There’s always more to see in Paris!

By Margo Wilson
This article appears on page 20 of the October 2015 issue.
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The Fondation Louis Vuitton museum, designed by American architect Frank Gehry.

After six visits to Paris over 42 years, the last of which was in 2010, I announced that I was “done” with Paris. But when my husband, Thom, and I were scheduled to begin a river cruise in Paris in April 2015, I couldn’t resist adding on three days at the beginning of our trip. 

Then my research began. What could we do that we hadn’t done before? What was new or different? 

Consulting my bulging file of articles culled from magazines and travel sections of the paper, I read about macarons, about Paris’ best pâtisseries and about some recent buildings from a number of “starchitects” (star architects), giving me three new areas of interest to target. 

This is what we did on our four busy days before joining our tour group.

Museum musts

When I went online to see if a Paris Museum Pass would be right for us, I discovered many museums we’d never visited and selected a few that sounded appealing. 

Our 2-day pass (€42, or $47, each) gave us access to more than 60 museums and monuments in Paris. Not only was admission free with the pass, but it allowed us to enter immediately without standing in any lines, many of which were very long, even in mid-April. 

We therefore thought we could breeze in and out of some of our favorite museums, just to revisit a few paintings or sculptures, in addition to the three museums we had planned longer visits to. Unfortunately, although Sainte-Chapelle, a huge favorite of ours, would be free for us, they did not let pass holders bypass the long line, so we moved on. 

We did spend a while in the Musée d’Orsay, another favorite, to visit the Impressionist works there.

We had noticed the National Museum of the Middle Ages – Cluny Thermal Baths & Mansion (Musée de Cluny) on previous trips but had never found the time to visit. It’s very near Notre Dame, at 6 place Paul-Painlevé. 

The building and its contents were beautiful. The structure is one of the few remaining examples of medieval Paris. Formerly the townhouse of the abbots of Cluny, the structure as it is today was rebuilt in the 15th century. 

Inside the National Museum of the Middle Ages.

The museum houses a variety of important medieval artifacts, in particular its tapestry collection, which includes the famous 15th-century “The Lady and the Unicorn” series of tapestries, which were gorgeous and whimsical. Other notable pieces included early medieval sculptures from the seventh and eighth centuries, works of gold and ivory, antique furnishings, stained glass and illuminated manuscripts. 

A portion of the building was partially constructed on the remnants of third-century Gallo-Roman baths, which also may be visited.

All about the architecture

The second museum on our list, Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, featured samples from 1,000 years of French architecture, from the Middle Ages to the present day. 

In the late 1800s, a project was launched to take casts of notable architectural features throughout France. These casts provide a look at famous architectural features 100-plus years before weathering, pollution and general wear and tear had their effects.

Life-size replicas from the door­way of Chartres Cathedral, the ancient gate from the city of Rouen and a full-size replica of an apartment from Le Corbusier’s “Radiant City” are all part of the museum’s collection. Gallery after gallery hold hundreds of reproductions, large and small — parts of churches, statuary, Gothic staircases, Romanesque gates, painted chapel ceilings, stained glass and more. 

After our 3-hour visit we had a lovely lunch in their café, with views of the Eiffel Tower. This museum is located on the back side of the Trocadéro and the Palais de Chaillot.

The Quai Branly Museum and Vertical Garden (37 Quai Branly) features the indigenous art of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum has a collection of 450,000 objects, of which 3,500 are on display at any given time.

View of rue Montorgueil in Paris’ Marais district.

The museum opened in 2006 and has been quite controversial in terms of its design and the design of its exhibits. Situated directly on the Seine, it is nearly invisible behind a green wall of vegetation that covers 8,600 square feet. This vertical garden includes 15,000 plants from Japan, China, the Americas and Central Europe. 

The Quai Branly was, for us, as much about the architecture of the building as it was about the exhibits. We’ll enjoy a longer visit next time.

Innovative design

The Fondation Louis Vuitton, reached via a short RER train trip to the Bois de Boulogne, is another of American architect Frank Gehry’s spectacular and controversial buildings. Critics have described it as looking like a boat, a whale or sails or like a crystal palace in the middle of an explosion. 

