Night train to Paris

Travel by train is an education in the places in-between

From Madrid we took the Francisco de Goya service that runs overnight to Paris. Our last long journey for the trip and our second last day together. In the early afternoon out train pulled out of Charmantin and headed north across the rolling plains of the Meseta. As evening closed in we adjourned to the dining car, shades of the Orient Express to sit and watch and talk as the landscape of central Spain rolled by in the afternoon light. Paris in the morning…

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Dinner at La Maison Rose

After a day of Rodin’s artistry and the imperial grandeur of Les Invalide’s we made our way back to our place in Montmartre then freshened up a bit and headed up the north side of the hill for dinner at the La Maison Rose on Rue Cortot.

I can’t say that I was wowed by the food, reputedly it’s standard has dropped, but it’s still worth a visit and a simple meal for the history (painted by Utrillo while legend has it that Picasso had a room) or simply to enjoy a quiet picturesque location, away from the touristy bustle of the Place du Tertre.

Handy hint if you’re visiting, there are tables across the road and on a summer afternoon they may be a better bet to avoid one of you facing the westering sun. The place is on the Montmartre bus route and (I think) the mini train as well.

With Hipstamatic to the Palais Garnier

Somehow the possibility of rounding the corner and coming face to face with the Phantom of the Opera seemed to demand a Hipstamatic shoot. Yes there is an underground lake (kept in check by a coffer dam with a resident white catfish), yes there has been at least one death (a worker killed by the theatre chandelier’s counterweight) and yes the cellars in the basement go on forever.

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Cafe Les Deux Magots

So after overdosing a little on Impressionists we adjourned to the cafe Les Deux Magots for a little bit of history, a glass of wine and some people watching.


Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Bouevoir, Hemingway and Picasso all hung out here at one time or another. And as the restaurant is smack in the Latin quarter, with all it’s busy energy, you can understand why.

The Conciergerie

By the time we’d had lunch the early morning cloud had started to clear so we decided to go exploring the Ile de la Cite a little more.

We found the Palais de Justice easily enough, but the queue to get in was just a little too long so after admiring the gilt decorated gates we turned to the right and walked along under the shade of the trees that line the Boulevard de Palais.

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A Quick Visit to the Left Bank

Walk across the Pont au Double and you’re standing on the left bank facing the church of St Julien le Pauvre. Curious fact, the church is Melkite, their eastern catholics who follow the Byzantine rites in their service, and have a Patriach, but are still in communion with the pope.

If you cut around through the rue du Fouarre then in through a little gate there you find the eastern, and best preserved side, of the church with its three apses. Dante attended church here… or so the legend goes, and I choose to believe the legend.


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While I’d been checking out the Cathedral my partner in crime had been minding our place in the queue for the Cathedral basilica tour, we swapped and she went off to have a look while I minded our place. I’d like to point out that’s not me in the shorts…

You duck into the cathedral by a side entrance then it’s up some stairs to the gift shop. Oh yes, you don’t come back via the gift shop so if you want souvenirs, that’s your one chance. Unless you have a wife and travelling companion who can sweet talk her way round just about any obstacle, I think she may have super powers…

And after another round of stairs (nope I didn’t count) you arrive on the roof of Notre Dame, with a birds eye view of the Ile de la Cite and the surrounding arrondissements. This really is the heart of France, road distances are still calculated from the 0 kilometre mark in the square facing the west end of Notre Dame.

Of course once you’re up there you realise that there’s someone else watching the city below with interest. What is he thinking? Maybe about some deeper point of medieval theology, or maybe about all the changes that he’s seen or maybe he’s just thinking about lunch…

I hate this safety fence, people have been climbing up and down Notre Dame for centuries and there hasn’t been a body count, so why spoil the view and the experience?

Looking upstream, so the left bank is on the right and the right bank is on the left, clear? To clarify, the left bank or ‘la rive gauche’ is on the south side of the Seine while the right bank or ‘la rive droite’ is on the north side. Of course talking about north and south only applies if the river is following the east west line, which it doesn’t (all the time). Well see me after class if it’s still not clear.

And on the left bank tucked next to her younger sister is the church of St Julien le Pauvre, the oldest church in Paris and the medieval heart of the city.

But turning away from the lure of the left bank, inside the south tower of the cathedral you find Emmanuel, the great bell of Notre Dame. She’s a survivor, the only bell to make it through the revolution, the rest were melted down and turned into cannon. She’s also had some powerful protectors, Louis IV was her godfather and Napoleon had her re-installed in 1802.

The belfy is made of wood, to prevent the bell from cracking the stone work of the tower. I kind of like the fact that a musical instrument is powerful enough to crack stone and tumble church towers.

Apparently Emmanuel is in good shape and still in tune, unlike the bells of the north tower who have fallen out of tune (I heard them, they are) and are scheduled to be melted down and reforged.

And yep, that’s me, stepping through the tiny entry to the belfry, it’s lead sheathing by the way. Hmm, lead, wood and copper, you can understand why medieval buildings burned so furiously when struck by lightning.

In a city designed around geometrical precision and monumentalism there’s something reassuring that the heart of the city is a little medieval island anchored to the modernity by a few bridges.

That Most Terrible Church…

“That most terrible church of the most glorious Virgin Mary, mother of God, deservedly shines out, like the sun among stars.”

Jean de Jandun 1323

Well again the ides of jet lag were with us and we arose early to catch the metro into Isle de la Cite. Of course once you’re on the island you’re standing in the secular and religious heart of france. Funny that it’s a island…

Yes, Notre Dame, that most beautiful of medieval churches. Though not the most beautiful and terrible thing on the island for me. 🙂

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Our Place In Montmartre

We decided rather than paying exorbitant prices for a postage stamp hotel room that we’d try airbnb, an apartment in Montmartre looked like a good bet and we’ve ended up renting a place in 71 Rue Lamark (just down from the metro) for a week. The flat is renovated and fully furnished with the kitchen window opening out into a quiet courtyard and a view of a wild garden and adjoining apartments.

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Sacre Couer Afternoon

Making our way home on the first day we took the twelve line to Abbesses and walked up to Pl. St Pierre. Then a quick ride to the top on the funicular and several hundred steps later we were looking out over Paris in the afternoon light.

The climb up to the basilica roof is through a series of winding staircases and narrow passages that culminates in a narrow open gallery that circumscribing the basilica roof. This all combining to give you simultaneously a mild feeling of claustrophobia, agoraphobia and acrophobia. Worth it though.

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Red Windmills & Metro Passes

Walking down the hill at Montmartre following the funicular then down the rue de Steinkerque you quickly descend into the slightly edgier part of Montmartre.


While it’s been cleaned up the area still has it’s fair share of sex shops and emporiums. But on an early monday morning all you’ll see is yawning commuters on their way to work and the locals sitting out and having that first coffee.

And of course there’s the red windmill made famous by everyone from Tolus Lautrec to er our Nicole.


There’s actually two more windmills back up the hill but you don’t tend to hear much about them, compared to their famous rouge cousin.

So we wandered along the line of the metro looking for a station big enough to sell a Paris Visitors pass (answer Blanche).

Of course in the process we almost brought the local commuter service to its knees, luckily, and contrary to reputation, Parisians seem quite patient with tourists. 🙂

Next stop the big E.