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In Toronto, the CN Tower is always south but the Eiffel Tower in Paris…?

Although there are quite a few city museums that have free admission, the first Sunday of the month offers free access to major museums and monuments that usually require an entrance fee. It’s a good way to save money in expensive Paris, and France (well, Europe in general) is super at making culture and arts accessible to the general public. We’ve taken advantage of Paris’ generosity!

La Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine. Stand there (like those people) for a stupendous view of the Eiffel Tower (& Trocadero fountains). The cafe terrace is to the right.

Check out this website for a list of participating museums/monuments for free first Sundays of the month: http://en.parisinfo.com/guide-paris/money/free-admission-and-good-deals/guide/free-admission-and-good-deals-in-museums-and-monuments_free-on-1st-sunday-of-the-month-all-year-round

In July we visited the Quai Branly Museum, which showcases non-European art and cultures: Africa, Americas, Asia and Oceania.  In my opinion, it’s not for kids under 7 (much like Le Musee des Arts et Metiers) but for those mature enough to examine artifacts in display cases or listen to a tour guide. It does offer workshops to kids from 3 years old, where ethnic dolls or blankets can be made while older children can create African masks or Maori tattoos. The grounds are kid-friendly and recommended for exploration. Curvaceous walkways weave in between inventive grasses and garden plots and lead you to a modern building a bit reminiscent of the Pompidou in its toy-like architectural look (i.e., ‘What were they thinking?’ would say my hubby). And the Eiffel Tower looming overhead makes for great dining at their pricey cafes (outdoors or in) or a picnic on the grounds.

The view of the Musee de quai Branley, before the gardens grew to distract from the giant building blocks.

In September we visited the Musee d’Orsay, the train-station-turned-impressionist-art-museum alongside the Seine. The queue is always killer on these Sundays but little did we know that when having a stroller with young kids in tow, you are ushered into a different entrance way and voila! We are inside!! (I love the French for this special treatment.) I am thankful for bringing scribbling paper and pen because 20 minutes later, my kids moaned, “We’re bored!!!”

The Musee d’Orsay overlooking the river Seine: it houses impressionists and post-impressionists works of art.

A few things to note on this visit: 1] The glass floor displays a model of central Paris so the kids had a ball walking over it and finding familiar landmarks. [Plus there is an impressive, separate 3-D model of l’Opera Garnier.]   2] The building itself is remarkable; you can stand by a window and peer behind the arms of the giant clock hung on the station’s exterior.  3] If your kids read Baby Einstein’s “Baby Van Gogh, World of Colours” when toddlers, they may want to see the real Van Gogh artwork like my boy did! Quelle surprise!! (Manet’s “Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe,” is also mesmerizing, despite having a naked woman hang out with two fully-clothed men…Sheesh.)  4] Some of the statues were breathtaking, others realistically frightening. Take heed with the kiddies.

Inside the Musee d’Orsay where it’s light and spacious.

Starry Night Over the Rhone, by Vincent Van Gogh

Edouard Manet’s, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass.)

In the afternoon, we perused the Musee National du Moyen Age (a.k.a. ‘The Cluny Museum’ or ‘The National Museum of the Middle Ages.’) We spent 20 minutes in that place because my 3 year old was ‘musee-d’ out. This place does allow photography sans flash and my boy liked the stained-glass windows best. One comes here to see the ‘Lady & the Unicorn’ tapestries, which are hung in dark, peaceful rooms unappealing to my children. The museum gets bonus points for having a kids’ playground behind its property, adjacent to its medieval garden. Luckily I have been here before sans enfants and it’s not a busy museum. It’s a wonderful place to immerse yourself in the chivalry and antiquity of that time.

Experimental camera shot with stained-glass windows at Le Musee Cluny, Courtesy of my son.

Entry to the Court of Honour (Cour d’Honneur) which leads to the 15th century Hotel (=mansion) de Cluny, or Le Musee National du Moyen Age.

