Serendipitous Traveler: A Visit to Historic Montmarte ~ Day 4


Each time I finish watching a scary movie, I run around the house flipping on the lights, one by one, until I am sure there are no ghosts or bogeyman lurking in the shadowy corners.  And then I turn on happy, upbeat music, like 80s Pop.  It's a ridiculous ritual.  Childish, really.  And yet, I can't seem to break myself of it.  It's as if my soul, heavy from witnessing the darker side of human nature, craves the light.

I felt the same way after my Macabre Day in Paris.  Standing over graves, touring subterranean tombs, and learning about serial killers with freaky fetishes had plunged me deep into the darkest recesses of Parisian history.  I wanted to climb up and into the light.

So, Sunday morning I found myself sipping tea at a historic cafe in Montmartre, watching curbside artists create mini-masterpieces, and climbing up 225 steps to reach the top of the dome of Sacre Coeur.

Stephanie and I enjoying a sunny morning at
Le Consulat Cafe.
We nab a table at Le Consulat, an unpretentious bistro that is famous for its Steak au Poivre avec pomme frites and for having an unparalleled view of La Bonne Franquette, perhaps the most famous restaurant in Montmartre.  

La Bonne Franquette has been an auberge for over 400 years.  Renoir, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Vincent Van Gogh were once regular patrons of the charming La Bonne Franquette. 

In the Shadow of the Basilica by Leah Marie Brown
~ Le Consulat Cafe stands in the shadow
of Sacré-Cœur Basilica
The server arrives, balancing a silver tray laden with Stephanie's beloved espresso and my pot of tea.  I pour myself some Earl Gray and drop a lump of German rock sugar into the cup.  The sun is shining and the streets of Montmartre are relatively quiet.  I sit back and drink in the delicious Paris moment.

La Bonne Franquette by Leah Marie Brown
Through wispy curls of steam, I stare at the cheerful, green and white painted building and imagine Toulouse-Latrec seated inside. 
I imagine him sitting alone, his knotted cane propped against the empty chair beside him, his pince nez perched on the end of his nose.  He stares at the menu but does not see it - for his mind is still a block away, in a smoky nightclub where he watched a nubile young dancer called La Goulue perform her scandalous Can-Can dance.

Just as I had imagined it with Toulouse-Latrec, the magic of Montmartre transported me to another time and place.  

Coffee for Fanny by
Leah Marie Brown

Le Artist by Leah Marie Brown

Next Stop:  Sacré-Cœur Basilica

After wandering the narrow streets of Montmarte (and sampling our share of the chocolates sold there), we made our way to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica.  Stephanie opted to people watch while I made the climb up the narrow circular staircase to the top of the dome.  I could hear the choir singing, their angelic voices urging me to keep heading toward Heaven.  Up, up I climbed, until I reached the observation deck that circles beneath the dome.  I peered out one of the arches and found myself nose-to-nose with a stone Gargoyle, hundreds of feet above the cobblestone streets of Montmartre.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica by
Leah Marie Brown

People Watching by Leah Marie Brown

Gargoyle by Leah Marie Brown

Room with a View by
Leah Marie Brown
Beyond the mini-dome of Sacre Coeur, you can
see the Eiffel Tower in the

Leah Marie Brown

Mansard Roof by Leah Marie Brown.
Shot this looking down from La Sainte Chapelle.

Graffiti by Leah Marie Brown

After my descent from on high, I stood on the steps of the Basilica and watched the tapestry of people weaving their way around the holy shrine.  A group of young men in blue jeans stood with their necks craned, staring up at the magnificent dome, startlingly white against the azure sky.  A woman carrying a tangerine colored purse paused, looked up at the dome, and sighed.  A man sat on the curb and played the violin, the notes of his music wrapped around me like a joyful embrace.  He smiled when he noticed me snapping his picture.  A smile as cheerful as a tangerine purse, as bright as a white dome against a sapphire sky.

Ode to Joy by Leah Marie Brown
This street performer played his violin on the
steps in front of Sacre Coeur, spreading joy
on a peaceful Sunday.

Ode to Joy II

I snapped this painted panel on a Merry-Go-Round
in front of Sacre Coeur.

