Montmartre

September 2, 2012 Comments Off on Montmartre

I’ve made it to my next volunteer post in the Alps, but I’m still thinking about Paris. Specifically Montmartre.

Of all the places in Paris I could have visited, why Montmartre? It’s strictly for the tourists, who turn out in droves to sit on the steps of the Sacre-Couer and to have their pictures taken outside of the Moulin Rouge. They come to scale the neighborhood’s famous hills and to see where artists like Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso once lived.

I picked Monmartre on a whim. I hadn’t been since my first visit to Paris when I was 13 years old. I’d heard there were good restaurants and boulangeries in the area. I looked at the Metro map, figured out the nearest stop, and jumped on the next train. That’s it.

I exited at Chateau-Rouge and followed the signs to, yes, the Sacre-Coeur. I remembered the stunning views it offers visitors but forgot about just how many steps you have to climb to get to it. I gasped for breath once I climbed the final flight of stairs, thinking to myself, “Oh my god,” “Oh my god.”

The Sacre-Coeur glowed at dusk.

Once you push past the vendors and tour busses, there are plenty of gems to discover. Just behind the basilica, at the bottom of another steep hill, I found a colorful little café where I ordered a glass of wine, something I’d never been able to do in Paris previously, and a generous plate of fresh pasta. My French, I learned then, was even rustier than I’d thought. I became certain of this when a server brought me an English translation of their menu.

(I like to say that my French is broken, but not completely broken.)

Early this morning, I headed back to Montmarte, this time with my big pack in tow. I wanted to visit a couple of bakeries I’d heard about.

I climbed several sets of stairs and scaled a few small hills to get to this place.

So many choices. Then I saw someone taking croissants off a baking tray and sliding them into the display case. I made up my mind instantly. The croissant was one of the most delicate and decadent I’d ever tasted. And still slightly warm. I sat at the window, with my croissant and an espresso, looking out at the street. Monmartre was dead quiet on this dreary Sunday morning.

I ordered something else, too. A bun, or miniature baguette. It was a crisp, browned crust encasing a brilliant, saffron-hued interior flecked with many seeds. With just the subtlest hint of spice. It was unlike any baguette I’d ever sampled in France.

There was another place I’d meant to visit. A café I’d a lot about. Also in the same neighborhood. I didn’t find it, not even after I asked a cab driver to take me to the address I’d located on Google Maps. Nothing.

So I brushed it off. I was in Monmartre. I could certainly find another place. I found a boulangerie with a small line extending outside the door. I ordered an “apple slipper.” With all the sweat and rain that had accumulated on my face, a good portion of the pastry clung to my face. Think of it as a superior alternative to the apple turnover. Layers and layers of flaky, buttery pastry encasing a bit of not too sweet apple filling.

After meeting my butter and sugar quota for the next few days, I headed to Gare de Lyon.

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