This week I want to revisit Paris. Before I continue, I have a confession. It wasn't a "love at first sight" city for me. Over the years, however, I have begun to fall slowly in love with it. I think once I had seen the big sites that tourists, naturally, mob and after discovering my love of French history, I have been able to get a little bit better sense of the soul of the city. Each time I visit, I'm left wanting more. It's such a multifaceted place. I believe it's one of those cities you can visit year after year over the course of a lifetime and always have something new to experience.
I hope it make it a city this blog visits over and over as I find new places to see and new tidbits of history and food fun.
With that being said, today we're going to the 7th arrondissement and the Musée D'Orsay.
I thought it might be nice to do a little introduction of the neighborhood instead of just jumping right into the Musée d'Orsay. As you might know, Paris is broken up into neighborhoods called arrondissements. There are 20 in all and each one has its own flavor.
The 7th, also named Palais-Bourbon, is located on the west side of city and is on the Rive Gauche/Left Bank.
It is an area of old nobility and current wealth. Within its limits is Faubourg Saint-Germain, a neighborhood long known for its aristocratic inhabitants. According to Wikipedia, le Faubourg, the neighborhood, has been so well-loved by French nobility and aristocracy throughout history that the name continues to be used to describe French nobility in general.
As you can see in the map below, there's lots to see here.
It's home of the Eiffel Tower and Champ de Mars, the long open green space in front of the tower.
You can also find the Palais Bourbon where the Assemblée Nationale, the lower house of the French parliament, does their business.
Julia Child lived with her husband, Paul, in the 7th. The US State Department assigned him to Paris for work in 1948. They lived at 81 Rue de l'Université in the upper levels.
Imagine if they had been assigned elsewhere. I wonder if she would have fallen in love with cooking and food in the same way.
At the heart of the 7th is Hôtel des Invalides with its gilded dome. Les Invalides, first commissioned by Louis XIV in 1670 as a hospital and home for war veterans, now houses Napoleon's tomb and the Musée de l'Armée.
There's so much to see here, including a really well planned exhibition following the timelines of WWI and WWII via artifacts, paintings, and video. My favorite section had ancient and early modern European war stuff. I have a bit of a thing for armor and swords and the like, so I loved this place. I'm planning a post about it later.
Once place I haven't been able to visit in this arrondissement yet and am really chomping at the bit to see is the Musée Rodin. Apparently it has an amazing rose and sculpture garden outside along with Rodin's masterpieces, like The Thinker.
Next time I'm in Paris, I'm making this a priority.
One museum that I did get to see is the Musée d'Orsay, which is located right next to the Seine. This museum is most famous for its impressionist and post-impressionist collection of paintings, but it also houses pieces of sculpture, photography, and, apparently, furniture. When I was there most of the upper galleries were closed for renovation so I missed some of the pieces, but what I saw was still staggering. It has a very different feel than the Louvre, which seems much more traditional.
What makes Musée d'Orsay special is that it is a former train station, which was once called the Gare d'Orsay. It is a piece of art in itself.
The interior is modern, airy, and light. It encourages tranquil strolling from piece to piece. I liked just sitting on one of the benches in the middle while soaking up the atmosphere as much as I liked seeing the Van Goghs, Monets, Degas, Renoirs, etc., etc., etc.
A couple of unique gems the museum has are scale models they have at the end of the center aisle. One is a cross-section of the Paris Opera House. The other is a 1/100 model under a glass floor of the area surrounding the Opera House as it was in 1914.
It just made me feel like a kid standing over the model of the city. The glass is kind of cloudy now, so I don't have any pictures, but I think it's something you should see in person if you like that kind of thing anyway. You, too, can feel like a giant stomping around Paris!
I've also heard that the museum has a wonderful and beautiful restaurant on the first floor. I didn't get to try it, so I can't vouch for it, but the pictures on the museum's website look lovely.
What's really great about having a restaurant (and a café and a self-service place on the Mezzanine) inside is that you know you can spend hours and hours wandering around art, refuel, and then spend more hours and hours wandering around art.
But if you do not want to spend hours and hours looking at art, you can come in for a bit, look around a little, enjoy the architecture, eat in a beautiful place, and then get the heck out of Dodge. I know you're out there. I know museums bore some people to tears at times. I understand. Sometimes, you just don't want to be cooped inside when a whole pulsating city is waiting for you outside.
That's another thing the 7th offers: The pleasures of daily life from cafés to shops.
The last two times I was in Paris, I stayed with my family in the 6th arrondissement. We often walked up Rue de Bac and then turned left onto Quai Anatole France on our way to wherever we happened to be going at the time. All along the left hand side were these amazing antique boutiques. Views of the Seine framed the right. It was heavenly.
Since we were there in August, all of the boutiques were closed, but that didn't stop me from pressing my face as close to the glass as socially acceptable and ogling the treasures. I remember one store seemed to specialize in Renaissance pieces and had multiple, detailed, colorful board games from the period. I wish I had taken some clandestine pictures now because they were just beautiful, especially for someone like me who goes crazy over little historical things like that.
That kind of experience really seems to sum up the 7th for me so far. It's not really young or very hip. It's quiet, refined, full of rich surprises, and perfect for a relaxing stroll.
On Wednesday I'll share a short history bite of something my family and I finally stumbled upon while walking in this area.