With 4 weeks in Paris, we feel like we saw enough to fill 40 posts. We did try to manage our time and our energy by taking every 6th or 7th day off to rest, but the sites of Paris can easily keep you busy for much more than a month. Knowing I can’t go into detail about all of them, here are a few of the places that we really enjoyed. 🙂
M’O Art Please
One of the highest rated spots in Paris is the Musée D’Orsay. You will find masterworks at the M’O from Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Cézanne, Gauguin, and more. Up to you if you choose to steer the kids away from the Origin of the World by Courbet (hyperlink excluded). I really liked the doors that Rodin sculpted based on Dante’s Inferno called the Gates of Hell. See the little guy in the top center? Rodin liked the way people responded to him so he later made a bigger version of this pensive character.
My Old Nemesis… Stairs
For one of the best views in town, we headed to the Montmartre district and Sacré-Cœur Basilica. A beautiful church with a beautiful view, I am sure our kids will more likely remember the stairs to the top of the hill, and the additional 300 steps up to the dome. Most of this day was children waiting and adults sucking wind. Here you will still find artists milling about – more on that in a bit – with a pad and brush, offering to paint your portrait on the spot.
The residents of Montmartre are also very proud of their district, because it was just outside the reach of Baron Haussmann’s influence. For this reason, it is much more eclectic in its form – without Haussmann’s mandated height, color and width requirements that dominate central Parisian architecture.
Taking In The View from Vince’s Place
Montmartre is famous for more than just Sacré-Cœur, winding streets and a lot of stairs. It used to be pretty rowdy (and cheap), since it was right at the edge of Paris, with countryside nearby. Since it was cheap, many starving artists lived here including Monet, Picasso, and Dali. Vincent Van Gogh used to stare out of the window of his brother’s apartment and paint the windmills and wheat fields. There are only 2 original windmills remaining, as well as one famous red tribute. These are the faces you get when you ask the kids to pose in front of the Moulin Rouge, right after telling them what it was famous for:
The Marais District
We learned a ton about Paris from Parisians who spend their time giving walking tours. We ended up taking 5 different Discover Walks Tours, where the guides work for tips. One of our favorite areas was the Marais district, which included the former stomping ground of King Henri II, the Place des Vosges. Henri II apparently loved extreme sports. When he ordered his security chief to joust him against the chief’s will, a bit of the lance broke and went into the king’s eye. He died 10 agonizing days later (even though his surgeon tried to figure out how to fix the wound by inflicting it on several prisoners and “practicing”). In a typical over-reactionary spousal move, his wife basically ended the practice of jousting in France.
One of the tips we received from the tour guides was to take some time to go and visit the Basilica of St. Denis a little away from town. This place has all the makings of a blockbuster, from a crazy origin story to a killer/killed cast. Denis was preaching and gaining power and a following, so the Roman rulers at the time had him beheaded (at the place that came to be called Montmartre – “mount of the martyrs” – ya know, with the windmills…). He preached all the way up, and somehow, all the way back down. After the beheading, he apparently picked his head up and walked the 6 miles back down the hill with his head in his hands as he continued preaching. When he finally died, he passed his head to someone and told them to build a church on that site. The church came to be St. Denis Basilica. The remaining cast of characters is made up of the kings and queens of France, as between the 10th and 18th centuries, all but 3 were buried or entombed here. -ALaff, 10/11/15