Paris river Seine and the Musee d'Orsay

Paris

Ah, Paris! The place everyone assumes we are when we tell them we are living in France for a few months!

As you can see in the map below, Luxembourg is actually the closest big city to Metz (Metz is the blue map pin.) Luxembourg is quite easy to visit, even for just an afternoon.

Of course, Paris seems very "accessible" for us from Metz, thanks to a TGV line running between the two cities, but there are tradeoffs between time and expense that make it difficult to just pop over to Paris for a weekend visit.

Map showing Paris and Metz

Modes of Transport

The TGV can get us from Metz to the Paris Est station in just under 1.5 hours. Unfortunately, for 2 people, this costs just about 300 EUR.

There are affordable buses for only about 50 EUR round trip, but you lose the speed of the TGV. A bus ride from Metz to Paris can take from 4.5 to 9 hours. Of course, the 4.5 hour option is actually more like 90 EUR round trip too.

A rental car is much cheaper, at first glance, than the train. We could rent a car for the weekend for about 170 EUR. The drive would take 3 to 4 hours, so a little faster than the bus. But then you have a car in Paris. Where do you park it? That probably is quite expensive. I would guess that with parking, fuel and the added hassle of driving a car around an unknown city, the car works out to cost almost as much as the train, without the benefits of . . . you know, being a train.

If you have the time and can select the fastest line, the bus option definitely seems like the most affordable solution.

Photo of apartment building in Paris

Overview

Paris is a city of 12 million people, but instead of the miles of concrete skyscrapers you would expect to find in a large city, Paris is full of ornate 5 or 6 story buildings.

Apparently in 1973, the 758 foot Mont Parnasse tower was built, and everyone hated it. So Parisians set a height limit of 121 feet on all new buildings. This was increased to 590 feet in 2010, but the city's aesthetic is still strongly influenced by this limit.

Although the shorter buildings make the city seem smaller and friendlier, the city is HUGE. We are used to living in Metz, a city of about 120,000 people, where you can walk across the old part of town in 20 minutes. In Paris, you'll need to plan for transportation between all the sights.

Photo of view of Montmartre and Sacre Coeur from Musee d'Orsay

Montmartre

Our hotel was in the Montmartre area of Paris, right next door to Sacre Coeur basilica.

The basilica is located at the highest point in Paris. Even from our nearby location, we had to climb up a ways to reach the church.

In 1870, following the defeat of Napoleon, Paris was in turmoil. One of the factions battling for power was the Paris Commune, a radical socialist group which controlled the government of France briefly from March 28 to May 28, 1871. Montmartre was the site of the Commune's first insurrection, and after their defeat, the Assemblee National decreed that Sacre Coeur would be built to "expiate the crimes of the commune."

Top half of Sacre Coeur basilica
Interior of Sacre Coeur basilica
Interior of Sacre Coeur basilica

Wandering Paris

After visiting Montmartre, we spent the rest of Friday afternoon wandering from Montmartre down to the Seine, and then through the Jardin de Tuileries.

In the Jardin de Tuileries, at the far end from the Louvre, we found the small Musee de l'Orangerie. This museum houses eight massive "Waterlilies" paintings by Monet (the Nympheas), as well as a small collection of other impressionist and post-impressionist art.

Interstingly, Monet actually had input into the design of the rooms where his paintings are displayed. He intended for the exhibit to be a place where a Parisian could come after a hard day's work to sit and relax. The paintings themselves, done later in Monet's life, don't seem to me to be the best of his work. However, the space combined with the paintings is indeed a soothing place to sit and breathe.

Interior of Nympheas exhibit at Musee de L'Orangerie
Interior of Nympheas exhibit at Musee de L'Orangerie

Rocky Morning

I actually have two cameras I've been using for the photos you see on this site--a Canon DSLR (EOS Rebel SL1) and a Canon compact camera (G9). Oh wait, three--most of the interior photos are shot with my Google Pixel phone camera.

Somehow, in the process of packing for this trip (which included a week in Bretagne directly after this weekend in Paris), I managed to forget to pack the battery for the DSLR and the charger for the G9.

So Paris is probably the one place in France where it is actually possible to find a battery for a random Canon camera, but we visited four shops before finding one with the right battery in stock.

Luckily, at the second camera shop, the employee who helped us wrote down an address and name of a store for us 1001 Piles. Seemed like the kind of store that should definitely have the pile (battery) for me!

