Montmartre, Sacre-Coeur et les artistes…

A must-see when travelling to Paris is Sacre-Coeur, a white domed 19th century Romano- Byzantine inspired Basilica situated at the top of the hill in Montmartre, in the 18th arrondissement.  Built in 1875, the church, famous for the panoramic view over Paris, is just as well-known for its crypt, housing a relic believed to contain the sacred remains of the heart of Christ, hence the name Sacre-Coeur (Sacred Heart).  Constructed with a type of stone known as the Chateau-Landon, the unique calcite properties of this rock are resistant to rain, frost and pollution, bleaching the Basilica whiter and whiter as it ages over time.

And so it was on a picture perfect day, fluffy white cotton candy clouds speckled along the aqua marine blue heavens, that the pink-sneakered kid and I set out upon our journey to explore the outer edges of Paris, traipsing along the cobblestoned alleys in search of the next best whatever.  To add complications to the matter, we rarely travelled with a map, preferring to amble along the laneways, stumbling across hidden cafés and boutiques, uncharted gems haphazardly tucked away along the route.

It was a Sunday and we were on our way to gawk at designer handbags and outlandishly unaffordable and unattainable runway frocks at the Chanel store on rue Cambon.   Having placed my pink-sneakered foot in the designer emporium the previous year, I was hell-bent on tracking down Coco’s fancy smancy boutique, relying on my somewhat vino infused cloudy memory to guide the way.  

By now you must know the drill, as having posed, drooled and salivated over Chanel’s aristocratic duds, the kid and I were as determined as ever to accumulate as many digital imprints as our camera’s memory cards were capable of storing, our super glam model personas camped out in front of 31 rue Cambon.

Unable to gain access to the famous emporium, its doors shut tight till Monday morning, our fantasy of pretending to experience a day in the life of the rich and famous now nixed, my French Revolutionary charge and I hit upon a contingency plan, deciding to instead soldier on towards Sacre-Coeur.  If memory served me correct, we were about half way to Montmartre, so why not traverse ahead, the spectacular views of the city waiting to greet us. With neither a map nor a guide book to direct us, all that I was able to rely on was that Montmartre was north of Paris and that the Dome of the Basilica was the 2nd highest point in the city.  Encouraged by each hill and steep incline, trying not to be distracted by the plethora of cheapo fabric outlets and tacky souvenir shops, the kid and I ascended the now congested streets, anxious to glimpse the gleaming white dome and rest our weary pink-sneakered tootsies.

 Huffing and puffing, our energy spent on clambering uphill towards the summit, fatigued from jostling the crowded walkways, my niece and I were anxious to just chill and hang-out in one of the cafés that littered artsy touristic Place du Tertre.  The well-known square is a favoured haunt of up and coming “artistes”, sketch books in hand, paint brushes dipped in oil, their blank canvas easels primed to discover the next Mona Lisa.  The colourful square, overrun by tourists seeking a glimpse into what Paris might have looked like in the early 20th century, is nonetheless a must-see attraction, crowded with peddlers, musicians, painters and curiosity seekers alike.

We must have made quite an impression on “les artistes” for my pink-sneakered niece and I were deluged with requests to have our likenesses painted by each and every one of these visionaries.  For a mere 80 Euros, our images would be transferred to canvas, ready to be displayed in the Louvre, “the kid and Auntie Nora Paris Series” delighting future pink-sneakered generations. Like, seriously??  Unwilling to fork out this exorbitant sum, we politely declined their offers, the price falling lower and lower to a somewhat reasonable 30 Euros, the kid begging “swell ol’ Auntie Nora” to let her have her Mona Lisa moment.  It was only much later that we were made aware that a majority of tourists are easily conned by a few of these painters, all demanding triple or quadruple the price of a 25 Euro worth 15 minute portrait sketch. Therefore, Pink Sneakers on the Go advises not to succumb to their cajoling and flattery, no matter how tempting their insistence that you are the next “It girl” who is on the cusp of being discovered by an up and coming future Picasso.  If you cannot resist and fall under their seductive spell, haggle back and forth for a more reasonable price, and insist that you will not pay more than 35 Euros or whatever you feel is a fair deal.

