Paris: Unusual Museums and Day Trips?

Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 01:19 PM
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Paris: Unusual Museums and Day Trips?

Hello everyone!

For Christmas my husband surprised me with the Fodor's Paris 2011 guidebook and a promise to finally take me to Paris this year. This will be the first time in France for both of us, and the first time out of North America for me, so we're very excited. We're both in our 30s, childless, married 8 years but perpetual honeymooners, and share a love for simple pleasures and off-the-beaten-path moments when traveling. We each speak a little French, and have been brushing up on it in preparation for this trip. I'm very experienced with trip planning (never use an agency or anything like that), but this is my first international trip, and I know part of good trip planning is asking questions of people who have been there.

We're going in mid-April this year, for 11 days including travel days, with Wednesday-Wednesday on the ground in Paris (leaving Monday, arriving in Paris Tuesday, flying home the next Thursday). We've booked a little apartment in the 7th, near Rue Cler and the southern end of Champs de Mars, that we're very excited about. We're hoping for some sunshine while we're there, but as Pacific Northwest natives that have been transplanted to sunny Southern California, we wouldn't mind a bit of rain and mist too, heh.

I'm working my way cover-to-cover through the Fodor's Paris 2011 guide, trying to get the map of the city firmly ingrained in my head (I do this for every trip) and starting our must-see list. Like I mentioned before, my husband and I like off-the-beaten-track things wherever possible, and no matter where we travel try to act and appear as non-touristy as possible. So while I'm sure we'll go to Notre Dame and spend at least a little bit of time at the Louvre, we may never get closer to the Eiffel Tower than a picnic in the Champs de Mars, for instance.

Reading through the 2011 guide, it seems like a lot of column space is devoted to the various art museums in Paris. Neither my husband nor I are particularly interested in art, and I find all of the museum descriptions running together in my head. The museums that have jumped out at me so far are Les Egouts in the 7th, the Crypt Archeologique outside Notre Dame, and Musee de la Marine near the Champs-Elysees -- quirky, smaller museums not devoted to art.

So my first question is if any of you can recommend other non-art-focused museums in Paris? My husband and I have a passing interest in a great many things, but no deep interest or knowledge of any particular topic -- archaeology, natural history, medieval and renaissance history, literature, and mythology are all things we could happily spend an afternoon learning more about, but we don't have an existing knowledge base that makes any particular site a "must see" for us. We would like to devote our museum time to Paris/France focused exhibits, rather than east Asian or African exhibits, for instance, but other than that we're very open to suggestions.

My second question is for similarly quirky or unusual day-trips from Paris. We're of the "slow travel" mindset, but with 8 full days to explore Paris, I think getting out of the city once or twice could be nice. I'm particularly looking for things that we could do on a whim, buy a train ticket and go, rather than having to plan for before we leave home.

And lastly, I'm very open to any suggestions you more experienced travelers have for us. Things you'd wish you'd known before your first trip to Paris, little places you discovered only on your third or fourth visit, favorite non-touristy shops, good French phrases we're unlikely to learn in an audiobook, anything.

Looking forward to hearing the wisdom of the community,
Samantha/gc
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 01:42 PM
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I don't know about quirky, the marine museum isn't quirky, although I like it a lot. I also don't know how far from art you must go, as the decorative art museum is fantastic, next to the Louvre. The fashion and advertising museums are right in there, also, you get all three on one ticket, as I recall.

There are plenty, ifyou go to the Paris tourist info website, they probably list them all. There is the wine museum, several famous authors homes (eg, Balzac or Victor Hugo), and of course the anthropological museums, the usual stuff big cities have (acquarium, natural history, although I don't consider the ones in Paris top of the heap).

ONe of the best is the military museum at Les Invalides. And of course there are monuments, not museums (like the Pantheon) and the national archives, things like that. The Music Museum out on the edge is also fantastic, but I love music and musicology.

None of those are quirky, though. How about the Postal Museum, it is small (not quirky).

quirky enough for you? The erotic museum up near Montmartre http://www.musee-erotisme.com/

There are lots of museums not devoted to fine arts, in short, but I don't think of mot of them as quirky.

YOu can go most anywhere on a whim in that you don't need reservations for most things, as long as you know the days something is closed.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 01:42 PM
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8 days is not too long to just spend in Paris.
For a wonderful bit of history and archaeology, go to the basement of the Louvre with a guidebook and see how the chateau was built.
In spite of not caring for art, you might find the Carnavalet Museum enjoyable since it depicts the history of Paris in art--looking at the paintings knowing that the artist painted it as it was when he painted it. I particularly enjoy the French Revolution floor and the "cartoons" depicting the Revolution, even though I can't read all the French. The art is so charming--and to think of it being done at that time.
The Musee Cluny--medieval art--just wonderful.
Personally I never get enough of the Impressionists and the art deco furniture and such at the Musee Orsay--or just to marvel at a space of a train station converted to an incredible museum.
I love the Passages. I LOVE the markets.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 01:59 PM
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Check out Conflans - at the junction of the Seine and Oise Rivers - this is barge central where often hundreds of commrcial barges are tied up - there is also a neat museum devoted to barges and commercial water travel in France. A short enough RER ride - well for something really different.

also Arts-et-Metiers museum is a one of a kind - old scientific instruments, a Focault pendulum - model trains all lovingly set in an old church.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 02:01 PM
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I belong to a web forum that you may find useful in getting ideas for off the beaten path things to do in Paris. Check out www.anyportinastorm.proboards.com. Check in the Paris forum and you'll find lots of quirky and unusual things that might interest you, I'm quite sure of it. If you check in the France forum you'll get lots of ideas for unusual day trips outside Paris. Give that a try and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 02:12 PM
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There is the Musee de Montmartre....interesting, on rue Cortot.
Good guide books-such as Fodor's Paris--will have interesting museums
by arrondissements...they have websites too!
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 02:14 PM
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Thanks for the replies, everyone!

