Day Two – Museum Day
After a refreshing (?) sleep – everyone is totally recovered from jet-lag. Of course this isn’t true, but we will attack two museums today: The Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre.
Because today is Friday, the Louvre will remain open during evening hours. First of all, I need to emphasize how useful it is to purchase a line-cutting ticket for easy access to Paris museums. The Museum Pass is one of several options. If you only intend on visiting two museums, for example the Musee d’Orsay and the Rodin museum, you might want to consider some other options. At the FNAC bookstore, you can purchase a combination ticket which will allow you access to both museums for less than you’d spend for a 30 Euro 2-Day Museum Pass. Likewise, for the Louvre, if you’re only going to the Louvre, consider buying a line-cutting ticket just for the Louvre -which you can purchase either at FNAC or at some Metro stops.
We’ve been taking friends for a number of years and never purchased a museum pass. Big mistake. The Museum Pass will save you so much time, not to mention the fatigue factor of waiting in long lines, particularly at the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay. Make sure you know which entrances are reserved for ‘line-cutter’ tickets.
At Musee d’Orsay, the line-cutter’s entrance is Door C which is located on the right side of the main facade.
Getting to the Musee d’Orsay from Montparnasse
If you’re staying in the Montparnasse district, you can hop on the #94 bus which you can pick up at the bus terminal right in front of the Gare Montparnasse. The bus stop for Musee d’Orsay is Solferino. If you’re arriving by Metro, the Metro stop is also called Solferino.
Once you’ve zipped in the Door C entrance to Musee d’Orsay, my next word of advice is to rent an audio guide. The museum’s audio guide is excellent and easy to use.
Non-flash photography is allowed in the museum, so have your digital camera ready to take photos of your favorite works of art.
A word about Musee d’Orsay bathrooms
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There is no dearth of material about the Impressionists – if you’re headed to Musee d’Orsay, you probably already know more about the Impressionists than I could ever begin to discuss – but what you may not know is where to find a bathroom in this building. So here is the secret. You must look for the sculptor Carpeaux’s masterpiece The Dance which once ornamented the Paris Opera House. If you find it, you will also find the discreetly marked sign for the toilets. Walk between two pillars that lead to a poorly lit row of steps and you will find bathrooms with no line.
I have an ulterior motive here also. So many people rush to the top floor to view the famous impressionists that some artists and sculptors less well known to Americans (such as Carpeaux) are often overlooked. Take a close look at the faces of the women in The Dance and they will come alive for you. If you gave me a choice between Rodin and Carpeaux, I would opt for Carpeaux – because of his ability to capture a joie de vivre. Rodin’s Kiss seems much more ‘formal’ in comparison.
You will never have enough time to see everything that you want to see in this museum. I won’t give any advice here, except practical advice. The escalators to the top floor are at the very back end of the museum (just above Carpeaux’s La Dance statue). Take the escalators and enjoy the overview of the main floor. See as much as you can digest before fainting from impressions overload.
Even though we’ve been to the Musee d’Orsay many times, I have to say that this has been the best visit ever for two reasons:
1) We had a chance to observe French school kids listening to their art instructor talk about Cabanel. i.e. why did Cabanel decide to paint using earth tones? Because these paints were the least expensive colors to purchase at the time. These kids are incredibly lucky to be learning about art from instructors who are fascinated with the subject – and succeed in sharing the enthusiasm. It reminds me of Carpeaux’s statue: La Danse.
2) The copyists. You can still on occasion see local painters copying masterpieces in Paris museums. Such was the case today in the Musee d’Orsay. I had an opportunity to chat wiht one of the artists who had just finished copying a Sisley landscape. She said to me, I think Sisley must have been standing here, looking over my shoulder while I painted. I have a connection with him that feels so strong.
The artist told me that she had been working on this painting for three months and now that she was finished, she would go to visit Sisley’s grave.
Be sure to take a break and enjoy the museum cafe – or if you really feel like splurging, you can try out the second floor ornate restaurant. It’s one of the vestiges of the old train station with plenty of gold leaf painted moldings and chandeliers to put you in the 19th century ambiance.
You can eat very well in the cafe and the menu is reasonably priced for the quality level. After your meal, be sure to take a walk out on the rooftop terrace for a view of Sacre Coeur.
Rather than spend the rest of the day at the Musee d’Orsay – which would be easy enough to do, we headed for the Tuileries Garden which can be reached by crossing a footbridge, and taking an underpass directly across from the Musee d’Orsay. A walk through the gardens will give you a breath of fresh air before heading for the Louvre. We ran into the very cool Segway Tours people on their unusal means of transportation- a self-balancing two wheel machine – that looks like a lawnmower. The friendly guide stopped to pose for a photo. This is a great way to visit Paris for those who don’t want to walk for miles and miles but still want to enjoy the outdoor experience.
If you bought your Museum Pass, that allows you instant access to the Louvre through the Passage Richelieu entrance (under the arches that lead to Rue Rivoli). You can avoid all lines this way. If you don’t have the Museum Pass, you can also try the Porte de Lions entrance (it may be closed on some days). This located at the very end of the wing closest to the Seine River.
Friday is a great day to visit the Louvre simply because the Louvre is open for evening hours – so there’s no need to rush. Take your time. I’ll save any artistic observations for the experts, but the only major advice I can offer is to leave breadcrumbs from the wing you choose to enter. Say, for example, you enter by the Sully Wing (to see Venus de Milo) and you’ve decided to rent audio guides, remember that you must return by this same Wing to pick up that valuable piece of identity you’ve left with the audio guide clerk i.e. your driver’s license or passport. We figure we walked at least an extra tenth of a mile to exit from the Sully wing, rather than the Porte de Lions wing when we remembered at the last moment that we had audiophones to return.
Take some time to study the floorplans carefully before you plunge into your search for the ‘masterpieces’. A few moments perusing the floorplan may save you about half a mile of walking around in circles. Believe me, even for those of us who’ve visited this museum dozens of times – it’s easy to get lost.
Before rushing off to see the ‘biggies’ i.e. Victory at Samothrace, Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa, don’t forget to take a look at the model of the original medieval castle built by Philippe Auguste. It was meant to discourage those aggressive Normans from sailing iinto Paris via the Seine River.
Then stop in to the gilded Apollo room to say thanks to Francis the 1st for inviting Leonardo da Vinci to France. Otherwise, Mona Lisa would still be in Italy.
Looking for a good meal after all this cultural overload? I would recommend the Auberge St. Roch, 33 Rue St. Roch, Metro: Palais Royal/Tuileries. It’s walking distance from the Louvre. Just cross Rivoli, turn left on Rue St. Honore and walk till you spot St. Roch church. The Auberge is located halfway up Rue St. Roche to the left of the St. Roch’s front entrance. The English-speaking staff is very welcoming. The ambiance is rustic. The fish is fresh. What more could you ask for?
We have survived Museum Day.