Our actual schedule deviated from my initial plan but when traveling, you have to be flexible and go wherever the day takes you. Picpus was supposed to happen the first day; instead, the first day was devoted to meeting my brother in the morning and waiting at a nearby café for 5 or 6 hours while we waited for whoever to show up to let us into our AirBnB.
Our day three involved a lot of sacred and religious places so I was sure to wear layers and be covered out of respect. Although I am sure many do it, it is considered respectful to have your legs and shoulders mostly covered (I am sure a below-the-knee skirt would be fine). I wore jeans, flats, a tank top, a light cardigan, and of course my trench coat. It was typically chilly in the mornings and nice in the afternoon.
We began the day with taking the metro to Île de la Cité, the oldest and original city limits of Paris; an island situated in the middle of the River Seine. It is said that the Parisii lived on the island which in coming times saw sieges and attacks from various groups including the Romans, the Huns, and Vikings. Nowadays, it is best known as the location for the famous Notre Dame Cathedral. It is also the location for a lot of municipal buildings and the oldest hospital in Paris, Hôtel-Dieu, which was a public aid hospital founded in 651 (the current building is not the original, however).
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Address: (don’t worry: there are signs that will point you in the right direction but I’ve included directions below)
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 07h45-18h45, tower opens at 10h00 (but the line begins at like 8!)
Cost: free (there is an entry fee for the tower)
Métro ligne and stop: to Cité
Insanely, this Cathedral was nearly 200 years in the making and was completed in 1345. It is arguably the best known example of gothic architecture. The stained glass windows are incredibly beautiful.
Sadly, my grandma passed away the day before my brother and I were supposed to meet. My brother and I lit a candle in her memory and said a prayer.
After Notre Dame, we went to the Archaeological Crypt that contains ruins dating back to Gallo-Roman times (to be clear: it is not that these ruins existed on this exact spot…they were collected from nearby and reconstructed in the museum).
Crypte archéologique du Parvis Notre-Dame
Address: 7, place Jean Paul II (in the same plaza as Notre-Dame)
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10h00-18h00
Cost: 8€ (6€ if you are a student with ID)
Sadly, I don’t have great pictures because of the lighting in the crypt and the inability to use flash photography but you can refer to the website for photos: http://www.crypte.paris.fr/en/homepage
From there, you can take toward Porte de Clignancourt, stop at Marcadet/Poissoniers, and from there hop on toward Mairie d’Issey and get off at my favorite stop: Abbèsses! I vaguely remember the stairs from high school and remember thinking I was going to die walking up the steps. David and I made a pact we would go at a normal pace and not stop. We passed a bunch of people on the way up, most of whom rested. We persisted and made it. We felt very proud of ourselves.
You can take a gondola called the Funiculaire de Montmartre to the summit of the hill to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica if you need to, but if you just took the stairs up at Abbèsses, you really don’t need to do so. Walk around a bit in Montmartre and enjoy it! David and I got kind of lost on our way there (once you get closer, there are street signs pointing toward the Basilica) but I can’t remember why. I think I didn’t print a walking map or instructions because I thought I had packed a particular tour guide book that had a walking tour in it. Naturally, I left this book behind in the US by mistake. Don’t be like me. I think my brother was fine as he had adjusted to the time after being in Germany for a few weeks but I recall that it was at this point that the jet lag really began to set in for me.
Basilique du Sacré-Cœur
Address: 35, Rue du Chevalier de la Barre
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 06h00-22h30
Nearest metro stops and accessible lignes: Abbèsses (+ funinculaire or walking), Pigalle (+ Montmartrebus at the Norvins stop), Jules Joffrin (+ Montmartrebus at the Place du Tertre stop), Anvers (+funinculaires or walking)
I can’t comment on the Montmartebus or any of the RATP buses as my brother and I did not take the bus. We were happy to walk and I encourage choosing walking where you can (and if you can) because you can just appreciate so much more. If you did exit at the Pigalle stop, you could also visit the Place Pigalle. This area features a lot of cabarets including the Moulin Rouge and was home to many famous/infamous artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, and van Gogh.
Well anyway…after all the walking up the hill, we were pretty hungry and stopped for a late lunch. I wish I could recall the name but it was a very casual cafe that we chose specifically because my brother and I wanted to try escargot and there was a nice lunch combo that included an appetizer, main dish, and dessert. I got a crêpe royal, escargot, and café au lait as my dessert. For the two of us, the total cost was 33€. Pro tip: when the server took away our appetizer plates, she asked us, “You did not want the salad?” We thought it was a garnish! Salad???
I don’t have any pictures from inside Sacré-Cœur as photography is not allowed in an effort to maintain a reverent atmosphere for prayer and reflection.
The basilica is a more recently built site, having been completed in 1914. The steps of the basilica offer a beautiful view from the top of the hill overlooking the city proper where you can see the Eiffel tower in the distance.
We wandered around Montmartre some more and wandered further afield and ended up not returning to one of the nearby métro stops. However, if you did plan on going from Montmartre to Picpus, the most optimal route would involve walking back to the Anvers stop and taking toward Nation and stopping at Nation.
Cimitière de Picpus
Address: 35, Rue de Picpus
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 14h00-18h00
Nearest metro stops and accessible lignes: Nation, Picpus
My brother majored in history and this was a specific request by him because Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette is buried here. Lafayette was a close friend of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton and was major general in the Continental Army at a young age. He was influential in securing a French fleet and troops to assist the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and is regarded as a war hero (he also was an important political figure during the French Revolution and beyond until his death in 1834). He is buried at Picpus under soil from Bunker Hill. A US flag is always hung above his grave and American visitors toss US coins on his grave.
Now, Picpus is most notable for the massacres that occurred nearby at Place du Trône Renversé (now renamed Place de la Nation) where the infamous guillotine was set up. 1,306 individuals were executed during the Reign of Terror and their beheaded corpses were buried in two mass graves at the end of the garden of la Chapelle Notre Dame de la Paix de Picpus, a Catholic church. Families of the massacred met secretly and purchased the land on which the plots now stand. Today, only the descendants of the 1.306 are eligible for burial at the private cemetery. Lafayette’s wife’s grandmother, mother, and sister were among those murdered which is why this is the resting place of the General-Marquis. A wall inside the church lists the names of the victims and the mass graves are found behind a fence, inaccessible to visitors.