Wednesday, November 2, 2011



In terms of museums, this is the big one. I had to plan meticulously, because as previous musee tours have proved, the day can fall apart very quickly if you're not on your toes!

Example of a near disaster: Musee D'Orsay.

This was by far my favourite museum. The roof of the converted railway station is a blanket of huge sculptured flowers and sunlight, which feels warm and not so austere as some museums. The day was marred however by a few logistical complications.

Firstly, there was the usual queue issue. Thought I'd just wander along casually mid morning and stroll through the door. No deal. An hour standing in the cold. I forgot about it very quickly though when I hit a Van Gogh. From there on, I was oblivious to any activity outside my audio tour and the art. I moved from room to room saying things like

'Oh my god. I can't believe I'm standing here in front of this! WTF!'

But as the the day slid by, the big sculptured roof flowers started to spin in circles above my head and my legs turned to jelly.

'Is it a stroke? Am I having a stroke? WTF!'

I sit down and think through the predicament. Thank god I said yes to the medical insurance! Does it cover stroke though? I don't remember. Too weak to struggle with the details now anyway. Maybe I have a concussion? I don't remember hitting my head, but then I'm still struggling with the birthdays of my immediate family, so that's neither here nor there. I concentrate on breathing deeply and after holding back the tears for a bit, I recognise a familiar sensation... hunger.

Condition confirmed when I discover that it has covertly become 3pm. I cannot continue to be the walking machine, the appreciator of fine art, the lone adventurer, without food, so I go in search of the knife and fork symbol.

The restaurant is easy enough to find but as I peer through the glass into the busy marble and chandelier clad dining room, I feel utterly deflated. All these people are sitting at tables set for at least four. The queue of waif like tourists is long, so taking a whole table for myself is not an option as it would certainly cause a riot. I stalk one lady who appears to be alone, in the hope that I will muster the courage to ask her if she'd like to share a table, but it doesn't come. I can't eat here.

Dilemma. I haven't finished looking at the beautiful things in the museum that I will probably never get the chance to see again. My ticket doesn't allow for me to leave the building and then come back in but if I stay I will probably pass out on the floor, in which case I won't be seeing much more anyway.

Am I being punished for travelling alone? Is death by starvation my sentence for not having a life long partner that I kiss passionately on every cobblestone bridge? And what's with that anyway? Is it necessary? No! No! No! and no, it's not necessary! I will look at every painting, every sculpture, every piece of Art Nouveu furniture on display if it kills me!

I get up and continue through the maze of rooms, stopping every now and then for a rest and to check myself with a series of questions,

'What day is it? Do you know where you are? Who's the president?' That last one's a trick question, which I recognised every time.

I push on like this for another hour and then without even a thought, I walk as if possessed, out the door and over the road to the first cafe I see where I eat so much food I feel ill and have to go directly home to bed.

The Louvre is a hundred times bigger than the Orsay, so you will understand why the planning for this tour had to be almost military.

Wake in the dark, coffee and out into the street. First stop, boulangerie for the hugest baguette in town with thirty two fillings. Eat while walking, being careful not to share even a crumb with the pigeons.

The Louvre has about a thousand entrance points but I head directly to the Pyramid entrance. My detailed study of the building map has shown me that this offers a direct route to the Mona Lisa, so minimum contact with other incoming troops.

I do audio tour equipment 101 and then proceed quickly towards my chosen target. I soon discover that they have hung a few centuries of the largest Italian and French paintings in the world en route to ML. These paintings are obviously planted as a distraction, so I do my best to avoid looking at them and focus solely on the task at hand.

My strategy is a success! I overtake many many people. (What time did they get up?!) By the time I reach ML's room, I am so excited I have lost track of how fast I'm moving. I slide across the floor towards the painting as if she is third base. Thank god for the little metal fence around the front of her, or I might have caused a lot more damage than just a couple of bruised shins! I take 68 self portraits of me copying the cheeky smile before the crowd arrives and tries to do the same. Victory!

My meticulous planning got me through everything I wanted to see in eight hours. There were a couple of floors that I may have seen twice but I think they were probably very good paintings and well worth another look.

I was also happy to discover that the Louvre has many eating places within the complex. I'm not sure that french fries were a well thought out lunch option but I cannot eat anything else that resembles a long sandwich.

