Montmartre

Montmartre is a vibrant city with so much movement and character it’s sometimes hard to know where to look.  Fresh open street markets, stores spilling out contents for sale onto the street for people to rifle through and street performers entertaining crowds on the lawn of the Sacre-Coeur are very common sights.  Yes, Montmartre is alive!  You can feel the culture and inspiration that grew Montmartre into a popular destination to visit.  The home of the Moulin Rouge as well as countless artists (Van Gogh, Renoir and Picasso to name a few) Montmartre became home to the Bohemian Revolution long ago, yet today you can still feel its individuality and funkiness in the air.  It does have an odd nature to it that wouldn’t appeal to everyone and some “squirrley” characters, but for all except one minor episode, I enjoyed my time there.

I stayed in the Le Regent Montmartre hostel just down the road from the World Famous Moulin Rouge.  I must admit I love that movie (Ewan McGregor & Nicole Kidman) and ever since seeing it for the first time, I’ve wanted to get to Montmartre!  Well because of that and a favorite black and white poster I had back in College that I just adored of a couple kissing on the steps of Sacre-Coeur with Paris in the background.

The hostel was actually quite nice.  The location was ideal, the staff (while not overly friendly in person) were very helpful over email in getting me exact information on which trains to take to get there from downtown Paris and the rooms were cozy too.  The hostel used to be a hotel and they have converted each room into a hostel room.  The room I booked was only a 3-person room and each room had its own bathroom (a HUGE plus in my book)!!  The only negative was the breakfast.  It was lackluster and the brioche were a disappointment.  Other than that it was a pleasant stay.

Another thing I enjoyed about the hostel (though it has nothing to do with the hostel, really) was my roommates.  I stayed there 3 nights and it overlapped with each of my other two roommates’ stay as well.  So for the nights I was there I got to get to know my roommates a bit instead of getting new batches of roommates each night of a stay.  Both were young guys who were there for different reasons.  The first was there because he was about to start film school at the University.  He was from Egypt and very kindly gave me a coin from Egypt that I carry around with me.  Unfortunately when I was getting ready to leave he wasn’t around so I wasn’t able to get his info to keep in contact, but I’m sure I will be seeing his name on some films not too far into the future:)  The other young man was in Europe because he had won a photography competition and his work was being featured in a show in Brussels!!!  How exciting is that??  So he was in Paris, well because, why not??  He is incredibly talented and for anyone who loves photography, I would recommend to check out his website at ameasureofmadness.wordpress.com 🙂

My time in Montmartre consisted first of getting to the Moulin Rouge to check out prices and show information, etc.  Unfortunately the tickets were WAY out of my budget, but again it gives me something to go back there for!  I walked all over town checking out the various nooks and crannies, getting lost every now and again or simply stopping for a seat and to watch life go on around me.  I explored Sacre-Coeur and watched the sun set from the hilltop.  And of course I took a walking tour of Paris:)

The only adverse experience I had there was my first morning in Montmartre.  Before walking into Paris to the meeting point location for the walking tour (Place St. Michel) I wanted to get some pictures first thing of the Moulin Rouge.  So I headed in that direction first, finding a little place to stop and get a yummy breakfast along the way.  I sat on a park bench between the streets sipping on my coffee when along came a guy (creep) holding a beer in his hand.  Mind you it’s 8am… He spotted me and came right over and sat next to me.  So I got up and started walking away.  Apparently he thought I was trying to be cutsy/coy because he proceeded to follow me.  When I looked behind me and noticed this I immediately turned left to see if he was actually following me or not.  And when he mimicked my motions, it was time to set him straight.

I stopped to face him and quite forcefully warned him to stop following me.  I was speaking all in English but he got the point as his smile suddenly turned to a frown and he crossed the street away from me:)  I went back to my original bench keeping a keen eye on the guy and once I finished my breakfast I spotted a very tall man who was going in the direction I wanted to go.  So I walked up to him and asked first if he spoke English (thankfully YES!) and then asked if he would mind walking with me for a bit.  He was really nice to agree and we chatted for the next several blocks until it was time for him to turn off.

The area around the Moulin Rouge is somewhat like a Red Light District, but very “in your face” and not at all classy (I hate to say) as the District in Amsterdam.  Every shop turned into one type of sex shop or another the closer you got to the Moulin Rouge.  It literally was like crossing an invisible line which on one side was very obviously the Red Light District and the other very obviously regular life.  I found that interesting…

My favorite random experience while in Montmartre once again happened at the Moulin Rouge.  I had pictures of it in the daylight, but now needed pictures of it at night all lit up!  So after my day in Versailles, I stayed in Paris until it got dark to get pictures of the tower lit up, then headed back to Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge to get night pictures.

