Day 63 – In Which We Soak Up the Sunshine

After three days of living in the Middle Earth of our Paris Apartment, my head is showing distinct signs of abuse. The five foot ceilings may have been designed for hobbits, but they are not suitable for someone of more normal height. Although I have been trying my best to walk around like the proverbial Hunchback of Notre Dame, it only takes a momentary lack of attention to collect another huge welt on the top of my cranium. I have been tempted to wear my bike helmet indoors but I can’t be bothered trying to retrieve it from the lower recesses of my luggage.

In spite of the fact that I was looking like a car accident victim, Maggie and I were buoyed by the prospect of a late return to summer conditions in Paris. With blue skies and a predicted top temperature of 20C, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to revisit two of our favourite places in this city.

Our first stop was the Butte (hill) Montmartre and the beautiful Sacre Coeur Cathedral. The cathedral is situated at the top of the rise and provides glorious views down over the surrounding chaos of narrow streets and chimney pots. This spot has been special to me since my first visit to Paris. Although it can be crowded with tourists and preyed upon by scammers, pickpockets and touts, it really has something of a sacred atmosphere. On every subsequent visit to Paris I have always made time to visit this spot, soak up the wonderful atmosphere and indulge in my favourite pastime of people watching. I have never been disappointed.

Although it is now very late in the season, the main front road up to the steps was jammed solid with tourists from a multitude of origins. Several groups of eastern European con men and women were busy running the three cup scam and sucking in a never ending succession of gullible visitors into parting with handfuls of Euros. Their system has been unchanged for years and yet it obviously still brings in lucrative returns.

We walked through the suckers as they lost handfuls of money and continued up the hill to the base of the Cathedral steps. This has been the place where groups of black African thugs pressure tourists with their “friendship bracelet” scams. This is really just extortion and it especially upsets me when they work their threats on young kids and fearful young women. This morning I was pleased to see two heavily armed local police stationed at the base of the steps and their presence had obviously scared away the string scammers. We both hoped that this would be a permanent police placement to help curb this dark side of Paris.

We continued to the top of the stairs to made our way to our favourite little coffee shop in the Place Du Tertre. This is a lovely little sanctuary with a secret veranda covered in flowering creepers and inhabited by dozens of cheeky little sparrows. It always provides a lovely spot to enjoy a coffee and cake and observe the crowds from a safe distance.

After a lovely 30 minutes spent at the coffee shop we made our way back down the cathedral steps and discovered that the police had gone and the black African thugs had quickly returned. I felt like screaming out a warning to those who were falling into their clutches, but it would have been a bit like trying to warn a fly not to fly into a spider’s web. It looks like this practice is destined to be an ongoing problem for the foreseeable future.

We then made our way back across Paris to the left bank of the Seine and to the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens. With the brilliant warm sunshine and the spectacular autumn colours it was the perfect place to spend a couple of hours. Thousands of Parisians were already here, resting, walking, reading, drawing and enjoying the sun. Maggie and I found a place in the sun, positioned a couple of chairs and made ourselves comfortable. It didn’t take me long to fall deeply asleep while Maggie worked away with her sketchpad.

The Luxembourg Gardens are surely one of the real treasures of Paris, but their location makes them rather inaccessible for the majority of bus tourists. It is a lovely feeling being in place where nearly all the other people are locals.

On the way back to our “Hobbit House” we stopped at the Marks and Spencer Store to buy some familiar foodstuffs for a feast. Our supplies were complete when we purchased our evening baguette from a wonderful Boulangerie. We really are going to miss that bread when we get back to Australia in a week’s time.

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