Of course, like any museum operation of this kind, there were moments of disorientation where things got a bit touch and go, but once I ditched the stupid incomprehensible map and threw my fate into the hands of google sat nav, everything became clear.

Mission accomplished, I sat outside the museum, exhausted but feeling heroic. that it then? Is my work here done? Is this how Paris and I part?

It does seem so. I feel a little sad as I take in this most awesome of buildings and the thousands of people who have come here, like me, to be excited by everything it contains.

Actually, it's not just this building that's making me sad to leave, it's Paris. It's the history in every building, the attitude in every waiter, the lights, the steps, the bread, the river, the strip club, the dogs, the French onion soup, pastries for breakfast, champagne for supper, the lack of room anywhere, long walks, chocolate shops, metro buskers, the markets, the art, the artists, the man playing chopin on a real piano on a street corner, crab roulade, snails that taste like dirt, butter, cream, that most beautiful of languages, the most comfortable apartment and my most generous new friends.

Paris, I love you. I have always loved you. It was a fine romance!

Peut-etre qu'on se reverra bientot un de ces jours!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


It's official. I have literally walked my arse off. My legs are now connected directly to my back.


European Centre for Photography. An inspiring exhibition that I had to drag myself away from as I had been invited to lunch with friends of friends of a friend. Soon forget all about exhibition, thanks to lovely conversation, a plate of duck, a great glass of red and an invite to a private tour of Versailles tomorrow afternoon. Back to photography exhibition. Buy baguette and eggs on the way home. Omelette for dinner followed by a very disturbing film about a guy who gets his hand caught under a rock in some canyon and has to saw off his own arm with a blunt pocket knife to save himself from certain death caused by dehydration and probably a bit of shock I would imagine. Bad dreams about small homeless puppies and being in unbearable pain.


Coffee, baguette and then hit the streets in intolerably cold, semi darkness. This is my great plan to avoid getting caught in the queue at the much anticipated Pompidou. Stand in intolerably cold and long queue at Pompidou for 45 minutes. Stand in front of a Picasso. Stand in front of a Dali. Stand in front of a pair of trousers pegged to a little clothes line with ivy growing out of the pockets and then this,

'...the work seems to contain a latent violence, yet a violence transfigured by the beauty of the materials.' I am done here.

I have left just enough time to reach the Versailles connection. Unfortunately, I don't factor in the time it takes to get me out of this industrial maze of a building. Every direction I take sends me back up the same escalators I just got off. Around and around I go, playing the clueless tourist, shamelessly. There is much exasperation expressed through eye rolling, audible sighs and eventually a loud WTF. I squash my face up hard against the massive wall of glass. I can see the chalk artist on the street below where I need to be, I can smell the pastries, I just...can't...get...out...

Versailles. It is absolutely no wonder that the people living in poverty around this outrageously opulent residence rose up and trashed the place. A most extraordinary display of the most extraordinary wealth. Also, a most extraordinary preservation of history.

I stood in Marie Antoinette's bedroom, trying hard to grasp that all of the furniture here was original, I was struck speechless by MA's own private theatre, complete with balcony seating.

My new friends, Marie and Emmanuelle, tell me that MA loved the theatre and often popped herself in a play or two. She also loved old farms so she had one built just across the pond from her residence. None of the quaint little houses on this farm ever served a purpose though, they are all empty. The stairs were purposely knocked down to give the farm that worn, romantic feel and the sheep that she had brought in were combed every morning by her sheep people, who also used to tie ribbons in their wool and around their ears.

It is truly gruesome that they cut off her head but I just don't think you can behave like that and not expect some sort of reaction.

I walked with Marie and Emmanuelle for hours about the massive manicured gardens and through the marble clad, gold guilt buildings. Their commentary was by far the best audio tour in Paris, and I should know, I've heard most of them.

On the way back to Paris, we talked about some of the gruesome acts committed during the Revolution, the French version of superannuation, contemporary art, what is it?, why people in Paris don't eat and walk at the same time and some of the gruesome acts committed by the early pearlers of Broome.

We stop in at Anne's apartment, an old friend of Marie's and a new friend for me. We drink champagne and eat sausage. Then when I think I cannot feel anymore saturated in French-ness for the day, I am whipped off to a little cafe and fed snails.

