Montmartre was originally a village that lay outside the walls of Paris, situated on and around a hill that is the highest point of land around the city. It became the centre of the bohemian lifestyle for Parisians and was a popular district for artists who took up residence there, including such notable artists as Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Matisse, van Gogh, Degas, Utrillo, Modigliano, Dali, and more. The hill of Montmartre is now dominated by the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, which provides an outstanding 360 degree view of Paris.
On Tuesday afternoon, we took a walking tour of Montmartre with Discover Walks. The walking tours are free and do not require any advance booking – just turn up at the set tour times and locations. The tour guides rely on tips to make a living. Our guide for the tour was Quentin, a native Parisien, who did a great job of introducing us to this quirky neighbourhood.
Montmartre is no longer an inexpensive residential area, having become gentrified, but it is still home to risqué strip clubs, cabaret shows and sex shops, as well as an assortment of cafes, bakeries etc.
It appears that the area is still frequented by artists, as we saw a fair amount of street art along our route.
Our guide did a good job of explaining the history of the Montmartre district and pointing out landmarks that we passed. Amongst these were a brasserie and a greengrocer’s shop that were featured in the French movie Amelie, as well as the former home of French singer Dalida.
The tour ended behind the Basilica Sacre Coeur, providing an opportunity to visit the historic church after the tour. Entry to the Basilica itself is free, but to access the panoramic dome costs €6 per person – and involves climbing 300 steps up a tightly winding spiral staircase.
With the tour completed, we found a nice sidewalk brasserie where we could enjoy drinks and dinner (Le Vrais Paris). The large Hoegaarden beer, Mai Tais and wine provided welcome refreshment as we relaxed and watched people go by.
For dinner, I decided to go with a couple of French specialties. Escargot is always enjoyable and the garlic butter with these was particularly nice, with some slices of baguette to mop up the sauce. Delicious! For the main course, I selected the Andouillette sausage. When perusing the menu, I made the mistake of confusing Andouillette with Andouille sausage – they are not the same. To his credit, the waiter asked me whether I had eaten Andouillette before and warned me that it is made from pig intestines and has a ‘very strong flavour’. Always up for a gastronomic challenge, I decided to give it a go.
Whilst waiting for the food to arrive, I researched online and learned that Andouillete is essentially chitlins in sausage form. Wikipedia says “True andouillette is rarely seen outside France and has a strong, distinctive odour related to its intestinal origins and components. Although sometimes repellent to the uninitiated, this aspect of andouillette is prized by its devotees.” Repellent – alrighty then!
When the main course arrived, it looked like a large regular sausage with french fries. It’s benign appearance belied the distinct odour and taste that lay within. Once I cut it open, it became immediately apparent that this was no ordinary sausage. That smell! And then came the first bite. It tastes how you might imagine an anus might taste – kind of ‘shitty’. Distinct indeed. And strong. The inside of the sausage isn’t visually appealing either, as it is clearly comprised of small pieces of intestinal tracts. But, as I said, I’m up for a challenge and ate the whole thing, to the surprise of the waiter. When collecting the plates, he told me that people who are eating Andouillete for the first time never eat the whole thing. Challenge met and conquered. But I won’t be ordering it again any time soon. Dessert was standard fare – chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream.
We picked up some cheese and wine from a nearby fromagerie and then headed to the metro station for the ride back to our apartment. And that’s where the next bit of excitement occurred. As the train pulled in to the station, we could see that it was completely full. A couple of people got off and we managed to squeeze into the small bit of space that was available. Packed in like sardines, I turned to Bev and told her to hold onto her bag – this was pickpocket heaven. Whilst standing against a pole on the train, I had my arms and hands strategically placed over my pockets, to thwart any attempt by a pick-pocket to access my cash. Within a couple of minutes of being on the train, I felt some slight movement as my phone pouch, attached to my belt, was unzipped. The guy standing next to me was a pickpocket and had managed to open the pouch – the one thing that I wasn’t protecting with my arms and hands. I immediately confirmed that my phone was still there, re-zipped the pouch, alerted Bev and Michele and verbally ensured that the pickpocket was aware that I was onto him. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me and, at the next stop, he quickly left the train. But at least one other guy who was associated with him remained. They always work in teams, so we paid close attention to those around us. We were getting off at the next stop anyway, so we were soon out of that crowded environment without any loss. The next train was almost empty, so we were able to relax for the rest of the journey home. It could have been a costly ending to a lovely day if we hadn’t remained alert.