We had three museum goals: the Musée de Moyen Age (Cluny), the Louvre, and the Musée d’Orsay.
We went to Cluny on Sunday, when the kids were still pretty jet-lagged, and admission is free, but it wasn’t too crowded. The building is 15th century, with satisfyingly crenellated walls and and interior courtyard. We strolled past medieval paintings, tapestries, and suits of armor, headed for the big prize: the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. They are housed in a circular room, dimly lit to protect them from further degradation. They’re huge, very detailed and very beautiful. The museum also contains the remains of a Roman frigidarium, cold baths. Below ground and surrounded by massive amounts of stone, it was cool and moist. We admired the tusk of a narwhal, and could understand why people might have believed in unicorns.
Back outside, we took a break in the monastery gardens, which my son compared to the gardens described in the Redwall books.
The Louvre was a multi-day adventure in orienteering, made more interesting by random elevator breakdowns. We arrived via Metro and after some wandering around (what big glass pyramid?), managed to join the l-o-n-g line for the security check. Moments later, thanks to the wheelchair, we were ushered to a separate entrance by a guard. There’s a spiral staircase going down to the lower ground floor, and a very space age open round elevator that rides up and down the space in the middle. We tried to buy tickets, but were told that admission was free for us—the children decided that it had been worthwhile to drag the wheelchair up and down the Metro steps.
We spent our first day at the Louvre more or less hopelessly lost in Sully. At the lowest level, we walked around the moat and keep of the medieval Louvre. My son was incredibly impressed with this, as well as with several floors of Egyptian antiquities, including some really massive pieces. The Louvre is immense and exhausting, and we reached a saturation point after about four hours.
Two days later we went back, this time with much more focus and direction. We managed to see Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, the Crown Jewels, and a lot of northern European paintings. The kids were amazed to see artists copying paintings right there in the galleries. The Mona Lisa story is not the painting itself, but the crush of people trying to see it. It was interesting to hang back and just watch the crowds. The guards were tremendously helpful in guiding us around the staircases that blocked access at every turn. At points, the kids stopped looking at whatever was exhibited, and started looking at the rooms themselves—painted and gilded ceilings, incredible architectural detail, amazing views out the windows.
We agreed that we’d only skimmed the surface, and that several more trips to Paris will be necessary to adequately appreciate the Louvre.
The Musée d’Orsay gets the “I wish I’d taken the wheelchair even though I felt fine when I started” award. We took the RER from the St Michel-Notre Dame station, which gave the kids a taste of real European railroad station ambience. It was an overcast, rainy day, and we were late getting started. The line to get into the museum was even more daunting than at the Louvre, and since we were without wheelchair, we got to stand in it, for over an hour. Needless to say, my goose was cooked before we even got in. And it would have been the easiest to negotiate, too. Despite the fatigue factor, we particularly enjoyed the Impressionist collection, the Art Nouveau exhibits, and the first floor sculptures.
We tried to make some effort to get time away from each other, so on Thursday afternoon we left my daughter on her own and my son and I crossed the bridge to the Institut du Monde Arab to see the Pharaoh exhibit. What an incredible collection of artifacts! Massive statues, papyri, furniture, jewelry, a ceramic gate engraved with hieroglyphs, many temple paintings, and very detailed and educational information about everything. The IMA also gets the award for most interesting shop; it’s laid out like a North African market and is filled with all kinds of Arabic doodads and knickknacks. If I’d had any suitcase space, I’d have been tempted.