Next Stop:  Wandering

A Penchant for Parisian Pink
by Leah Marie Brown
We made our way through the streets of Montmartre, passing a perfectly precious pink painted cafe, an 18th century Merry-Go-Round, and a row of chic shops and eateries.  One boutique had large, red painted doors.  A handsome young Parisian sat in front of the doors, idly puffing on a cigarette while observing me observing him.  His blue eyes widened, his brows lifted for just a fraction of a second before his features settled back into a mask of boredom.  The Parisian Ennui.  Sigh. 

Ennui by Leah Marie Brown
I loved this young man's cool, easy style and bored
expression.  It seemed so quintessentially Parisian. 

Along the way, we discovered a fabulous little boutique selling the most delicious jams, chutneys, and dessert toppings.  

Photo courtesy of
La Chambre aux Confitures
La Chambre aux Confitures on 9 rue des Martyrs is a neat little boutique with shelves lined with jars of artisinal jams, like clémentine, strawberry rhubarb, pear and ginger, apricot and lavender.  My favorite jam was their champagne and raspberries.  The seedless jam was bursting with the taste of raspberries.   

The dessert toppings were phenomenal.  As the friendly clerk handed me a small spoon of the chocolate-raspberry, I found myself wishing for a bowl of vanilla ice cream.  The dark chocolate and bananas and the vanilla-pear toppings were also divine.
We made our way toward the Marais, passing a Metro Stop with an artistic entrance and an impromptu concert of classical music by street performers.

Metro by Leah Marie Brown

A Happy Note by Leah Marie Brown

Next Stop:  The Marais

We ate a forgettable meal at a smokey bistro in the shadow of the Church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois and then indulged in two scoops of gelato at our favorite gelateria, Amarino on 1 rue des Francs Bourgeois.  Stephanie had Coconut and Mango while I opted for Carmello and Stracciatella .  It was delicious and possibly one of the best cones I have ever greedily consumed.  (Observant readers will have noticed I am wearing a different shirt in the photo below than in the previous photos.  Confession time: Stephanie and I went to Amarino twice during our short visit to Paris.  This photo was shot during our first visit, two days before)

Gelato Girls ~ Leah and her best friend,
Stephanie Mounts, eating their flower
shaped gelato cones. 
Photo by Leah Marie Brown

Amarino Gelateria in Paris
Photo by Leah Marie Brown
Next Stop:  La Sainte Chapelle

Stephanie surprised me with tickets to a classical concert at La Sainte Chapelle
The Concert Orchestre Les Violons De France would be performing.  We were to spend our evening listening to the heavenly strains of Mozart and Pachelbel in a Gothic chapel.  Built in the thirteenth century, La Sainte Chapelle has floor to ceiling stained glass windows and gilded pillars.  It is truly the most magnificent chapel I have ever visited. 

Sapphire Light by
Leah Marie Brown
The magnificent windows of
La Saint Chapelle, Paris, France
I sat in the dimly lit chapel, listening to some of the most beautiful music ever written and staring at the glowing panes of emerald, ruby and sapphire glass.  "This is the way Mozart's music was meant to be experienced," I thought.  The hauntingly beautiful violin music stirred something in my soul and I began to cry.  Just when I thought the moment could not be any more perfect, the notes faded away and opera singer Cécile Besnard stepped center stage. 

The slender woman wrapped in a green silk kimono, clasped her hands in front of her breasts, cast her gaze in the direction of the Rose Window opposite her, and smiled serenely.  The crowd seemed to draw a collective breath.  We sat in silence, all gazes fixed on the beatific Besnard.  Finally, she lowered her gaze, opened her mouth, and out came the heavenly strains of Ave Maria. 

If my soul had been stirred listening to the violin music, it was seismically shaken listening to Besnard sing Schubert's poetic piece.

Peace.  Joy.  Wonder.  A word has not yet been constructed to describe that perfect, soul-stirring moment and the feelings it aroused in me.  How does one describe what it feels like to step out of the dark and into the light? 
It was as if the angels had desended onto Earth and conspired to allow me the briefest glimpse of Heaven.