So there I was snapping away a ton of pictures.  I was just about to leave when all of a sudden a horse trailer rounded the corner and parked in front of the Moulin Rouge… Two large men in black (bodyguards) then put up a little barricade behind the horse trailer.  On the side of the trailer was painted “Les Petits Chevaux du Moulin Rouge”… Now I don’t speak French or know many words in French, but this phrase I understood!  “Little horses of the Moulin Rouge”!!  Oh this I had to see up close!  I crossed the street and sure enough out came 6 little miniature horses who were promptly escorted from the trailer to a side entrance of the Moulin Rouge by the trainers and over the watchful eye of the bodyguards, LOL!!!  The first thought that went though my mind was “What in the world goes on in there?????”  🙂

On to Paris

Back to Europe

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Drug Bust en route to Paris

Though I swore that I wouldn’t take a bus long distances again (Munich to Berlin via bus was a bit torturous!!) it was quite a bit cheaper to go by bus from Amsterdam to Paris, and supposedly only about 7 hours.  So I caved in and went via bus.  I’m “lucky” I even made the bus trip to begin with!  Not because I was late getting to the bus stop, but because there were apparently multiple signs in the train station to the bus stop.  The one pointing downstairs (the only one I noticed) was only for local busses while the one just outside the entrance to the train station was for long distances.  This post isn’t about the departure however, (I’m just throwing that info out for other travelers in case it comes in handy) it’s really about the trip there…

All was going just fine.  We got to Brussels with no issue and on time and our bus drivers traded out (we started with a quiet yet nice man and ended with an unpleasant woman who acted like she couldn’t be bothered with anything from anyone).  From Brussels we headed on and were actually making really good time!  I was just thinking to myself how nice it would be to make it to Paris on schedule- I’d be there by 3 and would be able to take advantage of several hours of daylight before turning in for the night.

I really shouldn’t have thought so soon… About an hour after stopping to take a snack break, the driver announced we had to pull over for gas.  We pulled over for gas and there we sat for a few minutes waiting for the tank to fill.

Suddenly two men in uniform come onto the bus.  They spoke in French and once translated in English they said they were there to conduct a search of the bus.  Now, I don’t know if it was standard protocol to search buses coming into France from Amsterdam or whether we were just that “lucky” but yes, we were apparently chosen by the French police or rather the French DEA basically to be searched for drugs.  The two officers started making their way questioning every single passenger about where they had come from, where they were going, how long they would be in Paris, what hotel they were staying in, what their business in Paris was, etc, etc.

Normally I never plan in advance where I’m staying, how long I will be there, etc, etc but on this particular occasion I actually did!  I had all my answers and passport ready for the drill and when it came to my turn, the officer took my passport, checked it out for validity, said “thanks” and moved on to the woman sitting next to me and her the rundown on questions, lol!!

While the officers were going over each passenger, other officers had opened the luggage compartments below the bus and were taking out each piece of luggage and lay them on the ground.  In addition, a drug sniffing dog was dispatched on the bus running up and down the center aisle back and forth.  Then out onto the luggage sniffing each one for issues.

About a half hour passed and it seemed there was particular concern over one of the trash cans of the buses.  The officers kept fussing over it and even removed the trash bag to take outside for inspection.  They then asked 4 young guys sitting just across from the “suspect trash can” to exit the bus.  They stood outside while everyone on the bus watched them get a pat down.  They were searched from head to toe, shoes off, outer clothing off; this wasn’t an airport pat down (which I’m very familiar with since I always opt out of the Wave cancer scanner thing) this was a serious “we are going to put our hands on every square inch of your body” pat down.  They asked for each of the boys bags and went through every single item.  I’m saying that if they had a can of hairspray it was uncapped and a bit sprayed out to ensure it was what the label said it was.  It was VERY in-depth.

And it got a little MORE in-depth… While they let 3 of the boys back in, two officers were escorting the 4th into the little mini-mart of the gas station… You could just hear the sound of latex gloves snapping against the officers wrists!!  Needless to say, about 20 minutes later the guy who had been escorted into the mini-mart did NOT look happy!!  While he was inside however the other officers were still busy with the bus and they had even plucked yet another man (who was sitting in front of me) off the bus for a pat down.

About two hours later all the bags were back on the bus and all the passengers were back on the bus except the one unfortunate younger guy who had been taken inside for a thorough search.  He stayed behind with his things and the cops.  His friends were total punks and I wonder if he was just the “fall guy” because they kept laughing at him from the bus and taking his picture with the cops no doubt to post them on the web.

Once we were back on the road the driver did her best to catch up on time lost but the 7 hour trip once again turned into an almost 10 hour trip, lol!

I love trains!!!! 🙂

On to Montmartre

Back to Europe