07 Oct Paris: Montmartre, Orsay, and the Impressionists Walking Tour
Life is about more than work. And travel is about more than vacation.
There’s nothing wrong with taking vacations. We all need to rest and recharge from time to time. Is it necessary to travel half way across the world and drop serious cash to do so? No. If you truly need to relax, it’s probably best to stay local, keep the itinerary simple, and save your dough.
But if you want to see the world, well, I’d say that’s another thing all together.
We chose the name of this blog because, to us, travel is not really about taking a spendy vacation. It’s about seeing the world, expanding the mind, making connections. We’re talking about trips that help us grow as individuals and as global citizens. That’s intentional travel.
Being a Life-long Student
One simple way to make travel more intentional is to include an educational component. We believe it’s important to always try and better understand this world we live in. Interacting with people from other cultures, learning about their history, witnessing their daily life and traditions, seeking to understand their beliefs – all of these are what make travel rich, rewarding, and mutually beneficial.
When Jedd and I travel to new places, we try to find ways to continue our self-education. Typically, we’re on a budget so we typically stick to things that are free. On our past trip to Paris, however, we had the good fortune to participate in a complimentary guided tour thanks to a partnership between the Discover Walks tour company and travel bloggers.
Discover Walks coordinates walking tours led by locals in Paris, Prague, Barcelona, London, San Francisco, Lisbon, Rome, and St. Petersburg. Many of the generic daily tours are “tips only,” so you just show up at the designated meeting point, follow the native guide on foot to various tourist attractions, and pay whatever you want at the end.
Montmartre, Orsay, and the Impressionists Walking Tour
The tour we did, themed around the Impressionist artists, has a cost of 40 euros per adult, which includes a guided walking tour around Montmartre as well as a pass to the Musée d’Orsay that can be used on your own time.
We met our guide- a young Parisian woman who is also a fashion consultant at Dress Like A Parisian– and about six other people at the Metro Station facing the famous Moulin Rouge. From there, we wandered slowly up Montmartre, which sits on a hill, and stopped at various sites that were frequented by the Impressionist artists.
I had been to Montmartre a couple times before but had never seen this side of it. We saw a number of other tour groups on the way but we almost completely avoided all of the tourist traps that the area is so often known for. We ended up in a quiet park behind the famous Sacré Coeur basilica where we could then explore the “tourist traps” on our own if we wanted.
We made use of our museum tickets firs thing in the morning on the following day. The Musée d’Orsay is one we would have gone to regardless of the passes included with our tour because it’s my favorite art museum in Paris.
The architecture of the museum is unique in that it was formerly a train station. High ceilings and abundance of light give it an open-air feel. The exhibits feature a collection of modern art, sculpture, decorative arts, and of course, the Impressionists.
Some of the most famous pieces in the museum include Starry Night and Self Portrait by Van Gogh, as well as works by Degas, Monet, Manet, Picasso, Lautrec, Renoir, Cézanne, and more.
The Impressionists: What We Learned
Some of the interesting things we learned from our tour was that Montmartre used to be a small farming community outside the city of Paris. It was annexed to Paris in 1863 to make Paris seem more populated and more charming, but the residents there continued to call themselves Montmartois rather than Parisians.
The reason Montmartre became a hub for artists starting in the 1870s was because rent was much cheaper and it had a more natural, country feel than inside the big city. The poor, starving artist was very much a reality and we saw several of the low-income dwellings in Montmartre that used to house collectives of now-famous artists.
Impressionism refers to a painting style that gives an “impression” more than an accurate or detailed depiction of reality. Often the image is made up of dots or thick brush strokes.
The movement started with Claude Monet’s painting, “Impression of the Rising Sun,” which was done in a style completely foreign and unorthodox at the time. Critics called him “just an impressionist,” which was meant as an insult but in fact, was exactly what Monet was aiming for.
At the time, paint tubes were a recent development, meaning oil paints would no longer dry up when taken outdoors. So this period was the first time that painters were able to paint outside. This is why light and nature became an integral piece of the impressionist movement.
Our tour also included stories of Toulouse Lautrec’s escapades with absinthe at the Moulin Rouge, of the touching commitment Vincent Van Gogh’s brother expressed by supporting him his whole life despite never seeing success, the shock of Picasso’s switch to cubism, and more.
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