Up to Heaven by
Leah Marie Brown
The ceiling and rose window of
La Sainte Chapelle, Paris, France

Finding the Light in Darkness by Leah Marie Brown

Let There be Light by Leah Marie Brown
A chandelier dangles high above heads
before a myriad of stained glass windows
in La Sainte Chapelle, Paris, France

Exhaltation by Leah Marie Brown
La Sainte Chapelle, Paris, France

Cécile Besnard and the
Concert Orchestre Les
Violons De France 
(Forgive the poor quality of my photos)

Cécile Besnard

As a treat, my faithful readers, I have attached a video of the talented Cécile Besnard singing at Concerto da Igreja da Madeleine.  Enjoy:


Further Reading:

Click here to see an amazing photograph of Le Consulat Cafe by Michael J. Hamilton.

Click here to read a short, fascinating history about the history of Montmartre.

Click here to see a 360 degree view of the exterior of Sacré-Cœur Basilica.

This short movie tells a bit about the history and architecture of Sacré-Cœur Basilica:


Unknown said...

I am going to Paris for 4 nights with my 20 year old daughter. I want out trip to be as magical as yours. Would you mind telling me how you decided where to go? Did you buy a book with walking tours? Rick Steves? Lonely Planet? Would you mind sharing? Thank you.

Leah Marie Brown said...

Thank you for visiting my blog. I would be happy to share some of my Paris Musts with you.

First, to answer your questions. I have been to Paris many times. Each time I go to Paris, my itinerary is balanced with something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. I like to revisit my favorite places (Place des Voges, Carnavalet). I visit somewhere new each time (This last time, I went to a few new art galleries). I "borrow" ideas from friends or fellow bloggers. Finally, I go somewhere that will make me feel colorful and alive. I love photography, so I am sure to schedule a day just to wander with my camera.

I WOULD NEVER EVER READ RICK STEVES. He's is the polar opposite of me when it comes to travel. I really do prefer to get off the beaten path. I only dine at restaurants frequented by locals. I hate the touristy places.

Here are a few books I like:
The Impressionists' Paris
DK Paris
Walks Through Marie Antoinette's Paris
A Passion for Paris by David Downie

Finally, City Walks Paris is fantastic. It's a box of index cards. On each card is a recommended walk with the history and a map.

Here are a few of my favorites:
1. The concerts at Sainte-Chapelle are AMAZING. Like nothing I have ever done. https://www.classictic.com/en/sitesearch/?country=France&city=Paris&venue=La+Sainte-Chapelle

2. The climb to the top of Sacre Coeur offers remarkable views of the city.

3. The Louvre is great, but it's crazy crowded and big. I much prefer Musee Carnavalet, which is in the Marais (the best arrondisement, in my mind) and located in the former home of the famous letter writer, Madame de Sevigne. It has lovely art, decorative items, and offers a great history of the city. Because I adore 18th Century Paris, I would also recommend http://museecognacqjay.paris.fr/en

4. I wouldn't miss visiting Shakespeare and Company, the oldest English only bookstore in Paris. If you don't know the history of the store, google it. It's remarkable. They run a program called Tumbleweeds, wherein they allow aspiring writers to live in the store in exchange for working in the store and contributing to their book of Tumbleweeds writings. (I am, in fact, writing a novel about a similar program). https://shakespeareandcompany.com/

5. I would recommend visiting the Fragonard Perfume Museum and Store. Fragonard is one of the oldest perfumeries in France. Their museum in Grasse is fantastic, but if you can't make it to the South of France, the Paris museum and store is a great alternative. Be sure to visit the store and sample their amazing scents. 9 Rue Scribe, 75009 Paris, France

6. Be sure to visit a grocery store. You can purchase great souvenirs, like French sea salt, chocolates, soaps, body lotions, spices. There are several in Paris I would recommend.

7. I would always recommend a day out of the city - rent a car and drive the Loire Valley - or take a tour if you don't want to drive.

8. Versailles is easily accessible by train. If you will be there in the summer, please, please be sure to do the Fete des Nuit, their evening festivals of music and fireworks and fountain shows.

The best thing about visiting Paris is just wandering around and getting lost. If you let me know the dates you are going and your interests, I could offer a more specific itinerary.

Here are a few blog pieces you might find helpful:



I hope you have a magical time in Paris. Please email me when you get back and let me know all you did - and if you are looking for light reading to take with you while you travel, might I recommend: http://amzn.to/1q0sL0l

Bon Voyage!