I suppose "quirky" is the wrong word for it. I'm not necessarily looking for counter-culture or the intentionally-odd, just things the average tourist wouldn't necessarily think of when they think "Paris".

The Arts-et-Metiers sounds right up our alley, for instance. Definitely adding it to our list. The Carnavalet sounds like the way I'd prefer to experience art, and the basement of the Louvre also sounds interesting. Great suggestions all around, and I'll definitely check out anyportinastorm, FrenchMystique.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 02:34 PM
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If it is really quirky you are looking forward to there is the Museum of Erotic Art http://www.musee-erotisme.com/ in Montmartre. Seven stories of erotic art. (I'm told, as my dear wife said we didn't have the time -- plus there was the headache.)
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 02:40 PM
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Hi.
I don't post often, but I might have a suggestion that would appeal to you. The Musee de l'Assistance Publique is a museum of the history of Parisian hospitals, and really, attitudes toward, and practices of, medicine from medieval times onward. Not many people visit it, so it probably won't be crowded, and I found it really interesting (both times!). It's not large, so doesn't take too long, it is on the Paris Museum Pass, and there's an also-interesting little herb garden in the courtyard that has herbs that have been used medicinally for many years. There are paintings, documents, instruments, and just lots of interesting displays.

It's very easy to visit, being in the 5th, on the Quai de la Tournelle right opposite Ile St. Louis.

So if it sounds interesting, give it a try.

Sandy
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 02:42 PM
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I second the recommendations for Arts-et-Metiers and Carnavalet. The original part of Arts-et-Metiers is a former church -- they used to have an airplane hanging in the nave. It is a huge place that has stuff you'll not see elsewhere. I don't think of Carnavalet as an art museum -- the art there is used to illustrate the history of the city. I love the collection of the old shop signs.

I'd also suggest you look at the Curie Museum which is the old laboratory of Marie Curie at the Radium Institute. You can see the room she worked in -- and how radioactive it still is.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 03:05 PM
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How about the Lock and Key Museum in the Marais. That's pretty off-beat!

I've been to the Postal Museum which I thought was interesting.

How about period houses such as the Jacquemart-Andre, Museum of Romantic Life, Cognacq-Jay, Nissim de Camondo, and Josephine Bonaparte's house (outside Paris).

Also recommend:
Jewish Museum
Fragonard Museum
Doll Museum
Conciergerie
Deportation Memorial
Sewers
Gobelin Tapestry workshop
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 03:13 PM
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All great suggestions. I'll add

Musée de la Monnaie
http://www.monnaiedeparis.fr/musee/

and a visit to Palais Garnier
http://www.operadeparis.fr/cns11/liv...er.php?lang=en
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 03:24 PM
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If you think you will visit the Louvre but you're not that knowledgeable or even interested in fine art, you might want to watch "The Rape of Europa," which includes a fairly interesting segment on the the Louvre during WWII.

http://www.rapeofeuropa.com/theTrailer.aspx

I visited once with a friend who is "Not an art person," according to him. He watched this doc with me a few years after we had been in Paris and said, "Oh, I wish I had seen that before I went to the Louvre."
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 03:36 PM
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You might enjoy a phtography exhibit. Here's some info-

http://www.betterparisphotos.com/paris-blog/events

An outstanding book for day trips using public transportation is An Hour From Paris-

http://www.annabelsimms.com/
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 03:46 PM
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I forgot to add-

On the annabelsimms.com site, be sure to read some of her articles on the "other publications" link. Also, her "useful links" may help with planning and enjoying your visit.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 04:33 PM
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Hold your nose and tour Le Musée des Égouts de Paris (Paris Sewer Museum) in a working sewer on the Left Bank. Just below the riverbank, in fact, and no, it is not terribly pungent. Sewers have long connected the heart of Paris to its river and these days you might want to hum a tune from Les Miserables which rambled underground through sludge and insurrection. The displays demonstrate the ingenuity of low-tech hygiene. Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter, an hour later in summer, but closed Thursday and Friday. Face 93, Quai d'Orsay 75007; the entrance is near Pont d'Alma. Here's my only French pun: "Chacun a son egout."
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 05:45 PM
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Not necessarily quirky or even out of the way but the Cluny Museum with its "Lady and the Unicorn" tapestries and its medieval artifacts and the Rodin Museum with its lovely sculpture garden are both worth a visit. I guess I would caution you to see some of the sites that appeal to visitors to Paris. Don't miss St. Chapelle. Take a moonlight cruise on the Seine - you see so much of Paris from a different angle and it is very romantic to see the lights of Paris.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 08:00 PM
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We loved the small, intimate museum at the Pasteur Institut. Louis Pasteur lived in an apt there the last 7 years of his life. Museum includes a background of his major scientific accomplshments, his apt and crypt. Within walking distance of Pasteur Metro stop.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 08:18 PM
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Museums aside, take a morning's stroll through the Pere LaChaise cemetery. Fascinating. Tip - start your trip from the Gambetta metro station, not the Pere LaChaise. That way, it's downhill, and you'll miss a lot of the crowd. If you want to devote the rest of your day to Death, go over to the Catacombs afterwards. Look around for this month's National Geographic magazine, FWIW - I saw a copy at a doctor's office yesterday, and it has an article on 'les cats'.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2011, 08:38 PM
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http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/20...ound/shea-text

Here's a link to the Nat'l Geo article.
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