Evening in Montmartre

Trip Start Jul 25, 2008
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

When we left off yesterday, I was still sitting on the sidewalk, at the corner of Henry Sommier and Notre-Dame de Lorette, where I had found a small, very average but equally typical, café-tabac, for a croque-monsieur and a place to wait while my room was being prepared at the hotel.

Before I knew it, two hours had gone by, taken up mainly by various attempts at obtaining connectivity. I eventually partially  achieved that goal (the proof was the posting to TravelPod), but time had flown by.

I returned to the hotel around 5:30pm, and got the key to my room. Clean, renovated in the last few years with modern a bathroom and shower, air conditioned, it is the size of a walk-in closet, but is perfect for my purposes these few days. Cable TV with stations from France, Spain, UK (BBC News), MSNBC Europe, NHK Japan, and one German/Portuguese/Italian/Spanish-speaking channel, complements the whole. The view out the window is pure Paris: overseeing Rue Notre-Dame de la Lorette, my window looks straight across at a typical Paris apartment building, with beautiful shuttered windows, wrought-iron railings at the roof, and superb symmetry.

Turning on the TV, I quickly came across the coverage of Stage 18 of the Tour de France, on the French station. Full of passion and energy, the commentators were very excited as Sylvain Chavanel of team Cofidis, the 29-year old Frenchman who had never won a stage before, had sprinted across the finish line mere milliseconds ahead of a compatriot  (Roy) from the FDJ team. Wow! Chavanel was interviewed, in tears, his team manager was gushing with emotion, and they even had cameras on the team bus, with every team member shouting and laughing, celebrating "Chava"'s victory of the day. The level of enthusiasm and national pride were amazing - clearly, the Tour de France is an emotional experience here in France, and I look forward to experiencing the frenzy in Paris on Sunday.

Feeling bone-weary, I lay down, and made the mistake of glancing at email on my BlackBerry... I cannot avoid thinking and worrying about work, even though there is precious little I can really accomplish from here (internet access from the room is a frustrating mess...), not to mention that this is supposed to be a 3-day (plus weekend) vacation. I'd like to turn off the work part of my brain, but it's incredibly difficult for me to do so...

I eventually fell asleep, my head filled with work-related dreams, and woke up at 8:30pm, my limbs too tired to move still, my head too heavy and groggy to take action. A short while later, I convinced myself I had to go out for dinner (I wasn't really that hungry). I woke up with a shower, got dressed, and decided to venture out "in my neighbourhood" by climbing up towards Montmartre. The climb up sloping cobblestone streets is charming and good exercise - a bonus. The temperature was just right for short sleeves and capris, and it was wonderfully pleasant to be walking up to Montmartre. I was going pretty much on instinct - upwards - and eventually saw the Basilique du Sacré Coeur, the white cathedral stoic in the distance.

Dropplets of water started falling from the sky, with an imminent threat of a downpour. I stopped for dinner at the Post-Cafe, where the distinctly Spanish crowd loudly showed its appreciation for the guitar-strumming entertainer who covered all from Bob Marley to Elvis -- not very well by any means, but apparently well enough for the majority of the crowd. The atmosphere was fun, the food decent, and I got going towards the Basilique again around 10:45. I decided I needed to walk off the calories, and climbed the 125 (or is it 150, or more?) steps to the top (funiculars are for whimps!). Huffing and puffing, I refused to slow down on the way, and eventually made it up with my dignity intact. The Basilique at night looks amazing -- the contrast between its white stone and the black sky behind it absolutely startling.  I took various pictures with the B&W settings on my camera. Some turned out pretty well - I'll let you judge.

The crowd was interesting. A lot of tourists speaking every European language I've ever heard, a few Asians, and many "local Africans" - in other words, immigrants (or would-be immigrants) from Northern Africa. With the warm summer night, hundreds of people out and about, a get-together landmark - it felt a bit edgy, with tam-tam drums in one area, and a "fire juggler" in the other.

The view of the Eiffel Tower (once I positioned myself so that I could see it from behind a tree...) was amazing. The Tower is illuminated with thousands of white lights that all sparkle intermittently. The Tower looks like a diamond-covered jewel reflecting the city lights. Paris deserves her nickname...

Walking back through Montmartre (tourists and artists out in droves), I successfully retraced all my steps to the hotel without pausing once to make sure I was on the right track. No small feat, I assure you.

Bought myself a little souvenir: a Tour de France "yellow jersey" - yellow T-shirt that is... Guess what I'm wearing Sunday!?!

I then messed around trying to log into the Internet from the hotel til 2:30 (not very successfully...), and finally fell asleep...
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