After arriving late to our hotel in the Latin Quarter, we unlatched the floor to ceiling windows, welcomed in the slightly cooler, smoke-tinged air and fell into a deep sleep. Refreshed, we set out on a brilliant Sunday morning for a café American and back-to-back art museums.
Some of Paris’s most esteemed museums offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month, all year round.
Known for his iconic sculptures such as The Thinker, Rodin is one of France’s most celebrated artists. The Musee Rodin is petit, but powerful; eerie vocals led us through a meticulously-kept courtyard as we circled his bronze sculptures with bated breath. The work of the sculptor is truly impossible to capture in a photograph. Don’t miss this site on your visit, though we recommend touring early on a free Sunday or with a museum pass. It’s unlikely to take you more than an hour to tour the property.
With only three days in Paris, we decided to opt out of the Louvre and its 8 million plus annual visitors. Friend and family had warned that the masterpieces were small and roped off. I was easily consoled with the notion that this terrifying treasure trove would be waiting for me the next time I visited. I opted for a nutella crepe and three smaller (but no less awe-inspiring) museums nearby: Musee Rodin. Musee d’Orsay and l’Orangerie.
This art museum is worth visiting simply for the architecture, though the collection inside is enviable as well. Once a train station, the Musée d’Orsay features a wide array of art and, though crowded, will not have nearly the foot traffic of the Louvre. Allow yourself at least two hours, if not half a day to explore its many gilded frames.
Designed specifically to display Monet’s Water LIlies (or Nymphéas), this tiny museum is easy to miss in the shadow of the Louvre. Although it was the most simple collection we had viewed that day, I could have stayed for hours in the rounded gallery where eight of his 20-foot canvases are housed.
Heads spinning, we walked back to our room at the Hotel Port Royal in the Latin Quarter for some rest. Our room was clean and spacious, though warm thanks to the July heat and minimal air flow as our room opened to their courtyard. We opted for a shared bath and no AC, and as consolation paid only $75 nightly to stay in an iconic neighborhood within comfortable walking distance to nearly all of our destinations. This particular hotel required us to wire funds internationally in order to reserve the room. We worked this out easily with our bank and found it well worth the extra effort and sacrifices.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe stands at the end of the designer-lined Champs Elysees. With a quick snapshot and a (seeminly endless) hike to the top, we enjoyed some of the best views in Paris, including the Eiffel Tower. Navigating each new city was a struggle, but surveying from above gave me a clearer sense of place as we mapped out our next stop.
The Paris Museum Pass is $51 for two days and includes dozens of the most popular sites in Paris, as well as Versailles. It was an excellent value for us and encouraged us to whisk through a few sites, such as the Arc de Triomphe, quickly (and without the pressure to eek all the value from an admission fee).
With a hop, skip and a jump (read: metro, hike up the hills of Montmartre and several dozen stairs later) we found ourselves overlooking Paris from quite a different angle. And before us was Sacre Coeur in all its splendor. Muggy and blistered, we stepped into the dark cavern of one of Paris’s oldest cathedrals. Candles guttered and crowds gave their best attempts at reverence amidst the “pas de photo” cries from the security guards. We carefully slid into a pew and tried to quiet our breath in that deep, marvelous space. Unable to compete with my heart (thanks to the guilded, sun-drenched dome of St. Paul’s), Sacre Couer offered a reprieve for my tired out tootsies. Inwardly shaking my head at the audacity of some tourists sneaking photos from the prayer bench, I covertly slid off my terribly impractical sandals and worshiped the god of cool marble. It was truly transcendent.
Traipsing all over Paris is difficult to avoid. I found it to be the most difficult city to traverse via public transit and on foot. It wasn’t that the Metro was difficult to navigate so much as the city seems incredibly spread out. In the 36 hours we had spent so far, the Eiffel Tower was always standing iconically in the distance. Being somewhat immune to the thrills of tall buildings at this point, I fully intended to deploy some very Parisienne ennui over the site. But as we stretched out on the Champ du Mars with tiny bottles of wine and a two-foot baguette, its charm engulfed me. There is a magic to the tower that you won’t fully understand until you’re standing beneath it. As the sunlight fades, the tower begins to light from within: a dim warmth, like an old fashioned lightbulb lingers copper after it’s been turned off. Then slowly, tantalizingly, it builds into a solid glow and just when you feel you can pull your eyes away, it flashes into a glittering light from top to bottom. I beg you, dear traveler, don’t miss the Eiffel Tower at sunset no matter how weary your feet are.
Again, with only 3 days to visit the City of Love, we had to be choosy. It seems natural to visit the top of the Eiffel Tower on your visit, but the waits can be long and the trip up is pricey – not to mention the view (read: photos) at the top will not feature Paris’s most iconic landmark (since it’s beneath your feet at that moment). We were satisfied with our views at the Arc and enjoyed our experience as a ground level spectator.
We found our best shots at river level. Cross the bridge leading to the tower and duck down the steps to grab this vantage point. You’ll have to compete with the tour boats and you’ll want to hold your nose, but it’s completely worth it.
In each trip there must be some grand regret. It is our human nature to wish for a do-over. Cheers to those individuals who can roll with each and every punch whilst traveling, but at this point I could not combat the fatigue, dirty laundry and blisters on blisters. I had even developed a heat rash on my calves from the steaming pavement – fun fact: there is no “over the counter” in Europe. You must consult a pharmacist even for something as simple as hydrocortisone. In fewer words, you could say I was somewhat destined to struggle with Versailles.
I’ll just put our woes as briefly as possible: the train ride is not insignificant, the lines for entrance even at the earliest of times wind around for hours, the tourists at Versailles seemed to be made up of only the most aggressive and insensitive humans, the fountains were off, the giant rooms were dwarfed by the sheer hoards of people… What can I say? We gave an entire day of our journey to Versailles and it disappointed us. After speaking to many other travelers, I hope to visit Giverny on our next trip. There is no harm in escaping Paris – even on a visit as quick as ours – but make sure it is respite from the trekking frenzy of the city.
The night redeemed itself in the most wonderful way: dinner and drinks with a friend. Danny and I met Gaétan a year prior on his visit to Chicago with our mutual friend, Florent. There is truly nothing like seeing a familiar face thousands of miles away from home.