First Trip to Europe, Day 10 – New Year’s Day and Musee d’Orsay

Our last full day in Paris fell on New Year’s Day. Knowing it was a holiday and the Parisians aren’t exactly our idea of early risers, we planned to be up and ready by 10am. All four of us were moving pretty slowly that morning, so I figure we headed downstairs closer to 10:30 or 11am. There was a large group of younger people staying in the hotel, and they managed to trip the circuit breaker on our floor (probably with a blow dryer) while we were all getting ready. Luckily I wasn’t actually in the shower when this happened…

We went to the cafe on the corner, Le Bouquet de Grenelle, for breakfast and had the place to ourselves. Our waiter was very friendly and attentive, but we were his only customers. I seem to remember that we ordered the petit dejeuner anglais, but were able to have our eggs in an omelet here. I can’t really remember, but I do remember the food being good!

After our late breakfast, we hopped on the metro and went straight to the Musee d’Orsay. There is a metro stop right under the museum, so we popped up just across the street from the entrance. The line was very long and since our museum passes had expired, we had to wait. The queue is outside, but luckily it moved quickly. We were prepared to buy a ticket for the museum, but it turns out that it was free because of the holiday! Not all museums in Paris are open on New Year’s Day, but it seems that most of the ones that were open were free. There was a list at the information desk of all the free museums that day. I had a hard time finding information on the internet about what would be open and closed on New Year’s. The Musee d’Orsay and l’Orangerie did specifically say it on their websites, so we made that our plan for the day. It’s recommended to visit these two museums on the same day, as they are both smaller and close to each other. You can even buy a combination ticket for a discount, if like us your museum passes have expired.

The Musee d’Orsay is an absolute, 100% MUST VISIT. The museum is housed in an old train station, and the building itself is a work of art. You can purchase an audio tour at the desk here, but I highly recommend downloading Rick Steves’ audio tour instead. You can download it to your phone ahead of time. On the iPhone Rick Steves has an app and a podcast. I believe the app is available for Android and other platforms as well. There are audio guides and tours for the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay, among others. We didn’t want to spend all day at the museum (though we easily could have), so I queued up the audio tour and alternated between playing the audio and reading aloud the transcript (also available in the app). The Musee d’Orsay is infinitely easier to navigate than the Louvre. All the art is located in rooms just off the main hall, and the rooms are numbered which makes specific pieces easy to locate. Rick Steves’ tour gives you detailed instructions on getting from one area to the next, but gives you time to peruse all the art while pointing out the highlights. My favorite parts of the museum, besides the building itself, were the Van Gogh paintings and Rodin statues. If you don’t make it to the Rodin Museum, you can find smaller versions of almost all his most famous pieces here. On the day we visited, even with the museum being free and open to the public, the only crowded area was around the Van Gogh paintings. Don’t miss the escalators towards the back wall that take you all the way up to the top of the train station for a fantastic view. On the upper floors you’ll be able to look out from the giant clock faces you see from the outside of the building. Another cool exhibit allows you to walk on plexiglass over a model of the city of Paris.

I can’t say enough how much we all enjoyed the Musee d’Orsay. You will find amazing works of art, popular ones you’ve actually heard of, without the crowds and endless maze of the Louvre.

Our next stop was Musee de l’Orangerie. From the Musee d’Orsay, it’s a quick walk across the Seine and into the Tuileries Gardens, where Musee de l’Orangerie is located. Since we visited in the winter, we didn’t get to enjoy much of the beautiful gardens, but we did stop to take a few pictures with the Seine and Eiffel Tower in the back ground. When we arrived at the museum, the line was wrapped way out and around the side of the building. The line at Musee d’Orsay had moved quickly, so we took our place at the end and waited. Unfortunately in the 30 minutes we stood in line, it never moved. The pass holders had a separate line, and theirs continued to grow as well. Knowing that those people would be allowed in first, while neither line was moving, was enough for us to rethink our decision to wait. It’s a very small museum, and was likely at capacity due to being free this day. While we all really wanted to go inside, we decided the wait was just too long. I’ll definitely stop in this museum on my next visit to Paris. If you don’t visit the Marmottan, make sure you stop in here to see the Monet waterlilies!

