After a great day in Portobello Road, we arrived in Paris to a dramatic downpour, with the roads and pavements turning into rivers as we walked to our hotel in Montmartre. Hardly the balmy, sunlit stroll along the Parisian streets that we had hoped for…. More a saturating dash, ending with us wringing the water out of our clothes in our hotel room and trying to quickly dry them with a hair drier before heading out to find something for supper… We were about as far away from Parisian elegance as you can get!
We did though, have a lovely walk (in the now incessant rain), wandering up to Sacré Coeur and ambling around the surprisingly quiet streets of Montmartre
as everyone else sat in cosy restaurants hiding away from the weather.
Sunday morning dawned with heavy grey skies and we watched Paris start to wake up, whilst sat at a café having breakfast, before heading onto The Metro for the short trip up to the Flea Markets and Brocantes of Clignancourt.
I love the way that Paris has maintained the beautiful old entrances to The Metro, in fact it took me a few moments to realise this was the access we were looking for… The stunning Belle Époque styling and detail is a far cry from the more functional stations in London.
Travelling on the Metro is relatively cheap, with individual journeys costing 1€90, but we bought a Carnet of 10 tickets for just over 14€, which would see us through our day (and more)… Almost half the cost of a day rider ticket in London.Arriving in Clignancourt, Montmartre seems a long way behind and you step into a totally different Paris, following the trail of people past a Sunday morning clothing market, under the Périphérique to the start of the Markets.I don’t know what I was expecting, but I’m not sure it was this. On first sight we were faced with what looked like a makeshift village, full of hastily built shacks, with the grills and shutters across the front brightly painted with graffiti. It was certainly a far cry from visiting the Brocante markets under the Plane trees of Carpentras or Sommières, or in the shadow of the beautiful château at Villeneuve Lès Avignon!
We stopped to take a look at the map of the area and realised it is made up of different market areas, some in purpose built buildings, but others a warren of narrow lanes and ginnels packed tightly with units, spilling into the pathways.
We started in the Marché Vernaison, disappearing into the tight alleyways, partially covered in some parts by corrugated plastic roofing, by now very welcome as the rain was hammering down again. In some ways it had the feeling of an old bazaar, with higgledy-piggledy alleys leading you through the units.
Although it is advertised as opening at 10, many units were still closed or just starting to raise their shutters when we arrived at about 1015, so there is no benefit to getting an early start here.
On first look the units in Vernaison sold just about everything you could imagine, from ones specialising in ‘pins’ for ‘pocket money’ purchases or selling old reclaimed picture frames to others specialising in high quality crystal, or jewellery… A really eclectic mix offering something for everyone.However we were on a mission to find silver for work, so set to the task in hand. Initially we found the prices to be excessively high, but we’re not easily deterred and carried on the hunt. Eventually we happened on a lovely chap with just what we wanted (at the right price) and spent a while chatting with him about the market as we listened to the rain drumming on the plastic roof above.
He told us that Vernaison is the oldest of all the markets in the area and was originally established on land owned by a family by the same name, who allowed old ‘rag and bone men’ the original recyclers and brocanteurs to sell their pieces for a small fee. His land was particularly popular as it sat just beyond the traditional boundaries of Paris and meant no taxes had to be paid to the City by those trading there. Over a period of time the ‘market’ became more established and the traders asked to protect themselves and their goods with a roof. The family agreed, but only if the traders were fully responsible for the maintenance of the building. So over a period of time the ‘shanty’ village developed into what it is today, with each trader renting the ground space, but being fully responsible for the building that is on it.
After that we ambled on meeting and chatting with other traders, who all were happy to chat, laughing about the weather….. One responding to Andy’s comment about the rain being good for the gardens with a smile and a wink saying ‘c’est Paris… Nous n’avons pas de jardins’Another said that although it was raining he still expected to have a good day as he knew the people who had braved the weather would be serious about buying…. He was clearly right as he already had a pile of pieces wrapped on the side and was smiling as he wrapped our purchase too.
It’s easy to get lost in the alleys, but after walking round about 3 times and always finding somewhere new, we emerged back onto the main street and started to head into the other market areas.Here the pieces on offer seemed even more eclectic…. Where else could you find a Marcasite covered Grand Piano (yes really!!) a couple of shops away from one selling interior design fashioned from old airplane parts….. Or Superheroes looking down on you as you walk past a fibreglass spaceship?
We eventually collapsed into a cafe for a bite to eat, noticing the old images of the original market reproduced above the bar….
Before heading out again for a further look to see what we could find in the other markets, again protected by corrugated plastic in places, although with red carpets on the floor, giving it a more exclusive appearance!
Although a lot of the units were closed as it was a holiday weekend, we finally left, at about 3pm, feeling we had seen almost everything we could and headed into the City.Yes we could have done with a sit down, but we had 24hrs in Paris and as it is over 40 years since I last visited, I wanted to see as much as I could in the time we had available.Heading out of the Metro at Le Cité, the island in the middle of The Seine, we walked round to see the devastating sight of Notre Dame, shrouded with scaffolding, supporting its structure with the twisted and heat-tortured scaffolding that had been in situ at the time of the fire taking the place of the spire that rose so dramatically until then.We then crossed onto the Right bank of the river, ambling past the bouquinistes (traditional book stalls),before crossing again to walk through the buildings of the Louvre and to take a look at the Pyramid, which now serves as the entrance.No time to go in today, so we walked across the Place de La Concorde through the Jardin de Tuileries, dropping back onto the lower path along the Seine to a small Brocante market, right by the river in sight of the Eiffel Tower, having a scout through the stalls for anything that may be of use.Then we walked on, past the Bateaux Mouches and finally reached the Eiffel Tower, not going up (by now it was nearly 7pm)….…… But instead heading back via the Metro to a station near the hotel, walking back past Le Moulin Rouge en route.I think its fair to say we had caught a glimpse of a lot of the sights in the limited time we had available, walking over 27000 steps during the day (well over 10 miles) and feeling we’d earned our supper.The evening ended with a taste of Provence, when we found the Scaramouche Ice Cream shop, just up the road from the hotel and treated ourselves to a late night ‘glace’ as we ambled back to our room. Bizarre to have found our favourite ice-cream from the Artisan maker in Cereste, just round the corner in Paris…. A lovely end to a hectic day and the perfect way to turn our mind to Provence.So today sees me writing this as we hurtle towards Avignon on the TGV, after a chaotic final dash across Paris. The morning started beautifully with a walk to watch the early morning light across Paris from the steps in front of The Sacré Coeur, whilst en route to the Gare du Nord for the short train journey to the Gare de Lyon.Unfortunately due to a technical fault the train was delayed so we had a frantic check of the Metro map, selected an alternative route, unfortunately it appears everyone else on the platform had the same idea and we somehow managed to jam ourselves into a space as the doors struggled to close behind us… The carriage was so tightly packed, I’m not even sure my feet were actually touching the floor.However the alternative worked and we are now approaching Lyon on the final leg of the journey back to the house.Just the local bus and a short walk to do now, before we can open the door, fling open the shutters and collapse in the comfort of our little place in Provence