Paris museums and monuments

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One of the things I had missed on my first trip to Paris was seeing the Rodin museum as it was under renovation and was closed. You can see into the gardens from the rue de Varenne through a glass cutout in the wall and my uncle had to practically pry me away from the window as I was looking longingly at The Gates of Hell. If you have not seen it, Rodin was inspired to create this piece by Dante’s Divine Comedy and based The Thinker on Dante himself and it is an intriguing mixture of tortured souls. Whatever city I am visiting I try to see Rodin’s work in their museums, so I was very much looking forward to finally being able to see the gardens and the Hôtel Biron, which houses the interior exhibits. I was not disappointed! We spent most of our time in the gardens taking in the bigger than life sculptures, many of which he incorporated into The Gates of Hell – which he unfortunately died before being able to see compiled in bronze for exhibition. I particularly liked The Burghers of Calais, The Three Shades which adorns the top of The Gates of Hell, Adam, and, in the centre of the pond at the end of the garden, Ugolino and his sons. Inside you can see not only Rodin’s work such as La Défense or the Call to Arms, a bronze he created to honour the people of Paris who defended the city in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 – the Hôtel Biron also exhibits his collection by other artists such as Van Gogh and Monet. It was an amazing way to spend the day enjoying his work in a beautiful setting. There is a little café in the gardens for anyone who needs some sustenance, even if it is just a gelato. If you plan on being in Paris before next spring, there is an exhibition called “Rodin, the Flesh, the Marble” with over 60 of his marble sculptures and preparatory studies on exhibit until March 3, 2013.

Another museum just across the Seine at the south east corner of the Place de la Concorde is the Musée de l’Orangerie where you will find another Rodin, The Kiss, waiting to greet you outside. On my previous visit to Paris we had gone on a day trip to Giverny to see Claude Monet’s house and gardens. We had time to explore the village as well as his house and the lily pond that featured in so many of his paintings. It was easy to see why he painted the pond over and over; we took picture after picture because the scene continually changes as you walk around the pond and the reflection of the clouds in the water is magical. For those who are unable to make the trip to Giverny, the Musée de l’Orangerie is a good alternative as it has rooms specifically built to accommodate huge paintings of Monet’s lily pond. In fact, Monet was actively involved in the design of the museum. Downstairs there are exhibits depicting masterpieces of modern art by artists such as Cézanne, Renoir and Picasso. I was very pleasantly surprised to find one of my favourites on loan from the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool, England: The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. My aunt took a liking to the paintings of André Derain whose work was also on exhibit in the lower gallery. No trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Louvre, an amazing gallery in and of itself. Like many of the art galleries in the world, new and old, the building that houses the artwork is as much a masterpiece as those it displays. I had to keep reminding myself to look at the artwork and not just the ceilings and frescoes in the building. As we were there in May, we did not have to wait very long to enter the glass pyramid and take the escalator down into the exhibition halls. We started in the sculpture galleries on the ground and first floors. I found the level of detail and realism of some of the work breathtaking, especially the eyes and hair of sculptures by Jean-Antoine Houdon who died in 1828, 12 years before Rodin was born. It was also interesting to look out the windows into the centre courtyard of the museum for the view of the pyramid juxtaposed against the older architecture. Being able to see the modern buildings of Paris in the distance beyond the Tuileries Gardens was a reminder of the new city that is just as vibrant as the old town where we tourists tend to focus our time and energy. It is impossible to see everything in the Louvre in one visit and it is surprising how quickly the time flies once you are inside. The next thing we knew the closing warning was being announced so we made a mad dash to see the Mona Lisa before we had to leave.

Everywhere you go in Paris the spectre of the tower follows you so it was nice to be able to stand on the solid structure, known as “The Iron Lady”, and observe the city from above. My first trip to Paris was just for a few days and it was in July so the queue to go up the tower would have taken most of the day given all the people there. It was not worth spending what little time we had waiting in a line. This time however it was only a two hour wait so we went to the summit and were rewarded with wonderful views across the city. There is also a little exhibit at the top with Gustav Eiffel and the visiting Thomas Edison. You can choose to walk up to the first or second level and then take the elevator the rest of the way or you can take the elevator all the way up which is what we did. However, rather than wait for the elevator down from the first floor, we opted to walk down the 300 steps and savour the view for a little longer. You do not have to have an expensive camera to get some good photos as I was able to capture some very nice bird’s eye view shots of the various monuments around the city with my little Sony Cyber-shot and discovered just how good it was at zooming in for some close ups. If you are hungry for knowledge you could easily spend the better part of a day or evening at the tower as there are numerous storyboards describing the history of this monument built in 1889 for the World’s Fair and there are a few restaurants to choose from if you are hungry for food.

