Paris - Maleny - Murwillumbah

Pierre in front of my office
Jodie and a ghost in our apartment

I’m sitting in a window seat of the Au Clarion Des Chasseurs Brasserie in Tertre Place, Montmartre, sipping the ubiquitous influence of a cafe creme (flat white). Across the square I think I can see the cafe where Amelie worked in the movie and it’s not open. But it doesn’t matter. Audrey Tautou no longer works there and the coffee here is great, the croissants fresh from the oven and the owner, Pierre, super friendly. Super friendly. Now that has not been a description I have heard about Parisians over the years but super friendly has been the experience that Jo, Amelia and I have had during our few days hanging out in the city of lights and love. From asking a local near Champs-Elysees the quickest way to the Eiffel Tower and he replies ‘jump in my car I’m heading that way now’, to the quality and sincerity of the service in the cafes, restaurants and shops that we have spent time in. And yes to qualify that statement we have spent time in cafes. The food is excellent. Lots of variety, flavour and never more than fifty metres away from where you might be when a hungry thought attacks. And add to that the owner of the apartment we are staying in. We asked her how much for an extra night and she gave it to us gratis on the condition we wrote a review on a couple of travel guide websites.
Paris has proved an interesting experience for this boy from William Street, Murwillumbah. As a kid growing up in what would now be considered a lower-socio economic part of town, I never knew of anyone who had travelled overseas. I can remember reading about cities like Paris in magazines and books but an annual trip to Brisbane for the day with my family was a major expedition back then. Now I can catch a plane from Geneva, Switzerland and here I am sitting in Montmartre with (maybe) Amelie’s cafe on one side and that famous church Sacre Couer out the other window. The interesting thing is it is nothing to do with money but opportunity. Jo and I had the opportunity to live and work in Europe and we were fearless about it. Not that the experience has been completely fearless. There have been a lot of challenges but that is where these stories come from. There certainly hasn’t been any elements of ‘Groundhog Day’ since we set foot over here.


Sacre Coeur

But what is Paris like for me? It feels like a natural extension of this fabric called life that I have been co-weaving for fifty eight years. To catch a lift to the top of the Eiffel Tower and look out forever over a sea of buildings dotted with landmarks I have only ever seen on television or movies is very impressive for this wide-eyed youngster. And even now, while writing this blog, my long time inspiration John Lennon begins to sing ‘Imagine’ over the in-house system. Imagine that. So fitting a thought. Love and peace and people so important to everything we all ever need to do. I Imagine a ten year old kid from William Street sitting in a cafe in Montmartre writing a blog to share with those he loves, and down the dreaming track here I am.
There are people all around me, in the cafe and outside in Tertre Place. There are people everywhere in Paris but thereare also plenty of spaces and opportunites to practice random acts of kindness. Sometimes it is not just about seeing things but being amongst other people that are in the act of seeing things and soaking up the feelings and reflections. Yesterday morning I rang my mate Pete in Witta because I knew he would want to know where I was. He was overjoyed that I was calling him from his favourite big town. I updated him on our footsteps here so far and he gave us another dozen ‘should sees’ to add to our list. When Pete is over this way later in the year I look forward to wandering the galleries all over again in another season and light, adding colour and words to the world from some of the thousands of cafes we haven’t been to yet.
Outside guard - The Louvre
Inside guard - The Lourve

So where have we been and what have we done? Well, we are staying in a very welcoming loft style apartment in Rue de Rochechouart, almost at the base of Montmartre and a short walk from Anvers Metropoltian station. The apartment is a very funky, modern style, self contained one room, perfect for a couple and kids. It is set back off the street behind a large courtyard. Tastefully fitted out in black, white and silver, it has a shower that does everything but sing to you. The kitchen is a useful galley style with Miele fittings. The sound system and entertainment unit are by Bang and Olufson (my fave) with the speakers hardwired into the walls. The shelves overflow with dvds, cds and books to cover every taste and the fridge is full of goodies that you can use and replace. All you need do is flip open the suitcase and go or relax.
I know it sounds like an Australian folk song but there is a coffee shop next door, a Carrefours supermarket down the street (with our vote for best patisserie next door) and a clothesline out the back. (No that bit is not true!) We got in at ten last Friday night and wandered up into Montemartre where we found a cafe to feed and coffee us. It was great to know that although our French was crap they tolerated our vulgar attempts at communication and we also received the meals we ordered. Saturday morning I had a coffee and croissant next door then Amelia, Jo and I aimed ourselves in a southerly direction and walked down the hill to the Louvre, stopping at an antiques market on the way to find some treasures waiting for us there. We had brunch in a restaurant with a view of the Louvre across the square and the foodfest had begun.

