Paris’s Musée d’Orsay: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

Ah, Paris! The City of Lights!

What should you do while visiting this fabled city? Climb the Eiffel Tower, peruse great art at the Louvre, stroll along the Seine? Absolutely.

But in addition to the above, there is one more place you shouldn’t miss, the Musée d’Orsay.

What is The Musée d’Orsay?

The Musée d’Orsay was voted the best museum in the world by Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice Award in 2018.

It is a marvel of Beaux-Arts beauty that houses the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art.

Interior of the Musée d’Orsay with a large gold clock
The museum not only houses masterpieces, it is a masterpiece. Photo by Armand Khoury on Unsplash.com.

With works from 1848 to 1914, the Musée d’Orsay bridges the gap between the works of the Louvre, which span a mind-boggling 25 centuries, from the 6th century BC to the end of the 19th century, and the Museum of Modern Art, whose works span from 1905 to the present day.

Silhouettes of three people in front of the clock window in the Musee d’Orsay
The clock window overlooking the Seine. You can see Sacre Coeur in the distance. Photo by Peter Mitchell on Unsplash.com
From Train Station to Art Museum

The building was originally a train station called Gare d’Orsay. It was designed to get visitors to the site of the Universal Exhibition of 1900.

The Gare d’Orsay sat on the left bank of the Seine, across from the Tuileries and kitty-corner from the Louvre. Because of this auspicious location, the exterior was designed to blend in with the existing architecture.

View of part of the Louvre as seen from the top of the Musée d’Orsay
You can see a corner of the Louvre from the balcony of the Musée d’Orsay.

By 1939 the station had become obsolete because of changes in train design. The building was used for various functions, including as a mail center during WWII, a theater, and an auction house. Eventually, it was decided that it would become an art museum.

The museum was inaugurated on Dec 1, 1986. Thankfully the beautiful Beaux-Arts style was preserved.

The Louvre vs. Musée d’Orsay

I have been fortunate to visit the Louvre three times and hope to visit it again. I believe that anyone visiting Paris should experience the Louvre at least once. As the world’s largest art museum with a collection that spans many centuries, you are sure to find something that interests you. But as much as I love visiting the Louvre, I enjoy the Musée d’Orsay more. This is why:

1. It is not intimidating. You can find your way around quite easily and take in a large part of the collection in one day.

Musée d’Orsay has 181,000 sq ft. (almost 17,000 sq. m.) of exhibition space, while the Louvre has over four times as much. Because of its size, I have always felt a little lost at the Louvre.

To see all 35,000 items on display in the Louvre, you would have to walk 9 miles. The Musée d’Orsay displays about 3,000 items at a time.

2. It is not as crowded as the Louvre even though it has over 3 million visitors per year, pandemics notwithstanding. The Louvre has over 10 million visitors per year. We visited Musée d’Orsay on a free day, and we didn’t experience the cattle car feeling of the Louvre.

3. I can’t get enough of that gorgeous building.

A Few Pieces From the Collection
Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhone
Starry Night Over the Rhône by Vincent van Gogh 1888

This is not the most well-known Starry Night, the one with 2/3 of the canvas filled with flowing and swirling stars and sky. That one can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Here is more information about these two paintings and the song Vincent by Don McLean.

You can listen to Vincent here.

The painting The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte
The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte 1875

One of my favorites, and not because it features shirtless men (really). I love this because of its unique subject.

Portrait of Julie Manet by Pierre August Renoir
Julie Manet by Pierre August Renoir 1887

This is another of my many favorites. Julie was the daughter of artists Berthe Morisot and Eugene Manet and the niece of Édouard Manet.

Statue of a nude woman sitting with her head bent forward
La Méditerranée by Aristide Maillol. Note the building detail in the background.
Detail of a hand on an arm of a statue
Detail of Oedipus at Colonus by Jean-Baptiste Hugues
A room in the Musee d’Orsay with the Edgar Degas statue Small Dancer Aged 14 in the forefront
Small Dancer Aged 14 by Edgar Degas – Photo by Christian Storz on Unsplash.com
Where is The Musée d’Orsay?

The museum is on the left bank at 1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, 75007 Paris, France, in the 7th arrondissement. The nearest Metro stop is SolférinoMusée d’Orsay.

Links

Click here are 10 pieces of must-see art in the Musée d’Orsay by Paris Pass.

And click here to plan your trip to the Musée d’Orsay.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Pierre Blaché on Pexels.com

The Magnificent Estate of Versailles: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

When Steve and I began our full-time travels in 2018, the first two cities we visited were Barcelona and Paris. Talk about setting the bar high.