If it is your spirit that needs sustenance, a visit to the majestic Notre Dame de Paris on the island in the Seine (Île de la Cité) will surely fit the bill. The towers of the West Façade are as recognizable as the Eiffel Tower. Look closely at the rose window and you can see an angel on either side of Mary as she is presenting her son to the city of Paris. We noticed people at the top of the towers but be warned, there is no elevator so be prepared to walk up the 387 steps to the top. Entrance to the 13th century towers is outside the cathedral on rue du Cloître Notre-Dame. Similarly, if you want to explore the crypt, the entrance is outside the cathedral near the police station. In May the horse chestnut trees were all in bloom and the cathedral looked stunning surrounded by the trees beside the river. I could write volumes about the cathedral, the stonework, the statues inside and out and the stained glass windows but suffice it to say, if you like gothic cathedrals you will enjoy a visit to this one. Entrance to the cathedral is free and you can snap photos to your heart’s content. I am always amazed at how skilled the craftsmen were to depict such emotion in stone, whether it is a statue guarding the exterior of the church or Joan of Arc in the interior. The verdigris copper statues on the roof also caught my eye as they seem to be ascending to the top as if they are reaching for the heavens. They represent the twelve apostles and the four evangelists. They stand out quite well as they are green and the spire is black so they are hard to miss. There are a number of events planned from December 12, 2012 to December 11, 2013 to celebrate the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame de Paris. Some include installing nine new bells, restoring the Great Organ, creating new works of music and a book about Notre Dame, and developing a commemorative pilgrimage pathway in the square in front of the cathedral. You might want to plan a visit to Paris that will coincide with “Organ Day” on May 6, 2013 and be treated to an organ recital in the cathedral. Just to the east of the Notre Dame de Paris is an often missed but very poignant Memorial to the Martyrs of Deportation. You descend into a series of cells which represent the rail cars and other methods of imprisonment and transportation used to rid France of so-called undesirables (primarily the Jewish and Gypsies) during German occupation. The Nazi’s created a concentration camp in Alsace, Natzweiler-Struthof camp, in 1941. The monument was built in 1962 so is quite modern in comparison to the cathedral but it is a quiet and somber place to remember all the lives lost or damaged forever by these atrocities. It is a small monument that evokes the feelings of desolation the prisoners would have experienced and a petite diversion to some dark moments in history as you soak up the otherwise enchanting scene as you stroll along the Seine perusing the stalls full of souvenirs and marvel at the varied architecture surrounding you.

For information on getting around Paris and dining, see other reviews on this site.

Some additional details: is the web site for the Rodin museum – please note that the museum is closed on Mondays and open late on Wednesdays until 8:45 pm. If you are not able to see the Rodin museum in Paris there is also one a his old house in Meudon which is accessible by metro and then bus though it is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All the information regarding opening times, tickets and directions are on the web site. is the web site for the Orangerie museum – please note that the museum is closed on Tuesdays. is the web site for the Louvre – please note that the museum is closed on Tuesdays and is open late (9:45 pm) on Wednesdays and Fridays. You may be able time your visit to take advantage of the free admission the first Sunday of every month

If you are planning on visiting a number of museums you may find the Paris Museum Pass useful: It is valid in 60 museum and monuments around Paris and costs €39 for 2 days, €54 for 4 days or €69 for 6 days and you do not have to queue to gain entrance. Some museums also offer joint entrance fees, for example the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie have a joint ticket for €14 that is good for 4 days.

An English web site for the Eiffel Tower is where you can book tickets ahead of time and beat the queue and also make restaurant reservations. At the moment there is a technical difficulty and only one lift is working, and for some reason, making it difficult to purchase tickets on line.

Here is a link to the English site for Notre Dame – which has a related web site is providing information about the tower tours along with many other monuments in France.

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