Sunday, June 11, 2023

Paris For Free

Trip date: September 2022

Since Covid, I had only been back to Paris for a quick 24 hours in Dec 2021. This time I was looking forward to spending a full week in the city before venturing off to other French destinations. 

But France being obsessed with strikes, did not make it easy for me to get there! They were having a one-day air traffic control strike; guess which day! Originally I had booked a business class flight on Cordor which connected in Frankfurt on Lufthansa to CDG. Cancelled. 

I was automatically rebooked in business on Delta transferring in Amsterdam. Cancelled.

I am not exaggerating when I say I spent HOURS (6 to be exact) on the phone with all three airlines trying to get a flight. Each of course said only the other could do it. I ended up having to find my own flight (it had to be in air to CDG the day before to get around the strike rules) and finally got Delta to book it. 

Seattle to Minneapolis in a middle economy seat (grrr), then MSP to CDG in DeltaOne Business, which sounds great but it was an older plane and the layout was not very good. The tvs in each "pod" face almost face each other and there is no privacy partition. Oh well, any lie flat bed is better than no lie flat and the food and service were better than expected. And the Delta Lounge at SeaTac is huge and fantastic!

This new flight got in at 7am, much earlier than my planned arrival at my friend Forest's, so another friend invited me to come over for breakfast and to take a nap and a shower. Very nice of her and a great little visit with one of her daughters and her hubby. 

Forest had a lot planned for us and luckily much of it was going to be free because I was there during Les Journées Du Patrimoine. The 3rd weekend of each September is Paris' "Heritage Days" where the city gives access to buildings and monuments that are usually closed to the public; mark your calendars! Additionally many sites and museums grant free access during this time. And of course, Paris has a lot of museums and interesting sites that are always free. Here are all the places we were able to hit up:

Institute Giacometti- The artist's studio was relocated from its original location into this stunning art deco apartment in Montparnasse. The intimate space houses some of Giacometti's work including sculpture, sketches, and books. It's a lovely spot!

Fondation Cartier- Also in Montparnasse, but in a large modern building, we explored the works of Australian contemporary artist Sally Gabori. Neither of us were familiar with her but were wowed by the colorful, large format paintings. I found it fascinating that she only started painting in 2005, at the age of eighty, and passed away in 2015 having achieved international attention and respect for her artistic ability! 


Musee Zadkine- This was the home and workshop of Russian sculpture Ossip Zadkine until he passed away in 1967. It's near the Jardin du Luxembourg, tucked back off the main street. There are about 400 pieces of his work, both inside and out in the garden. This was also an artist I wasn't familiar with and it was really nice to explore his work.

Saint Sulpice Church- We joined a free lecture on the gnomon. Built in the early 1700s, this obelisk works like a sundial and indicates the date of Easter. There is a small hole in one of the stained glass windows that the sun streams through, a line of light is cast on the meridian running along the floor and then up to the brass ball on top. It's pretty interesting! And the church itself is lovely to stroll through. 


Museum of Pixie- In Saint-Germain-des-pres there is an adorable shop called Pixie & Cie. I had read about the "toy store" years ago in Vanity Fair but had never had a chance to check it out. Upstairs is a museum of thousands of hand-made toy figurines living their best lives. Tiny apartment windows give you glimpses of their home life, others are performing in the symphony, some in the circus. There is a whole wall of figures dressed in haute couture from YSL, Jean Paul Gaultier, Sonia Rykiel, etc. Other vignettes display beloved Parisian character Tintin as well as Asterix, Babar, and the Smurfs. The figurines range in price from $60-1000 and are intended for collectors vs children. It's all charming!
While in this area we also stumbled upon Minima Gallery which had some incredible miniature books and artwork and also Gallery Seine 55 which just happened to have a Klee, which when we asked about the owner told us the story on how he came to acquire it. You never know what you'll see while wandering in the 6th; it's a gem!

Jardin du Luxembourg Greenhouses- We arrived quite early in the morning for this rare opportunity to explore the greenhouses of the city's famed park. So early in fact that it was hard to figure out where the line was as there were only a few other people queued. But that would change as the morning went on so we were very happy to be some of the first inside.

The greenhouses have many gorgeous plants from around the world but the piece des les resistance is a house just for the collection of over 13,000 orchid plants! The gardeners are known for their ancient hybrids that they have been growing for years; the oldest plant being from 1885. It's a 137 year old orchid! This plant has survived since before WWI! It's crazy!!

The greenhouses are also the site of a conservatory orchard of 100's of varieties of apples and pears, again some of them created 100+ years ago. 

Musee Carnavalet- The Museum of the History of Paris, originally opened in 1880, use to be only in French, no subtitles of any kind. Unfortunately my French is near nonexistent so I had never been. Then the city closed the museum for 5 years giving it a major overhaul and just reopened in May of 2021. It now has not only multiple language options on almost all the pieces, but modern digital displays as well. It's an incredible collection that takes you on a chronological tour of the artifacts, sculptures, paintings, and design of Paris from 9600 BCE to the 21st century. 

The two connected mansions that house the museum also have an absolutely charming terrace where we sat after with a glass of wine and discussed the collections. I'd add this to your do-not-miss list!

Maison de Victor Hugo- In a corner of the beautiful Place de Vosges, the French writer Victor Hugo lived for about 10 years. It was in this mansion where he wrote Les Misérables. It's a beautiful home, and an interesting peek around at the writer's furnishings. I just love touring through the old haunts of famous people. Especially when it's free!

That's a lot of free stuff to see in my opinion! And this is just a taste of what Paris has to offer gratuit, there are literally hundreds of things you can explore. The city website has some excellent information even if you aren't there during Heritage Days.

All Paris photos here.

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