Between these two cities, three places ruined us for all others:
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Versailles (near Paris)
Cemetery Montmartre in Paris

You can read about why we think Cemetery Montmartre is the coolest cemetery in Paris here.

But now, it is my pleasure to share our impressions of The Palace and Estate of Versailles with you.

The Versailles We All Know

In 2005, I visited Paris with my daughter Stephanie as part of a school trip. One of the activities was a tour of the Palace of Versailles.

The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles
The famous Hall of Mirrors

Our tour included the Palace and the Palace Gardens. We marveled at the over-the-top elegance, including the hall of mirrors, heard the stories about people using the corners in the palace as restrooms during its heyday, and saw where Marie Antoinette gave birth in front of an audience. Here is an interesting article about royal birthing practices.

Ornate bed chamber in rose and ivory
A bed chamber in the Palace of Versailles.

Then we spent some time in the palace’s gardens before heading back to Paris.

A formal garden seen from above
Our travel buddy Hedgie enjoying a view of the Orangery as seen from the Palace of Versailles

I came away from that experience amazed by the opulence and overwhelmed by the crowds. Little did I know that I had just scratched the surface of Versailles.

The Estate of Versailles includes the Palace, the gardens, the park, the Trianon estate, and several buildings in town.  It covers over 800 hectares or almost 2,000 acres.

A Second Look

Flash forward thirteen years to 2018. Steve and I spent a month in Paris as part of our new life as full-time travelers. We first visited Versailles as part of a bicycle tour on a dismal June day.

As we entered the grounds, we were surrounded by open fields full of sheep!

A field with trees and sheep
The first thing we saw as we entered the grounds of Versaille was sheep!

We then rode through the grounds where we visited the Trianon Estate, viewed several gardens, and enjoyed lunch on the patio at La Flottille.

A menu being looked at by a toy hedgehog
Our travel buddy Hedgie perusing the menu at a restaurant at Versaille.

At the end of our bicycle tour, we saw the Palace of Versailles. It was just as glorious as I remembered, and it left a lasting impression on Steve. Every time we have visited a palace or grand home since then he says, “It’s not Versailles.” Indeed, not too many places can match the grandeur and mystique of this amazing building.

A Third Visit

Our tour through the palace during our bicycle tour had been rushed, so we decided to go back on our own another day.

After we braved the crowds in the palace once more, we spent the rest of the day exploring the grounds. Even after two days of visiting, I feel as if we barely got to know it. We hope to one day return to the town of Versailles for an extended time and spend several days exploring the estate.

A goose standing on gravel
This goose was a surprise too.
A (Very) Brief History of Versailles

This phenomenal place began as a simple hunting lodge for King Louis XIII. A small chateau was built on the site in 1624.

The construction of the palace began in 1661 under Louis XIV. The palace and its elaborate gardens were completed in 1710.

In 1687 King Louis XIV had the Grand Trianon Palace built on the palace grounds.

King Louis XV added the Petite Trianon Palace to the grounds in 1768.

In 1783, during the reign of Louis XVI, the Queen’s Hamlet (Hameau de la Reine) was built.

The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I between Germany and the Allies, was signed in the Palace of Versaille in 1919.

The Trianon Estate

This section of the estate consists of 3 main areas described below: The Grand Trianon, The Petit Trianon, and The Queen’s Hamlet. The estate grew from the time of Louis XIII through Louis XVI. I find it hard to keep the Louis straight. I wish they had been more original when naming their heirs.

The Grand Trianon

This beautiful creation of pink marble and a type of rock called porphyry is located in the northwest corner of the estate. It was built in 1687 at the request of Louis XIV of France, who was known as The Sun King. He had it built as a place to escape the structures of life in the Palace of Versailles and spend time with his favorite mistress, Marquise de Montespan.

Here are 7 Fascinating Facts about Louis XIV.

The Palace has two wings. Each housed a royal apartment. They are connected by a colonnade called The Peristyle.

A grand walkway with pink marble columns
The walkway between the two wings of the Grand Trianon.

The furnishings were lost during the French Revolution. They were replaced during the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. Those are mostly what you will see in the palace.

This page on the en.chateauversailles.fr website is full of fascinating information about this palace.

The Grand Trianon Palace in history:

On June 4, 1920, the Trianon Treaty was signed here. The treaty formally ended World War I between most of the Allies of World War I and the Kingdom of Hungary. The result was that Hungary lost 70% of its land and all of its seaports. It remains a source of sorrow and anger for Hungarians a century later.  Learn more about that in the article “Hungary: Why is the Trianon Treaty So Controversial?”   from Kafkadesk. From 1963 to 1966, the Grand Trianon was restored for use by President Charles de Gaulle.

