Friday, September 23, 2011

Museum Hopping in Paris

If we ever went to as many museums in New York in four days as we did in Paris, I don't know what I would do. I literally don't know, because it would never happen. I like museums, but a dozen in 96 hours? Umm, no.

But this was Paris, and I wasn't about to let a little fatigue or giant crowds stop me from seeing the Mona Lisa or Monet's Water Lillies. And besides, unlike in New York, there would be no next week. If I didn't see them then, who knows when my next chance would be?

Water Lillies at the Orangerie

So I threw my frugal ways to the wind and sprung for a 4-day Paris Museum Pass. At 50 euro (about $70 USD) per pass, it's not cheap, but it was well worth the cost. The pass allowed free entrance into a few dozen museums -- far more than you could ever see in such a short amount of time -- plus a few church add-ons, like the towers of Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle. Plus, in most museums the pass allowed you to skip to the front of the line. That was worth more than a few bucks right there.

Above and three photos below: Louvre

In any case, we used the pass so much in the first day alone that our admissions would have cost 23 euro separately just that one day, and that didn't even count the Louvre (10 euro) and Versailles (something like 18 euro). I'm really glad we got the pass, but if we ever return to Paris I would probably now opt for the 2-day pass and skip a lot of the museums, concentrating on the few that I really, truly enjoyed. After all, I probably don't need to see Napoleon's tomb again.

Paul visited Paris for about 48 hours some 10 years ago, and one of the few things he did then that he absolutely wanted to do again was visit the Louvre. Of course, that was at the top of list, whether Paul put it there or not! He lingered through the exhibits of Greek and Roman statues, and I was happy to follow along without a specific goal in mind. Except for one. I conquered the thick crowds and got a good glimpse of the "Mona Lisa."

Crowds in front of the Mona Lisa

One thing the visit to the Louvre and nearly every other museum in Paris taught me is that cameras should be banned -- or allowed only on certain days or hours -- from all museums. I'm the first to admit that I'm as bad as the rest. I had to snap a photo of at least the most famous of the works, if only to prove to myself 10 years down the road that one day long ago I actually saw things of artistic and historic significance.

But I think I would have a much more meaningful experience if I was forced to put away the camera and see things with my eyes instead of through the camera lens. Perhaps more importantly, it might keep the large crowds around the most famous works under control -- and I wouldn't have had to continually worry about where I was stepping and whether I was ruining someone's shot.

Athena of Velletri at the Louvre

Venus de Milo at the Louvre

One museum that did ban cameras was one of my favorite stops in Paris -- the Orsay Museum. The works from 1848 to 1914 are exhibited in the old Orsay railway station on the banks of the Seine.We visited on our last full day in Paris, tired and museumed-out. We got there just a couple of hours before it closed, and it wasn't enough time. It's one of the few museums I definitely want to return to, just to take a closer look at the Impressionist paintings.

The truth is that I like museums, but I'm far from an art scholar. In fact, visiting so many museums in such a short amount of time (not to mention having access to so many here in New York) makes me wish I would have taken at least a beginner's art history course in college. In both Paris and Rome I would occasionally overhear a guide give a tour group some complex explanation of the deep meaning of a painting. Me? I just think it's pretty. My goals in a museum aren't complex: I want to see the famous stuff, and the rest is just icing on the cake. I think that's why the Orsay was such a pleasant surprise. I saw paintings there that I didn't recognize, yet they still made me stop, take a closer look and consider.

Another site on our must-see list was the Rodin Museum. This museum is mostly known for its gardens and one sculpture in particular: The Thinker. Paul practically had to wait in line for his turn, but we finally got our shot.

1 comment:

  1. I pondered to myself recently what were the most important things in my life. The answer seems to be clear that art was up there in importance. Why? Frankly, I don't really know. May be someone here can enlighten me?
    As was my wont w
    hen I have some free time, I browsed the marvelous site,, where they keep thousands of digital images for customers to select to have printed into handsome canvas prints for their homes.
    This image jumped out to jolt my reveries: Still life with bread, by the Cubist Georges Braque. Is art like this picture, as essential as bread and water, or should I say bread and wine?



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