After a somewhat strenuous sightseeing scheule our first day in Paris, we slept in a bit on Day 2. We ate breakfast at our hotel then set off on foot around 10:00 a.m., aware that, once again, we must prioritize in order to make the best use of our time. We put in another twelve hour day as follows…
- We began the day by exploring the area on and around Pont Alexandre III—also known as the Bridge of Golden Statues. From a distance, the bridge doesn’t appear all that impressive due to its low profile—which was intentional so as not to obstruct the view on the Invalides and Champs-Elysées. However, a walk across the bridge and below it along the banks of the Seine reveals its opulent and intricate design. The sun glistening off of the gold leaf is quite a magnificent sight! The wide walkways on both sides of the bridge offer great views of the river. After walking across the bridge and back, we descended the stairs and looked at the underside of the bridge. (The entrance to the Invalides metro station is located under the staircase.) Back up on street level, we viewed the Children’s Statue of Lafayette just beyond the Pont Alexandre III. In the same area are the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais (which houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts). Sadly, we did not have time to visit either of those.
- From Pont Alexandre III, we strolled back along the Esplanade des Invalides with its lovely grassy expanse where many people were enjoying the sunshine and the lovely Paris views. (As you would expect, you can see the Eiffel Tower from most anywhere in this area.)
- Our next stop was the Musee de l’Armee (Army Museum)/Hotel National des Invalides. This building is truly gargantuan! There is artillery positioned along the front perimeter of the complex, as well as inside the huge courtyard. We looked at all of this in passing but did not actually enter the museum itself because of—you guessed it—a shortage of time. We passed through to the Eglise du Dome, which houses Napoleon’s tomb, the “Soldier’s Chapel,” a magnificent frescoed dome, and various other items of religious and historical significance. Our Museum Pass allowed us to go right in. The tour is self-guided and photos are allowed—always important to me. Napoleon’s sarcophagus is unbelievably gigantic—a testament to the larger-than-life image projected by the tiny Emperor. The opulently decorated altar and de la Fosse’s gorgeous paintings inside the dome are worthy of inspection, and a brief glance into the various chapels is recommended. The most interesting area to me, however, is the crypt which contains Napoleon’s coffin as well as a number of symbolic elements (the marble floor, twelve “Victories” scultures, and ten bas-reliefs) related to Napoleon’s reign and the Empire’s military victories. When you have finished perusing the church, exit through the elaborate gilded doors toward Place Vauban and Avenue de Tourville. (We allowed between half and hour and forty-five minutes for this stop.) We took time to visit the small snack shop and purchase a drink for the road.
- Directly to your right, you will see a row of trees. Beyond that is the Jardin de l’Intendant (Garden of the Steward)—our next stop. This 18th-century garden has a classically French design and includes a large pool and fountain (sadly, dry during our visit) as well as cone-shaped yew bushes, brightly colored flowers, walking paths, benches for contemplation, and a statue of Jues Hardouin-Mansart, designer of Eglise du Dome. This garden is attached to a functioning hospital—for veterans, I believe—and was occupied by a number of patients and their families. A great place for quiet contemplation if time had allowed.
- Next, we walked to Musee Rodin. (A reliable mapping app—or a good map book—is a must if you want to maximize your time by taking direct routes between attractions.) When we arrived at the museum, the line was really long, stretching halfway down the block. Thanks to our Museum Pass we were able to skip the queue and walk right in! After a quick glance into the chapel museum, we made our way out into the garden. (Time constraints prohibited us from touring Hotel Biron, the main building.) We made a beeline straight to “Le Penseur”—better known to most people as The Thinker. Somehow I didn’t expect it to be outdoors in the elements, but there it was! Of course, we had to take time to pose for a couple of “thinking” photos. Fortunately, the line wasn’t very long. We viewed the Marble Gallery, Dante’s The Gates of Hell, various sculptures located throughout the gardens, an abundance of fragrant roses, walking paths, water features, a reflecting pool, and sweeping vistas between the Hotel Biron and a trellised garden at the opposite end of the property. This would be a wonderful place for relaxation and contemplation—if only one had the time! There is a cafe onsite as well as a nice gift shop, which we perused briefly before moving on.
- As we walked between the Rodin and the Musee d’Orsay, we took time to photograph various sights—and sites—of interest. This included a sidewalk produce market, decorative door hardware, a rooftop terrace, a bright yellow post box, Ministere de la Defense, shops and cafes, bright red geraniums growing in flower boxes high above the street, and wrought iron balconies with clothing hung out to dry. As we learned, every square inch of Paris provides sightseeing opportunities!
