We touched down at Orly in early afternoon; a delightful taxi driver took my son and I to our Latin Quarter hotel and threw in some commentary. (An hour nap let me survive the evening.) Our first visit to Paris was on RS’s “Paris and the Heart of France” and we wanted more. For our first exhausted days, we relaxed in gardens and parks. I recommend Square de Viviani, just across the Seine from Notre-Dame, as an oasis from the crowds. We also explored my favorite, the Luxembourg Gardens, sat by the pond, and had picnics. Another day we walked along the Seine to the Jardin des Plantes and visited the Menagerie. It’s a small zoo, but not a sad small zoo—the animals have good spaces, and some of the architecture, such as the art deco building for the cats, is lovely.
Once rested, we made full use of our 6-day museum passes. We spent a full day in the Musee D’Orsay (still didn’t see it all!) and two half days in the Louvre. I found RS’s audiotours to be very helpful in both, if only to provide an overall direction in the face of So. Much. Art. At the Cluny, we saw The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries and a few other rooms, and could walk above the Roman baths outside, but the rest was still closed because of renovation. We took the better part of a day at Les Invalides and the Army Museum, and could have used another day, what with WWI and WWII exhibits, halls of armor and armaments, and extensive exhibits on Napoleon’s campaigns and reign. And it was a mistake to walk all the way there from the Latin Quarter, on to the Eiffel Tower afterward, and then back; we (or at least I) should have taken the Metro back, but by the time I realized where I'd gone wrong, it was too late. Ah well, worked off lunch!
Two sites not included in our earlier RS tour were the Conciergerie and the Pantheon, both worth a visit. I had known the Revolutionary history of the Conciergerie, but not that it was a sixth-century royal palace. The Pantheon seems even bigger inside than one would expect, and one could spend hours in the crypt below visiting the famous and infamous. I was most impressed that people still leave flowers and letters for people such as Pierre and Marie Curie, and Victor Hugo. A final site we visited that I highly recommend is the Deportation Memorial, right behind Notre-Dame at the tip of the island. In addition to the memorial itself, with its 200,000 lights commemorating French deportees and the tomb of the unknown, there are rooms that present the history and experience of the Nazi camps. Very moving.
In the midst of all that history, often painful, we were grateful for our good fortune, and spent much wonderful worthwhile time in cafes, trying as many French specialties as we could: duck confit, roast chicken, beef burgundy, Nicoise salad, onion soup (yes, I know, wrong season, but this was the season we were there), croque-monsieur, escargot, quiche, cheese, bread, and pastries; as well as wine, kir and kir royal, Suze, cider, and the best hot chocolate in the world at Angelina (a branch right outside the Luxembourg Gardens). I will echo what so many have said before: when you go to France, slow down!