15 October 2011

Discover Walks Montmarte

This was my third trip to Paris.  While I was familiar with many of the famous landmarks and had perused the Louvre and D'Orsay museums, this trip I made many new discoveries thanks to Discover Walks.

Missy and I spent Saturday morning at the humongous Les Puces flea market, having written down the time and location for the Discover Walk "just in case," and as luck would have it checked our watches and noted we had just enough time to catch the Metro and meet the tour... that was meeting at the top of the Metro stairs in front of the famous Moulin Rouge!  How convenient was that!?!

Discover Walks are tours led by indigenous Parisians who share not only the popularly known history of the city, but little known facts interspersed with their own personal history. It's a simple business model; meet a guide wearing a hot pink vest at a time-certain in front of an easy-to-find landmark, take the tour and tip your guide at the end based on your value of the tour.

Make no mistake about it, these guides are professionals.  Some are college students, others history or city planning graduates, and one of my favorites, a former professional ballet dancer who is writing a book and giving tours to support himself.  They are required to be certified by the city to be a tour guide but the tour is all their own.

The Moulin Rouge - world's most famous cabaret.
The first Discover Walk tour we took was with Pauline, an adorable college student, who lead us around Montmarte, sharing history and legends about the popular artists' hang-out of the early 1900's.  Pauline started the tour by doing a little demonstration of the can-can dance made famous at the Moulin Rouge then went on to show us photos of some of the caberet's most notorious patrons and featured acts.
Can-can dance instructions
She proceeded to lead us through the beautiful Montmarte, pointing out houses where painters we all knew, Dali, van Gogh, Picasso, had lived and worked.
Walking through Montmarte
She shared legends about other resident's great tragedies and triumphs, explained why a certain alley was called "fog alley, " and lead us all the way to Sacre Coure telling us why she believed it was built with magic stones as a child.
One of Paris' most famous tragedies said to live in a cursed house.  Can you guess what legend says you must rub to be sure you break the curse from staying with you?

Sacre Coure
The tour took a couple of hours, a little longer than the pre-stated time, but I think all of us would have stayed for another hour or two to listen to the lovely Pauline.   We inquired and learned that the guides share 50% of their tips with the Discover Walks organization to help pay for website maintenance, advertising and other administrative costs.  Most walking tours charge 12-15€ so we tried to tip at least that much, agreeing if we could, we would have tipped much more.  It was worth every penny.

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