Having now sat for her “official” portrait, successfully knocking Wish No 2 off of her “Top 10 Wish List” (No 1 being to step foot in Versailles and hang out with the ghost of Marie-Antoinette), the kid was now focused on seeing Wish No 3 come to fruition.   Mesmerized by the French foreign film “Amélie”, the kid dreamt of re-creating a scene from her newly favourite movie, pretending to be the dark-haired heroine who traipses around Montmartre.  Posing against the backdrop of the steep concrete stairs leading to Sacre-Coeur, the kid was in her glory, channeling her inner French “enfant terrible”.  I, on the other hand, felt as if I were in the company of two starkly different youngsters, one an 18th century aristocratic wanna-be, the other a mischievously lovable modern-day French heroine.  Who says that travelling with kids can be challenging? More like entertaining, as you never know which persona you’ll end up on the road with.

Painting quite the picturesque romantic atmosphere, the dimly lit lamp-posts casting seductive shadows on the leafy shaded steps, the staircase leading towards Sacre-Coeur is a visual representation of the allure and mystique of Paris.

The village of Montmartre is an assault on the senses of “all things Paris”, both past and current, as throngs of tourists descend daily upon this hilly enclave, eager to worship at the Basilica, as well as to amble along the cobblestoned laneways, anxious to mingle amongst “les artistes”, hoping to perhaps bump into the ghosts of Van Gogh or Picasso, or even charming Parisian shop girl Amélie. 

You never know...anything is possible in this magical city…you just have to dream and believe.   After all, take a cue from the kid and let your imagination run wild…

Come hang out with "les artistes" in Montmartre and come travel with us...

Pink Sneakers on the Go -  Helpful tidbits of info:

·         Beware of the so-called “bracelet peddlers”, who hang out around the vicinity of Sacre-Coeur,  approach you, grab your arm and before you know it, have tied a colourful string around your wrist, and demand that you now pay 10 Euros or more for your new “souvenir”.

·         Haggle with the artists when approached in Place du Tertre and negotiate a fair and reasonable price before agreeing to sit for a portrait sketch/painting.

·         Did you know that Montmartre is 130 metres above sea level?

·         The church bell tower is one of the heaviest in the world, weighing in at 19 tons!

·         Try to avoid dining in the square, as it is a tad expensive, catering to the monied pockets of foreign tourists. Go around the corner for a quieter and more authentic eating experience.

·         If claustrophobic and not a huge fan of crowds, Pink Sneakers on the Go doesn’t recommend that you visit the Basilica on major holidays as you will be just one of the million or so other tourists who have also ventured out to experience this same event. This happened to myself the previous year on Easter Sunday, when I foolishly thought that the white-domed church would be empty, serene and devoid of visitors; instead I was close to being overrun and trampled by what felt like truckloads of tourists, all seeking a once in a lifetime experience of visiting the Basilica on a holy day.



Next week – A little bit of everything…Eiffel Tower, le Centre Pompidou and much more…

Le Rive Gauche – Fine dining, the goat and yummy tap water

Traipsing around the City of Lights with a French Revolutionary obsessed 12 year old can be somewhat of a daunting task but it is even more of a challenge to try and satisfy the kid’s finicky and extremely limited food preferences.  Having to choose between world famous delicacies such as foie gas, duck a l’orange or soupe a la gratin would be a hardship for any fine gourmet connoisseur to have to contemplate, yet a dining nightmare for a gastronomically challenged pre-teenager.

It goes without saying that the kid was not partial to high-end gourmet fare whatsoever, except for the following (listed in order of preference): Pizza, chicken and French fries.  C’est tout. Oh, and pricey Coca-Cola at six Euros a pop! Unwilling to fork out the exorbitant price of more than five Euros for a soda, considering that a glass of vino costs a little more than one Euro, I insisted that she instead consume yummy tap water, which is free. I oftentimes would convince the kid to bring her own store bought soda (less than one Euro for a one litre bottle) to the restaurant.  Hence, her gigantic knapsack which was not only loaded up with her beloved journals, histories and travel guides, but also with several cans and bottles of pop.  Labelling me the “ultimate cheapo unbelievably mean ol’ Auntie” (yikes!! Here we go again!!), the kid snivelled and complained, horrified and embarrassed at having to bring her own pop to the bistro.  Mean ol’ Auntie Nora” had to once again remind the kid that if it weren’t for her “swell and kind hearted” Auntie, that she would be gallivanting around Europe on her own, sleeping on park benches, scavenging for restaurant leftovers and scrapping with the birds for bathe friendly lukewarm fountain water.

Even to this day, my sister reminds me that upon her return home, her daughter bemoaned about the abject unfairness of having to drink warm tap water in restaurants while her frugal and tight fisted “heartless” Auntie ordered vino after vino (who wouldn’t? A bargain at less than 2 Euros for a small carafe) all the while refusing to fork out a mere 6 Euros for a lousy Coke for her pink-sneakered penniless charge.

