Almost a week has passed since our trip to Paris. As tourists do, we did the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre Museum, the Latin Quarter, Sacré Cœur, and outside Paris we visited the Château of Versailles. We walked the Champs-Elysées and the Grands Boulevards, saw the Palais Garnier, travelled on the Metro and literally walked miles in our quest to show our godson the city we fell in love with over thirty years ago.
But there is so much more to Paris than these great tourist attractions and famous buildings. It is the place where tourists seldom go that show you what the real Paris is like. Wander the streets of the Île Saint-Louis, and you could imagine yourself far away from the centre of a capital city, when in effect you are just a few hundred metres from the great cathedral of Notre Dame. Unlike its big sister, the Île de la Cité, this smaller island contains almost everything that you could want from a village community, and moves at a much slower pace than the streets on the opposite banks of the Seine.
Or take yourself to the Marais or to Montegueil, village communities bustling with cafés and bistros where Parisians eat and drink after work, where every kind of food shop imaginable is to be found, and where the Jewish community rubs shoulders with designer boutique hotels and Paris’ gay community. A different atmosphere can be felt as you tread the streets in the northern districts of Menilmontant and Belleville, birthplace of Edith Piaf, and close by the fascinating Cemetery of Père Lachaise, where Edith Piaf, the little sparrow, and Oscar Wilde, that great figure of literature, share a graveyard with a million other people, and where the remains of the famous twelfth century lovers Abélard and Héloïse were transferred at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Montmartre is another of those places. The steps of Sacré Cœur and the Place du Tertre are always busy with tourists, youngsters who sit and sing on the steps as they look down over the city lit up below, or where artists try to sketch your portrait as you wander by the restaurants and souvenir shops in the Place. But step just a few metres away and you are in a different world, where vines grow and windmills turn and narrow streets are home to houses clad with ivy, and where quiet flights of steps lead to unexpected views of the surrounding districts.
I love Paris. I love its grand monuments and its famous places. I love to relive the history of the city, even though I shudder when some of those places remind me of the bloody Revolution and its aftermath. But I have a deeper affection for those less well known places, where Parisians go about their daily lives, and where the real Paris is to be found.