The following post about our summer trip to France was written before the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Our thoughts are with the city and its people during this incredibly difficult time. Here’s how you can help the victims of the attacks.
The fact that I wanted us to stay in Montmartre surprised no one. Amélie was the first film I ever saw that resonated with me, leaving me with a lingering afterglow that kept me giddy for about a week. I was barely a teenager and had just started to delve into foreign and independent films. Up until this point my experience with movies had been whatever was showing at the Cocoaplex in Hershey or the $2 theater at the mall where I spent far too much of my time. After seeing Amélie, it was instantly secured as my favorite film (and it remains as such). I soon began a habit of asking for rides to downtown Harrisburg so I could see whatever was showing at the Midtown, Harrisburg’s independent theater.
That all said, I never felt any really pull to visit Paris. It was on my list of cities to visit merely because I want to visit all the cities, but I always assumed Paris wouldn’t be my kind of city. I figured it would be too touristy, too pseudo-romantic, too expensive.
It turns out that out of the three cities we visited on our trip, Paris is the once I miss the most.
Kevin had never seen Amélie, and since I had planned for us to take a self-directed walking tour of the filming locations (and, coincidentally, innumerable historic locations), I figured we should watch it. So, after our harrowing journey into the city on the night of the taxi strike, we set up the laptop and popped open a bottle of wine.
The next day after lunch, in a moment of pure kismet, we looked up and found ourselves at the double stairway of the stunning Lamarck-Caulaincourt metro station.
This is where Amélie leaves the blind man after leading him through the bustling streets of Montmartre describing every bit of their surroundings in detail. After giving the man the gift of sight, she runs off, leaving him glowing. Quite literally.
After strolling down Art Deco-clad streets, we came upon Alee de Brouillards and Place Dalida, named after the celebrated and tragic Egyptian-singer-turned-Parisian.
We walked south down Rude Girardon, passing the Moulin Radet, one of the last remaining windmills in Montmartre. A really lovely feature of this walk is that it also takes you into the heart of historic Parisian art.
The windmill sits atop the Moulin de la Galette restaurant, immortalized by both Renoir and Van Gogh. Paris has changed quite a bit since then.
After walking down the tiny, winding Rue D’Orchampt, we passed Dalida’s former home.
After navigating the narrow corridors, we stepped out into Rue Ravignan. A corner far too lovely to capture in a photo, but I tried.
On the right corner sat Bateau-Lavoir. In this very spot is where Cubism was born. Picasso, Braque, Gris, Matisse, and many other all worked in this building. Many other artists including Van Gogh also lived and worked in the neighborhood.
The next stop was Colignon’s Grocery store. In the words of director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet:
Life in Montmartre has changed since Amélie. A few years ago, the owner of the Café des deux Moulins wanted to sell his business, because he had enough. Now that is totally out of the question! He gives interviews every other day and the place is always crowded. The tourist trains points out Amélie’s café when it passes. Mister Ali, the owner of the Arab grocery, has kept part of the props of the Colignon grocery and tells everyone who wants to listen that his life is full of joy thanks to the movie, despite what Kaganski thinks! At the tourist office there a long lines of tourists asking for maps for their pilgrimage. And I’m even accused of causing a rise in property prices in the 18th district of Paris! Amélie has really changed more than one life!
While I don’t have a reliable source for that quote, I can verify that Mr. Ali has indeed kept the props from the film, and it still retains the Colignon Grocery sign.
We continued on and made a right onto Rue Vieuville on the way to Place des Abbesses. Branching off to the left was Rue des Martyrs, and I absolutely fell in love with this boutique-lined street.
Place des Abbesses is the a metro station, but it’s also much more than that. The Art Nouveau entrance is stunning, which is no surprise because it was created by Hector Grimard, king of all that is Art Nouveau. The area is absolutely packed with cafes and bustling crowds. In the film, this was Amélie’s stop to get back to her flat.
At this point we were dying for a beer, which was perfect timing seeing as we were right around the corner from Café des deux Moulins, also known as The Two Windmills.
The cafe has stayed much as it looked in the film, save for Georgette’s cramped tobacco counter.
We sat at the copper-topped bar and had a beer, observing tourists and trying to orient ourselves. It’s an odd feeling being in the Two Windmills after seeing the film. It’s larger than you’d expect, and packed with tourists.
We left and walked back up rue Lepic, crossed rue Abesses and continued up Lepic to rue des Saules. This corner houses Clos Montmarte, a small picturesque vineyard.
As we turned the corner, I felt an overwhelming sense of familiarity.
“On September 3rd 6:28pm and 32 seconds a blue fruitfly, capable of 14,670 wingbats per minute, landed on the Rue Saint Vincent in Montmartre.”
Rue de Saint Vincent is the the street where the opening scene began, and it is gorgeous.
We paused here for a moment. Both to soak up the history–the nearby cabaret was a frequent haunt of Picasso–and the beauty of the street.
Finally, we returned back to the Sacre Coeur, where Amélie plays her game with Mr. Quicampoix.
The Sacré Coeur these these days, while still breathtakingly beautiful, is flooded with people. Don’t anticipate a leisurely stroll, it feels more like the Hunger Games.
If you’re a fan of Amélie and find yourself in Paris, I highly recommend downloading the map and guide and doing the walk yourself. Not only does it take you through many filming locations, but also various historic areas that you may otherwise miss. We were easily able to complete the walk in a few short hours going at a very laid-back pace with stops for snacks and coffee.
Side note for anyone visiting Paris in the future:
Feeling overwhelmed by the crowd at Sacré Coeur, we tried to find the fastest way back to our flat and wound up encountering the bracelet scam men. If you’re not familiar, these men will rush up to you and tie a bracelet on your wrist, then demand payment. Apparently they can occasionally be friendly, but the men we ran into (a group of six!) physically separated Kevin and I and started trying to grab our wrists. We managed to get away bracelet-free, but please be aware if you’re walking in this area.