So, let this be a lesson for those of you travelling with youngsters, as soda, pop and Coca-Cola are a small fortune in Europe, triple the price of wine and a rare and luxurious treat once in a blue moon.  Pink Sneakers on the Go recommends that you search out bistros and dining establishments that have a “prix fixe” menu where all is included in one price. For an average of 10 to 15 Euros, you have a choice of an appetizer, a main meal, a beverage and a desert.  One of our favourite haunts was Pizzeria Uno which was tucked away amongst the multitude of fast food eateries (Les Halles vicinity) catering to basic tourist appetites and budgets.  Pizza Uno had the standard fare – a small pizza for one with a pop or a ¼ carafe of vino for the incredible price of 11 Euros each. For the considerable savings on the soda alone, we had no choice but to frequent this fabulous budget friendly bistro.  

Another reason that we would dine out every day was due to the fact that I was unable to figure out how to work the fancy smancy French stove.  Mind you, it would have helped had I actually paid attention when the rental agent was explaining the intricacies of the uber modern glass toped stove instead of agonizing over my excruciating headache, which most likely had been brought on by consuming one too many vinos on the overnight transatlantic flight.

In addition to spending almost every mealtime at Pizzeria Uno, the kid and I attempted to branch out in our quest to stumble upon cheap and economical dining venues, discovering a plethora of budget friendly eats along the way in the Latin Quarter on the Rive Gauche or Left Bank.  The labyrinth of twisting and winding alleys were jammed with cafes, bistros and restaurants all catering to budget conscious tourists seeking familiar yet exotic local cuisine on the cheap.  Ambling and meandering along the bustling alleyways, senses overwhelmed with the pungent aromas of garlic infused gyros and souvlaki competing with saffron laced Paella and traditional French ham and cheese “Croque Monsieurs”, my niece and I were in a conundrum, a dilemma of epic proportions of where and what to feast upon.


Then we spied the goat. Standing guard in the entrance to a quaint Parisian brasserie, the life-size animal seemed to literally have scampered away from country life, delving into the hurly-burly whirlwind of the rues and avenues of a bustling metropolis, a curious critter eager to explore big city life.  The kid squealed in glee upon encountering such an oddity on a crowded street, and steadfastly insisted that we dine in the “goat’s restaurant”.  Needless to say,” super mean old Auntie Nora” was not so cruel and wicked as to deny the kid her choice of fine dining establishments and so a pleasant camaraderie was born between the kid and her new found four-legged friend, the stuffed goat.


 Dining on escargots, moule et frites and crème-brulé, the kid seemed oblivious to the fact that she favoured only three food groups and seemed delighted at tasting all of the unique French delicacies found at the “goat’s restaurant”. Sitting by the window, our red-checkered tablecloth peeking out over the ledge, my pink-sneakered niece happily munched away on gourmet fare, all the while throwing the odd frite or two to the stuffed goat, who, after all, was a connoisseur of the finer things in life.

Come drink yummy tap water and dine on moule et frites at the “goat’s restaurant” with the kid and I….culinary adventures extraordinaire....come dine on the cheap with us…

Next week – Montmartre et les artistes…painting a picture of the kid’s unique Parisian escapades.

Pink Sneakers on the Go – Helpful tidbits of info

·         “Prix Fixe” menus offer a great variety of dining options – lunch price includes an appetizer, a main course, a beverage and a desert. From 10 to 15 Euros this is truly a bargain!

·         Pick up some cheese, fruit, sliced meats, soda or vino at your local super marché or outdoor market for a leisurely picnic in Les Jardins du Luxembourg or park bench.  

·        Some dining establishments will often charge you a little bit more to sit outside as opposed to eating your meal inside the brasserie.  For an extra Euro or two, I highly recommend sitting outdoors as you can idle away several hours just watching the world traipse by.

·         Don’t overlook the food section of local department stores, as they have ready-made prepared food of all types; if on a budget, this is a great way to enjoy “take-away”.

·         Try the “plat du jour” (special of the day) as that often is the best bargain going.

·         I cannot stress this enough, but soft drinks such as Coca-Cola and other fizzy sugary beverages of that sort are exorbitantly expensive in Europe, triple the price of a small carafe of wine, so opt for menus that have the price of soda already included.  After all, you don’t want to be labelled a “super meanie cheapo Auntie” now, do you?

