I hope it's running through your head now.....Sssssssaaaaaaaffffffffeeeeeettttttyyyyyyy dance. Welcome to the 80's and a seemingly perfect intro to today's post. Let's start off touring Montmartre and we'll wrap this baby up with some warnings. I figured it was better to dump it all one post & then we can get back to the fun. And we're off.....
In pursuit of an amazing crepe, we decided to venture to Montmartre where friends said the best were to be found. It's the only hill in Paris and from the top there is a great view of the city. And here's where the irony kick's in. Said crepe shop? Closed for a two-week holiday. Awesome. So we decided to go ahead up to the top and take in the view before we headed back to the city center. You can walk up a bagillion steps or use a carnet ticket (I'll explain public transportation tips in a later post) to ride the funicular to the top. It's basically a tram that climbs a super steep hill. We rode up and walked down in order to save our feet a few precious steps.
At the top is another beautiful church, Sacre Coeur. It's pure white facade stands out from the rest of the city. We didn't go in, but rested on its steps taking in the view.
As much as we enjoyed this little detour to the north part of the city, that was at one time home to Van Gogh and his artist and hipster friends, it was also the worst experience for me of the whole trip. It's my favorite story to tell from our trip now that it's over, but no less scary as I write it.
While prepping for the trip, I tried to get the skinny on the biggest scams that are pulled on tourists in Paris (from the guidebooks, of course). And I'm so glad I was ready. But I have to be honest. Paris was not a relaxing trip. Maybe if we had traveled with some big tour group, protected from the random encounters, it might have been different. But I was on guard the whole time. Not like in NYC or DC or London. It was worse. I'm not sharing this to shy you away from going, but to prepare you for what you might encounter (hopefully not, but better safe than sorry).
Here's a few examples & I'll close it out with our scary adventure at Montmarte. You can google and get more info on all these....I found a few picture to give you some visuals.
1) At the Eiffel Tower in the evening, you will be asked 10,000 times by scores of men pacing up and down the lawn to buy their champagne, beer, wine, etc. No matter how many times you say no - there are 10 of them. And they will ask you each and every time they make a loop around. We don't drink, so it was an easy answer. But even if we did, wouldn't we come prepared for our own picnic? Let's just say that it quickly ruins the relaxing mood. Not quite the romantic vibe you expect from every movie you've ever seen.
2) Teenage girls with petitions for the disabled. They try to get you to sign to support the disabled (in broken English), then say you have to pay them money. Oh, and the poorly photocopied papers should be your heads up. And then they get angry. Name-calling angry. It's awesome. City of Love right? We saw this in a couple of places around the city.
3) The saddest part for me was watching a fancy dressed mom with her morning latte get on the subway with her 7 year old kid & his accordion. We watched him play in between stops, then pander up and down each car asking for money. A seven year old kid. The day before we had seen a group of old men doing the exact same thing on the trains to Versailles. I guess we know who was teaching him his trade. My heart broke a bit that morning.
4)Trinket sellers. Literally everywhere you go, people have blankets laid out with glittery Eiffel Tower trinkets of every shape and size. They don't pester you as much as it's just impossible to get anywhere around them. It's like they missed the economics lesson to spread out to get more market share. Instead there are 10 of them at the entrance to Versailles only feet apart. Same thing at the Louvre. I could handle this....it's number scam number 5 that did Paris in for me and solidified that this would be my one and only trip to this city. Unless someone else is paying for it.....
5) I will call this the friendship bracelet scam. Minus the friendship. Basically, guys will try to get ahold of your arm to wrap a bracelet of embroidery floss around your arm. And then tie it tight. And then you have to pay. And they are aggressive. They will follow you. And touch you. Enter our encounter at Montmartre. Andy is 6'5". He should have played football. It's nice having my own bodyguard wherever we go. This day was no exception. As we approached the ticket booth for the funicular, there were 4 or 5 men with these bracelets in their hands & I was so thankful I knew their plan. So I told Andy to keep going & just get to the ticket counter. But they purposefully walked over and separated us. My non-confrontational side just tried to keep walking faster. Meanwhile Andy was forcefully telling the guy bugging him to go away & saying no repeatedly. Then he saw the guy following me grab my shoulder to try to stop me. And then he lost it. Let's just say lot's of people heard him step in as my protector and the guy got the message to back off. After some yelling and almost a hand in his face. But I was still shaking by the time we got on the tram. Later he told me the guy was doing the same to him & he just snapped when he saw the other guy touch me. Hence why with racing hearts, we just chose to sit on the steps of Sacre Coeur before we dared venture back down through this same group of men. Because there wasn't another way back. Sigh.
Note: This isn't us....but these poor girls had no idea. Sigh.
There were tons of people walking down the steps when we finally went to leave, so we figured the crowd would help diffuse the likelihood of going through the same thing again. Wrong. The crowd slowed down, or stopped to take pictures. And suddenly it was just us. Four of these guys were literally lining the bottom steps and there was no way around them. We grabbed hands and said - here we go. One started to walk up to us, when the man behind him recognized Andy (from when he almost punched him in the face), and started saying in his French accent 'Hakuna Matata man! No problems!'. And so we quickly sprinted down the street to get away from this as fast as we could. And now I've nicknamed Andy Hakuna Matata. Because the only thing the guy knew to say to him with the language barrier was 'no worries'. Cracks me up now. I'm just thankful I didn't have to figure out where the embassy was to try to get him out of jail. In France. The irony is the day before Andy wanted to visit the embassy to see if the inside looked like some boy movie that took place there. Be careful what you ask for!
So maybe you'll experience none of this in your adventures. But I felt relatively uncomfortable the whole trip, just waiting for the next person to accost us. I'd been exploring in NYC on my own just two weeks prior to this trip - and Paris make NY look as safe as some prairie town in Oklahoma. I'm glad I didn't let it ruin us from making memories while in France, but I was just taken off guard by it all - especially in contrast to the time we had just spent in London.
So consider this your heads up. If I'd realized the extent to expect this, I probably would have enjoyed our time there more.