Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris opens with a 3.5 minute postcard-view montage of Paris, showing the usual iconic tourist sites. According to Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, "Allen is saying: Pay attention — this is a special place, a place where magic can happen."
I went to Paris in search of that magic.
And I found it in Montmartre.
Photo of Montmarte by DeepakG on Flickr
We started our trip with a steep climb to the Sacré Cœur Basilica and could see the hill of Montmartre rising up ahead of us. There’s also an alternative way to get to the top if you’d rather avoid the steep climb. On the left side of the park, an automatic funicular railway carries passengers to the top of the hill. The trip just takes a minute and a half, but I think if you want to take in the essence of Montmartre, you start with the steps. :)
Once up on the hill, take a minute or two, to take in the magnificent views of Paris. On the steps in front of the church you’ll see lots people doing just that. And you can quickly see why: the view of the Parisian rooftops and the many landmarks of the city is unlike anything else in the world. If you can’t get enough of it consider returning after nightfall: the view of the city of lights only gets more spectacular after dark. During the day, however, you’ll get the chance to see many street performers doing tricks or playing music for the delight of the crowd. This is also a good time to pick up cheap souvenirs: if you haggle over the price a little you can get pretty good deals!
After you’re done taking in the views, turn the other way to admire the domes of the Sacré Cœur. If you’ve got time, it’s definitely worth exploring the interior of the church as well. The church features one of the largest mosaics in the world, and the domes are just as impressive seen from the inside. It’s also possible to climb to the top of the central dome, from which you’ll have an even better view of Paris and also of the Eiffel Tower.
Fun Fact: In part because of these views, the Sacré Coeur Basilica draws more yearly visitors than even the iconic Eiffel Tower.
Twin views of the Sacré Coeur and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Photo by Florian Plag on Flickr
I had picked Montmartre simply because I wanted to go to the Dali Museum. What I did not realize is that it would transport me to a place that you see only in movies! The main square - Place du Tertre - is a bustling street with various artists thronging the place, small shops with colorful items, outdoor cafes, pizza places, and a high energy, happy vibe all around. Please check more pictures to understand what I mean. My sister got her caricature done from a 'real' Parisian artist and I tried out the Silhouette. Both turned out fantastic. One tip: Even though the artists charge 20 euros for any such sitting, we asked if they would do it for 10, and both of them agreed! I think basically they do it for the love of the art - not so much as a business. There was an artist selling the cylindrical tube in which we carried the rolled art work (3 euros). You get them for 2 in the nearby shops but they are not half as pretty. Or artistic. Our artist/seller even painted my sister's name on the tube.
My sister getting her caricature done by a real Parisian artist. :)
The Espace Dali or Dali Museum is two minutes walk from the Place du Tertre. This was my first Dali museum visit and it was perfect. It features most of his famous works - the Space Elephant, Alice in Wonderland, a couple of versions of the Melting Time, Venus Giraffe and so on. Each creation was accompanied by a detailed write-up about the item. There is also a video that keeps playing - showing Dali and his genius, and his eccentricity. It's well worth the time. Entrance fee is 11 euros and you can spend around 30-40 mins and see the entire exhibition. There is a gift shop also where you can buy Dali artifacts at a reasonable price.
Look for the staircase with photo frames of clever Dali quotes.
That's me below with Dali's Vision of the Angel. I rechristened it as Thumbs up! How very original. :)
The information center is right around the corner of Place du Tertre and you will get a small map with the major tourist spots. Do check out the Windmills of Montmartre, the vineyards, Le Lapin Agile - all in and around the area. Even the walk itself in the cobbled streets is an experience. Must, must visit.
This is one of the famous Windmills of Montmartre, only three original remain today.
There are many, many videos on youtube about Montmartre, but this one seemed most professional. So enjoy. You will find Part 2 in the same playlist on youtube, I hope. :)