girl so she looked for bakeries near Sacre-Coeur and found one right off a Metro stop in the area of the chapel. Perfect. We gathered our things and went to Sacre-Coeur.
Sacre-Coeur is located in a neighborhood known as Montmartre which apparently was the main hang out of artsy types in the late 19th century (according to my dad). Back in the day it was quite the happening place. Well, today is no different. After climbing the longest subway staircase in my life (Montmartre is much higher than the rest of Paris) Courtney stepped out into what could only be described as a giant block party. There were people everywhere. Bands were playing live music. People were laughing. There was a merry-go-round. People sat on benches eating croissants and picnicking. It was pleasantly loud (in the sense of a lively neighborhood, not in the sense of a bat-mitzvah). People walked in the streets, milled around near the bands, watched their kids run around the park areas and generally had the air of a summer party. The weather was gorgeous and if it had been a little bit warmer, it very well could have been a summer block party.

Bakery

I turned to Courtney, after seeing the croissant munching locals, and congratulated her on bringing us to the only place in Paris alive on Sundays. In fact, it seemed that all of Paris’ people had come to Montmartre for the day, knowing that this was the place to be. We were struck by the number of people hanging out, but I guess even on Sundays people want to enjoy life and beautiful weather. Courtney and I quickly found the bakery. We bought a baguette, but resisted purchasing croissants or other goodies, telling ourselves that we could come back later. We stepped outside and I took a bite of this beautiful loaf of bread. It was delicious. The crust snapped in my mouth and cracked between my teeth before allowing me to feel the soft interior of the bread. Thee flavor was simple; slightly salty, but incredibly oveny. It’s hard to define the taste of fresh baguette, but its magical. We ate half of the loaf walking around the town of Montmartre. At the time it was the best baguette of my life.
The “downtown” of Montmartre had an incredibly homey feel. Though every store front was either a restaurant or some sort of food store which was invariably crowded by swarms of people, it still reminded me a bit of a small American town. Everywhere looked inviting. I wanted to stop in all of the stores and all of the restaurants. People ate outdoors and talked to passersby. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. Courtney and I, though, needed to buy more cheese for our picnic since we had finished all of the cheese that we had purchased the day before. No where looked appropriate to my foodie self. I wanted another cheese store like we had found the day before, but the only formagerie was closed. One supermarket looked ok, but by the time I had resigned myself to buying cheese from a supermarket, it had closed. We ended up getting some at a convenience type store, which ended up being fairly good. It is France after all and food is generally delicious. In our wandering of the main street my nose started dragging me towards a specific store as it followed the wafting of magical, fresh bread. The source of this smell was another bakery, this one with a line out the door. The smell was intoxicating. There was an award in the window declaring this as the best baguette in Paris. Even though I was already holding an entire, well by this time half, baguette, I wanted more. I could not resist the aroma. Courtney, again intelligently, discovered that they didn’t close until 8. Therefore we could return after we had visited Sacre-Coeur.
We found a cute park on a hill where we could enjoy the rest of our baguette, olives, ham, cheese, anchovy tapenade and wine. It was quite the salty meal, but delicious anyway. There’s something special about enjoying a picnic, in the beautiful weather outdoors, on a park bench with your beautiful girlfriend in the most romantic city in the world. What could it possibly be? We took our time eating and watched as people passed us by. Then we followed the crowd of people who had passed us by up the hill because we figured that we would eventually come to Sacre-Coeur, which was situated at the top of Montmartre. We climbed higher and came to another sort of town center, this one even more crowded than the one from which we came! It was not just crowded, it was mobbed. We had difficulty navigating the crowds of tourists. This was obviously a much more touristy neighborhood, but the town was still beautiful and we tried to enjoy it despite being hassled by the crowds.

The Church on the Mount

Once closer to the chapel, the crowds only intensified. There was some sort of festival going on. It almost looked like a wine festival because people were walking around with glasses of wine and tons of stalls were advertising tastes of wine. We continued through towards the chapel, avoiding the horribly over-priced food vendors, even though I was tempted to buy something from the Foie Gras stall. Finally, after pushing our way through a sea of people, we climbed the steps of the Sacre-Coeur and got our first view of the city from the hill. It was gorgeous. We could see for miles, even with the haze hanging over the city. The church itself, was built in th 19th century, so it’s not that old, but it’s still quite impressive. We went inside and enjoyed its Neo-Gothic architecture. The art was nice and the place was calming. I still prefer Italian churches, but that might just be bias. The church itself, though, is impressive in its beauty and location. Any church located above a town holds some sort of aura as a religious power, but one that is large and beautiful truly holds the attention of the people. It is a reminder of the power of the Church, and the power of God. It’s a strategic position to build a symbol of power and salvation because of the symbolism of things on high. They are better defended, stronger and generally considered powerful. The high ground is where the leaders live and where the normal people strive to be. The Church inherently makes itself more powerful by being on the mount.

