Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The weekend of... Paris and my birthday! {part 1}

We got back to Koln last night, tired and happy... and I was very thankful for all the birthday messages on facebook and the like! My birthday was wonderful, and so many little contributions from people made it so special and just added even more love to the day! And, of course, it was in Paris, which didn't hurt! :D

Yep, Paris was amazing... My current facebook status sums it up "Had the most amazing birthday-weekend... skipped along the champs-elysees, danced in the Paris Opera, struck a pose outside the Moulin Rouge, Triumphed over the Arc de Triomphe, strolled along the Seine, kissed in front of the twinkling Eiffel Tower, hurried through rainy streets, and cracked creme brulee in a cosy coffee shop... what a blessed time we had!" 
But, I'll be recapping in more detail this week! 

It's Travel-Tuesday and I'm linking up with Belinda and Bonnie-Rose, but I'm also writing this for family and friends back at home, sharing our lives with them and showing our unedited and not always very 'artistic' photos :D 

DAY 1 (Saturday) 

After I lay awake the night before and eventually got up to check the tickets one last time and realised that we were leaving 10 minutes earlier than I'd thought- which makes a big difference when using tram connections to get to the station - we left home early, in the dark. But, we were super-excited! Malcolm tends to handle excitement a bit better than I do... I look a little crazy, but it's happy-crazy. 



Traveling with Thalys we had 3hrs15 minutes to watch the German countryside, Bruxelles, some French fields, and many other pretty sights go whizzing by. 


We arrived at the Gare du Nord and it was easy enough to find our hotel, 250 metres away. We were a little overwhelmed by the amount of people, and the fact that they cross the road when the little man is red, but soon managed to shake off the German-training and blend in with the hustle and bustle. Our hotel was a one-star place, but our room was pretty big and very clean, we had a view onto the rather quiet street behind the hotel, and the man at the front desk was friendly, so that was great!


With that sorted, we headed off to Montmartre. I've dreamed of visiting here since watching Amelie, though I knew it wouldn't actually look like it was depicted. And my suspicions were confirmed. The streets on our way were busy and bustling with Saturday morning trading, and when we arrived at the bottom of the hill to the Sacre-coeur, there were loads of people wanting to sell us things. Malcolm learned the phrase 'non, merci' pretty quickly. 

But, it was a beautiful day and I was delighted to see the carousel from Amelie! 


We enjoyed a slow walk up to the top, sometimes up the main path, but also using the quieter little paths to the side, and often turning around to appreciate the view from the hill. 


Once at the top there was a long queue to go in, so we explored around the back of it. Only when I was standing behind it, looking up and without a crowd of people, did I truly appreciate how big it was. 



We returned to the front of the basilique to soak up the view, which was incredible, and watch a couple dance on the steps while a photographer snapped away. 


We explored the streets behind the Sacre-Coeur, little streets of old shops, bakeries and, of course, postcards and every souvenir imaginable. 


The Place du Tertre, with artists selling their pretty paintings and many offering to paint ours, or sell us a cut-out of our profile for 20euros, was buzzing and colourful. I loved seeing how they start their portraits, and turn a blank canvas into something beautiful.



Walking down the streets, seeing the windows full of beautiful macaroons and delicious baguettes, and finally getting to see a REAL menu in French (as opposed to those in my textbooks...), we were hungry.


But, Paris on a budget means we skipped past, and found a quiet spot on a step and ate our lunch that we'd brought along. Here began our diet of bread and cheese. 


Either our timing was excellent, or others got stuck at the Sacre-Coeur, but we were really glad that as we walked along the rue Lepic, there were fewer and fewer people.


Our destination was the Montmartre Cemetery. Despite it having a main road running over it, it was such a quiet and peaceful place. There were some there with flowers, tending to graves, and others like us with a map of the cemetery and some graves we wanted to pass by. I really wanted to see those of Marie Taglioni, Emma Livry and Fanny Cerrito, but their graves weren't on the map and we couldn't find them.
We stopped at the grave of Nijinsky though, haunted by the feeling that this man who was once so alive and vibrant on stage, was buried there, an eerie clown not doing justice to the energy he once had.
The other one that caused us to stop a while was that of Alexandre Dumas, fils. His has the inscription "Je me constituai dans ma vie et dans ma mort qui m'intéresse bien plus que ma vie car celle-ci ne fait partie que du temps et celle-là de l'éternité." Which I'm not sure if I understand correctly, but he seems to say that his life was for a part of time, but his death for eternity. OR that his death is a moment in time but his life is eternal. Somebody want to clarify? Either way, it was a point to ponder - eternal life versus eternal death. Despite not being superstitious, somehow the ravens and black cats just added to the atmosphere of the cemetery.


It was beautiful, and tragic, seeing the monuments erected for so many lives that are no more. Such elaborate tombs, reminding me of that scene from the Phantom of the Opera. But, it made me appreciate life, and being there together was something special and it was a reminder to not just enjoy each moment, but to make each moment count for something greater.

We made a rather rapid transition, and went from the Cemetary to the Moulin Rouge. Once, when I was young and naive, I wanted to dance there - it started as a joke to sort of shock my mum (though she's unshockable, I learnt), but I've wanted to visit it ever since.


