My first full day in France was spent walking around central Paris with the general goal of getting to the Sacre Coeur cathedral on the top of Montmartre. We (friend Bruce Berg and I) saw lots of old Paris stuff on the way; that’s not meant to be dismissive, but the city has a feel and appearance that just sort of swallows you up. The Seine. The bridges across the Seine. The churches — we also stopped at the Madeleine, which until today I didn’t know was French for Magdalen. The public buildings, like the National Assembly and the Louvre and the Palais Royal. The public squares and parks, like the Place Vendome. The place is big, it’s filled with history and beautifully made buildings, and it’s hard to conceive when you drop in that it has a life quite apart from your search for a public toilet or a panini sandwich and an Orangina. But it does.
Thom and Kate went to Montmartre in 2003, when I was out riding to Brest and back. They didn’t tell me that much about it, though, beyond the fact they had a great day up there. I was a little taken aback by the crowds in the streets leading up to the top of the hill where the cathedral is built. People are drawn by the dramatic spectacle of the church up there and also by the view the hilltop affords. But there’s a whole Fisherman’s Wharf aspect to the scene, too — some of the surrounding streets and parks are packed with tourists and shops and street performers.
The one added attraction today: a downhill bike ramp that starts right up at the cathedral and twists down the southern face of Montmartre to a spectacular end in the park at the foot of the hill. I asked one of the workmen what it was for — actually, first I asked if he understood English — and he told me that there’s some sort of X Games-like downhill competition up there this weekend. I suppose it’s not any crazier than ski jumping — but that’s still pretty crazy.