Le Bateau...Cruising along the Seine on the Batobus

One of the ways that the kid and I frequently travel around Paris is by boat, the bateau bus, to be exact.  Mais oui, le bateau (French for boat) along the Seine.  You can purchase either a one day pass for 15 Euros or a five day pass for 21 Euros and are then able to cruise along the Seine from 10:00am in the morning until 9:30pm in the evening. There are various stops that the bateau docks at, allowing passengers to disembark and check out their favourite Parisian haunts. The beauty of the bateau is that you are able to linger at your designated destination however long you choose to, and can either jump back on to the boat at a later time and sail to your next stop. The itinerary is entirely up to you.

 We would often walk from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower, which is about a one and a half hour walk or longer, all depending upon how many discounted designer handbags I happen to stumble across along the route.  Fatigued at the end of the day, having clambered up and around the Eiffel Tower, the kid and I would hop into the bateau for the 20 minute sojourn back to our stop at Hotel de Ville on the Right Bank.  Make certain to check the departure time, as the Batobus does not sail past 9:30pm and then you are stuck trudging back home.  Not fun if your tootsies are sore, blistered and bleeding from having hit the pavement on a 12 hour marathon frenzied touristic shopping and sightseeing adventure.

Our bateau of choice was the “Batobus”, a passenger ferry similar to an aquatic bus line. I recommend opting for the five day pass if planning on staying in the City of Lights for more than a week, as the unlimited travel that one is able to do with the pass is the equivalent of having the services of your own schooner, ferrying you around at your beckon call, all on a cheapo 21 Euro budget! The kid and I would pretend, as we always do, that the Batobus was our own private yacht, zipping us from art tripping at the Louvre to lunching in trendy St. Germain de Pres, eventually depositing us at the Eiffel Tower, our imaginations dripping with endless possibilities of sun-drenched Mediterranean escapades as we sailed from one exotic locale to yet another.

Primping and posing against the backdrop of Musée d’Orsay and Pont Neuf, locks tousled and windblown, imitating the mannequined stances of super models, my niece and I snagged photo op after photo op on the back of the deck of the bateau, all the while subject to the inquisitive glances of the other boaters, curious that perhaps they’ve lucked out and were fortunate enough to find themselves in the presence of world famous Canadian celebrities. One can dream, right?

There are eight locations that the Batobus stops at, five of them on the Left Bank (Tour Eiffel, Musée d’Orsay, Saint-Germain de Pres, Notre Dame and Jardins des Plantes) while the remainder of the three are on the Right Bank (Hotel de Ville, Louvre and Champs-Elysées ).  Spending an entire day floating along the Seine in a glass domed bateau remains one of the highlights of our magical Parisian adventure, especially when one of the foreign speaking tourists hesitatingly asked the kid for her autograph!! You never know whom you might bump into while sailing on the deep blue seas, newly minted celebrities of the junior pink sneakered kind!!

Come hop on the Batobus and sail away on your next adventure…..come travel with us...

Next week – Dining on the Left Bank…the goat and yummy tap water.

Champs Elysees – Chic convertibles, sheiks and crème-glacé

Having rescued the kid from spending the remainder of her life ambling about the corridors of Le Petit Trianon, lost amongst the 18thcentury ghosts of Marie-Antoinette’s ladies in waiting, it was now time to fast-track to the present and indulge in one of Auntie Nora’s favourite occupations, scavenging for “marked down clearance” designer handbags.  It was only fair, of course, as I had forsaken valuable shopping hours by hanging out with long dead royals, quite possibly missing out on snagging the lone 75% reduced limited edition Prada that would have cost me an entire year’s salary, consequently leaving me destitute and homeless, all for the obsessive necessity of acquiring a long-for coveted status symbol. The kid and I would then have no choice but to stay in Paris, sell off the remainder of our belongings and set up camp in Les Jardins du Luxembourg as we would not have an extra sou or two for the metro ride to the airport.  I’m certain that my niece would agreeably consent to the revised change in itinerary and wittingly persuade me to instead contemplate taking up residence in her beloved heroine’s spacious 700 room palace.  Totally do-able, quite practical as well as educational, with free history lessons detailing day to day 18th century Court life thrown in as an added bonus!  Not a bad idea and one seriously worth considering, as this would prevent my sister from having to fork out thousands of dollars for the kid’s tuition down the road….