Just for the record, they do not taste like chicken. I was told they are farmed especially for eating, however I absolutely stand by my assertion at the time, they do taste a little bit like a garden.

Oh! And did I mention that the waiter asked for my number? No?... The waiter asked for my number.

When I eventually curl up under my 5kg doona, I decide that this has been my favourite Paris day so far. I dream about the exciting adventure I have planned for tomorrow, the last day.

Monday, October 24, 2011


I've always said, if you're going to order the champagne, then make it French!

I haven't always said that but if I was a person who could afford to, then I would. So because I'm in another country and I can be whoever I want to be, last night I pretended that I was that person and booked myself into the 'diamond section' at The Crazy Horse strip show!

Before I went though, I had to solve my lack of warm clothing issue. I went to every second hand store I could find in search of a warm, cheap, smart coat. Not possible it seems. However I did get a fabulous long black sheepskin number with big big fur around the sleeves and the collar for just forty euros! All synthetic of course but weighs about as much as my doona and just as warm. Also, because it's way too big, it does have a hobo feel going on, but I think that's all the rage at the moment.

One thing that's never the rage is the second hand clothes shop smell and unfortunately my new coat is a stinker. To take it into the diamond seating league, I hosed it down with my Chanel Mademoiselle perfume. Now teamed with my new Paris shoes and a fancy dress, I was ready to step out into the night!

It took a while to not be self conscious about looking like a homeless person with great shoes, but I took comfort in the fact that I was not going to cry tonight from cold-ness. I pictured myself in a scene from a French film as a walked across the Seine and focused on the glamorous night ahead.

And it was glamorous! And I felt glamorous, from the moment I was greeted at the door of The Crazy Horse and personally escorted to my own private booth, with my own bottle of champagne on ice, with the best view in the house!

It did fall apart a little bit at the cloak room, where a few bits of the coat broke off, but it was quickly forgotten I think. Also, the Chanel perfume was not the solution to the musty smell. As I handed the lady the coat, I cringed at the now very very very sweet musty aroma evaporating off all my clothes.

But once I was settled into my little nook and had time to take in the buzz of anticipation in this 'oh so French!' cabaret lounge (and a few glasses of the bad champagne), all was forgotten.

It doesn't take long for me to get a bit chatty on the cheap stuff, so before the show started I had hauled in a local French girl, her visiting girlfriend from Melbourne and an Estonian cruise ship entertainment producer, who I insisted share my booth with me because her seat was small and measly and obviously not of the diamond variety.

The show was incredible! Classy and exciting and extravagant. Minimal sets and costumes (obviously) but with such spectacular lighting that it felt like a million dollar show... and the ladies were beautiful. They were svelte and porcelain and raunchy.

The sexy vignettes were broken up by a juggling act where two men stripped down to their jocks while hurling enormous bowling pins at each other. Then they dressed again in each other's clothes, still hurling, without ever dropping a pin. The crowd went wild! ...or maybe just me. Regardless, brilliant!

It was cruel to have to leave. My new friends all went home at the end of the show so I felt a little deflated. As I headed towards the cloak room I wondered how I might take some of the night's excitement home with me. I visited the gift shop on the way out and bought two lighters, a pen with a naked girl on it and two sets of 'nippies' (glittery patches that you stick on your nipples)... not really what I was after though.

I snuggled into my stinky coat and walked through the busy Paris night in my new shoes. When I stopped concentrating on manoeuvring around the cobblestones, I looked up and saw the Eiffel Tower, all lit up, just like the stage at The Crazy Horse.

Right next to me on the sidewalk was a little table and chair sitting under a heater. I sat in it, ordered a glass of very nice champagne, a huge slab of terrine with baguette and watched the tower.

I felt very glamorous.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


It's amazing what you run into just by walking around.

The Eiffel Tower was a big one. I wandered around the streets for two hours though before I came across it, all the way from Il de St Louis. Distances are a lot greater than they look on a map.

Along the way I tried to breathe in all the romantic and grand architecture, the river, the smell of bread and pastries, people people people, some green and ancient looking canons, a big gold dome roof, an open air photographic exhibition, car fumes, the sound of French people, the sound of American people, Vespers honking, tiny paved streets off big trafficy streets, more streets...