This building invites photographs from all angles. We were satisfied to have experienced the exterior and will save the interior for another time, when perhaps the lines are shorter. (This museum is not covered by the Museum Pass.) 

Located near Notre Dame, the Institute of the Arab World (1, rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard) includes a museum, a library, a theater, offices and a restaurant. I read that there was a replica of a typical souk (Arab marketplace) as well, but since we didn’t get there until Friday, only the restaurant and rooftop café were open. 

Designed by Jean Nouvel in the 1980s, the building features a facade of Islamic-looking patterns of variously sized, photosensitive, pierced-metal apertures that open and close in varying degrees to control the amount of sunlight allowed into the building. We enjoyed wonderful 360-degree views of Paris while having mint tea at the rooftop café. 

A sweet ending

Now, about those macarons. One of the oldest and “best” pâtisseries in Paris, according to an article I read when planning this trip, is Stohrer, on rue Montorgueil in the Marais. It has been in business since 1730. The pâtisserie’s walls and ceiling are covered by murals painted by Paul Baudry, the 19th-century artist who painted the frescoes in the Palais Garnier. 

Mural by 19th-century artist Paul Baudry inside one of the best pâtisseries<br />
in Paris.

Our journey there was just the kind of targeted wandering we enjoy. Montorgueil, near Les Halles and the Pompidou Centre, is a delightful pedestrian street of cheese shops, wine shops, fruit and vegetable merchants, bakeries, butchers and fish shops. It represented to us the very essence of Paris. 

On Saturday, when we visited, there was a jazz group playing at one intersection, creating a lively atmosphere all around. We found the small pastry shop, admired the luscious-looking pastries, eyed the macarons and picked four of the one-inch pastel cookies (1.30 each). We loved them! These small, filled cookies came in wild varieties of flavors and colors.

If this sounds like a lot to see and do in 3½ days, it was, but with the aid of a Métro carnet (a packet of 10 individual tickets, each good for one full journey) and the Museum Pass, we accomplished our mission of finding a “new” and different Paris to love. 

I will never again say ‘Been there. Done that.’ There’s always more to see!     

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
The Fondation Louis Vuitton museum, designed by American architect Frank Gehry.

After six visits to Paris over 42 years, the last of which was in 2010, I announced that I was “done” with Paris. But when my husband, Thom, and I were scheduled to begin a river cruise in Paris in April 2015, I couldn’t resist adding on three days at the beginning of our trip. 

Then my research began. What could we do that we hadn’t done before? What was new or different? 

Consulting my bulging file of articles culled from magazines and travel sections of the paper, I read about macarons, about Paris’ best pâtisseries and about some recent buildings from a number of “starchitects” (star architects), giving me three new areas of interest to target. 

This is what we did on our four busy days before joining our tour group.

Museum musts

When I went online to see if a Paris Museum Pass would be right for us, I discovered many museums we’d never visited and selected a few that sounded appealing. 

Our 2-day pass (€42, or $47, each) gave us access to more than 60 museums and monuments in Paris. Not only was admission free with the pass, but it allowed us to enter immediately without standing in any lines, many of which were very long, even in mid-April. 

We therefore thought we could breeze in and out of some of our favorite museums, just to revisit a few paintings or sculptures, in addition to the three museums we had planned longer visits to. Unfortunately, although Sainte-Chapelle, a huge favorite of ours, would be free for us, they did not let pass holders bypass the long line, so we moved on. 

We did spend a while in the Musée d’Orsay, another favorite, to visit the Impressionist works there.

We had noticed the National Museum of the Middle Ages – Cluny Thermal Baths & Mansion (Musée de Cluny) on previous trips but had never found the time to visit. It’s very near Notre Dame, at 6 place Paul-Painlevé. 

The building and its contents were beautiful. The structure is one of the few remaining examples of medieval Paris. Formerly the townhouse of the abbots of Cluny, the structure as it is today was rebuilt in the 15th century. 

Inside the National Museum of the Middle Ages.

