Last night Keith and I arrived in Paris after a long, long journey (4 flights!). We went to the Tour Eiffel and walked along the Seine at night, but today was our first full day of exploring the French capital. We decided that since we would have a long day with the New Years Eve celebrations going on all night that we would stick around Montmartre (where we were staying) and enjoy all the spoils that the neighborhood offers. And, as we were still exhausted from our journey, having our beds near us in case we needed to crash was appealing. Surprisingly though, we were out for a good amount of time.
After leisurely getting up and going next door from our hostel to the cutest (and tastiest!) little boulangerie in Paris, we walked down rue Caulaincourt and were met with the quaint village atmosphere of Montmartre. We went past all the little shops I would love to become a regular customer of -- the cheese shop, the fruit stand, the meat market with the aproned man stood behind the counter weighing fat meats for that evening's festivities, seafood stores with dozens of whole fish and crabs out on display,
the flower stalls with colorful blossoms, and of course the cafés. It was all very français... mais oui!
We decided to start off with Sacré-Cœur. After climbing what felt like 100,000 stairs, we were met with another picturesque street, albeit more touristy than our rue Caulaincourt. Thinking, we must be close to the basilica, we turned the corner and there it was: the massive, white stone side of the onion-domed church barely standing out in the drabby gray sky. It was magnificent!
We made our way around the front of the huge église
and took in the grandeur of the church. I could not believe how large it was, and how many people and "unique" trinket vendors we had to weave our way around to get a good solid view of the front. It was impressive, the whole scene. We stood outside and very much enjoy the view afforded to us; the church and the view of Paris from the highest hill top were a spectacular reward despite the gray clouds. Exhausting every angle, we filtered through the doors to join the rest of the crowd into the church.
Once inside, the scene we met was arguably
more spectacular than the one outside. The interior of the church was not just awesome and incredibly grand; the atmosphere was full of palpable appreciation. Aside from the occasional scuffle of feet and muttered exclamation of awe, the only sound was the perfect unison of nuns singing a continual prayer. The voices were perfectly complemented by the church: everything was religious and incredible. Around the perimeter, where there were , families and individuals lit candles to pray for loved ones. The mood was subdued, partly out of respect but also because of the sheer impressiveness of the domed interior. Passing through the arches of the church made me feel so small in comparison to the environs. It was all so beautiful -- so much to be admired. Though the church is quite young compared to many others in Paris, you would not be able to tell given the grandeur of the whole place.
The disappointment of the day (though not that surprising of a disappointment) was the Moulin Rouge. You want to talk about an icon being over hyped, let's talk about the infamous Moulin Rouge. Granted, I did not see a show there, but I also didn't want
to pay $ 200+ for a dinner and a show. (I wonder if it was that expensive back in the day). The place was small, the street not in the spirit of Montmartre (which isn't completely lost in some areas - and therefore not out of the question), and the surrounding sights were: a Starbucks, a Quick Quality Burger Restaurant, and a seemingly never ending parade of sight-seeing buses that stop long enough for passengers to snap a quick shot through the windows. Quel disappointing! Where were the bohemians - where were the artists? Where were the score of cafes, save the one overpriced joint Keith and I ventured, nay--forced into by lack of options. Maybe I live in the past and believe that a sight like the Moulin Rouge should possess some of the original spirit. Maybe I've just been educated by Hollywood and stereotypes of Paris icons. But I think the belief is justified... if something is going to represent an era, shouldn't it preserve more than just a building? Shouldn't it retain all its qualities, or at least most of them? Hmmm...
At least the rest of Montmartre wasn't disappointing. In fact, it quite surprised me.
And what surprised me most was the cemetery, which Keith and I passed and explored on a whim, and ended up being very enjoyable. The whole area was filled with ornate and large tombstones and shrines of famous Parisians, residents, and others. It was almost whimsical, with its tree-lined boulevards of death and graves almost stacked on top of each other. Opposed to the Arlington National Cemetery that we visited in November in Washington, DC, Montmartre Cemetery had no rhyme or reason or design, which made it special. The overcast day set the mood just right, as well, since the grey sky and the dozens of crows flying over the tombs gave it a particular mood befitting a cemetery full of artists, composers, and writers of the Revolution. It was all very interesting.
The rest of the afternoon passed by with a short repose in our cozy hostel and a decision to spend New Years Eve in the Latin Quarter. We strolled by the Pantheon, weaved our way through the crowded medieval streets of the Latin Quarter, and stumbled on Notre Dame which does live up to the hype. Our last hours of 2009 were filled with wandering the
narrow alleys, watching a troupe of gypsy musicians (or regular people dressed as gypsies) enchant onlookers, and enjoying all the festivities. We ended up in front of the Cathedral at the stroke of midnight, at least I think. There wasn't an official countdown or indication or even fireworks when it was actually midnight... in fact, there were 3-4 waves of moments where a group of people claimed it was 2010, which would be shortly followed by another group of people shouting Bonne Année and lighting sparklers! Though the moment was a bit anti-climatic, I still had a good time greeting people with Bonne Année everywhere.
Overall, it was good first day in Paris. Tomorrow is another day -- hopefully slightly warmer and less rainy! Au revoir, and Bonne Année!
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