A Visit to Sacre Coeur on a Rainy Morning
February 2011: My Paris weekend turned out to be just one day and two nights so I had to choose the places I would visit carefully. The clerk at the hotel desk was surprised when I requested a 6 am wake-up call on a Sunday. I just smiled.
Thanks to the Frankfurt to Paris TGV train, I went from gute nacht to bonsoir and bier to vin in just under four hours. Arriving in the Gare de l’est (East Station) at 9 pm on a Saturday night, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The restaurants had some patrons but they weren’t busy. My hotel was conveniently located across the street from the station. I wasn’t hungry thanks to the TGV meal that came with my first class ticket, but I was very tired. Early to bed, and early to rise to see as much as possible!
Sunday morning came quickly but I was up and showered in time for a quick bite at the hotel and in the Metro system by 8:16 am.
Hint: The Paris metro system is an excellent way to get around the city. There are a number of ticket options depending on the length of your stay. If you plan to use the metro for just a few rides, it will probably be more cost effective to purchase individual tickets at the stations. Just remember to have enough change for the ticket machine because not all of the stations have a staffed ticket booth.
Montmartre translates to mountain of the martyr. The hill itself is 130 meters (400 feet) high. St. Denis, the Bishop of Paris, lost his head there around 250 AD. It is quite a climb starting with 90 steps or 9 flights of 10 steps all in a spiral from the Abbesses Metro station (line 12) to the surface. In other words, it is a 118 foot climb to surface from the subway. Mon dieu! A brightly colored, grafetti-covered mural decorates the stairwell but I barely noticed it going up. There is an elevator but in my excitement to get to the surface, I started running up the stairs. That only lasted a few flights. While catching my breath, I realized that the sign I saw at the bottom with 90 and some French words was referring to the climb and the elevator.
Once on the surface, it's another uphill walk to the funicular to get to the next level. I could have climbed the adjacent steps (ah, street) but I knew there would be even more steps before I'd reach Sacre Coeur. Plus my metro pass would cover the ride on the virtually empty funicular.
Outside the church, it was desolate. The sky was overcast. A chill was in the air. A British camera crew was filming an announcer discussing the history of Sacre Coeur while a young couple sat by the doorway, seemingly frozen in time and space. Did they spend the night there? Inside, a scattering of worshipers prayed in the main church and the side chapels.
Thus began my one, cold, wet, February day in Paris.