In the Louvre I followed the Mona Lisa arrows. Jo asked me what is it that is so special about the Mona Lisa. Why did I think I had to see it? I haven’t really got an answer for that question. Except that for fifty years or so I have seen photos of the Mona Lisa, heard people talk about it and seen movies made about it. Maybe it is purely that Leonardo da Vinci was one of the most remarkable minds in our short world’s history. Lots of people go to see the Berlin Wall, Gallipoli, Auschwitz, the battlefields of France and the crater of the Twin Towers in New York. I’m not totally sure of what takes people to those places either. But after seeing the Mona Lisa for myself, I am convinced that such a small piece of art work that can bring millions of people from all over the world together for a moment, in a joyful way, to look at her beauty, to have their photos taken in her presence, is indeed a wonder to behold, and I am glad I made the effort. Saturday was Louvre day. Thirty five thousand pieces of art is a big effort though I can’t say I looked at them all. Jo loved the Botticellis’ and they made her day as much as the Mona Lisa made me smile. 

Early education Louvre style

Early Sunday morning Jo and I did the climb up to the church called Sacre Couer which has one of the best views of Paris. Built by Napoleon for a lot of different reasons it has served the people of Paris faithfully for many years. The artwork inside has to be seen to be appreciated. The cathedral is an amazing building to pray in or just to reflect on your own  thoughts in a place where the still quiet voice can be heard without interruption. Outside we had our first view of the Eiffel Tower. It certainly wet our appetite to find our way there today. We spent the rest of the morning with Amelia, winding along Boulevarde La Fayette and finding our way to Champs-Elysees and The Arch de Triomphe, via another impressive little patisserie and cafe. People were out in the thousands walking arm in arm and in groups from the Arc to the Seine. We joined the throng and took the photos to prove our participation. It was there that a random local gave us a lift to the Eiffel Tower. I must say that my first close-up view got the excitement level up. I know it’s man made but all the same it is a very unique piece of architecture. Unfortunately I had only thrown on a light jacket that morning and we were forced to abandon our ascent of the monolith after half an hour of freezing in line in the shade of the tower’s heavy duty brown bones.
On the way home we caught a metro to the flea markets known as Puces de Saint-Ouen-Clignancourt. here we found sixteen, permanent acres of antiques and junk at inflated prices, surrounded by another few acres of markets selling every fake brand name of clothing and shoes possible. The whole area was pretty challenging and the metro chaos, with many of the locals hurdling the turnstiles to avoid paying their fare. It was a bit of a relief to get back to Montmartre.

Arc de Triomphe

Lady with a cat

Last night we tracked down a Pizza restaurant in Montmartre that Jo read about online, called Pomodoro ( We gave it 10/10 for food quality, ambience and service. Check pizza photos in this blog. Today lies ahead as I pack up my computer and thank Pierre for the use of his great cafe space. Outside the square is full of artists plying their trade and tourists looking for an original piece of art at a bargain price.

Pomodoro Pizza - Montmartre
Part two of this blog comes to you via the Orly Aeroport on the outskirts of Paris as we journey back to Suisse on a Wednesday evening. After I left the Montmartre cafe on Monday morning, Jo, Amelia and I caught a bus to the Eiffel Tower and all three of us managed the lift to the summit. The waiting in line and constant hawking from the souvenir vendors is a major challenge but that can be offset by purchasing coffee, hot chocolate and waffles from the adjacent food kiosks. The wait is definitely rewarded with the view from the top. We did a compulsory walk around the second level on our way to the next lift freezing our bits off in gale force winds in the queue  for the summit where Jo and Mig were forced to arrange their clothing in a Middle Eastern style to keep warm (again see photos). From the top, even on a cloudy day the view went for halfway to forever. The bridges across the Seine, The Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Arc de Triomphe and the intricate weave of the streets between the buildings as they spread into the distant low-flying greyness. The Australian flag on the wall told us we were 16, 962 kilometres from Sydney which was going to make it hard for Amelia to drop in on Nick that night, so we took photos of her to email to him instead. To avoid frost bight and Amelia from completely ‘touching the void’ we caught the first lift back to the second level then walked down steps to the equivalent of a thirty story building which left the calves and quads pretty pumped.
Jodie jumping for Amelia

