When I think of Paris, my first thought is Musée d'Orsay. This museum resides in a renovated train station (the before and after pic is above), and the large trasluscent clock in the cafe section of the museum is popular with photographers, amateurs and professionals alike.
I am a huge fan of the Impressionist painters, and Orsay houses an impressive collection. To see these huge canvases in person is breathtaking, and to know a great many of the artists lived and created those works in Paris makes it all the more special.
When you walk in the museum, it appears that it has its own personal sky- the top of the museum so far away, and light enters through milky glass. Sculptures line the main walkway in and the galleries are on the left and right and via stairwells on either side. I am a big fan of most art museums, and have been to some of the biggest and the best. But Orsay is by far the most beautiful museum structure of them all.
The first time I went to Paris was in May of 2000. I was fortunate enough to get to go back that same year at Christmastime, spending the holiday there. Many people tried to warn me that Paris would be cold and dreary during Christmas. They couldn't have been more wrong. It was cold, but nothing near dreary. White twinkling lights draped everything in sight, the most ornate and gorgeous window decorations filled the storefronts--I spent hours trying to take them all in. The Eiffel Tower was lit up with special colors of the season and exploded into starry flashes at midnight each night in celebration.
But, my favorite thing of all, was when I went to Orsay on that trip. It was cold and snowy that night, and I got off the subway and walked briskly to the entrance. I was dreading the long line that was always outside of the museum. It was about 5pm, but was dark early. The museum was open late that evening.
When I got to the museum, there was no line. I walked right in, and thought for a moment that I had read the hours wrong in the brochure I had gotten from the hotel. But there, at the ticket counter, was a woman waiting to see my museum pass. I asked her if the weather was keeping everyone away. She told me that no, during the week of Christmas, the museum was pretty quiet.
I don't know if that is still the case, but that night, I had the museum completely to myself. I think there were one or two others in the museum, but we never really crossed paths. Now, you have to be an art freak like me to understand this, but to be able to take your time, to stand so close to these paintings, to see the actual brushstrokes, to hear the clip clop of your shoes echoing through the whole building...it was magical.
I know people rave about the Louvre, but Orsay, in my opinion, is the better museum. If you go to Paris, tell Orsay hello for me.