A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.-Thomas Jefferson
Before You Visit Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre, and Pigalle
- Wear a pair of comfortable shoes. Unless you plan on taking the funiculaire (cost is a single journey on the metro) to avoid the 190+ steps, make sure your feet are happy.
- Bring bottled water unless you want to pay tourist prices at one of the shops. They’ll gladly take your money!
- Don’t be a target! Avoid bringing more than you need. Leave the flashy stuff at home.
- Beware of the scam artists at the foot of the basilica. Right before you reach the second set of stairs to the cathedral, you’ll find a group of men trying to stop you. It seems innocent enough where many people will stop to talk to them only to be stuck in with a ring on a string. The problem is, you can’t avoid them as they have strategically placed themselves in the pathway. Still, be firm and say no. I had to yell obscenities in French before they just left me alone. Do whatever it takes.
- RESPECT. Respect the basilica and the grounds it is on. Respect the space of others when trying to take pictures. Respect the vendors and at least acknowledge them.
- Around Montmartre, take in the art, and pay attention or you might miss something. If time permits, get food and chill.
- As for the Pigalle, enjoy it for what it is. French sex and humor at its finest!
Watch Out for Scammers At Sacré-Cœur!
I arrived at the Anvers station (metro line 2) a little past noon. The trains were full, and the city was filled with lively characters. Using the CityMapper app (iOS, Android), I made my way up a steep little hill. This didn’t feel like the same city anymore. Maybe I was somehow transported to a busy bazaar in Morocco? I love it.
Before making my way up the steps, I stopped to look around. Clashing colors, flavors, and scents, a carousel, an ice cream shop, and plenty of life exuding from each corner. As I went up the hill curved to the right a bit and then to the left before reaching the foot of the basilica. I had only a few hundred steps to go, but scam artists stopped me at my tracks. I tried to be nice and said, ‘Non, merci’ as I would have back at home, but they were fucking relentless. Even someone with a calm temperament would have lost their top. I remembered the dirty French my friend from Toulouse taught me and I went in.
They backed off and told me I was ‘très mèchant.’
The second half of the steps were littered with people, sitting and enjoying the views. Nothing is inherently wrong with that; I was trying my hardest not to step on anyone. Once I made it to the top, I took in the views and a few elbows to my ribs. Taking a few snapshots I debated whether or not to enter the basilica for a closer look, but I was not interested since I had more ground to cover. I let the CityMapper app be my pocket tour guide.
Walk Around and Get Lost A Bit
I ended up walking through the rest of Montmartre and enjoying some street art. On my way to the famous Moulin Rouge, I came across Picasso’s first studio in Paris. I appreciate Picasso, but he isn’t my favorite artist. Still, I couldn’t help but get all giddy knowing I was walking where he and many other artists walked through, lived, and so forth. You know sometimes someone tells you about a place and you don’t believe it? Well, Montmartre is ART.
Quartier Pigalle is a Hot Spot for Sin
The border of the 9th and 18th arrondissements is quite, um. Let’s say filled with city debauchery. Boulevard de Clichy or the center of the Pigalle’s red-light district becomes apparent once you start seeing dick mugs in store windows, strip clubs, and prostitutes looking for Jacques. It isn’t like in most cities; you know the part of the town where you flee because you don’t want to be seen there, au contraire! That’s just one aspect of le Quartier Pigalle. Somehow it all just makes sense and works together. Again, I went in the afternoon, so I can assure you it will have a different vibe at night!
I ran into a couple of women from México who were exasperated at the fact that the French didn’t speak Spanish. Yes, queue in the eye roll. They were trying to get to Père Lachaise. I gave them directions but they were frustrated that it wasn’t simple enough to get there, but it actually was. On line 2, it was a straight shot from the Pigalle. I advised them to take a day trip out there because the cemetery was HUGE. That’s what I get for trying to be friendly and helpful.
I spent my afternoon meeting yet another side of Paris. I’m not sure how anyone can do this city in just one week. There is just too much to do. I’m sure you could spend a lifetime here and still leave some stones unturned, but one thing I can say is that you’ll always find a gem.