It was great to see, but it's also the start of the Red-Light district. Shop after shop was a sex-shop of some kind. It wasn't funny, and it wasn't shocking, it was real-life for so many people. It broke my heart that so many people are trapped in the industry, or trapped by it. Despite the neon lights and vibrant colours being in such stark constrast to the white tombs and silence of the cemetary, it felt quite similar. 



The last thing we wanted to see, was the cafe featured in Amelie - Les Deux Moulins. We went inside and it really is nearly like it was in the movie, though the prices are sky-high. Along the same road are various fruit shops and bakeries or patisseries. It was fun just looking and enjoying the colours. 


Having seen all that we had hoped, and still having time, we stopped first at a grocery store and bought some cheese and orange juice, and then at a bakery to buy a loaf of bread. Armed with our supper for later, we went back up to the Sacre-Coeur, stopping by a bakery to buy a croissant au chocolate and a chausson aux pommes with the money we had left for the day, and ate our tea-time on the grass with the most spectacular view. 


As we were finishing our pastry-picnic, it started getting pretty cold, so we wound our way back down, absorbing every bit. 


The narrow streets turned from shops selling souvenirs, expensive chocolate and fancy biscuits, to selling piles and piles of reduced-priced clothes, and when we neared our hotel, wedding dresses and suits. Somehow we seem to have found the wedding-shop-centre of the area?



We ended the day, completely exhausted, having our bread and cheese dinner on our bed, watching French TV. It was a great first day in the city, seeing the pretty-touristy-areas, the sombre-cemetary, the famous-sex-district and just real people heading home on dirty streets. 

SO thankful for our time there, and I look forward to covering day two and three tomorrow and Thursday! 

27 comments:

  1. It looks like you had such a good time, Erika! I'm glad Paris treated you well! Now, can I please go there right this moment as well? ;)

    xx

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    1. We did! I wish it was so easy to just go right back, I'd be with you on that !

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  2. You two are so cute!! Glad you loved Paris. Looks like an epic birthday!

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    1. Aw thanks! It was definitely a great way to celebrate the end of a year and the start of a new one!

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  3. Love that you got to see that carousel from Amelie. Love that film so much! I love going to cemeteries on our travels. We went to the Père Lachaise Cemetery where Edith Piaf is buried when we went to Paris. Not sure if you have seen that blog post on my blog yet. Looks like it was a great birthday! Thank you for linking up for Travel Tuesday, hope to see you next week!

    Bonnie Rose | A Compass Rose - an expat lifestyle blog

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    1. It was so great seeing bits of the film come alive. I considered that cemetary too, but decided to focus on ballet dancers... who I couldn't find anyway :( I'll have a look for that post of yours though!

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  4. Montmartre is definitely the ideal spot to spend a day in Paris - so gorgeous and lively over there!

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    1. Absolutely! So vibrant and interesting!

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  5. I love the movie, Amelie as well. So fun to see the cafe and carousel from the movie!! Glad you had a nice weekend away!

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    1. It's such a fun movie, and I saw that despite having studied it and then choosing to study it again for a 6-month research project, which usually kills movies ;)

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  6. Um, yep--perfect and blissful birthday! What a lovely way to celebrate. I am drooling just thinking of all the lovely baked goods and cheese you got to consume! I adore Amelie and loved walking around Montmartre in the heart of winter when the crowds thinned and it was totally atmospheric. This is totally a trip that you will remember forever and it sounds like it got off to a great start. Can't wait to read more next week!!

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    1. Oh the food... I walked past bakeries yesterday here in Germany and somehow it just didn't smell as good... though that won't stop me for long!
      Amelie is one of my very favourite movies ever, it must have been great to see Montmartre less busy and more like the movie paints it! :D

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  7. Happy Belated birthday! That looks like a sweet trip! I really don't know anything about Paris....but I'm of the opinion that sometimes artistically gorgeous photos are overrated and I like photos of smiling happy people instead!
    I remember walking right past brothels in Thailand--it breaks my heart.

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    1. Thank you! It was a great trip :)
      I realise how little I know of Paris, but it was lots of fun, and I think I also like smiley photos rather than just photos of buildings I could get off google images later ;)
      It really is heartbreaking, realising the reality of it... seeing kids carefree and playing with dolls as they walk past sex-shops, I can't help but wander if, with them growing up right there, that is their future too.

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  8. your happiness is contagious and that smile makes me smile :) glad your birthday was so nice!!

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  9. Happy birthday! Paris looks great, as always!
    http://liveitinerantly.com

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  10. It looks like you guys had a wonderful trip! (The sandwiches in the pastry shop looks delicious too!)

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    1. Oh yes! EVERY window looked delicious!

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  11. Oh sweet Paris! This post has made me a little homesick for my home away from home (e.g. where I was before I came to Germany but after I left England :P)!

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    1. I would love to have stayed there a little longer, it must have been fun to live there!

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  12. Happy birthday again. Loved reading about your day in Montmartre!

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  13. It looks like you had such a blast. What a great way to celebrate your birthday!

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    1. Absolutely! And this was just the beginning :D

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  14. Be lated Happy Birthday. Paris is really a dream destination of every one.

    Thanks for sharing your experience in Paris.


    Dhruv Thaker
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