No such luck--they were out. But luckily, now that we were in 1001 Piles world, the shop keeper could call all of the other 1001 Piles shops in the city and have them check if they had it in stock. Thankfully, one did, and our battery problems were solved!

River boats on the Seine

Sightseeing

There is a lot to see and do in Paris! After solving my battery problem, we set out to cover some ground.

We got a Big Bus pass, the most popular hop-on hop-off bus in Paris. I do recommend this, although I think we didn't organize our bus use as well as we could.

So, the bus is quite a slow way to get around, but you will be on your feet for hours in museums and walking around, so slowly seeing the city from the upper level of the bus is a good break.

We bought two days of access to the Big Bus, thinking we would use it to get around the city. It is not actually a very convenient form of transit though, especially as we got very familiar with using the Metro as we searched for batteries! I would recommend only buying a one-day pass, and using it your first day to get oriented in the city.

A caveat here is that the Paris metro did not seem very accessible for people who aren't able to walk up and down lots of stairs. If this is a difficult for you, I expect the Paris bus system would be a better option, although we did not use this enough to really judge.

Photo of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris
Photo of the Eiffel Tower seen through trees
Photo of Arc de Triomphe and traffic on Champs Elysees
Photo of a glacier between mountains

Tortues a l'Infini

We enjoyed the less-typical Paris experience of seeing author John Green's face on, I believe, every single advertising column in the city.

His new novel, Turtles All the Way Down, or in French, Tortues a L'Infini, was released a couple of weeks prior to our trip to Paris.

Despite being a huge fan of his, I still haven't bought the book at the time of this writing, although looking at this photo is reminding me that I should. Perhaps I can buy it for someone for Christmas and then, um, borrow it back and read it?

Advertisement of John Green's face

Musee D'Orsay

We sort of worked our way up to the massive Louvre, starting with the tiny Musee de L'Orangerie on Friday, and continuing with the reasonably-sized Musee D'Orsay on Saturday.

In fact, when we visited the Louvre the following day, the statues in the Richelieu wing are laid out in a similar manner, but on a much larger scale. When I look back on my photos of the Musee D'Orsay, it looks much less grand than I remember, in contrast to the Louvre. So I do think visiting Musee D'Orsay before the Louvre helps to properly appreciate it.

Musee D'Orsay used to be a train station, and it is so cool inside!

Interior of Musee D'Orsay
Interior of Musee D'Orsay
Interior of Musee D'Orsay
Interior of Musee D'Orsay

The Louvre

I approached our visit to the Louvre with some trepidation. I do not like crowds, I kept reading dire warnings about pickpockets, and I had no idea what I wanted to see there.

Some key information about the Louvre: The museum has three "geographical zones." (You know it's big when they call them "geographical zones"!) If you imagine the Museum as shaped like a U, the Denon Wing is on the left (south, closest to the Seine), the Sully wing is the bottom of the U (east), and the Richelieu wing is on the right (north.)

The Denon wing is where the Mona Lisa lives, along with a bunch of massive Italian paintings. So we started with the Richelieu wing, which has lots of cool statues and Northern European paintings, and very few tourists.

We did visit the Denon wing afterwards, to very briefly get a quick glimpse of the Mona Lisa. It was packed and to be honest, since I've been to a couple of art museums in Italy, I didn't feel like I missed much by rushing by the Italian paintings. (Spoiler: Approximately 85% of Italian paintings in museums seem to be of Maria Col Bambino)

Interior of the Louvre - Statue Winged Victory

Whereas the Musee d'Orsay is an old train station converted into a museum, the Louvre is an old palace converted into a museum. A huge statuary exhibit is kept in an area called le Cour Marly, which is a beautiful glassed-over courtyard.

Interior of the Louvre
Interior of the Louvre
Interior of the Louvre
Interior of the Louvre

Our last stop at the Louvre is for a glimpse of Mona Lisa through the crowd.

Interior of the Louvre - Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

Evening on the Seine

To close out our visit to Paris, we took an evening ride on a river boat. We boarded right at 5:30pm and enjoyed the beautiful ride as darkness fell.

Notre Dame at Night
Paris from the river at night
Paris from the river at night
Musee d'Orsay from the river at night
Eiffel Tower from the river at night
Eiffel Tower from the river at night - Closer