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Culture

Tourists shut out of museums, but Paris retains its charm

© Nicole Trian | Tourists outside the Musée d'Orsay in Paris on Sunday 5 June which closed its doors after flooding threatened its art collection

Text by Nicole TRIAN

Latest update : 2016-06-05

It’s a day when tourists would ordinarily be found wending their way round the forecourt of the Orsay Museum awaiting entry to one of Paris’s landmark galleries, but this Sunday their absence told a different story.

For days Paris has been hit by marathon rains and an overflowing River Seine, forcing the Louvre and the Orsay Museum to shut their doors in a race to move art treasures out of basements to higher ground as a precautionary measure.

The few tourists who made their way to the glass doors of the Orsay on Sunday were quickly met with disappointment.

“We didn’t hear about the floods before we arrived,” said Johanna, 27, who was visiting from Munich with her mother. “We leave tomorrow so we’re not going to see the museum.”

One young woman asks why she can’t get in for free. “It’s Sunday, it’s supposed to be free entry, isn’t it?”

She clearly hasn’t read any of the multiple notices in several languages posted on the Orsay’s doors, informing the public that due to floods it’s shut up shop.

At this time of year Paris is normally an easy sell. Postcard images lure people from around the world, making the French capital one of the world’s most visited cities. The Louvre and Orsay museums alone see a combined 12.5 million visitors a year.

“The whole ambience of the city is different,” said Cristina, a 23-year-old New Yorker on her third visit to Paris. “It’s pretty crazy to see the Seine now. I knew the river was rising but I was shocked to see how high it is.”

She and her boyfriend, Ray, had planned to take a romantic stroll along the Seine, a walk they now hope to take on their next trip.

“It will have to wait for Paris – Part II,” said Ray, shrugging off the inconvenience with a laugh.

Officials estimate flood damage as waters start to recede

Along the Seine, visitors in raincoats gathered to take pictures of the muddy floodwaters.

"We were going to go the Louvre today, and we were going to go on the boat cruise for dinner tonight -- and they were both cancelled," said American tourist Elle Yarborough, an English teacher from Boston.

"It's too bad, but we're still happy to be in Paris."

A healthy dose of optimism

The downpours have added to the gloom caused by months of protests and strikes over a labour reform bill that have continued in the run-up to the June 10 kick-off of the Euro 2016 football championships.

Although the River Seine has begun to recede after reaching its highest levels in three decades, peaking at 6.10 metres (20 feet) in the early hours of Saturday, authorities have warned it will take up to 10 days for the river to return to normal.

Nationwide losses from the floods, in which 18 people have been killed across Europe, could reach more than 600 million euros ($680 million), according to Bernard Spitz of France's association of insurers.

Yet despite all the chaos, you’d expect most tourists to be brimming with frustration over travel plans gone awry.

Like Mona from Missouri. She was hoping to spend the afternoon wandering round the renowned 19th and 20th century collections at the Orsay.

She nonetheless accepts the situation with a healthy dose of optimism.

“In Missouri we have tornados,” said Mona. “Honestly, I feel worse about the boat owners. C’est la vie. There’s plenty to do in Paris, you just have to think outside the box – take a ride on the metro, sit in a café. Paris always leaves you wanting more. Musée d’Orsay is on my list for next time.”

The Orsay Museum and the Louvre are expected to reopen Tuesday.

Date created : 2016-06-05

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