On day three we took our museum passes and headed to the Musee D’Orsay. We walked a bit then decided to tackle the Metro as it was cold and sprinkling. Except, the nearest stop was actually for the RER which you can use Metro tickets for within Paris (more on this below).
Some of the RER trains are double decker!
At the Musee D’Orsay we waltzed past the ticket line, flashed our passes and had them dated, and we were inside.
The D’Orsay is inside a grand old railway station built for the 1900 World’s Fair. There is a restaurant on the upper level that has a great view, and a terrace in the summer. I didn’t take any pictures of the Impressionist artwork here, probably because there were so many people crushed around each painting and sculpture — when we were there the museum was being renovated so the paintings were displayed in rooms smaller than, I suspect, they normally would be.
At the end of the museum they have a model of the city under a glass floor. It’s scratched and hard to make out, but still fun to walk on. I think we’re standing on the opera house here.:
Upstairs is more decorative art, as well as an entire room. I like the light swags here:
Apparently I have trouble taking photos that are lined straight up and down. Forgive me, I suspect I view the world a little off kilter and it only really comes out when I try to hold a camera up straight.
These spoons and platters caught my eye as well:
Scott and I felt a bit naughty taking this mirror pic:
This painting kept my attention for a while while we were sitting on some stairs resting. I only took a few art history classes in college but it turns out I learned, and dimly remember, a lot more than I expected. I think the one figure in this painting that is looking straight out towards the viewer is an image of the artist himself, but I have not had time to properly research this:
Back home for a while, where I took these photos of what the street in front of our apartment typically looked like:
Most people in Paris wore black or dark coats that were belted or nipped in at the waist, I saw lots of boots, and the big scarves were there as had been reported. In fact, Scott has been inspired to start wearing larger, warmer scarves in the winter because he’s seen how they can be both warm, stylish and manly. I never really noticed anybody wearing jeans, which means they must have been really good jeans. Nearly everybody had across-the-body bags, all of them looked like they’d been carefully picked out. Umbrellas were common when it rained (which was the entire time we were there). Maggi and I cannot figure out how the Parisian women manage to wear heels so often. Perhaps they stop in cafes frequently for a little sit down?
We saw lots of rolling luggage both on the street and down in the Metro and RER. Later we took the Metro to get ourselves onboard the Eurostar and didn’t feel out of place at all. (Though again, I was never fooling anybody.)
After everybody had their feet up for a while we were off to dinner, and French onion soup, yum.
Today (this is me speaking in the present, that being March 4th) I saw a Smart Car in my neighborhood and I was struck by how tiny it looked in context here. We saw lots and lots of Smart Cars in Paris and they really only looked slightly smaller, in a practical way, than the other cars there. In fact, we took notice when we saw a full sized car, or heard a particularly loud one.
Things I learned the hard way
The Metro: The Metro in Paris is no harder to use than the public transit in any other city. Once we became a little familiar with how the city is laid out and how to read the signs, we used it with ease. Within Paris Metro tickets can be used for the Metro, buses and the RER (regional train system) within Zone 1 (clearly marked on maps). You can use your ticket to transfer between systems for an hour and a half (but not re-enter, as we learned). The Metro runs until about 12:30 a.m., after which you have to catch a bus. We never ended up getting on a bus, opting instead to walk the few blocks to wherever we needed from the Metro stops. (Did I just tell the internet that we were always home and in bed by 11 p.m. when in Paris and therefore know nothing about how to get around after the Metro stops running? I blame the jet lag!)
Everybody uses the Metro and it was always busy and filled with all sorts of people. I never got that creepy, shouldn’t-be-here vibe that comes on some US public transit systems. The RER after 10 p.m. on a weekend is a different story.
The most useful thing I had with me on this trip was the free RATP (Paris public transit) iPhone app. The main component is simply the Metro map that you can zoom in and out of. You can also get route direction from stop to stop, though, you have to know which stations you want to start and at, something I never knew so I didn’t use this function.
We usually bought small paper Metro tickets in packs of 10, ask for one pack, “un carnet” (silent t), or just buy 10 from the ticket machine. We split our time in Paris in half though, and had we been there for the whole week we would have done as Maggi and Jeff and gotten a weekly pass which you just wave like a magic wand on your way through. You can buy tickets at the automated dispensers at Metro station, they have an English option. They don’t take US cards so you’ll have to have cash (one carne was, I think, 11,60 Euros). I have no idea how to buy a weekly pass, you’re on your own there. I do know you are supposed to put your picture on your pass, and there are photo booths in lots of the stations for this purpose. Maggi and Jeff didn’t have these (it’s not like the directions were clear on this point) and it was really only a minor, momentary problem when we were stopped by Metro security who set up a ticket checkpoint in a connection tunnel. Even then they only scolded one of them, and immediately figured out we were tourists so just waved us on. So, (oh dear please don’t take this advice) maybe you shouldn’t bother with the headshot on your weekly pass. (That said, I was constantly tempted to stop in one of these photo booths so I could have “official” French ID photos.)
You can also use a card to buy tickets at a window with a human, we only found these at larger stations near the RER entrances. The one we stopped at only opened at noon, as we discovered having arrived at the dreadfully early hour of 11:58 a.m.
Note: Keep your ticket with you. You’ll need it for transfers and for the occasional checks. We only had our tickets inspected once, in a hallway connecting two station.
More than once we entered a smaller station to find that the entry carousels wouldn’t take any tickets, but there was an unlocked gate you could slip through. We couldn’t understand the recorded message playing in a pleasant French voice so we just assumed it was saying “these gates aren’t working, just go on in”.
Metro lines are listed by number and color, and once you know which one you want all you have to do is figure out which way you need to head. The Metro has signs listing all the stops it’s headed towards, so you find your stop and head down that hallway. The RER, though, only lists the last destination for the line. This is where that iPhone app came in handy. There are maps all over the stations though, and it never took us too long to untangle where we needed to go. Even when we were faced with some closed stations or connections.
The French word for exit is “Sortie”, or you can just follow the crowds towards the way out. Some of the stations that connect to each other will have you traversing long blocks underground, and there are some moving sidewalks in the longer stretches. They dip down and back up, though, and I nearly always fell at the bottom of the dip so hold on.
I loved taking the Metro. It reminded me of the days when I’d figured out the NYC subway system and was able to give people directions. (In NYC, apparently, I’m the type of person who strangers feel comfortable asking for directions. Flattering, but really only fun when I could actually help.) A huge thanks to Maggi for being not only our French speaking restaurant orderer, but also the person able to get us down into the Metro tunnels and pointed in the right direction. And huge thanks to Jeff for all the knowledge on the iPhone apps and navigating an old version of Firefox in French. Paris would have been untangleable without you both.
Previously: Day One arrival and beating jet lag; Day Two big impressive monuments, unexpected meetings, needing to pee
Up Next: Day Four, dogs in paintings, startlingly large arches and towers