The Petit Trianon

In the mid-1700s King Louis XV decided to build a chateau in the middle of his gardens. The three-story neoclassical building was completed in 1768. When Louis XV died in 1774, Louis XVI ascended the throne. He gifted the Petit Trianon to his wife, Marie-Antoinette.

The Petit Trianon
The Petit Trianon

The young queen used the Petit Trianon to escape the formality and demands of royal life. It is reported that she was in the garden in October of 1789 when she was told of the armed crowd that would force the royal family to Paris during the early part of the French Revolution.

For one year, from 1794 to 1795, the furniture, artwork, and other valuables were auctioned off.

During the revolution, the building was used as a hostel and a tavern, causing it to fall into disrepair. The building was restored by Napoleon I to be used by his sister and by Empress Marie-Louise.

Learn more about The Petit Trianon here.

The Queen’s Hamlet

A century after The Grand Trianon Palace was built, a model village was added to the Trianon Estate. This village of small, rustic buildings formed a crescent around an artificial lake. It included a working farm that was used for the royal children’s education.

A rustic stone building with a tower
One of the buildings in the Queen’s Hamlet.

The buildings were not built for longevity and suffered from the weather during the French Revolution. From 1810-1812 Napoleon had most of them restored. A few were beyond repair and were demolished.

The hamlet underwent various restoration projects in the 20th century as well. One done in the 1930s was made possible by a donation from John D. Rockefeller.

In 2006 the farm was reconstructed and is currently home to many animals which are looked after by the Foundation for Animal Welfare.

Here is more information about this wonderful hamlet.

And There is Even More!

Did you know that the gardens on the estate boast over 200 statues, making it the largest open-air sculpture museum in the world?

There is also an orangery featuring orange, lemon, pomegranate, palm, and oleander trees. Some of the trees are more than 200 years old. They are housed in the Orangery during the winter and displayed outside in the summer.

There are also groves, which are like little parks in the woods, numerous fountains, and pathways.

Latona’s fountain
Latona’s fountain

As if that weren’t enough, you can visit the Gallery of Coaches in the Great Sables. Here you will marvel at the intricacy of the horse-drawn carriages of the past.

Whoo, That’s a Lot to See

All this information can be overwhelming. One thing is certain, the Estate of Versailles will provide days worth of exploration.

While researching this article, I found out how little I know about Versaille’s complex and fascinating history. I have done my best to be accurate. If you find something that is incorrect, kindly let me know. Thank you.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

One Last Thing

There is a fundraising campaign on the Chateau de Versailles website to replace funds lost because of reduced attendance during the pandemic. If you love Versailles and can afford to help, here is the information.

 

Paris’s Best Cemetery – Cemetery Montmartre

Do you enjoy exploring cemeteries when you travel? If so, Paris’s Cemetery Montmartre is one you shouldn’t miss.

Steve and I spent several hours there in June 2018, and it is still one of my favorite places.

It’s my pleasure to share my impressions of Cemetery Montmartre with you. Hopefully, you will be inspired to visit if you already haven’t.

A Fascinating Yet Gruesome Start

The problems caused by overcrowding in Paris’s main cemetery, Cimitiere des Innocents, came to a head in 1780 when the wall of a mass grave collapsed, sending corpses tumbling into an adjacent basement. This was the last straw for Cimitiere des Innocents.

This cemetery in Paris’s 1st arrondissement had been a concern because of the vast amount of bodies buried so close to the populous. The city could no longer continue to add to the body count that had been growing for at least six centuries.

Like something out of a horror movie, the remains from Cimitiere des Innocents were relocated. For two years, carts covered with black veils would journey through the streets of Paris at night, accompanied by chanting priests. The new resting place was an abandoned quarry in the 14th arrondissement which is now known as The Catacombs.

When the gruesome work was done, Cimitiere des Innocents was destroyed.

You can read more about this huge undertaking and see some cool pictures in this article by Marilyn Brouwer in Bonjour Paris, The Insider’s Guide.

There were dozens of parish graveyards in the city, but the city leaders saw the need for more cemeteries to bury the newly dead. They also wanted them placed far from the city center. Therefore, four cemeteries were founded outside the city limits. Montmartre to the north, Montparnasse to the south, Pere Lachaise to the east, and Passy to the west.

The first of the four new cemeteries to open was Pere Lachaise in 1804. In the approximately 25 years from the closure of the Cimitiere des Innocents until the opening of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the dead were buried in the existing parish cemeteries.