Where is that tower? It's been hours now. Have I missed it? Is it possible? I consult my 2m x 2m map. I'm standing right behind it.

It becomes enormous as I approach the legs. It is said that there are 2.5 million rivets holding this structure together. That makes me happy. What worries me a little is the hydraulic system used to get those lifts jammed with people up to the top. Two huge pumps at the bottom push that Willy Wonker glass elevator up to the summit on a serrated track so that would be quite suitable for slicing up a regular baguette.

Heights freak me out a little bit and I'm thinking it's pretty cold up there too. Bit of a queue. But more people = less expectation of danger. But then more people = more weight = strain on the serrated track. They've been sending people up there for years = lots of practice bringing the people back down. But older equipment = serrated track could be a bit worn. Everyone looks excited. Happy people = a place I'd like to be. But happy people can also = clueless people and I don't want to come crashing to the ground with a bunch of smiling idiots...

It was incredible. You can see the history of the city evaporating off the buildings, the big gold dome roof, the palaces, the monuments, the museums and the mazes of romantic apartment blocks packed in for warmth all the way to the cloudy horizon.

'I think we're moving.'

Who said that!?

'Yes. The tower is definitely swaying.'

I concentrate on feeling the sway, I think she's right! I look down at the queue of ants on the ground, spin out, punch the lady in the face and walk back towards the lift. All of a sudden I feel the cold.

Have I mentioned how cold it is? The plan was for 16 degree days but I think most of the time it's pushing twelve and that's if the sun comes out. This has actually become a debilitating problem for me as none of my jackets are made from any fibre that stops a person from freezing. They all look fabulous but I have to keep applying makeup to cover up the blue tinge around my mouth. I kick my stupid self at every cold and windy corner for not bringing my big wool jacket.

After spending this afternoon in the apartment near the heater, drinking coffee, eating chocolates and planning a night out completely dependent on how close venues are to warm metro stations, I came to the conclusion that I must buy a new jacket. I finished close to the whole box of chocolates (70% cocoa with mystery centres and gift wrapped with a big bow) and stopped feeling so bad about it all. C'est la vie!

Since the tower, I have flaneured through many streets, eaten at many cafes and stood underneath the works of artisans and legends dating back to the 14th century. There hasn't been a day that this city hasn't blown my mind. However, I'm not going to recite a shopping list of the people I've seen and the places I've been because that's not how I'm traveling. Instead, I will continue to come home at night, pour a glass of wine, sit near my little balcony and write about wherever me and my head have been wandering.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame. So much workmanship! So much wealth!

Just quietly though (because the signs on the front of the churches say you should be quiet and respect that these are places of worship), what is it with the slot machines up the back?

As you wander around, you can hear the ka-ching! ka-ching! echoing through the churches. These are donation machines. For the small amount of two euros these brightly lit card machines will spit out a shiny new commemorative coin for you to take home and put in a draw.

If you happen to miss these, there are many information points scattered around the worshippers where you can leave your cash. The signs will tell you how the bell tower needs replacing or how the organ's out of tune or light a candle for whatever reason and thank you for help in completing this very important work. Leave your money in the box.

People are throwing their money at the buildings! Coins flying everywhere! If you're not careful, you could walk out with little round circle bruises all over you.

After everyone's handed over all their cash to the church and feel like they've made a difference, they walk out into the street and are confronted by beggars everywhere. In fact, you can't walk down a street or sit at a cafe without at least a couple of people asking for money. No chance of getting hit by flying euros here though. Everyone ignores them at best and at worst, yells at them.

For the most part, I have followed the crowd in my response to beggars (not the yelling bit). I do understand that if you start handing out coins, word will get around pretty quickly and before you know it, you'll be the pied piper of Paris.

I am always terribly uncomfortable saying no and I have given out a baguette or two, however I do think there are a few scams going on around town.

The saddest one is using cute dogs to attract donations. People can't help themselves if they see a cute dog. There is a man who sits on the bridge, going towards Notre Dame, who has really got this one sorted. He's been begging solo since I got here, with little interest from the public, but yesterday I walked past and he's managed to get hold of a whole litter of new born puppies. Business is good. A bit of competition for the nearby church.

