Paris, the city of light and museums! In May, I had the opportunity to travel to France for the first time. During this vacation, I made sure to cram in every touristy site and attraction. I climbed to the top of the Eifel Tower, waked along the Seine all while trying every croissant and macaron I could get my hands on. It was such a remarkable trip. Instead of writing about everything I saw, I’m going to narrow the focus of this post to five memorable places I visited.
Mary’s Musings Top 5 Things to See in France
1. Sainte Chapelle
Sainte-Chapelle, a pilgrimage for an Art History lover. Plastered in virtually every textbook, this Gothic chapel is known for its renowned stained-glass. It boasts 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testament along 15 windows. King Louis IX of France commissioned the chapel in 1248 to house relics sacred to the Catholic Church, most notably Christ’s crown of thorns. Only two-thirds of the original glass still remains in the chapel. Following the French Revolution, the chapel was secularized and converted into a library in the early 1800s. The transition prompted pieces of the glass to be sold. Original relics of Sainte-Chapelle can be viewed all over the globe, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
2. Eiffel Tower
No trip to Paris would be complete without a glimpse at the world famous “Eifel Tower brown” wrought iron structure. I recommend getting a timed ticket entry for your visit, because the lines are packed. A ticket guarantees you entry, and decreases your wait time. Once inside, an elevator soars you up to the top of the structure. From the observation deck you can see breathtaking aerial views of Paris. Make sure you go to the upper level observation deck to peer into Gustave Eiffel’s private apartment. Mannequins of Eiffel, his daughter Claire, and Thomas Edison illustrate the Wizard of Menlo Park’s visit to the tower in 1889 where he gifted a phonograph to his host.
3. Musée d’Orsay
If you are a fan of Impressionist art, you need to visit the Musée d’Orsay. I knew I would enjoy this museum, but I did not anticipate spending an entire day here. The collection, housed in a former train station, contains examples of French art from 1848-1914. These works include highlights from the Impressionist movement by Morisot, Renoir, Monet and their peers. Some familiar favorites include Manet’s Olympia (1865), Van Gogh’s Self Portrait (1889), Morisot’s The Cradle (1872), Renoir’s, Moulin de la Galette (1876), and Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass (1862). Armed with a hefty itinerary, this visit still managed to have a few surprises, such as Seurat’s studies for Models which is currently housed at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.
The Van Gogh Rooms were overwhelming. A dozen oil on canvas paintings line the walls of two tightly packed galleries containing works from the oeuvre of Vincent van Gogh. Here, visitors can see two of his self-portraits, The Bedroom (1889), and Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890) among other portraits and landscapes. Imagine waiting in line to see Starry Night at MoMA, but it’s 10x worse. You are lucky if you get the chance to get up close to one of these works, let alone stay out of someone’s photo. I only posed with one picture in this gallery, mainly because of the sticker adhered to the back of my iPhone. As I made my way up to the front and turned my phone case around I was met with a roar of laugher from people who moments ago wanted me to get out of their shot.
The main reason for my visit to the Musée d’Orsay was to view works by Berthe Morisot. Additionally, she also posed in several works for her brother-in-law Manet that are also on display at the museum. To my dismay, many of her paintings that apart of the museum’s collection are not on display. Yet, there were still some exciting sights such as Manet’s Berthe Morisot au Bouquet de Violettes (1872) tucked away in an intimate highlight room on the first floor. This work is positioned just steps away from another painting featuring Morisot, Le Balcon (1868-1869).
No trip to Paris is complete without spending a day (or two) at the Louvre. Even with this extended stay, I still feel like I missed out on the majority of the collection. I’m not a huge fan of audio guides (I actually avoid them like the plague), but I purchased them for the Louvre, and let me tell ya, it was a life changing. The guides are programmed to work with a headset and a Nintendo 3DS that gives you a virtual map of the museum. The nifty audioguide tracks your precise location throughout the gallieres and can lead you to a specific piece you select or you can select a personalized tour from a selection preloaded onto the device. I purchased the 5 Euro audio tour for the second day. The guide enhanced my visit tenfold and made sure I kept moving (and didn’t get distracted) through the galleries.
As always, it is an incredible opportunity to view paintings I have studied in person. Some highlights include Ingres’s La Grande Odalisque (1814), David’s The Coronation of Napoleon, (1805-1807), and the vast Ancient Egyptian collection.
Alas, I missed the Mona Lisa getting a cake thrown at her by two whole days, that would have been some great Mary’s Musings content.
All fans of Claude Monet should make a trip to Giverny once in their lifetime. Visitors can tour the house and gardens of the Impressionist who lived on the property for over forty years. I felt like I walked through one of his paintings. Some personal highlights for me included the water lilies pond, the Japanese bridge, and the artist’s home. All these sites I saw replicated in various museums across the United States (and a retrospective in Italy), but this visit enabled me to walk in the artist’s footsteps and see these places for myself.