Be sure to check out my last article, where I took an underground train into Paris!
After a bit of time exploring Paris, Dounia and I joined Bill, Ulyana, Sara, and Nikos downstairs. We were heading to the Quartier Latin, or the Latin Quarter, for a traditional French dinner. Another tour group joined us along the way.
We were a sight to be seen: 40 young, noisy, American tourists walked in pairs down the narrow Parisian alleyway sidewalks at dusk. I hadn’t realized that we had gotten there when we finally arrived. It was dark, and we were suddenly being ushered into a building that had small, residential windows and no sign. Judging by all outward appearances, I would have assumed this was just another apartment building. As we passed through the doorway, we were greeted by a line of jocular waitstaff, told to go down the stairs, and were seated one by one.
Dinner in a French Basement
The basement looked like it was straight out of a catacomb. The walls were made of unfinished stone. A long row of booths pushed against the wall sat proudly. The basement was dim and lit by candles and a few spotlights. My group sat at the end of all the tables. Because it was just the six of us, I was finally able to get to know my travel companions a little more. Ulyana (Uly for short) was studying acting at a fancy New York university. Bill was taking a gap year (I believe) and lived on the East Coast. Sara was from a small Michigan town and she spent her summers working at a local bakery. Nikos was Greek, and he his whole career was centered around helping tourists. These month-long trips were always his favorites.
We drank and joked the night away, as our waiters both served and acted as entertainment, coming up with songs and limericks on the fly! After dinner (and a taste test of Bill’s frog legs – not bad), Dounia and I, both tipsy and happy, hiccupped our way back to the hotel room to get some rest for exploring Paris the next day.
Through the Red-Light District
Before dinner the night before, Nikos had suggested we spend the next morning exploring Montmartre before we left for our day trip to the Palace of Versailles. Dounia and I decided to swing by since it was so close to the Versailles day trip meeting point. We went in barely remembering the name of whatever it was we were visiting and were astounded as we stepped off the subway and looked around. Montmartre is a beautiful church that sits atop one of the tallest hills of the city. The morning had started off wet and drizzly, so I donned my new polka-dotted raincoat and gave Dounia a grin as we looked around to discover exactly where we had wound up. Just as we took our first steps towards exploring Montmartre, my purse broke.
Just Around the Corner
My purse had been breaking the whole trip, but it had finally decided to give out at the entrance. Luckily, in order to get to the church, we had to pass by hundreds of cheap, touristy vendors, restaurants, and shops. I found out later that this was part of the Red-Light District. Originally, I had planned on avoiding the Red-Light District entirely since I had no desire to shop and, to be quite honest, some portions of it seemed kind of sketchy. Besides that, I also felt like I was too young to explore Moulin Rouge, which was also nearby. During the bus tour, all I could think about as we drove past Moulin Rouge was how nervous I’d be if we ever went inside. Now, after traveling a bit more and being a few years older, I think I’d love to go back and explore this side of Paris.
I wanted to get up to the church and start exploring Montmartre as soon as I could, so I rushed through shopping. Perusing wasn’t my goal: I grabbed a Paris-themed knapsack and ducked out of the store. I was excited to get up to the church. As I leaned my head back to look up at the church, the clouds rolled around it. The grass was a rich green and the drizzle made everything just dark enough to look mysterious but inviting.
A Lesson in Stairs
I don’t think I’ve ever gone up so many stairs in one go before! We went up what could have been five flights it seemed like, only to arrive three tiers below the entrance. We took a break to look around the small plaza and take some photos. There were more vendors here, however, they were the kind that walked around and tried to sell you things from a blanket they laid on the ground. One went as far as to grab me by the wrist to try and drag me to look at his goods. Dounia helped yank me away, but it was a little scary nonetheless.
We continued our journey up, up, up, up, and up again until we finally arrived at the entrance. I was huffing and puffing and regretting not exercising before my trip. There was a small line to get into the church, along with a list of rules for the tourists. Montmartre was still an active church, so the rules were there to ensure that tourists respected the services and the churchgoers. I felt a little weird about snapping shots left and right as the Mass was going on, so I didn’t take any pictures. I looked around at the stained glass and tried to keep as quiet as possible. Every once in a while, I tried to listen to the priest deliver the Mass in French, Latin, and Italian.
A Chocolate Palace
After we had poked around and finished exploring Montmartre, we still had about an hour to kill. As we were making our way back down the stairs, we ran into a trio of girls from our group. We decided to head down and explore the stores below. What followed was basically an entire hour of me bickering with myself on whether to spend my euros on a “big” souvenir item this early in the trip. Ultimately, I decided not to get anything, but it was really cool to explore the area below Montmartre’s steps.
There were Latin Quarter-themed sweaters, hoodies, and scarves. The Eiffel Tower was printed on everything you could imagine: clothes, shoes, accessories, mugs, magnets, keychains, postcards and more. I’m sure the streets would have been flooded with tourists if it had been a sunny morning. Luckily, it was just busy enough to be fun and not overwhelming.
Suddenly, the five of us got a strong whiff of something delicious smelling. After more perusing, we finally found it: a chocolate shop. It was warm both in temperature and in the atmosphere. There was a line of parents and their screaming kids at the counter, in line with handfuls of goodies. The best part of the whole shop, though, laid right in front: a four-foot-tall chocolate replica of Notre Dame. Done entirely with chocolate, the detail was immaculate. Afterward, we soon ended exploring Montmartre to meet the rest of our group at the nearby subway station.
Be sure to tune in next time to read about the Palace and Gardens of Versailles!