Travelling by Eurostar from London St Pancras, the actor Robert Stocks samples three days of apartment living in Paris Montmartre with his wife, the photographer Jane Stocks.
We arrived on Wednesday. The point of the trip was simply just to hang out in Paris. We’ve seen all the big tourist sites before so there was no pressure for us to get caught up following a guide-book.
Our apartment was in Montmartre, and dragging ourselves up the steep cobbled streets to the rue d’Orchampt it was hard to believe it would be worth getting there. Climbing even further, up two flights of stairs, made me even more apprehensive: but then we saw the view.
Out of our window we could see a panoramic vista of the French capital, better than any photo (the view of Paris’s most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower, was so good from our window that we even stayed in one night just to watch its light display). And the apartment itself had much thought and personality put into its design.
It wasn’t long before our location in Montmartre also became a source of fascination. We were drawn to a beautiful white house at the end of the street where Dalida, a French film star, once lived, and at the far corner of the street is a more humble building where Picasso used to work. His picture Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which is considered by many to have launched the concept of cubism, was painted here. Turn the corner near the Dalida house, go up an alley, and you find yourself standing right in front of the legendary Moulin de la Galette, where Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir used to drink and paint.
If that wasn’t enough for just one block, take a right and walk the 100 or so yards up to the Place Jean-Baptiste-Clément and you’ll find the spot where Salvador Dali publically engraved his first illustrations for Don Quixote, using two rhinoceros horns.
Groups of people kept stopping outside a strange building opposite us (the mysterious “no5″) and taking pictures. We found nothing about it on the internet, but the mystery was set to be solved before the holiday’s end…
As you walk through the main streets of Montmartre, and around the Sacré-Cœur, it is difficult to miss The Place du Tertre. Very busy during the day, but at night it’s serenely quiet. We went there at midnight. At first it looked as if the cafes were ready to close, but they were more than welcoming and for the next hour we sat quietly listening to the rhythmic sounds of French jazz and the barking of Sarkozy the dog (so named by the locals).
Part of Paris’s beauty comes from the fact that it loves to make tributes to great people, with monuments or other forms of recognition. On our second night in Montmartre, we came across a large crowd gathered for an anniversary celebration of the artist and poet Max Jacob. The music and poetry readings all took place outside his former residence.
Another great thing about Montmartre is that it’s easy to travel around the city from here – without even using the Metro. Just over 20 minutes walk and we were in the centre of Paris. On day two we made it all the way to the Luxembourg Gardens stopping, of course, at many cafes along the way. The amble allowed us to see lots of little nooks and crannies we would have otherwise missed. I’d highly recommend putting your map in your back pocket and just walking for an hour or so; you’ll discover so much of Paris in that time.
On the third day, after an essential stop at Harry’s New York Bar for a Bloody Mary (it was invented here), we went to the Musée d’Orsay, mainly to see the huge array of work painted around the area we were staying. We noticed a strangely different perception of a picture when you have seen its location with your own eyes.
Just before leaving for London we met Debra, the lady we rented the apartment from, and she very kindly solved the mystery of the building opposite us, no5 rue d’Orchampt. It had once been a pub where Picasso and Matisse used to drink. It had also been built at the same time, and from the same metal, as the Eiffel Tower.
Debra (a fountain of knowledge) let us into another one of Paris’s secrets: apparently, the Eiffel Tower was modelled on the shape of a woman laying on her back and putting on fish net stockings.
Once you look at the landmark in this light, it’s very difficult to see it any other way. I may not be able to prove that it’s true, but I certainly hope it is.
How to get to the Montmartre without flying:
Robert and Jane travelled from London to Paris Gare du Nord on the Eurostar for £69 return.
They stayed at an apartment on Rue d’Orchampt, booked through all-parisapartments.com for 383EUR from Wednesday through to Saturday.
Writer: Robert Stocks for Feet on the Ground
Images: Jane Stocks for Feet on the Ground