Sacre-Coeur, Montmartre, Les Halles, Berthillon Ice Cream

22. February 2006 Paris, France 0

It didn’t rain at all today but it was nippy enough to keep us awake and active all day. On our way out, we stopped at the boulangerie near the Seine to buy some fresh croissants. The bakery downstairs was closed. We took the #7 to Châtelet, transferred to the #4 and got off on Barbès-Rochechouart to transfer again to the #2 for the Anvers stop.

Montmartre was the home of Picasso and other artists in its heyday, but today it is as busy as 34th Street in New York, full of stores selling everything from cheap trinkets to housewares. We climbed the hill to Sacré-Coeur and saw the view of the entire city–it’s the highest point of all Paris. We realized once we got to the top that if we’re not walking, we’re climbing up steps during this vacation.

The basilica looks like it’s from the Byzantine times, but it was actually built later in 1876 to atone for the sins of the French during the revolution. They were being killed by the Prussians so donations from all over the country poured in to build a church and strike a deal with God. It’s a pretty funny story if you think about it. It’s so French. My dad did the Filipino thing: he bought a small statue of the Sacred-Heart to atone for his own sins.

From the north of Paris, we took the #4 all the way south, to the Montparnasse Tower. If Montmartre was the home of successful artists, Montparnasse was where the opposite end of the economic, social and political spectrum strived. Artists from all over the world came here to take advantage of the cheap rent. It was like the Brooklyn version of SoHo; well, before the hipsters moved to Brooklyn and made it expensive, too.

We walked to the Cimetière de Montparnasse and checked out the, well, dead scene. My dad didn’t like being there and he was opposed to my taking of photographs of the graves, so as soon as we entered, we walked towards the exit. At Denfert-Rochereau, we took the #4 to Place d’Italie and transfered to the #7 towards Chinatown on Porte de Choisy.

Paris’ Chinatown is like Vermont’s–it’s not there. There was construction on the main boulevard and the cranes were all in the way. If I didn’t see the Chinese McDonald’s, I would have walked back to the train and given up. But we ended up having lunch at Thai-Vien where we shared some Laotian sausages, grilled pork chops and tom yang kung, a shrimp hot soup that I like to eat in lieu of phở because of the lemongrass.

From Chinatown, we took the #7 back up to transfer to the #5 and to Bastille just to take a photo of the tower. And here it is:

There’s really nothing to say except for the fact that the Spirit of Liberty is on top, erected to commemorate the 1830 July revolution when “Citizen King” Louis-Philippe replaced the autocracy of Charles X.

From there, we made one final stop at Les Halles, Paris’ main food market until it was replaced by an ugly shopping complex. (And also the namesake of the New York City bistro where Anthony Bourdain used to work.) It used to smell like produce, now it just smells like pee.

What’s interesting is that you can still see the remains of what Émile Zola called le ventre de Paris, the stomach of Paris, even though it is now referred to as le trou des Halles or the a-hole of Les Halles. (I wanted to go to Rungis, where the market is located today but waking up before 7am has been very difficult. Perhaps when I return.)

Back on St-Louis-en-l’Ile, I finally managed to buy ice cream from the famous Berthillon shop before it closed for the day. They’re famous for their all-natural ice cream, and oh-man, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted better pistachio and apricot flavors in my life!

I went up the apartment to save some for my parents who went straight to the supermarket from Les Halles. I ran back downstairs to catch the prettiest store on St-Louis-en-l’Ile, La Petite Scierie, before it closed and spent a fortune on foie gras and duck meat.

If you’re in Paris but you don’t like foie gras, visit the store anyway and check out the good looking Frenchie at the counter who gave me a taste of the Loire wine they carry with the foie gras I bought.

Mr. and Mrs. B made it back without my help and we spent the rest of the night chillin’ with red wine, ice cream and foie gras on fresh baguette. Life is so good in Paris.

Related post/s:
Day 4: Musee d’Orsay, Jardin des Tuileries, Arc de Triomphe
Day 3: Louvre Museum, Eiffel Tower
Day 2: The Pantheon, Jardin du Lexembourg, Saint-Sulpice
Day 1: Arriving in Paris
Planning a trip to Paris