A very successful first day in Paris with our friend Faith lead smoothly into a second day, finishing up the weekend and filling in some more blanks in the beginning of our friend’s exposure to France.
OK, so we didn’t go up in the tower. We just gaped at it, in awe, and had some fun photo ops. But now we had seen the best, most iconic, tall thing anywhere.
Next step was to take the RER train to the Musee d’Orsay. It is probably possible to take the Metro from one to the other, but even if it is, it is simpler to take the RER. First, it is closer to the Eiffel Tower than the Metro stop. Then, it is just 3 stops to Musee d’Orsay. It’s as simple as that. And while the RER train, being a commuter train, is a little different than the Metro (the stations look more like train stations than Metro station, for example), as long as you just ride it within Paris (zone 1), it costs the same amount as the Metro, and you even use the same ticket. Easy peasy. Now, if you want to take it to Versailles, that’s a different story…
Anyway, so we arrived at what was really the main event of the day (I guess you could say that the Eiffel Tower was a palate cleanser), Musee d’Orsay. One of our favorite museums in Paris, without question. I don’t really know what the deal is with the rhino in the area outside the museum. But that aside, we were there to see the permanent collection and see the current special exhibit, on Impressionist Henri Rousseau (1844-1910).
And by the way, Musee d’Orsay is one of those places where it is highly advisable to buy your tickets on-line before you arrive. When you do that, you skip the line, rather than having to wait in a crazy long line just to buy your ticket. On this occasion, the line was not so bad, but the first time we were at the d’Orsay it was super long, and we were very happy we already had our tickets.
Anyway, the museum’s first floor gives you a full taste of the museum’s specialty, painting of the nineteenth century. Big names like Gustave Moreau and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec share wall space with lots of others I am less familiar with like Joseph Blanc. A lot of the works on the first floor are generally realist in conception, but that doesn’t, to me, mean that they’re all the same. In fact, I get a greater appreciation for the breadth of styles and subject matters of the century from seeing all these beautiful pieces together on this one extensive floor of galleries.
When we entered the museum, we vaguely planned that we would wander independently before gathering near the entrance to the Rousseau exhibit. We should’ve specified a time, because I think that while I was indulging in all the galleries on the first floor, Therese and Faith were already finished and ready to move on. Oh well. We were thrilled with the Rousseau exhibit. While there were no photos allowed there (grrrr), we walked through it and gained a fuller appreciation, again, for the breadth of styles that Rousseau employed during his career. Of course, the crowing glory of the exhibit were the large-format paintings of wild animals in jungles like “The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope.” The one that was probably my favorite was “The Snake-Charmer.”
By the time we finished with the Rousseau exhibit, it was time for lunch. And here is where the d’Orsay out-shines many other museums (the Louvre, for example) – because their restaurant setting, which was the train station restaurant back when the museum was a train station, is gorgeous. You can’t help but feel elegant sitting surrounded by the incredible ornaments on the walls and ceiling. We had a very good lunch, feeling pretty comfortable on the funky shiny chairs. My main dish, something with grilled salmon, was unremarkable, but my dessert, lemon sorbet with Limoncello, was wonderful.
Now that we had rested and were refreshed, it was time to tackle another part of the museum’s permanent collection, the Impressionist works on the Fifth floor. I learned so much more about some of the Impressionists who were not so familiar to me that day. Sure, I knew a bit about Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, a couple others. But I never knew what to think of Edouard Manet, and I never saw much of Camille Pissarro’s paintings, for example. And there was plenty of Claude Monet (and Degas and Cezzane, etc.) to fill in my appreciation of them as well.
Near the end of our time on that floor, I saw a couple of paintings highlighting individual pieces of food that I found rather curious. So I did my best to collect enough to make a meal out of them.
Asparagus, lemon, meat and garlic – enough for dinner. Hmmm, maybe I should’ve included Cezzane’s still life with onions in my group.
In any case, by then the afternoon was fading, and we could’ve headed straight to the train station and then on to Rouen. We certainly had had a full day. But I was feeling like we should show Faith something of the Marais, our favorite part of Paris. So we took a taxi over there, straight to the heart of the district, the Place des Vosges.
I have never seen Place des Vosges with so many people! I guess it becomes more like a park in the summer, rather than just a green square surrounded by old buildings. We walked south through the place, past some musicians who were playing jazzy folk songs. It was evident that we were pooped – if you want to explore the Marais, you have to have enough energy to wander without worrying if you are getting anywhere. But I pushed on, passing some of the district’s highlights, like the Hotel de Sens and the Village St-Paul (where we had a cool beverage), before we finally collapsed into a taxi.
Then it was back to the hotel, and from there to Gare Saint-Lazare for our evening train ride to Rouen.
As a coda, I will just tell you about our evening’s misadventure in Rouen. You see, the night we arrived in Rouen was also the night of the final of the European Football Championship, played (of course) in France (specifically Paris), between (of course) France and Portugal. Which meant, it being a Sunday night anyway, there were no taxis at the train station to take us to our apartment, and it was impossibly far for us to walk (AND there were like 6 people in line ahead of us, to boot). Therese, resourceful as ever, crossed the street to a hotel, and got the fellow at the reception desk there to call the taxi dispatcher, wait 30 rings until the dispatcher picked up, and then tell him to send whatever taxi drivers were working that night to the train station. So eventually, phew! a taxi came and took us to our apartment on Rue Eau de Robec.
By then of course all the restaurants were closed, but we managed to find a 24-hour falafel place open on Rue de la Republique, called something like “Food 76 Express.” They sold us some filling hearty chicken shawarma with rice platters that we wolfed down when we got back to our apartment. A very fine end to a long, exhausting, fulfilling day.