The museum houses a variety of important medieval artifacts, in particular its tapestry collection, which includes the famous 15th-century “The Lady and the Unicorn” series of tapestries, which were gorgeous and whimsical. Other notable pieces included early medieval sculptures from the seventh and eighth centuries, works of gold and ivory, antique furnishings, stained glass and illuminated manuscripts. 

A portion of the building was partially constructed on the remnants of third-century Gallo-Roman baths, which also may be visited.

All about the architecture

The second museum on our list, Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, featured samples from 1,000 years of French architecture, from the Middle Ages to the present day. 

In the late 1800s, a project was launched to take casts of notable architectural features throughout France. These casts provide a look at famous architectural features 100-plus years before weathering, pollution and general wear and tear had their effects.

Life-size replicas from the door­way of Chartres Cathedral, the ancient gate from the city of Rouen and a full-size replica of an apartment from Le Corbusier’s “Radiant City” are all part of the museum’s collection. Gallery after gallery hold hundreds of reproductions, large and small — parts of churches, statuary, Gothic staircases, Romanesque gates, painted chapel ceilings, stained glass and more. 

After our 3-hour visit we had a lovely lunch in their café, with views of the Eiffel Tower. This museum is located on the back side of the Trocadéro and the Palais de Chaillot.

The Quai Branly Museum and Vertical Garden (37 Quai Branly) features the indigenous art of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum has a collection of 450,000 objects, of which 3,500 are on display at any given time.

View of rue Montorgueil in Paris’ Marais district.

The museum opened in 2006 and has been quite controversial in terms of its design and the design of its exhibits. Situated directly on the Seine, it is nearly invisible behind a green wall of vegetation that covers 8,600 square feet. This vertical garden includes 15,000 plants from Japan, China, the Americas and Central Europe. 

The Quai Branly was, for us, as much about the architecture of the building as it was about the exhibits. We’ll enjoy a longer visit next time.

Innovative design

The Fondation Louis Vuitton, reached via a short RER train trip to the Bois de Boulogne, is another of American architect Frank Gehry’s spectacular and controversial buildings. Critics have described it as looking like a boat, a whale or sails or like a crystal palace in the middle of an explosion. 

This building invites photographs from all angles. We were satisfied to have experienced the exterior and will save the interior for another time, when perhaps the lines are shorter. (This museum is not covered by the Museum Pass.) 

Located near Notre Dame, the Institute of the Arab World (1, rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard) includes a museum, a library, a theater, offices and a restaurant. I read that there was a replica of a typical souk (Arab marketplace) as well, but since we didn’t get there until Friday, only the restaurant and rooftop café were open. 

Designed by Jean Nouvel in the 1980s, the building features a facade of Islamic-looking patterns of variously sized, photosensitive, pierced-metal apertures that open and close in varying degrees to control the amount of sunlight allowed into the building. We enjoyed wonderful 360-degree views of Paris while having mint tea at the rooftop café. 

A sweet ending

Now, about those macarons. One of the oldest and “best” pâtisseries in Paris, according to an article I read when planning this trip, is Stohrer, on rue Montorgueil in the Marais. It has been in business since 1730. The pâtisserie’s walls and ceiling are covered by murals painted by Paul Baudry, the 19th-century artist who painted the frescoes in the Palais Garnier. 

Mural by 19th-century artist Paul Baudry inside one of the best pâtisseries<br />
in Paris.

Our journey there was just the kind of targeted wandering we enjoy. Montorgueil, near Les Halles and the Pompidou Centre, is a delightful pedestrian street of cheese shops, wine shops, fruit and vegetable merchants, bakeries, butchers and fish shops. It represented to us the very essence of Paris. 

On Saturday, when we visited, there was a jazz group playing at one intersection, creating a lively atmosphere all around. We found the small pastry shop, admired the luscious-looking pastries, eyed the macarons and picked four of the one-inch pastel cookies (1.30 each). We loved them! These small, filled cookies came in wild varieties of flavors and colors.

If this sounds like a lot to see and do in 3½ days, it was, but with the aid of a Métro carnet (a packet of 10 individual tickets, each good for one full journey) and the Museum Pass, we accomplished our mission of finding a “new” and different Paris to love. 

I will never again say ‘Been there. Done that.’ There’s always more to see!