I read the following article on the website BonjourParis.com. Because it reflects the kind of experience you get with Untours, I wanted to share this with anyone who is wondering what an Untours vacation is like. We did our 2008 Paris Untour in the rue Montorgueil neighborhood with simlar experiences described in the article. Next Spring we will again spend a month in Paris through Untours, but in a different neighborhood close to Place des Vosges. We will make new friends there I'm sure. But our visit will also include a return to our old neighborhood for reunions with our rue Montorgueil friends.
Home Sweet Home in Montmartre
By Linda Donahue
I fell in love with Montmartre in November 2007.
Actually ... no, first I fell in love with an apartment in Montmartre in 2007. It was Thanksgiving Day and a friend had been invited to a dinner soirée on rue Houdon. The host, Erica Berman, was an American expat and the festivities comprised of an intriguing mix of Americans and Parisians. I spent much of the evening chatting with Didier, a handsome French photographer.
Didier was absolutely delightful, but so was Erica’s one-bedroom apartment. There was something distinctively, delightfully Parisian about it, and it offered the perfect perch over Montmartre with views looking down onto the rest of Paris. Upon learning that the apartment was available as a vacation rental, I quickly booked time there for another visit in February.
That's when I fell in love with Montmartre.
While I had made my trek up the butte and explored the touristy side of Montmartre many, many times before, the ten days spent living as a temporary resident afforded me the opportunity to gain a new perspective. It was easier to begin to understand the character of the arrondissement after a few days as my familiarity with the place broadened. It soon became rather easy to identify who lived in the neighborhood and who was visiting. Even more remarkable was that I was gradually recognized and accepted as a player in the daily tableau.
It was on my third visit to the boulangerie (bakery) on the rue des Abbesses that the woman behind the counter asked if I didn’t also want the usual éclair along with the baguette I was buying. The tone wasn’t patronizing or condescending; she was, in fact, taking care of one of her regulars.
Next door to this boulangerie, is the two-story café, Le Relais Gascon, which I also frequented. On my fourth visit, the waitress brought over a glass of the red wine she knew I liked before handing me the menu. Neighbors said hello and laughed as we maneuvered past each other on the narrow, winding stairway. And after seeing each other on the street and in the boulangerie several times, a neighborhood man finally introduced himself. I was getting to know my neighbors and, as a consequence, Montmartre felt like an entirely new place.
I spent a lot of time exploring this part of Paris, with its narrow cobbled streets that wind up and down the hillside. I found lovely little boutiques, including charming papetiers (paper stores) and art studios. On rue Lepic, I discovered Les Petits Mitrons, home of what have been called the best tarts in Paris. At least, Gertrude Stein loved them.
Another discovery was Studio 28, the oldest operating cinema in Paris. If it seems familiar, it’s because this is the theater where Amélie spent her Friday nights. The tiny, 170-seat theater shows the latest movies, along with a very interesting assortment of avant-garde art films.
One evening, I joined Erica, her boyfriend, Alain and their friend, Malik for dinner at a restaurant near the Montmartre cemetery; a tiny little place frequented only by the locals. The menu, however, consisted of what I’d like to call “experimental cuisine,” because it fused together ingredients that seemed to be impossible pairs. While it coaxed a few shared laughs, none of us truly enjoyed the meal. What was far more interesting was the conversation that sprang from both the unusual meal and the new friends testing the waters together.
I only visited the Place du Tertre (an artsy, cultural square) once during my stay in Montmartre and watched the crowds swarming around the artists, and strolling in and out of the shops. There was fussing and shouting on this busy day, and I found myself exchanging shrugs with one particularly perplexed artist, as if to say, “Ah, tourists. What can you do?”
I returned to “my apartment” last November and to the boulangerie at the top of the rue. It took a few days for the woman behind the counter to remember me as “la femme qui aime les éclairs”, but late one afternoon, there weren’t any of those delightful chocolate-filled pastries left in the display. Upon seeing the panic on my face, the proprietress smiled and magically produced an already-wrapped éclair that she’d hidden away, knowing that I’d be there to collect it before the store closed. That’s when I knew that I had passed the test and been accepted back into the landscape of Montmartre.