Overlooking the spectacular view

We then climbed to the top of the cupola to get an even more spectacular view of the city. We wound our way up the 300 narrow spiral, stone staircase and, after making ourselves quite dizzy, came out into the breezy sunlight. From he circular vantage of the cupola we could see for miles around the city. Even through the haze hanging over the city, hopefully not from pollution, we saw the Eiffel Tower, the Seine and our little neighborhood in the distance. It was peaceful and serene. There were few people which allowed Courtney and I to enjoy the view unobstructed for about 20 minutes. There’s not much to say about the cityscape. It’s unlike anything I had ever seen before. I literally could not see any trees or natural landscape, outside of the in-city parks, in any direction. This was a new experience for me. Even when in New York I can generally see some sort of nature in the distance. The city seems to end, whether because it’s divided by rivers or because there are trees everywhere, but Paris appears endless. It’s an endless city, even from the highest point of the city. It was a stunning, marvelous and amazing display of humanity’s affect on the world. I had not imagined it possible to not see nature, but here I was sitting upon the top of a cupola seeing for miles and not seeing nature. It would nave been intimidating except that the Parisians had enough intelligence to permeate the expansive city with numerous parks which give the city dwellers a break from the wear and tear of a city. And in this sense the endless is not so endless. There are parks interspersed all throughout the city so that, along with the tree lined streets, makes the city feel natural. It doesn’t so much destroy nature as it does work itself into the nature (even though the cities are probably manmade). The enormous city is not an overwhelming jungle of buildings, but rather a series of buildings broken by parks. It is beautiful and peaceful instead of rushed and almost domineering like New York or Madrid. I pulled Courtney closer and looked out across the calm sea of buildings.

View from Sacre-Coeur

We descended the dizzying, quiet stairs and emerged into the loud, crowded street fair, which by this time had become even louder and rowdier as the wine had continued to flow. Courtney and I were, by this time, more than exhausted of the touristy crowd and figured it was time to leave. Interestingly, a thing which seems unique to the Parisians, we heard more French than any other language. Montmartre was obviously filled with people who didn’t reside in the neighborhood and the neighborhood itself was obviously touristy, but still French was the predominantly spoken language. This, in complete contrast to the other major cities of Europe in which I’ve travelled, was a relief. It was nice to not hear English, even though this meant I could not understand a word of what people were saying. What pleased me even more about only hearing French was that it meant that the Parisians genuinely enjoy their livelihood. They love their culture and they live in it. They’re appreciative of the wonders around them and take full advantage of it. The magic of French life has not been lost on them. The special has not become mundane to them. It’s wonderful to see a people not become jaded with their culture. They love it just as much as the outsider who doesn’t have have the fortune of experiencing it everyday.

Look how happy!

Once back into town we were hungry again (surprise surprise), and there was a gelato place with Italian flavors and a long line out the door. We waited and then wolfed down the delicious treat, which was more like ice-cream than gelato. Across the street we waited in another long line, this time for bread. The smell from this place continued to tease my tongue and fog my brain with dreams of ambrosial baguette. I didn’t need to eat bread (Courtney and I already finished an entire baguette for lunch), but the aroma made it irresistible. By the good fortunes of some foodie god (I like to thank Bacchus) the bakery happened to be pulling loaves out of the oven as we approached the cash register. We got a still warm loaf and left the heaven of bread. I clutched my prize and took a bite. I’m not even going to try to describe the beauty of this baguette. It was the best bite of bread I have ever taken. Just look at the pictures of my reaction below. I don’t even know the words to describe perfection, but that bread approached those heavenly descriptions.

Go Napoleon!

 
We went home, skipping a trip to Sainte Chappelle because we were exhausted (We did walk through the gorgeous Champs-Élysées and the Place de la Concorde on the way home where we saw an awesome obelisk stolen from Egypt by Napoleon!). I actually couldn’t believe the magnificence of this section, this broad street. It was massive and marvelous. The sun set over the obelisk while keeping the tree-lined Champs-Élysées in shadow. We passed the obelisk taking pictures of Napoleon’s bounty before walking hand-in-hand down the cool, shadowy, stunningly beautiful boulevard.

I did some work for Early Risers while Courtney took a nap. Neither of us were hungry so we decided to skip dinner plans in favor of meeting with some friends for drinks. One of my basketball friends from BC, a grad student named Justin, happened to be studying abroad in Paris for the year. Also, a mutual friend of Courtney and me Ali, is studying abroad in Paris for the semester. We met them in the 5th arrondissement. It took us a while to find anywhere that was open (Paris is not the liveliest of places on a Sunday night), but eventually we found a restaurant near the Pantheon that was open. We got some fairly decent and cheap food. I had French Onion soup which was very good, but apparently is not exactly a dish that many French people eat.

Sun setting over the obelisk and tower

We left the restaurant towards a bar nearby, but it was closed and we had to backtrack towards the St. Michel area which is always open and popping. Well, it wasn’t so busy this Sunday night but we found a cool little bar that was open and had some drinks.

Justin and Me

Courtney and Ali did their girly talking thing, while Justin and I chatted about random life experiences and whatnot. Regardless it was awesome, and semi-surreal experience to see fellow Americans in another country, and not even the country in which either Courtney or I were studying. It was nice, though, to feel a bit of home in Paris. Even though I’m not homesick in the sense of wanting to come home, there are obviously desires for the familiar and hanging out with these friends, even when we don’t hang out much in the States, delivered some of that familiarity.

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One Response to Paris: Sacre-Coeur, Baguettes and American Friends

  1. Andrew Cohen says:

    So nice to see photos of you enjoying your travels so much!

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