Journée du patrimoine is an event organized throughout France the third weekend of September every year that celebrates heritage, a concept that the French love. Many important government buildings, private castles, and cultural institutions are opened to the public, and museums have free or reduced prices. Often of these places offer special guided tours and kids activities as well.
I just barely missed journée du patrimoine last year, arriving in France a few days afterwards. (Exactly a year ago now, wow!) A bit of a bummer because Cyril went to the Élysée Palace, the French equivalent of the White House, and ran into the French president! They had a nice 30 second chat:)
I love the concept of journée du patrimoine. This weekend of exploration, history, and learning is a huge cultural event! The government has a website where the information is centralized, although all the institutions come up with their own programs. It is better than each place having its own random open house during the year because I always seem to miss them when I am caught up in my life and not paying attention.
The only downside is that everyone else is also aware of the options and the lines can be very long, like at the Élysée Palace. To avoid this, some places have set up online reservations systems for visits. Cyril and I had originally wanted to tour France TV, but we would have had to grab a time slot two weeks beforehand. I had also tried to score places for a badass TWO hour escape game put on by RATP, the Parisian transit authority, but when they opened up the reservation site online, all of the tickets were taken in 2 seconds, and I was booted off the system. Oh well. It still turned out to be a great weekend.
On Saturday morning Cyril and I took a tour of the Crayères des Montquartiers, a system of caverns carved out of the limestone bedrock under the city of Issy-les-Moulineaux. In the past it has been used as a chalk quarry, beer brewery, mushroom farm, and WWII bomb shelter. Nowadays it is used to store wine and host events. The underground network is quite extensive but most of it was closed off to us so it wasn’t as cool as I imagined it would be.
In the afternoon we biked to Fondation Louis Vitton. They have a brand new gallery space designed by Frank Gehry. It was gorgeous! I know next to nothing about architecture and famous architects but I could recognize his style almost anywhere. He designed the WAM Art Museum at the University of Minnesota (my alma mater!) but is perhaps most famous for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
The galleries were closed but we were able to explore the building and go onto the roof.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a garden connected to the Foundation – I steered Cyril right into there as well. Cyril joked, ‘Wow, you are good, how did this happen? Somehow you lured me into yet another garden. Was this your plan all along?’ I am innocent, I swear!
The Jardin d’Acclimatation is over 150 years old, with groomed botanical gardens, a little farm with animals, birds either running around as they please or exhibited in the old ‘royal menagerie’ facilities, and a children’s carnival.
Sunday Cyril and I met friends to tour the Grand Rex, a famous French theater. With 2800 seats it is the largest cinema theater in Europe and its sumptuous decorations and starry sky ceiling give the illusion of being outside. Often it hosts the French premiers of Hollywood productions complete with the red carpet and celebrities. The Grand Rex also is a venue for concerts, comedians, movie marathons, and movie-orchestra combo performances. Cyril and I saw the Franglaises there last year and this tour made me itch to come back for another show!
Right after, we tried an additional side tour called Les Étoiles du Rex, a surprisingly fun and interactive attraction about cinema and the Rex, complete with special effects, a green screen, and an cheesy movie that featured us visitors. This was the only attraction that we paid for, although it was offered at a discounted price. All of the other places were free to visit.
Next destination: the Grand Palais, a huge glass exhibition hall built for the 1900 World’s Fair. But we settled on instead visiting the Petit Palais (a bit smaller) across the street after realizing that the Grand Palais really wasn’t open. Whoops! Still lovely- my favorite part was the interior courtyard garden.
Lastly we stopped at the open house at the Heliport of Paris, where we could see different kinds of helicopters, talk to pilots, and try a steering simulation game. At one point they landed a helicopter right next to the demo area. The wind the helicopter created right before landing was intense.
And then Cyril and I dropped dead from exhaustion and cultural overdose:p Being a tourist is draining!