“See you in Montmartre?”
“See you in Montmartre.”
This is a walk I probably wouldn’t have attempted without previous Paris experience—and a dangerously crowded meeting point if we hadn’t had just activated two brand new French cellphone numbers. The hotel was Rue de Vaugirard, on the south side of the Seine River. Montmartre is “Rive droite,” six kilometres further—I basically had to cross the city on foot.
Sure, I could have taken the métro like Feng and Mark, but then I was missing dozens of neighbourhoods and landmarks I wanted to see again.
I glanced at my paper map. Montparnasse. Easy. I know the Gare Montparnasse very well, all the trains going West (including to Nantes) leave from this big station. I spent hours at Montparnasse waiting for TGVs, and I’ve stopped by a few times since we arrived in Paris to buy a late-night snack. Besides, it’s conveniently located just behind the massive 210-metre-tall Montparnasse Tower, a handy landmark when you’re kind of lost since it’s the tallest building in Paris.
I called my sister on the way to Montparnasse. I found the train station easily but I missed the turn to Rue de Rennes because I was chatting and because all the streets look the same around the station. Oops.
I turned around, found it, and called my brother.
“I’m on my way to Montmartre. I can pick you up on the way.”
“Pont des arts?”
There are dozens of crêperies around Montparnasse because once upon a time, poverty-stricken newcomers from Brittany arrived by train and didn’t bother venturing very far into Paris—they just settled around the station. Despite the Breton street name, I left Brittany walking down Rue de Rennes, which is a trendy shopping street with international retail and fast-food chains.
Eventually, I reached Saint-Germain-des-Prés, home to jazz music, a handful of famous cafés as well as writers, intellectuals and philosophers, actors, singers and musicians. Nowadays, it’s very “bohemian chic,” Parisian for “expensive and gimmicky”.
Rue Bonaparte took me straight to the Seine River and the Pont des Arts, right in front of the Académie française.
My brother caught up to me after the bridge and the Cour carrée of the Louvre. From there, we kept on walking north, through Pigalle, and we realized we were reaching Montmartre when we started going uphill.
We found Mark and Feng in front of square Louise-Michel’s carrousel, at the bottom of the steps leading to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre. We visited it, wandered around Montmartre and headed north again.
We took a break at the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann but we left the iconic department store without a Vuitton bag and we didn’t queue to step on the glass footbridge just under the dome either.
Past the Palais Garnier, we took the posh Rue de la Paix all the way to Place Vendôme. Coming from the crowded, noisy and narrow streets of Montmartre, it was surprisingly empty, big and quiet—that’s when you realize free space is a subtle sign of luxury in Paris.
Alone, I hung out in the wealthy district for a while, following Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré and visiting a few stores even though I only had €25 in my wallet—but hey, I did get free samples!
I crossed the Jardin des Tuileries again and checked out the cool-looking Pompidou Centre. Then I took a side trip back toward the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to see Place Beauvau, the French “homeland security” headquarters and the Palais de l’Élysée.
That’s how you get to appreciate Paris—it pays off to cross it on foot and walk through different neighbourhoods and “hidden” landmarks instead of taking the subway from point A to point B!