Before we do the North American stint of our journey, we had one final week in our favourite European city: Paris. It’s amazing how quickly all anxieties about travel or business evaporate when we’re sat in a café drinking some wine.
We were staying in an area new to us: Montmartre. We were situated on the north side of the hill, behind the Sacré-Cœur. It was a little tricky (but by no means impossible) to get to other areas that we usually hang out in (mostly St Germain and the Latin Quarter) – so we spent a lot of time in the neighbourhood.
One of the first things we did was walk to the Sacré-Cœur. It’s something you can see from most of Paris, perched on the top of Montmartre like a wedding cake topper. Neither of us had been before, so we trekked up the few hundred steps to the top.
It’s certainly a beautiful church, but the view over Paris? It’s… OK.
Sure, any vista over a city is kinda nice. But there just isn’t much variation to make this one that interesting. It’s just roofs – and you can maybe pick out the Centre Pompidou or Notre Dame in the distance if you’re lucky.
The view from the top floor of the Centre Pompidou is much better, because you can see the stereotypical Parisian apartment buildings right there, but also see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Sacré-Cœur, etc. in the background. It’s a more satisfying view.
In short, the Sacré-Cœur looks perfectly fine from far away and I wouldn’t bother climbing up all those steps unless you’re really into churches.
Another touristy thing we did was the Musée d’Orsay. Housed in an old train station, it’s renowned as one of the best collections of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world. I’d visited the museum before, and didn’t really enjoy it. I was in a rush and (post-)impressionism isn’t really my thing. Plus the queues for tickets are notorious – I’ve heard stories of 2+ hours in line.
We were wandering past on a Thursday at 2pm and there was no line whatsoever for tickets. Apparently that’s the time to go! On a whim, we went inside.
It’s a gorgeous building, and the layout is innovative. The central aisle has sculptures and off the sides are the paintings. I must admit, I enjoyed the museum a lot more this time around. There was still a lot of stuff I didn’t enjoy, but I found an appreciation for the “greats” – Monet, Cézanne, Degas, Van Gogh.
It was funny seeing the Orsay’s Van Gogh collection – which completely blew away the collection of the Van Gogh Museum we visited in Amsterdam. Every classic painting is here – the self-portrait, Starry Night over the Rhone, The Church at Auvers, the less-expensive Portrait of Dr Gachet. The plaster original of the Gates of Hell by Rodin is also there, which is probably my favourite piece in the museum. During the visit, I went from completely hating the museum to thinking it’s one of my favourites in Paris.
I’d never toured Les Invalides, the building complex which houses the military history museum and home of Napoleon’s tomb. We did that mostly to check off Parisian tourist things I hadn’t yet done.
If you’re super into military history, you should go. I’m… not, so the museum left me a little bored. The tomb of Napoleon was kinda cool, but that’s about it. Oh, there was a sub-museum dedicated to the life of Charles de Gaulle. It gushed about him, which was creepy enough, but both Hampton and I thought it left a negative impression of him by the end of it. He came across as a little dictatorial, to be honest. I need to read more about his time in politics to get a better grasp of what he did.
Anyway, we mostly spent our days drinking wine and coffee in cafés, which is a fine way to spend a week. Off to Toronto (by way of one night in Philadelphia) next!