The other scam involved me. I have baptised this scam, 'the Smeegle'.

All dressed up I am, walking over the Seine towards the Champs Élysées. A girl walking towards me notices something shiny on the ground, she stops to pick it up. She catches my eye and I look in her hand. It's a gold ring! What a find! She looks excited.

'Do you think those numbers on the ring mean that it's real gold?'

'I wouldn't know. Go find out though. It's worth a try.'

We both look at it for a bit and talk about how you might be able to tell if it's gold or not. Stupid conversation. I turn to walk away and she stretches her hand out to me.

'What? I don't want it! You take it! You found it.'

'No. I want you to have it.'

A bit of to and fro. She places it in my hand and closes it around the ring.

'It means good luck for you while you are in Paris.'

Wow! This is truly a special morning! Despite what the ring is made of, and I doubt it's anything but scrap, the gesture made me feel all glowing on the inside.

As I am walking away...

'Miss! Excuse me Miss!'

Did I drop three hundred euros on the ground and she's bringing it back to me? Every cent of it?

'Can I have some money for some food?'

'OK, and why don't you take the ring back? I don't need it.'

'Just some money for some food.'

She looks at me disappointed.

'Some more Miss? I want to buy a sandwich.'

'Of course! What was I thinking? Paris is so expensive. I paid over eight euros the other day for one beer! Can you believe that! One beer! And then yesterday I paid almost six euros for one coffee! Do you know how much that is in Australian dollars? Of course a couple of euros isn't going to buy a sandwich.'

I laugh at my own stupidity and give her some more coins.



'A sandwich is six euros.'


She looks at the coins and then at me. Is that outrage?

'What? Did you want some caviar with that sandwich?'

'An orange juice'


'I want also an orange juice. That's three euros.'

'Look. Why don't you just take the ring back?'


'Ahhhh.... now I get it. You make me feel all warm and cosy and terribly obliged and then you think you can show me your litter of the cutest starving puppies ever and I'll just keep throwing money at you until I don't feel guilty anymore.'

I ended up relieving myself of eight euros worth of guilt before I worked out what was going on.

Between the churches and the scams, you could make quite an expensive holiday of it. Thank God I lost the Catholic guilt years ago.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


The Paris apartment is on the Il de Saint Louis. It is right in the middle of Paris and I have it all to myself. I don't dream about anything this good.

I'm very slow to get out of the apartment in the mornings.

Its around five degrees outside, dark and the doona weighs about five kilos, so its not only hard, but cruel to ask my delicate toes to touch the terra-cotta floor. I push through but then can't get out of the shower because I've set the temperature to 38 degrees and it's toasty toasty! Also, I have about two items of clothing, so it takes me an age to put together an ensemble that's a little different from what I wore the day before.

I did buy a fabulous orange mini skirt in San Sebastian but I have no top to wear with it. I have this constantly on my mind.

Meanwhile, its 11am and I'm still in the apartment, just having a toasted baguette with rhubarb jam and a little cafe next to the little balcony with little potted plants.

Map, camera, euros, key, lip balm, key, sunglasses, key, key, key... et voila!

First time out into the streets of Paris!

So the plan is just to walk about without a plan because I'm too excited to make one. I will not look at the map. I will not hunt down the gothic, ancient, roman, romantic or otherwise. I will just walk.

Huge church. Very big. Map. Notre Dame. Patisserie, Seine, brasserie, beret, huge building, map. The Louvre. Seine, cheap street art, bar, brasserie, bike, bike, beret, chocolates, I heart Paris, cafe, cafe... (do people mind sitting that close together? And when you're done, how do you get out? Do you order at the table, or do you go in and ask? If you don't pronounce consonants at the ends of words, why does it matter what consonant goes there? I didn't think it would be this cold here and these shoes are completely wrong. These are the shoes that gave me the sore back in Barcelona! What was I thinking?)

Eiffel Tower.

It's a bit late in the day to start queuing up now for a peek, so I go to sus out the ticket thing with the lady at information.

'The queue at the North lift has 500 people in it. The queues at the West, East and South tower have eight people in them. Is the North lift the only one that goes to the summit?'

'Non. Sey all go to se top.'

I look at the 500 people at the North lift and then the eight people at all the other lifts.