Cemetery Montmartre History and Facts

Cemetery Montmartre was established in an abandoned gypsum quarry that had been used as a mass grave during the French Revolution. The fact that it was a big hole in the ground accounts for its unique topography.

The cemetery opened on January 1, 1825, in Paris’s 18th arrondissement.

Its official name is the Cimetiere du Nord.

Its original name was Cimetière des Grandes Carrieres or the Cemetery of the Large Quarries. Why do things always sound more elegant in French?

Cemetery Montmartre covers over 25 acres (10.48 hectares) and is the third-largest in Paris after Pere Lachaise and Montparnasse.

The Cemetery has always had just one entrance. It is at 20 Avenue Rachel, 75018 under Rue Caulaincourt.

In 1888, a bridge, the Pont de Caulaincourt, was built over the cemetery. The original plan was to relocate the burial sites that were under the bridge. Some families objected, so the bridge was built over some sites.

A bridge overlooking mausoleums and tombs

The Pont de Caulaincourt as seen from inside Cemetery Montmartre

Mausoleums under the Pont de Caulaincourt

Some of the mausoleums that remained under the Pont de Caulaincourt

The top of a mausoleum under a bridge

Imagine how careful the engineers had to be

Here is an interesting article that explains more of the history of the bridge over the cemetery.

Montmartre: Not the Most Celebrated Parisian Cemetery

Many lists of the best cemeteries to visit include Pere Lachaise. It has many famous residents, including Frederic Chopin, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde. It is four times the size of Cemetery Montmartre.

Pere Lachaise is definitely worth a visit, but after checking it out, Steve and I preferred Montmartre for three reasons:

First, Montmartre is set on many levels because it was built on an abandoned gypsum quarry. This makes for a more interesting walk and provides more exciting vistas than the flatter Pere Lachaise.

Second, Montmartre is in the artistic neighborhood of the same name. Therefore, many people buried here were active in the arts, resulting in some unique monuments.

Memorial with a man’s bust and his face in reverse relief

How cool is this memorial?

Third, Montmartre is part of its neighborhood. The vibrance of the area (and how can you not love Montmartre?) can be felt since the cemetery is literally in the thick of things.

Mausoleums with buildings in the background

The living and the dead share the neighborhood

Who’s Buried in Cemetery Montmartre 

Edgar Degas

I knew that the artist Edger Degas was buried in Cemetery Montmartre, and I kept that in mind as I strolled past numerous tombs. At one point, I passed one that said Famille de Gas. I thought to myself, what an unfortunate last name (thinking of the English “gas”, not the French).

I finally resorted to looking up Degas’s grave using Find a Grave. Famille de Gas WAS Degas’s gravesite.

Mausoleum of the Famille de Gas

Edger Degas’s final resting place; note the drawings of ballerinas left by young girls

Emile Zola

The French novelist, playwright, and journalist was initially buried in Montmartre. Five years later, his remains were relocated to the Pantheon, the mausoleum where many great French leaders, scientists, writers, and artists are interred.

Family names on the original gravesite of Emile Zola

Names of family members buried in the Zola family gravesite

Dalida

Being from the U.S. I had never heard of Dalida, but her compelling memorial made me want to learn more.

Memorial to the singer Dalida in Cemetery Montmartre

Dalida’s gravesite in Cemetery Montmartre

Dalida was the professional name of a famous French singer from 1956 to 1987. She was very successful in Europe even though she did not release her music to the U.S. or U.K. markets.

She faced many struggles in her personal life, including the suicides of several people with whom she was close. She committed suicide in 1987 at the age of 54.

Here is a handy map to find these graves and more.

You can use Dale Dunlop’s post “Montmartre Cemetery – How to Enjoy a Self-Guided Tour” to make sure you don’t miss anything in the cemetery.

So Many Cemeteries, So Little Time

During the past few years, we have visited cemeteries in several cities. Of all the cemeteries we have seen, Cemetery Montmartre continues to hold a special place in our hearts.

Have you been to Cemetery Montmartre? Did you fall in love with it, too?

Which cemeteries have you visited, and which was your favorite?

Want to take your tombstone tourism a step farther? Check out these articles:
The Paris Insiders Guide on a visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery
“Discover the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris” by French Moments

And of course, we can’t forget the catacombs. The catacomb workers were on strike when we visited Paris, so we missed this. Hopefully, you will be luckier. Here is a bit of catacomb history and tips for your visit from Courtney Traub at Paris Unlocked.

And finally, here are two more of our favorite French places:
The Musée d’Orsay
The Estate of Versailles

Happy traveling,
Linda

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