All at once muted and intense, Montmartre is the Paris I imagined.

We trekked our way to Montmartre hoping for clear blue skies and instead we got the gloomiest Paris day ever. So we sat down at the first open café we saw, ordered croque madame and coffee, and just let ourselves be.

The neighborhood still has an electric feel to it. Maybe not the same as those immortalized in books, songs, and paintings, Van Gogh’s included, but still slightly palpable.

Certain areas in the neighborhood screams with history, its  streets privy to the scandalous parties, subversive artistic performances, and embrace of liberal practices Montmartre was once known for. While other streets are more fluff and staged to lure the tourists in.

In this bizarre land swarmed a host of colorful artists, writers, painters, musicians, sculptors, architects, a few with their own places but most in furnished lodgings, surrounded by the workers of Montmartre, the starchy ladies of the rue Bréda, the retired folk of Batignolles, sprouting up all over the place, like weeds. Montmartre was home to every kind of artist. – Félicien Champsaur (1882)

Very few physical evidences of those times remain in Montmartre except for a few establishments such as Bateau Lavoire (Picasso’s old studio turned to restaurant) and Moulin de la Galette (now also a restaurant but was once working class dance hall). Even Moulin Rouge has been stripped of its debauchery and replaced with a more tourist approved exterior.

But that’s what makes it all the more interesting. The neighborhood now is more lived in yet you feel it in the air, how this small hilltop community changed artists, poets, writers, and subsequently, how we have all been influenced by those same artists, poets, writers in more ways than one.

Of course, one cannot experience Montmartre by just having breakfast outside a café. One must walk its hilly cobblestone streets and get lost, a liberty certainly worth enjoying in this neighborhood.