Disappointed that she didn’t have the opportunity to fully immerse herself in re-enacting the customs and traditions as dictated by life at the royal Court, the kid sniveled and complained, lethargically dragging her pink-sneakered feet along one of the most garishly elegant and famous avenues in Paris. Stretching from Place de la Concorde to Place Charles de Gaulle, culminating at the Arc de Triomphe, the spacious tree-lined avenue of Les Champs Elysees spans 1.91 kilometres and is a pedestrian friendly promenade showcasing a little bit of everything, from gaudy arcades and fast food burger joints to the aloof, exclusive and aristocratic Louis Vuitton and Mercedes-Benz.  Bling bling juxtaposed alongside budget friendly McDonalds made for a curious camaraderie, a delicately balanced tightrope, catering to one dollar Euro budgets as well as to American Express black card “the sky is the limit” shop till you drop label conscious privileged shopaholic brats. Shopping mecca for locals and tourists alike, this grand avenue is a must-see “once in a lifetime” spectacle, boasting showrooms gorged with Peugeots and gazillion dollar Aston Martin type limited edition sports cars, supersonic vehicles of the James Bond spy thriller kind.

So it was with utter disbelief that the kid and I happened to stumble across such a vehicle, casually languishing in front of the Haagen-Dazs ice cream gelaterie, an ostentatious gilded sports car, bearing Saudi Arabian plates. Entranced and mesmerized by such a rare specimen, my niece squealed in awe, delighted to feast her eyes on a never before seen gold encrusted automobile.  Relieved that the kid was finally emerging from her self-imposed cocoon of not ever speaking again to “mean old Auntie Nora”, who had forcibly dragged her pink-sneakered charge out of Marie-Antoinette’s palatial residence, all the while desperately re-assuring the Versailles security team that the kid won’t try and pull another stunt by setting up shop in the Chateau.  I also had to remind her that “mean old Auntie Nora” was the incredibly “swell” Auntie who had pleadingly convinced Versailles security not to impose that lifetime ban by restricting access to the palace and estate grounds, as that would be just a tad too harsh of a punishment for an 18th century aristocratically obsessed 12 year old.

Now that we were kind of back on speaking terms, both of us posed, gawked and drooled in front of the radiant convertible, and envisioned ourselves fearlessly speeding along the winding and treacherous seaside cliffs of the Amalfi Coast.  Windswept locks cascading over eyes shielded by Dior and Chanel sunglasses, the kid and I simultaneously plotted our new adventures cavorting around Europe in a shimmering hot-rod.

Curious that perhaps a wealthy and ruggedly handsome Arabian sheik was the fortunate owner of the resplendent Lamborghini, my niece and I scrambled into Haagen-Dazs, fantasizing that perhaps we might find him indulging in a crème-glacé.   Perhaps we might even become chummy and would become life-long bosom buddies, so taken with charming and eccentric Auntie Nora and her scholarly and mischievously adorable niece, that he might even consider loaning us a couple of gold coins and purchase magnificent Versailles for the kid’s upcoming birthday.  Or, if not, then a spin in his spiffy shiny turbocharger would have to suffice…

Staring out the window of Haagen-Dazs, savouring the “melt in your mouth” gastronomic double cream parfaits, the kid and I were in seventh heaven, daydreaming about the Arabian prince and the open road adventures that loomed ahead.

Did we ever meet the sheik and whiz in circles around the obelisk at Place de la Concorde?  You know how the saying goes: What happens in Paris stays in Paris…

Note – I do have to confess that my café au lait and the kid’s ice-cream banana split set us back a jaw-dropping 27 Euros, one of the most expensive gelatos ever!!  Yikes!!  Would we have expected any less, though, with gold Lamborghinis parked outside this delectable gelaterie?
 Come drive Lamborghinis along Les Champs Elysees, hobnob with royalty and enjoy crème-glacé with us….

A bit of interesting info about Les Champs Elysees:

·       The broad tree-lined avenue boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the world.
·       Rows and rows of speeding cars (hence the exotic vehicle showrooms, perhaps?) run straight through the middle of this wide promenade.
·       The Elysian Fields is a name derived from Greek mythology, “Elusia” being where the blessed dead rest.
·       Official celebrations, military parades and Bastille Day are celebrated along the grand avenue.
·      The Tour de France ends here every July.
·       Home to Place de la Concorde and the famous obelisk.  Known as the obelisk de Luxor, it is 3,200 years old and used to be part of the entrance to an Egyptian temple.

Next week – Boating along the Seine en route to the Eiffel Tower