Day 3: Notre-Dame and the Best Tour of the Left Bank
Day 3 was one of my absolute favorites while we were in Paris. This is mostly because of the tour we took in the afternoon, which we’ll get to. First up: Notre-Dame.
This was the first thing we did after commuting into the city. Typically I would tell you what we did, how much things cost, and some tips to make your trip better. However, in light of recent events, I will direct you to my post on the burning of Notre-Dame and what it meant to me. The moments that we had a light breakfast and drank espresso on a restaurant sidewalk overlooking Notre-Dame are that much more special to me now.
After Notre Dame, we headed to the Musee de l’Orangerie, which was closed. Somehow I missed this in my planning. But pro tip: a lot of museums in Paris are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays. Make sure to look it up before you go.
Because we had the Museum Pass, we found another museum that was open and went to go visit. We didn’t even realize what it was until we were inside: it was a modern science museum, Palais de la Decouverte. There were some pretty cool exhibits inside, including a temporary exhibit on poisonous animals. One of my favorites was the table of elements with the actual elements inside it (minus the radioactive ones, of course).
After the museum, we had some time to kill. So we took a stroll across the Lover’s Bridge, actually named Pont des Arts, but is known for all of the padlocks that hang from it bearing lovers’ names. It’s a pretty cool place, and on the bright, sunny day, it felt emotionally and physically warm there. The city replaced the rails with glass panels in 2015 in hopes to stop people attaching padlocks to it. I’ll say it only kind of worked.
Okay. The highlight of the day: the Left Bank Drinkers & Thinkers tour. This was something I found on Airbnb Experiences, and after reading the description, jumped at the chance. The tour began on the steps of the Institute de Paris, where we met our guide. She was absolutely fantastic and incredibly knowledgeable about her topic: the writers and artists that have haunted Paris’s infamous Left Bank.
She took us through winding streets, showing us homes and hotels where famous authors stayed. She told us about their colorful history and behavior, and wove it into the fabric of the city’s history. We saw little-known sculptures by Picasso, and newer street art meant to honor great thinkers. We drank Kir outside a government building (where our guide thought we were lying to her when we told her we’d get fired for drinking wine at lunch on a workday), and she even took us to a college dive bar after the tour where she told us more about life in modern Paris.
Honestly, this tour is them moment I fell in love with the city. I am not a city person; I enjoy nature and sweeping mountain vistas. So cities, while fun and interesting for a few days, don’t really vibe with me. But this on-the-ground tour of the Left Bank made the city feel so much more vibrant and alive. I walked away with a whole new list of books to read and a new appreciation for French culture.
Day 4: Napoleon’s Apartments, 360 Monet, and The Empire of the Dead
Now, the Louvre is a massive place. There was no way we were going to see the whole thing in one day. So we blocked out roughly 3 hours for the experience, and got there when it opened. I honestly didn’t have any idea how big this place was until I was inside, jaw dropping at the enormity of it. So we grabbed a guide in English and plotted out our day.
Neither of us was too interested in seeing the Mona Lisa, mostly because my friend had seen it before, and I personally felt no connection with the painting. That being said, we did walk through the room it’s in, so I did get to see it (please, don’t come after me, art folks). We spent some time wandering through classic French artwork, including Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix. There’s a lot of references to this painting in Paris and in works (art, literature, architecture, politics, you name it) that followed, and it is massive, so I do recommend you see this one.
I really wanted to see Napoleon’s apartments that are preserved here. The Louvre was a palace before it was a museum, so honestly, just walking around a normal corridor has the potential to blow your mind. The ceilings were absolutely stunning. I tell people this a lot, but when you’re visiting a museum like this, make sure you take a minute to look up. You’ll be amazed at the amount of detail they manage to work into places that you might not even notice.
Now, like any museum I’ve ever been to, there are temporary art exhibits. While we were there, the exhibit was Islamic Art. We chatted about it and realized that neither of us knew much about it or could name an important piece related to it. So we headed in that direction. I highly recommend going to see this exhibit, or an exhibit like it. The amount of detail in a wooden door will leave your head spinning. This exhibit was also less crowded, but by no means less amazing than the rest of the Louvre.
After the Louvre, it was lunchtime. So we had another sidewalk cafe experience, because you can never have too many of those. And what better way to digest your food than to head on down to the Catacombs?
Now we’d heard about the Catacombs a bit on the Left Bank Drinkers and Thinkers tour the day before, so we knew what they were. When you learn more about them, the skulls become less scary and more peaceful. Book this one ahead or you could be waiting several hours in line.
The Catacombs, rather than being a creepy place, are actually an ode to the unidentified dead, 6 million of them. They were existing tunnels for stone mines and were repurposed as a solution to the overflowing cemeteries in Paris. You round every corner to see a new quote about death, and another carefully-constructed pile of bones. Keep in mind that only a small amount of the tunnels are open to the public, and these are the ones you can tour. The tunnels run for miles underneath the city, and most of them are extremely dangerous to wander due to the structural integrity of the place. If you absolutely must see them, I’d recommend following this hashtag on Instagram.
We had some time to kill between the Catacombs and our dinner plans, so we decided to head back to the Musee de l’Orangerie. I really wanted to see this one because (1) it came highly recommended from a friend and (2) it’s where Monet’s Waterlilies is housed, and he was involved in the design of the building himself.
No pictures would do this place justice, so let me just describe it to you. You walk in the doors and climb a small ramp up to the first room. A lot of you are probably used to seeing Waterlilies in a little square in a book about art, and probably expect it to be a little underwhelming. It’s not like that. At all.
Waterlilies is a series of 8 panoramic paintings, and they are all displayed in this museum, split between two oval-shaped rooms. You walk into the first room and the atmosphere is hushed. We didn’t experience another museum like it in Paris. The light filters in from windows, through a cloth hanging from the ceiling, so the paintings are displayed in perfect lighting. You can walk along the paintings, around the room, and see the chaotic brush strokes up close. Then you turn to the opposite side of the room where you can see the paintings the way they were meant to be seen: as a sweeping, peaceful landscape. I repeat: there are two rooms of this.
When you are done soaking up the Monet, you can wander the other wings of the museum, all less crowded than the Louvre. But here you’ll find works by Matisse, Picasso, and many other names you’ll know from your textbooks. I absolutely loved this stop and I was so glad we had been able to go.
After standing, hushed, by the beautiful art in this museum, we walked over to a bar to have a beer and rest our poor, tired feet. We connected to wifi and made some contact back home, taking the chance to post a few pictures. That relaxation was nice, especially because we nearly had to run to catch our dinner cruise on the Seine.
This is another experience I would highly recommend you do. There’s a lot of companies you can go through, to which I would just say to do your research. Ours cost us ~$65/person for wine, a three course meal, and a little over an hour on the river to see the city lit up. They had a vegan option, you just had to ask for it. The boat we were on was smaller than a lot of the ones we passed, and all of the tables faced outward so everyone had a view. I don’t have any good pictures from this part of the trip, mostly because I decided to take in the sights uninterrupted. I can tell you that it was a worthwhile experience though. We took the Metro home, warm and fuzzy from a fabulous day in the city.