A cold day at the tower

To recover from the steps workout we caught a bus to the Centre d’Art et Culture Georges  Pompidou. On the walk between the bus and the Pompidou centre we were fortunate to stumble on a cafe that made real burgers and I have to be honest, the whole of Switzerland could learn something from the chef at this cafe, when it comes to hamburgers. 100% beef, thick bacon, cheese, salad including tomato, with a side of chips for six euros! Truly, it would be worth flying over to Paris once a month just to have a feed here. Jo settled for a fruit crepe and Mig lined up for yet another baguette, foot long french style with a free plate of chips that they made for us by mistake. Jo thought the guy doing the orders looked like Ewan McGregor. I thought he was Ewan McGregor until he opened his mouth. Then I thought he looked more like Gerard Depardieu. 

The Pompidou Centre is one very different building with all the framework and pipes for the air-conditioning, water and electricity as well as the escalators, housed on the outside of the building. There is a lot of glass and perspex used in the construction which gives it an inside out look from the vast sloping public courtyard. Inside there are six levels of galleries, cinemas, libraries and bookshops. They have a rotating roster of exhibitions. We spent most of our time in the contemporary section dating from 1915-1965. There are more than 5,000 artists represented including the big guns like Dali, Picasso, Rodin, Marcel Duchamp, Miro and Klee. The bookshop was a gallery in itself and we forced ourselves to hold back as we could never get it all back to Oz. Mig picked a a couple of great horse prints for her new gallery wall in Sydney.

Pompidou Centre

Tuesday was Mig’s last day in Paris. We took a coffee and cake stroll up to the top of Montmartre, going to the cafe I thought was Amelie’s, only to find it wasn’t. Still we had a good view of the activity in Tertre Place and the pastries were up there with the best. We weaved our way back to the apartment via our favourite bakery in Rue de Rochechouarte to claim a final breadstick for another delicious home made lunch before Mig caught the airport bus.

Now THAT'S a slice

That afternoon Jo and I found our favourite art in all of Paris at the Musee d’Orsay. The d’Orsay was a formerly a part of the Gare d’Orsay train station. We couldn’t take photos inside so I recommend you have a look at it on Almost every contemporary artist we had ever heard of was to be found in here. There were a lot of those wow moments coming into a room to see a piece of artwork that you had only ever had the opportunity to read about in art books. The jewel in the crown was a combined exhibition of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, covering the period when they hung out together in Arles. The colour, texture and style of these two artists together was such an enriching experience for me it brought tears to my eyes. That they both had their personal struggles on the planet but were generous enough to leave a legacy of beauty to endure all time.

Vincent and me - d'Orsay
On our last night in the apartment we watched Amelie in house. The next morning our mission was to find Cafe de Deux Moulins where Amelie worked in the movie. With a map it was easy. One street behind the Moulin Rouge there it was on the corner of Rue Lepic and Rue Cauclois. So our last cafe au lait and croissant in this delightful city was shared on the set of one of our favourite movies. How fitting.

Jo with new Amelie hairstyle
Amelie with friend

Cafe de 2 Moulins (Amelie's cafe)

The downsides of Paris? Well if you avoid the Pigalle sex strip at night and the overcrowded suburbs of unemployed immigrants, you probably won’t see them. But I can assure you they are there. There is a dis-ease and unrest concerning multiculturalism in Europe. And here in Paris, almost a hidden feeling of wanting a white France to somehow magically reappear. With at least forty percent of the population being a mix of French-Africans there can be no going back, but only forward in a more accepting way. The streets of downtown Paris were closed to traffic one afternoon while marching dissenters moved a motion to ‘Send them back to where they come from.’ . If that were to happen French culture would die and France would disappear from the map.
Au revoir for now Paris. It was great to meet you and we’ll definitely meet again some sunny day.

Boy with a cat - This is the Paris I love!


  1. Ah Paree! Perfect one moment, even more perfect the next! Glad you got to the d'Orsay and Pompidou, where a day is like an hour, and you walk from one tear filled moment to the next.


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