Save Our Soles—Thankful for the Subway

For our third full day in Paris, Saturday July 2nd, we visited the Montmartre area. Our feet told us to take the subway and we listened, even though we hated to miss out on the scenery en route.

Having heard it was an artsy area, we were surprised to be greeted by a slew of T-shirt and plastic Eiffel Tower souvenir shops. Up the hill we headed to Sacre Coeur, a really big church, with a wholly different style of architecture than we’d seen so far. It’s just over 100 years young, but is dramatic for its view: a hill overlooking the city. This was the little bump we saw from the Eiffel Tower lower level that appeared to be flat when you went to level 2. After climbing the hill, you wouldn’t call it a little bump. We took the funicular, thinking we’d enjoy the view on the ride. But alas, the car was crammed full and we saw nothing; neither did those at the back who actually had the opportunity—just as at the Louvre, here were more tourists who didn’t really want to look at what they came to see. When the announcement to watch for pickpockets came over the speaker, one such group complained: “Now they tell us.” I had to wonder: if you aren’t aware enough to look out a window to see an awesome view, perhaps you aren’t aware enough to watch your wallet. At the top, there were over a thousand people sitting on the steps outside looking down at the city spread beneath them. Once again, I had to appreciate the zoning in Paris relegating nearly all of its tall structures to a far off section: that provided such an open feeling. Perhaps that was my favorite feeling about Paris. Inside, the church was gorgeous and interesting to tour. After completing the tour, we sat beneath the flying buttresses and ate sugar-roasted peanuts.

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Our next stop was the Dali Museum. As a surrealist sculpture, Michael is quite fond of him. On the way from the church, we passed through a square chock full of restaurants, and that typical French accordion music, along with sketch artists doing portraits for tourist patrons on the corners. If not very artsy, you could see the area had charm, but it was buried beneath the masses of people taking guided tours by foot and on buses.

The Dali Museum seemed small but my feet disagreed. There were countless variations of the melting clock done in sculpture, many extravagant sketches including some from Alice in Wonderland, and a movie in which Dali does some crazy things you only understand once you read about the movie. It was too bad my feet were so sore because unlike most museums, there was no place to sit. I ended up buzzing through at some point just so I could rest my toes by plopping down on the steps. Once outside the museum, we “discovered” a view from steep steps with a crack between buildings that gave a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. It dominated the city.

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Next we made our way down the hill to Le Basilic, a restaurant recommended by our friends: this one was still there! On the way, we saw adorable old homes, a few with windmills. They say this is the traditional Paris residential look of yore.

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We arrived at the restaurant in time for the luncheon prices. This turned out to be our favorite food in Paris. It was a casual but elegant establishment. Why waste words saying the wine was great? Kamala gave her pasta with butter 5 stars–the highest rating!

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After eating, Freeman searched in earnest for a pair of sunglasses, stopping at every optical store. There were many outdoor cafes and shops in this part of Montmartre and it was a fun area to walk through. Eureka! He found them! A cool pair of Ray Ban’s that he could have gotten in the States, but they made a practical souvenir. As we walked back to the subway, a rainstorm hit and we took shelter in an old church, one we wouldn’t have normally noticed just like the Magdeline, but that turned out to have beautiful tile murals and such. Finally, we made our way toward the famous Moulin Rogue, and Kamala bought an Eiffel Tower T-shirt as her souvenir en route. We didn’t realize this was the XXX part of town and it may have been the first time our kids were in such a dicey area, with blocks of shops and theaters selling sex, not to mention a number of boisterous drunks about. Seeing the Moulin Rouge from the outside was a bit like checking a box on a list.

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Rather than go back to our apartment, Freeman and Michael wanted to watch the soccer match between Germany and Italy at the Eiffel Tower fan zone. Kamala really wanted to see the view from the tower at night, so we went along. As Kamala and I walked along the river towards the tower, the crowd ahead of us was suddenly stopped and told to turn back by police and other officials. We didn’t understand so waited a bit to learn why and heard a man explain “Bomb-a, bomb-a.” Silly me, I should have memorized all the French words that would help in a terrorist emergency. I took a wild guess that it wasn’t a kind of cake and meant “bomb” in English. People didn’t seem too alarmed though and we weren’t hearing sirens or other sounds of panic. Who knew if the Tower and fan zone would be closed, so we decided to feel the fear and go anyway. We had to take a huge detour to the other entrance but it was open.

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While waiting in line, we looked for and saw many security guards, although they all seemed to be talking with each other rather than looking around for problems. Was that a good sign or a bad one? But a good sign of another sort showed up: a rainbow appeared over the fan zone. Could anything bad happen when there was a rainbow above us?

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Because the line to the top of the tower via elevator was so long, we decided to take the steps to the second level instead, feet be damned. When we arrived, we saw that the river road and the bridge were closed to cars and even foot traffic. A couple of workers from the tower were peering over the edge, pointing, and talking. Must have been that bomb-a scare. We wanted to know what was going on, but given my poor French, didn’t ask.

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On the opposite side was the game and it was again fun hearing the road of the crowd, which we knew included Michael and Freeman, and we thought we heard a goal scored. This evening, the grounds seemed full, meaning 100,000 people were there.

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The Tower had a fancy restaurant and a fountain, a plush bathroom, plus a history of how the tower was built: all things we’d missed on our first trip to the Tower. We watched the sun set and even spotted the fireworks bursting over Versailles.

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It was nearly 10:00 and still dusk. Damn, we’d need to leave soon: we said we’d meet at home by 11:00. But our sole reason for coming this night was to get the view in the dark, with the lights of the city beneath us and the colored lights of the tower all around, so we decided to stay, with me convincing myself they’d never leave the game mid way anyhow. It wasn’t dark until 10:30!

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Shortly after, we headed down the steps. Just as we entered a stairwell, I heard a rat-a-tat-tat. I grabbed Kamala and we headed right back up the steps. I looked around for a place where we might be able to hide and also to see if there was any information coming out. Nothing. We waited. Nothing. We waited some more. Nothing. Finally, I went back in the stairwell and heard no sounds. We concluded it must have been normal elevator noises that my heightened sense of fear had assumed were shots. We were able to enjoy our trip to the bottom after all and the view looking back up.

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We took the subway home, feet’s orders, and Kamala spied Remy from the movie Ratatouille, nosing around the garbage cans. He popped up again at another stop. When we finally arrived at our building, Freeman and Michael WERE there and they had been worried about us because it was after midnight. They were considering calling the police. Still, I was surprised they had actually listened and left the game early. Turns out, the Italian and German fans were rather dull, unlike those from Por-tu-gal and Pol-ska, and the game was not exciting either. That explains why they left early.

We watched the news, with me hoping they’d say what the bomb-a threat was at the Eiffel Tower. But the news was a big bombing in Bangladesh. Another large one had happened in Afghanistan a couple days earlier. Seemed like the world was going crazy with bombings just then. Nothing about the Tower bomb-a that had redirected us. Then we heard that at the soccer match, shortly after Michael and Freeman had left, there was a scare. Someone lit off firecrackers that sounded like gunfire and fans stampeded. People were hurt. The fan zone was cleared for the remainder of the game. I was grateful that the guys had left, for whatever reason: because they listened to me or because the game was boring. Too bad we had worried them though. Given everything, Freeman wondered aloud if we should cut our trip short to be safe. We decided the odds were still very very high that we’d be fine but of course it was worth monitoring.

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