'So what's the difference? Why are all the people queued up at that one for hours when they could just walk straight up the other one?'

'I don't know.'

'Do you think that's a bit weird that they would do that then? If there's no difference between the lifts? Why are they doing that?'

'Because sey are like sheep.'

I agreed with her and made a plan to come back the next morning before the sheep arrived.

The sun dropped and it immediately became freezing. It smelt cold. It smelt like snow. All I could think about were my ice cube toes and the apartment.. sitting on the comfy couch, in front of the toasty heater, eating fresh baguette with stinky cheese and a glass of Bordeaux vino and watching a movie and then rolling under the 5kg doona for the deepest of sleeps.

So I did that.

It was the best of plans because the next day the city swallowed me up.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Dear Paris,

I love you. I have always loved you.

I realise we've only ever met on the internet and in movies and books and I understand it's a very big thing, me coming here in person, but I need you to take a deep breath and run with it. I promise to try really really hard to be as unobtrusive as possible, if you try not to act like an arsehole.

Arrive at Orly airport, Paris. Tres excited! (Yes. I am going to drop in little French phrases every now and then so you know that my au fait-ness is coming along).

...tres excited. Instructions on how to get to the middle of Paris in hand. Looks easy, but then it always does on paper.

Information desk at airport arrivals:

'I need to get the bus 285 to the Louis Aragon metro. Where do I get that bus from?'

'Ahhh... not from here. You have to get the car park bus to P10 and get off at the Ibis Hotel and the bus stop is there.'


Luggage hauled onto car park bus and to the Ibis. No 285 bus stop.

'where is the 285 bus stop?'

'Ahhh... I think you need to go back to the airport arrivals and ask at information'

Tears welling up in eyes. Tears stop because the 'you are travelling alone so no one else is going to get you out of here' survival instinct kicks in.


'...or it may be that one across the road?'

Yes it may well be! I will go there.

Yes. It is. Punch the sky!

Spend enough time here for my face to get burnt, but me and my big fluorescent pink bag are eventually safe in a vehicle that is going in the right direction.

Arrive at Louis Aragon metro. Lots of stairs.

Can't make the ticket machine do what I want it to do. Breathe and try again.

Can't make the ticket machine do what I want it to do.

'Please please please Mrs ticket lady! Please help me buy a ticket to Pont Marie!'

'To what?'

People who pretend they don't know what you're saying so you're forced to repeat what you said badly the first time: this is she.

'Really? You're going to pull me up on the very first thing I try and say in French?

I've just left a country where only three people spoke to me in English for the entire two weeks. I have been verbally isolated for this entire time, in which I lost kilos because the effort to ask for the food became greater than my hunger. Do you understand? I am a very thin woman with a bit of cabin fever and I need a ticket to that place I can't say very well. That's all I need and I'll be on my way.'

On my way.

Gosh, the metro trains are very crowded aren't they? My big fluorescent pink bag is in everyone's way and everyone is angry about it but there's nothing I can do... or say. I ride it out, proud that I have luggage.

'I've been somewhere! Somewhere reeeeally nice! Spain actually... that's why I have big luggage. Big holiday, big luggage. That's what they say. Been anywhere lately? My stop. Have to fly!'

Not a graceful exit and then as I trolley along the platform, I see that there are no lifts. Lots of stairs though. And then, the world shifts...

Through the tide of commuters pushing me along, I see a man, a really really handsome man, pushing his way through all the people towards me.

Enter! My Knight In Shining Armour!

In French, 'Can I elp you up se stair wis your big fluorescent pink bag?'

Melting like froi gras on a hot chorizo... 'Oui, merci!'

My KISA struggles with the luggage up the first flight of stairs but while I'm thinking about how to tell him how grateful I am when we get to the top, he vanishes! ...well, runs actually.

Was it my accent? The bag was very heavy but you don't save the maiden from the tower and then leave her to be raped and pillaged by the villagers!

I emerge from the metro, pulling a muscle in my groin as I heave the heavy bag onto the street.


I can't speak. There's the Seine, right in front of me. It's Sunday afternoon and people are sitting on the riverside eating baguettes and drinking wine and stealing the last of a warm sun from the cold day.

A few cobblestones later and I am here. In this so very lovely and Parisian apartment.

I am in Paris.