- We arrived at Musee d’Orsay just before 2:00 p.m. Once again, our Museum Pass paid off as we skipped another long queue and went right inside. (Have I mentioned that the Paris Museum Pass is a wise purchase?!?) Since we had not eaten lunch, we opted to go directly to Level 5 and try our luck at Cafe Campana. After a brief wait, we were seated and served. The food was neither great nor terrible, but the convenience factor made it just right! After our meal, we exited the cafe onto an observation balcony overlooking the Seine. It provided an incredible view of not only the river, but also the Tuilleries Garden and the Louvre. I got some great photos! Obviously, there was no way we could tour the entire museum and still see more of Paris so we chose the Impressionist Gallery. It was of greatest interest to us, containing paintings by Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, and others. It was quite awe-inspiring to see the originals of so many famous works of art! From there we went to ground level and viewed the sculptural collection. The museum itself—formerly a train station—is an architectural marvel with glass paneled walls and a glass ceiling. Photos are not allowed inside the museum, but from the walkways on the upper levels you can look through small openings for a great view of the Great Hall. (Many people use this vantage point as a photographic opportunity. I may or may not have been one of those people!) My favorite feature of the museum is the majestic Musee d’Orsay Clock which is giant and overlooks the Great Hall. The Orsay has a nice gift shop near the main entrance.
- Just down from the Musee d’Orsay on the left bank of the Seine, we ran across an art exhibit sponsored by Paris Match magazine. Entitled Les Stars et La Seine, this outdoor display includes enlarged versions of black and white photographs from the magazine’s archives. Photos highlight stars from various decades and countries posing along or near the Seine. Celebrities include Frank Sinatra, Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, Rudolf Noureev, Candice Bergen, and many others. It was a fascinating and unexpected find. (No idea if this was a temporary exhibit or something that stays there all the time.)
- We crossed the Passerelle de Solferino, which links the Orsay to the Tuilleries Gardens. The bridge itself is a sight to see…double-decker in design with steps below and smooth planking above. The two levels converge at the top where people were seated on benches or standing against the railing looking out over the river. Several street musicians had staked a claim on the bridge as well. The railings are almost entirely covered with padlocks…an intriguing development that I will address in a future post.
- Once we reached the right bank, we took time to stroll along the river. Below street level, it was serene and quiet. The only other people around were fellow walkers and the occasional tour boat. Walking on this level allowed us to view the many bridges from a different perspective. Each one has its own unique characteristics and personality.
- We returned to street level near Place du Carrousel and viewed La Grande Roue (a giant Ferris wheel in the Tuilleries Gardents) and then the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. There were a lot of street vendors in this area, but most were not aggressive. We passed under the arch and into the courtyard of the Louvre, but didn’t actually go inside the famous museum—not only due to time constraints, but also because we were there on a Tuesday and it was closed.
- Our next destination was Notre Dame Cathedral. Between the Louvre and Notre Dame, we sort of zig-zagged back and forth between the left and right banks, crossing bridges and then re-crossing the river further down. We saw a number of street artists (not sure how many were authentic since the artwork they had on display was exactly like that of ninety-nine other “artists”), les Bouquinistes (booksellers), vendors (we sprung for ice cream), and the half-mile long “Paris Plage” (Paris Beach). We also paused to see Pont des Arts (the original “lock bridge”), Pont Neuf (the “New Bridge”), and La Conciergerie (prison home of doomed Mary Antoinette).
- We arrived at Notre Dame around 5:30 p.m. to find the square jam-packed with tourists. The Museum Pass does not apply at Notre Dame, so we contented ourselves with viewing the exterior of the cathedral and listening to the bells chime on the half hour. We hired a pedi-cab to take us back to our hotel where we rested for about an hour and a half before setting off on foot to the Eiffel Tower area for our night riverboat cruise on the Seine.
- We got a little off-course and ended up at a street market near the base of the Eiffel Tower. The area was sprinkled with white tents containing food and a variety of wares from around the world. My niece was thrilled with her purchase—a pair of Turkish-style pants! The market had the feel of a middle eastern bazaar.
- Our last experience of the day was a riverboat cruise on the Seine. We purchased our tickets in advance along with admission tickets for the Eiffel Tower. The cruise started at dusk and ended in full darkness. We began at the base of the Eiffel Tower and boated as far as Pont Alexandre III before turning around and heading toward Il de la Cite. Just beyond Notre Dame we turned back and returned to the Eiffel Tower just in time for the light show spectacular at the top of the hour—in our case, 9:00 p.m. The nighttime cruise is on my Top 5 list for Paris—definitely worthwhile regardless of how long or short your visit. Seeing Paris lit up at night is a beautiful sight!
- When we disembarked, we bought a few souvenirs at a little shop near the landing then walked over to the Tower to get a few night shots…see previous post for details on this “no-no.” Afterward, we picked up sandwiches and drinks from a nearby food kiosk and caught a cab back to the hotel.
It was a lot to cram into two days, but we saw more of Paris than I had dared to hope by prioritizing and eliminating activities to fit our tight schedule. As it turned out, we were stranded in Paris (at the airport, to be exact) for almost an entire additional day, but that is a story for another time…
Don’t miss our Day 1 itinerary.