Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Springtime in Paris - Montmartre
Joe and I hadn't been to Montmartre since our 10th anniversary 9 years ago. It's probably the furthest tourist spot of the city and I had distinct memories of climbing numerous steps to get to the Sacre Coeur. I really hadn't planned to take the ILs there, but after talking to some friends in Lux I discovered that there is actually a small tram that you can take to avoid those ominous steps. Plus, my TripAdvisor research said that there was this great Sicilian restaurant called Tentazioni that promised traditional fare in a quaint, family run establishment. I couldn't resist - it was rated #3! I emailed with the proprietor's son and got the reservation.
So, a couple of hours before our reservation time we headed off to the train. After spending the day on the Champs-Elysee, Montmartre can be a bit jarring. Let's just say, you won't find Louis Vuitton or Chanel in this neighborhood. Again, my ILs are not snobs and they don't frequent the kind of establishments you will find on the Champs-Elysee, but Montmartre is more reminiscent of any touristy area in a big city (think Navy Pier in Chicago or Las Ramblas in Barcelona). It's not exactly seedy, but you do take extra care to hold on to your purse or wallet. We exited the train to a bustling city street loaded with souvenir shops and street performers. I know my FIL was not impressed. Nor was my MIL when she saw the sloped street that you had to ascend to get half way up to where the Sacre Coeur sits. We did manage to find the tram and made our way to the top. We stopped to watch this guy who obviously had quite a talent for balancing a soccer ball while doing some tightrope-like stunts that were really quite impressive. The boys were intrigued, but the ILs chalked him up as an elaborate panhandler and were ready to move on. We did take a quick tour of the church; however, for some reason we had a knack for picking times to visit churches when a service was in session. This time was no exception. I thought the singing nuns were lovely, but my oldest son was quick to say he was "creeped out," so we left. We decided to follow Rick Steve's walking tour of the area which quickly led us to the artists' square. More "panhandlers" (including Mr. Bean and some rather odd dancers), but at least there were some impressive artists displaying their art and doing portraits. I don't think it raised my FIL's opinion of the place much, but it was a chance to see a different part of Paris.
Finally, we headed off to find the restaurant. Admittedly, I am not the best with maps or directions. I did take the time to mark my Rick Steve's book with what I thought was the general location of the street according to Googlemaps. However, my mistake was misspelling the name of the street. After several trips through the winding streets of Montmartre, we managed to find a nice valet who was kind enough to use his phone (and Googlemaps) to find the restaurant. We managed to be only 10 minutes late, but the meal was totally worth the effort. Francesco, the guy I had made the email reservation with, happened to be our waiter that night. The restaurant has only 4 tables, so reservations were definitely a must. I did get the sense from the reviews that it was a restaurant mostly frequented by locals, which was what I was looking for. The icing on the cake was the lovely family who owned and ran the place. Papa was the cook behind the counter, Mama was cashier, and the sons were waiting the tables. Francesco took the time to translate the menu for us and the handmade pasta was to die for. (I can't tell you how much I was regretting my Lent choices that night. My gnocchi was lovely, but my husband's truffle ravioli looked sinful.) In any case, the ILs enjoyed dinner and we were rewarded with a picture with Francesco in front of the restaurant and free glasses of Limoncello. :)
We did take a different route back to the train which allowed a quick look at the famous Moulin Rouge. No need to visit the place as we learned during our honeymoon. It is by far the biggest tourist trap in the city, so a view from the outside suffices. Overall, I think the visit to the neighborhood was worth the random excursions in search of the restaurant, though next time... I'll check my spelling.