Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Kate/Eloise Project Takes Paris

According to Eloise, it’s simple. The problem with most museums is that “you don’t get to do stuff”. In response, the Kate/Eloise Project spent most of last week doing cool stuff in the fabulous parks of Paris, oblivious to the millions of students marching across France for the right to retain their impressive 25% unemployment rate.

First on our list of favourite Paris destinations, and a winner with children every time, is the Jarden des Plantes. Founded in 1626 by Louis XIII’s physician as a medicinal herb garden, this huge public space located in the 5th District has enough things to keep a child happy and busy for a whole day.

On the pedagogical side, there are a collection of museums focussed on Natural History which despite being educational, Eloise loves. At the Gare d’Austerlitz end of the park is the funky “Jules Vern-esque” Palaeontology museum (Musee Paleontoloqique), where collections of skeletons of Siamese twin animals and brains in jars compete with the bones of brontosauruses, woolly mammoths and sabre tooth tigers for your attention. There's not much to do here, but the stuff is so weird and wonderful that it somehow charms everyone.

At the other end of the garden is the spectacular, newly renovated palace devoted to Zoology (Grande Galerie de l’Evolution) which has exciting, modern exhibits of every kind of animal and habitat. There is the latest hands-on technology for younger audiences but this being the same country where Chirac stormed out of an EU Summit because Frenchmen were speaking English , you can imagine that no concessions are made for little English speakers. Still, this does not seem to interfere with Eloise's affection for the place.

As well, there is a politically incorrect Zoo (Menagerie) (bored animals in small spaces) which we think is great, dating back to the time of the French Revolution. Residents include a newborn orangutan whose antics kept us entertained for a long time, a very old Seychelles tortoise named Kiki and an alligator someone left in a Paris hotel room.

If that weren’t enough, there is also a maze, a merry-go-round of endangered species, greenhouses of exotic plants, an alpine garden, an aquarium (never found it) and more.

For lunch, Eloise and I always eat at the bistrot L’Ecureuil Oie et Le Canard across the street from the Jussieu Entrance to the Jardin des Plantes. This restaurant which, features the specialties of Southwest France, is run by a fabulously grumpy, rugby-loving curmudgeon who renews ones faith in France’s ability to ignore any effect of globalisation. The food is traditional and excellent, the décor is funny and Eloise seems totally oblivious to the glaring gargoyle behind the bar. Lunch should run you about €25 per person. For a cheaper and faster alternative, there is a pretty good café in the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution.

Jardin des Plantes
Entrances on rur Geoffroy-St-Hilaire, rue Civier and rue Buffon
Metro: Jussieu or Gare d’Austerlitz
Tel: 01-40-79-30-00
Museums open Wednesday – Sunday from 10 – 5
Zoo open daily June – Aug from 9-6, Sept-May from 9-5

L’Ecureuil Oie et Le Canard
3 Rue Linne
75005 Paris
Tel: 01 43 31 61 18

Photo taken in the Musee Paleontologique by Eloise

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