Un Dimanche Parfait

It would be a crime to visit Paris and not take in a few of their world class museums. However, it is also a crime to the wallet to pay full price for all of them. There are a few ways around this. First, if you happen to be lucky enough to visit Paris before you turn 18, you will be allowed into almost any museum for free. If you are between the ages of 18-25 and a resident of any European Union country, you are also allowed free entry. Other special circumstances like being an art teacher, being disabled or those receiving benefits from the French government will also allow free entry.

There is a good chance none of those criteria match your situation (like me), so you have to get a little more creative. The first time I visited Paris, we took advantage of the Paris Museum pass. If you plan to visit several museums during your stay, this is definitely  a smart financial move. For a fixed rate, you get unlimited entry to all the participating museums. You can purchase the pass for 2, 4, or 6 days. The museum pass also pushes you to the front of all entry lines, saving you not only money but also time, an important thing when your stay in short.

The final option is to visit Paris over the first weekend of the month. Most museums offer free entry to EVERYONE on the first Sunday of the month. I, like everyone else, wanted to take advantage of this perk. As you can imagine, lines can get ridiculously long. Especially in the summer, and especially at the big ones like the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. My initial plan was to arrive at the Louvre at 9:00 as it was opening but I got slightly delayed in the morning. I got there about 10:oo and the line was a mile long. I took one look and said no way. I will gladly pay eleven euros any other day of the week to avoid that line!

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The weather was beautiful yesterday so I happily strolled from the Louvre through the Jardin des Tuileries. I quickly regrouped and decided to visit the nearby Musée de l’Orangerie. In stark contrast with the Louvre, there was nobody waiting to get in. I immediately headed down stairs to visit the small but impressive gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist works by Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and many others. I saved the best part for last: a visit to Claude Monet’s water-lily paintings, Nymphéas. The eight canvas paintings are displayed in two oval rooms under direct diffused light, just as Monet intended. In 1922 Monet signed a contract agreeing to donate the series to the Orangerie. Camille Lefèvre, head architect of the Louvre at the time, specially designed the rooms with input from Monet. The paintings were donated to the museum upon Monet’s death in 1927. Sorry, no pictures are allowed, but you can see them here.

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One museum visit is never enough on free Sunday. I headed across the Seine towards the Musée d’Orsay and was not the least bit surprised to see thousands of people in line. I was not to be deterred, I came prepared for these situations. I had a list of the free museums and was not afraid to use it. I headed in the direction of my next stop but quickly remembered that it was a Sunday and approaching noon. St. Sulpice Church houses a world famous organ and although I had already seen the church a few times, I was longing for a listen on Sunday morning. Sitting there for 20 minutes, I was serenaded by several songs. The organ was more than impressive (I had goosebumps on a number of occasions) and I don’t even like organ music. The organist job is so prestigious that there have only been 15 organists in the church’s 350+ year history.

Next up was the Musée du Moyen Age – Thermes et Hôtel de Cluny, a fabulous collection of Middle Age artifacts housed in ancient Roman baths. One problem with pounding out museum after museum on free Sunday is that you can’t devote enough time in each one. Or you could, but towards the end you just lose interest. I found some items at the Cluny very interesting, but probably didn’t devote enough time there. My favorite items were heads of kings statues off of Notre-Dame de Paris. In 1793 as an effort to erase Feudalism during the Revolution, the twenty-eight statues of the kings of Judah on the main facade were taken down and then sold to a builder as scrap material. Later, thought to be lost, the heads were re-constructed. However, in 1977 these and fragments of several other important statues were found and are now housed in the museum.

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Now it was finally time to meet up with my friend Anne (who had slept in quite a bit) and grab some lunch at Trocadéro overlooking the Eiffel Tower. After a banana and Nutella crêpe, we went to the nearby Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, or Paris Architecture museum. As a self-confessed architecture and design nerd, this museum was right up my alley. They have a collection of impressive pieces dating back to the Middle Ages, but also have a great collection of modern works. And mini architectural models are everywhere! This diamond in the rough was the third museum for my Sunday, none of which had been the least bit crowded. Anne and I walked around for hours taking in the sights. We had a chance to walk through an apartment by Le Corbusier and being so close to the tower, we never got tired of the gorgeous spring views out every museum window.

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I probably should have called it a day then but I had more than an hour to kill before my Cinco de Mayo picnic and Anne wanted to do another museum. Musée du quai Branly features indigenous art from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. It’s not really my kind of museum and by now my legs and feet were killing me. Plus this was the most crowded museum of the day for me. I wandered with Anne for an hour before bailing. There are only so many masks one can take.

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It was a productive day of cheap art education in one of the best art cities in the world. I may not have seen the Mona Lisa, but I saw some other cool things. And to top it off, I celebrated a weird Mexican-American holiday in France (really ironic if you know the actual history of Cinco de Mayo) with some new friends, quasi-Mexican food and margaritas, with the best view in Paris. When all is said and done, I’d have to say that qualifies as one rather perfect Sunday.

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