October’s free Sunday found us at Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (Museum of Architecture & French Monuments) in the Palais de Chaillot, where the Trocadero fountains entertain. Coming out of the Metro and standing at the mouth of the Palais de Chaillot gives you one of the best views EVER of the Eiffel Tower. Tip: Try to have lunch at the cafe; the food is average, a bit expensive, but it’s SO worth it for the view! When you first step into the museum, there is an instant WOW factor– after all, it houses French monuments like the portal of Chartres cathedral or an angel from the Notre Dame cathedral in Reims…it took us a while before we realized we were looking at plastercast reproductions (Me: “But if the cathedral doorway is here, what’s left at the actual cathedral?!!” Hmm, it says don’t touch but we can take photos…Tap-Tap-Tap. “Yep, these are fakes.”) The presentation is impressive and there were a few stations for kids to layer/build with 2-D or 3-D shapes. However, children are still expected to be quiet and NOT run around (as I was addressed by security regarding Clarisse’s bouncy nature). The next floor showcases modern and contemporary architecture from 1850s to today, with plenty of models and videos that can be touch-started by little fingers. Oh, and did I mention the great view of Gustav’s Tower?!! P.S. There is ANOTHER playpark to the west of the Trocadero fountains/ gardens. E-x-c-e-l-l-e-n-t Smithers… I like the Trocadero area!

The view from the cafe terrace of the Cite de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine. Courtesy of my hubby. We didn’t stay because it was too hot outside and my kids woudn’t have eaten here…

The entranceway into the first gallery. Cameras ready?! (Note: little girl running off in distance…)

Checking out the modern buildings in 3-D models and flatscreen.

November saw us doing double visits, this time we queued at the Musee de l’Orangerie to view Claude Monet’s eight ‘Water Lilies’ (‘Les Nympheas’) murals. Luckily Clarisse was showing good behaviour as Aunt Fiona from England was visiting us. Thank goodness because entering the 2 oval rooms where the murals are displayed was like entering a church. [Click here for a virtual view:  http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/homes/home_id24799_u1l2.htm   Visitors sat down on benches in the middle of the room and just gazed with deep reverence and revelation. William was already familiar with Monet’s work (thanks to Baby Einstein’s Seasons DVD) and watched the awe envelope the room. Clarisse stayed obediently in her stroller and whispered to us, “Why do I have to be quiet?” The lower floor has galleries of works including Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso. Yeah, not their best stuff on site. Take note: l’Orangerie is beside the Jardins des Tuileries (Gardens) by Place de la Concorde. Both interesting places to visit if the children can’t handle the peace in the art gallery (my kiddos lasted 15 minutes) and the former has a great playpark–a 5 minute walk away. Also, we didn’t get special treatment with the stroller (aaww!) but did notice a special queue arranged for pregnant women and the elderly. Perhaps they didn’t notice that I use the stroller as a walker (never mind the jelly belly)?!!

Visiting the Arc de Triomphe in the summer (first visit). Napoleon wanted an arch to honour his victories in battle. It is based on the ‘Arch of Titus’ in Rome, but this is much bigger.

After having a meal at the child-friendly burger joint Quick on the Champs-Elysees (up the avenue from Place de la Concorde), we headed towards the Arc de Triomphe, which is free on first Sundays only from November to March. And there’s an elevator for those who can’t climb the 230+ stairs!! (William was counting.) It’s a grand view of Paris and seeing the cars come at you from 12 streets and revolve around the Arch is crazy. And I mean the driving! For an interesting view from the rooftop of the Arc, click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_wyyfmCZuo where you can enjoy a panoramic view of Paris. Or for a punch of reality tv, go to YouTube and key in ‘Paris traffic’ or ‘Arc de Triomphe traffic’ and have a good laugh!

The elevator does NOT take you to the rooftop but to the attic, where there are displays. This one is the stirring sculpture taken from ‘La Marseillaise’ detail adorning the monument on its eastern side.

There’s nothing like going up a continuous flight of steps to tell you whether you’re in shape or not…NOT! But my boy insisted on taking the stairs in both directions.