Last weekend I visited Paris together with my father. Last time our attempt to do so had to be aborted because of striking Belgian railway personnel, but this time we decided to take the car. Not only does a return ticket for two adults cost € 398 from the nearest train station (Culemborg) to Paris Nord, it takes at least four hours or five hours at most. According Google Maps it would take the car four and half hours to drive from our home to the hotel. The train’s numbers are probably quite affected by the time the transfers add and the time spent on the low speed trains that would take us to the station where the high speed train departs, but as you can understand the train was far more expensive than using the car and didn’t have a noticeable advantage in speed.
So we left home around 8:30 hours on Friday 12 November. We figured out the integrated navigation system only had maps for the Benelux supplied, so we had the rely on the map. That wasn’t difficult at all because the route is straightforward, but we had to search for the hotel at the end because it was hard to notice the street name plates in Saint-Ouen, the suburb of Paris where our hotel was located. Three days (two nights) at this hotel cost us € 158 with parking and a tasty breakfast included. The only complaint I have with hotel is the signal quality of the TV, but we didn’t care much because we watched TV only during the night for a few minutes before going to sleep. The hotel was located close near the subway station Porte de Saint-Ouen, which was reachable in five minutes. When we arrived it was past twelve ’o clock. We dumped the luggage in the hotel room and went for the subway.
With one half remaining of the first day, we visited the following places of interest:
- Musée du Louvre
- Notre Dame de Paris
- Tour Montparnasse
The Louvre was truly massive. You have three different entrances each leading to different collections. However, the museum is not separated in three parts, after the entrances the are routes to the other parts, unlike what I expected. It’s easy to get lost slightly, because there is no clear route to follow. We couldn’t afford to spend the entire day there (which was very well possible) because we also wanted to see other things, so we visited it for two, three hours or so. The collection on display is amazing both in quality and variation and offers both sculpture from ancient Persia to painting from nineteenth century. Yes, I did see the Mona Lisa, it certainly is a masterpiece, but to be honestly I don’t think it’s fame is disproportionate if compared to quality of the rest of the collection. I noticed one painting, The Raft of the Medusa, from a history book. If I’d visit Paris again I’d live to spend an entire day to see everything in this museum.
Then we went to see the Notre Dame. Actually we wanted to see Sainte-Chapelle first, but it was closed already before five ’o clock. All the days we spent in Paris were cloudy, with a sunny day we probably would have enjoyed the view on the Notre Dame’s architecture and certainly it’s interior more. The interior was quite dark. While it’s certainly a nice church when you look at architectural details, the issue I have with most churches (including the two others we visited in Paris) designed in the style of Gothic architecture is that they focus too much on being large and high and decoration of the interior, except for things like stained glass, isn’t very impressive. Most of the interior walls are a bland, functional. And as I mentioned before, the interior doesn’t receive much sunlight. Quite a difference with the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which positively surprised us in Rome. But that one is Renaissance style architecture, if I’m correct. Because stained glass is so far away I wished I had binoculars to take a better look at it. The Wikipedia article of the cathedral links to a collection of photo’s located on Wikimedia Commons, but the photos of the stained glass there are blurry, probably because they are difficult to capture by camera’s with all that dynamic range.
Then we boarded the subway again to find a restaurant. Wikitravel mentioned that the Rue de Faubourg-Saint-Denis east of Gare du Nord and south of the subway station La Chapelle, had an Indian neighborhood with a lot of Indian restaurants. Good and cheap Indian restaurants can’t be found in Utrecht, where I work, so I seized this opportunity. We went to the same neighborhood the next day. After dinner we had some time left, so we decided to visit the top of the Tour Montparnasse. Winds were very strong at the top and the view over Paris was awesome.
- Basilique de Saint-Denis
- Musée Guimet
- Musée Jaquemart-André
- Cabinet des Medailles
- Église Saint-Eustache
We started by visiting the Basilique de Saint-Denis. This church was more interesting than the Notre Dame de Paris because it contains so many tombs with excellent sculptures. I should also note that – as the majority of the other museums we visited – I got a free ticket (entrance to the cathedral is free, but entrance to the tombs is not) because I could show a student ID, this is only possible for students of educational institutions in the European Union if I remember correctly. What I didn’t like is that most of the information and commentary on what you’re seeing is only French. I’m suspecting French chauvinism is to blame here, because they must know that many international visitors are present. Paid audio guides don’t count. Only Sainte-Chapelle and most notable the Musée de Cluny provided excellent textual information on the exhibits in English.
The Musée Guimet contains a collection of Asian art, but this was not as interesting as I expected. After the Louvre and visiting the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco the collection was a bit underwhelming, and wouldn’t have visited it in retrospect. The Musée Jaquemart-André was much more interesting, as you can see from the photos on Wikipedia, the building of the museum itself is at least as interesting as the beautiful paintings displayed there. Then we wanted to visit the Palais Garnier, a truly beautiful opera house judging from the photos on Wikipedia, but unfortunately access was not possible because a show was going on. We then went on the Cabinet des Medailles, which is a great example of bang for the buck, because they do not charge an entrance fee. They have a huge collection of Ancient Greek vases on display, which particularly interest me since I have done research on those vases for a course of my studies. They also have a very nice collection of coins from Classical Antiquity. Last stop was the Église Saint-Eustache, another nice church but not very remarkable after having seen the other two.
- Musée de Cluny
The Musée de Cluny exceeded my expectations. It houses medieval art, it’s tapestries are most magnificent. Versailles can be reached easily by the subway, so no car was necessary other than traveling from the Netherlands to Paris. Unfortunately the lines at Versailles were quite long, so we didn’t get to see the famed Hall of Mirrors. The scale of the exterior and the surroundings of the palace were quite a sight as well. Because we decided against joining the waiting lines ad Versailles we had some more time which allowed us to visit Sainte-Chapelle. There was quite a waiting line there to, because the access route to the chapel also provides access to the Palace of Justice, so every visitor was required to walk through a metal detector and to have their bag checked. The wait was well worth it, because Sainte-Chapelle probably has the most impressive amount and application of stained glass windows I’ve ever seen.
Of course there are other things in Paris which I have considered to visit, such as the Musée d’Orsay, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Pantheon and Les Invalides. I’m quite happy with what I managed to see in three (or two full) days. Considering the photos, I’m most satisfied with the night shot from the Tour Montparnasse, the photo of the stained glass in Sainte-Chapelle turned out better than expected, but still most of the details in the stained glass are absent (not visible in the scaled down version of the photo on this weblog, but visible in the original). I didn’t take much photo’s because the cloudy weather wasn’t inviting to do so as you can see, and most of the stuff we visited already had good photo’s displayed on Wikipedia.