Since the l’Orangerie was a bust, we walked back past Musee d’Orsay and towards Notre Dame to see what the line was like. It was another line a mile long (in the shade no less), so we marked that one off the list as well. I know my mom really wanted to see inside, and so did I, but standing in line out in the cold after 10 days of walking 5-10 miles just wasn’t going to happen. There was one thing near Notre Dame that I had not found yet, thanks to the crowds that always gather there in front of the cathedral–Point Zero or Kilometer Zero! Josh and I wandered around until we saw a little crowd of people in a circle, and Voila! Point Zero is the marker from which all distances in France are measured (in relation to Paris). After locating the marker, we decided that now would be a good time to shop for souvenirs. There are a ton of what we lovingly call “crap stores” on the streets facing the Seine near Notre Dame. We started at the end of one street and worked our way through the shops until we had all the souvenirs we wanted, and then some.  We brought back little Eiffel Towers of course, and I found some pretty etched glass cubes for the student workers at my office. I had my pick of beautiful scarves for friends, t-shirts for myself, and just about any other knickknack you can think of.

Once we were done shopping, we walked towards the Saint Michel area to find a cafe. We wanted to people-watch and have some cheese and wine. We ended up at Cafe Le Lutece at the corner of Blvd Saint-Michel and Rue Saint-Severin. Our experience here was kind of interesting. We sat outside in the enclosed patio where it was warm but we had a view of the busy street. The waiter here didn’t seem very interested in taking our orders or serving us at all. This was the experience I had read about and been warned about before our trip. We visited this cafe around 4 in the afternoon. Not exactly rush hour, and way too early for dinner by French standards. We had a hard time getting him to take our drink orders, as he acted like he was too busy to stop. We finally ordered our drinks, coffees, hot wine, hot chocolate, etc., but he was gone a very long time and when he finally returned with our drinks he didn’t want to take our food order. We wanted a cheese plate, but since we had only had a late breakfast, we also decided to get real food. He eventually stopped “rushing around” long enough to take our orders, though he did so rather rudely. One or two of us were going to order crepes, but he snapped that it was too late in the day for crepes. He made a lady sitting alone across from us physically get up and move to another section, though we don’t really know what was said or why, just that the conversation seemed like an argument and she moved to the other side of the patio afterwards.

Our cheese plate was amazing. So was the croque monsieur I ordered. Overall the food and drinks were great, and the service ended up being sort of amusing since we had not encountered much of the French “rudeness” we had read and been warned about. I kind of felt like it was a right of passage to be treated that way by a French waiter. In general our experiences at restaurants and cafes on our entire trip were very good. Waiters were almost always friendly and accommodating, we hardly ever asked anyone to speak English, but they often did anyway without us asking. They laughed good-naturedly or corrected our terrible French, and for the most part we got great service (if a little slow by American standards). We had a few “lost in translation” moments where neither of us understood the other, but we were always able to work it out. The staff at Chez Jenny stands out in that regard, as the hostess and one of the waiters tried to talk to us and none of us spoke enough of the other language to communicate. That’s when pointing to the menu or using your phone comes in handy!

After our very late lunch, we metroed back to the hotel. We were loaded down with souvenirs and in need of a break. Also, being New Year’s Day and all, we were missing American football! We are avid (rabid?) Auburn football fans, and our bowl game was coming on at 6pm local time. Watching the game wasn’t a huge priority, but if we just happened to be in the room at the right time, we were planning to tune in. The game was broadcast on ESPN, so my dad was able to buy a day pass to stream the game live. Josh and I used our AU Gameday app to stream the Auburn radio broadcast, and listened while we started packing our souvenirs and suitcases. We ended up staying in for the rest of the night. I know, lame!! Josh and my dad ran down to the store and Josh came back with orangina, orange juice, and a cheese plate. We ended up drinking mimosas, eating the cheese plate, and having Belgian chocolate for dessert instead of going back out for a late dinner. I’m sure if we had thought hard about it being our last night in Paris, we might have ventured back out, but we were all pretty content with staying in. Being on vacation and constantly on the go gets pretty exhausting, and we knew we had the longest of long days coming up with our trip to London the next day. That’s also why Josh and I used the time to pack our suitcases. We were going to be gone for about 18 hours the next day, so we knew we needed a head start on packing for our return flight.

One last thing I want to comment on. There wasn’t much that was closed on New Year’s Day with regard to shops and restaurants. I wish I had taken a picture of the list of museums that were free that day, but it was at least 10 museums. I worried during our trip planning that we would end up with nothing to do on the holidays, but rest assured that Paris is like any large city in the US. People want to be out and about, so stores and restaurants are open to serve them. If we hadn’t had our football game to occupy us, I had looked into seeing a movie. There are theaters all over Paris that show first-run movies in English. In fact at any theater, if it’s an American movie (you’ll recognize titles) and it says “vo”, that means version originale or original language, so that means it’s being shown in English with French subtitles. There are two movie theaters near the Les Halles metro stop that almost always have an English language movie showing. Check the Pariscope or http://paris.angloinfo.com/whatson/movies/ to see what’s playing while you’re there.

Coming up next: our whirlwind day trip to London!

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