Auguste Rodin's The Thinker at the Rodin Museum.
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Day 13: Paris For Free

Paris can be an expensive city, but if you look hard enough, there are deals to be had. On day 13, we set a goal of touring the city without spending any money, just to see if it could be done. We cheated a bit going in knowing that the first Sunday of the month is free museum day!

We started at the Louvre, the world’s largest museum best known as the home of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. We arrived just before opening and only had to wait 10-15 minutes to get through the queue. You don’t really “do” the mega-sized museum in a day… you have to have a plan. Our plan was to head straight for the Mona Lisa along with everyone else.

Most photos of the painting in the museum are taken from behind a large group of other visitors, but after a couple minutes of patient waiting, we worked our way right up to the rope that separates the masses from the masterpiece. It’s smaller than I expected, made more so by being the only item on the giant wall in the middle of the room. Yet, the sense of seeing something special looms large.

The Louvre is packed with works by great artists, but the creator of its second-most famous work is unknown. Venus de Milo was crafted in Greece somewhere around 130-100 B.C., likely in one of the sculpture workshops of the time. It was discovered in the ruins on the island of Melos in 1820 by a peasant and gifted to Louis XVIII the next year. Theories abound to who might have created it, but the answer is still a mystery.

We had a quick picnic in the park, basking in the first decent weather day since we’d arrived in Paris, then trekked across the Seine River to the Rodin Museum, an indoor/outdoor collection of the sculptor’s best-known pieces. Perhaps his most famous piece is one of my favorites, Le Pensuer or The Thinker, simply a man with his chin rested on his fist, deep in thought.

There are two versions at the museum and 28 castings around the world. Here, the largest is located outside in the sculpture garden while a much-smaller version sits inside the museum. I was actually quite disappointed by the small version and the rest of the museum didn’t do much for either of us. Seeing the outdoor version was definitely worth the trip though.

Worn out, but determined to take full advantage of free museum day, we walked back toward the river to Musee d’Orsay. With all due respect to the Louvre, the Orsay is Paris’s finest museum. It’s a perfect size with a well-balanced collection of old and new works from some of history’s greatest artists.

The second and fifth floors are the highlight, featuring a large collection of works from Monet, van Gogh, Degas, Manet and Cezanne among so many others. It’s organized by art movement, complete with descriptions in English—something the Louvre sorely lacks.

The center gallery on the main floor is lined with sculptures, including a prominently-placed version of Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty. The statue would be gifted in large form by France to the United States in 1885, placed at New York’s Ellis Island to welcome immigrants from Europe to America. The Orsay’s version was commissioned by the artist himself in 1889 in hopes it would be sold as a museum piece.

We made it back to our apartment after a long day with exactly zero euros spent while seeing some of the world’s most famous artwork in some of its most renowned museums. Not a bad day’s work!


Looking back at the Louvre from the left bank of the Seine. The museum was originally a fortress and the center of French politics until Louis XIV moved the government to Versailles.

Looking back at the Louvre from the left bank of the Seine. The museum was originally a fortress and the center of French politics until Louis XIV moved the government to Versailles.


The glass pyramids outside of the Louvre were designed by I.M. Pei as a way to move the museum's entrance underground and alleviate the masses of people flowing through the old, small entrances. They are now works of art in their own right.

The glass pyramids outside of the Louvre were designed by I.M. Pei as a way to move the museum’s entrance underground and alleviate the masses of people flowing through the old, small entrances. They are now works of art in their own right.


The Mona Lisa has been behind bulletproof glass for several decades due to multiple attempts at vandalism. The painting has been at the Louvre since the end of the French Revolution but for a brief time spent hanging in Napoleon's bedroom.

The Mona Lisa has been behind bulletproof glass for several decades due to multiple attempts at vandalism. The painting has been at the Louvre since the end of the French Revolution but for a brief time spent hanging in Napoleon’s bedroom.


Leonardo Da Vinci's famous Mona Lisa.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa.


Venus de Milo at the Louvre.

Venus de Milo at the Louvre.


A re-creation of several rooms of Napoleon's apartment has been built in great detail at the Louvre. The parlor was among the most ornate rooms on display.

A re-creation of several rooms of Napoleon’s apartment has been built in great detail at the Louvre. The parlor was among the most ornate rooms on display.


Looking up at the Louvre's Richelieu wing through the glass pyramid.

Looking up at the Louvre’s Richelieu wing through the glass pyramid.


Neo-impressionists used a style called Pointillism, combining several small dots or very short brush strokes to create an image that lacks detail up close, but becomes sharp and luminous from a distance.

Neo-impressionists used a style called Pointillism, combining several small dots or very short brush strokes to create an image that lacks detail up close, but becomes sharp and luminous from a distance.


One of two self-portraits by Vincent van Gogh on display at the Orsay. The museum has 25 of the artist's pieces, including one from his Starry Night series.

One of two self-portraits by Vincent van Gogh on display at the Orsay. The museum has 25 of the artist’s pieces, including one from his Starry Night series.


The naturalism movement created photo-realistic paintings in large-scale. Some were so lifelike, the brush strokes weren't visible until you were right up on the painting.

The naturalism movement created photo-realistic paintings in large-scale. Some were so lifelike, the brush strokes weren’t visible until you were right up on the painting.


One of Claude Monet's famous Water Lillies series at the Orsay.

One of Claude Monet’s famous Water Lillies series at the Orsay.


Monet's Poppy Fields is one of Viktoria's favorites.

Monet’s Poppy Fields is one of Viktoria’s favorites.


Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne was famous for his still-life works, often involving food. Many of his works are on display at the Orsay.

Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne was famous for his still-life works, often involving food. Many of his works are on display at the Orsay.


Edgar Degas was both a talented painter and sculptor. Degas's three-foot tall bronze sculpture of a young ballerina stands near this painting of young dancers. More than half of his works featured dancers.

Edgar Degas was both a talented painter and sculptor. Degas’s three-foot tall bronze sculpture of a young ballerina stands near this painting of young dancers. More than half of his works featured dancers.


More Photo of the Day posts from our January-March 2016 trip to Europe

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