Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle

The Arboretum in the Garden of Plants, Paris 
At last, a suggestion from a family member on something to visit while we are in Paris. Well worth the wait too!

The National Natural History Museum in Paris is considered to be one of the "greatest conservatories in the field of natural science" - The Michelin Green Guide. 

Amazing tin foil dragon in the Garden of Plants,
the Gallery of Evolution behind
The "museum" is comprised of many parts; for instance The Great Gallery of Evolution, Gallery of Endangered or Extinct Species, the Menagerie, the Gallery of Mineralogy and Geology, The Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy, the Paris Zoo, The Museum of Man and others.

A beautiful bird at the Menagerie
Some of these museums are located in the Mouffetard quarter in the Latin Quarter so there is plenty to see around here. It's easy to access too, located very near the Gare d'Austerlitz.

One of the cool buildings at the Menagerie
I have brought both of my daughters, on different trips, to the Menagerie. I've read everything from horrific to sad reviews of this place. The horrific review was from the Let's Go guide which, frankly, is written by and for young adults looking for young adult fun, not from parents' or kids' perspective. However, we really enjoyed it. Although it's Zoo-like, it is not a modern zoo. The animals are housed in older buildings, which in themselves are cool. I have always felt the animals were well taken care of and provided an excellent opportunity for kids to learn about animals. I've always wondered if this was where Madeleine said "Poo-poo" to the tiger, but perhaps it was at the Paris Zoo located near the Bois de Vincennes.

The Aviary at the Menagerie
I visited the Museum of Man when I was 10 and thought it was fantastic. Unfortunately, the Zoo and Museum of Man are among a few of the museums that are closed for renovation while we'll be there. So the Zoo goes on my list for next time!

Flamingos in Paris!
Click here for more information about these museums.

And for more information about planning your trip to Paris, visit my web site ParisMadeSimple!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Bags are Calling

No, not the one's under my eyes, but the one's I strap onto my back and wheel behind me as I take to the skies for another French adventure. Somehow, I never feel so empowered as when I'm walking through the airport, especially with a backpack on. Happy memories of taking off into the unknown with my L.L. Bean frame pack and my Rick Steves' guide book and my best friend and really, not many clues between us!

No, the travel part is no longer fun. I remember the days when my mother dressed me up in a nice suit to make the trip to Europe, the meals I picked from a fancy menu weren't bad and the Stewardesses didn't look over-worked and under-paid. They were glad to bring me head phones and another soda. They didn't look at me as just another pain-in-the-butt child.

Despite the numerous complications of modern travel, I still love it. I plan ahead for the food, don't really plan on getting sleep and don't worry too much if I'm called aside to get patted down - I'm just not that proud. I've had babies and the idea that someone might feel my boobs while looking for a weapon just doesn't freak me out as much as the idea that they might not even look. I'm perfectly willing to explain to my children why a stranger should not touch them but that a security guard at the airport may have to and that there is a difference. They're just doing their job and I'm just another stranger passing on by.

I feel like I'm late, like I should have been working on this packing list months ago. Only 7 weeks more and I'd better have everything worked out. Of course, I'm not just packing for myself, so there's a bit more than just me making sure I have enough underwear.

So, when I go for two weeks to the most chic city on earth, what do I pack? Ok, I admit that when I was only slightly younger, I poured across the internet to see WHAT they were wearing. I do believe in "blending in;" it's the best security tip I have. Plus, I just like to be "in fashion." But I've now matured enough so that if my orthotics don't fit into the 5 inch heals and my Chanel suit hasn't made it to the dry cleaners lately, I'm OK with that.

In fact, I am freed of that for two reasons:  (1) I'm getting more, ah-hem, mature, and (2) the last two trips have revealed a whole new generation of French women who feel OK wearing comfortable shoes and jeans! So while there are still plenty of the chic, beautiful people crowding chic bars and strutting down boulevards, I still fit in with the rest!

So the picture is of the luggage I use for the two weeks. A rolling suit case that's actually small enough to be considered carry-on in a pinch, a great L.L. Bean backpack that is very comfortable and leaves my hands free, a shoulder bag (which can be packed away,) and a small backpack for days in the city (it will be packed away in the suitcase.) These are things I can easily handle myself and can even carry up/down escalators and stairs in the Metro. Never mind what the airlines will let you bring. Be sure YOU can handle the bags before and after the airport!

Stay tuned for the actual packing list!

For more about preparing for a trip to Paris, visit ParisMadeSimple!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fête des Mères

Today may be Mother's Day in the States, but France celebrates Fête des Mères on May 27th this year. It's celebrated on the last Sunday in May (unless Pentecost falls then, when Mother's Day moves to the first Sunday in June.) This is a day that was initiated by the little Emperor - Napoleon - and made official by France in 1950.

With everyone so busy today and my love of all things French, maybe I'll declare the 27th as a 2nd Mother's Day chez moi!

Happy Mother's Day to all my fellow Francophiles!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Election Day in France

Today is a big election between Sarkozy and Hollande. There's a lot riding on this election, not just for the French but for the entire Euro zone. Will the French decide to stay conservative or go socialist again? Hollande is in favor of winning, but we shall see.

Either way, I'll be watching the Euro as I need to convert some cash to pay for our apartment and would like to do it when the Euro is low. Today it's at $1.30 per Euro. That's already pretty good, but hoping for lower.

The transition of French Presidents is pretty quick - same month, no long lame duck session as we have in the United States. So we're hoping things will have settled down by the time we get there in July!

Good luck to both candidates!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Paris Guide Review - RICK STEVES' PARIS 2012

First off, I have to say that any time I read a guide by Rick Steves (and friends,) I feel like I've come home and am snuggling comfortably on the couch for some a good trip. This was true immediately when I received this guide, perhaps because I know Paris pretty well and love the city more than almost anything.

I also appreciate his attitude about being a "temporary local." This is how I like to travel, perhaps somewhat because that's how I learned to travel from my Aunt when I was young and from Rick Steves during my trek across Europe in 1986 - see my post: Travelling Through Europe with Rick Steves - 1986 Style.

Touring Paris, even if just while reading this guide, will be exciting, entertaining, and fun. Rick Steves' descriptions and tours bring Paris alive. For me, it just whets my appetite and tempts me to fly out of here TODAY!


  • The descriptions of sites are fantastic. Having been there many times, I still learned a lot and found many places that I need to work into my bucket list. His hints about lines and which passes are useful are great!
  • The neighborhood tours, complete with maps of the route and descriptions of the suggested stops, make them easy to follow. It's a great way to save money and avoid getting trapped on a touristy tour.
  • The guide is small but packs SO much information. It's easy to store in a backpack and not look like a dork when you whip it out to see what's next.
  • The guide briefly covers all the details needed for preparing for the trip, including wonderful cultural clues. I especially loved that he included my most important tip: Up your level of manners - never forget to say "please" and "thank you" EVERYWHERE! Believe me, even if that's the only French you learn, you'll get a long way with those two phrases used generously.
  • He did a good job finding a variety of places you'll love to stay. Although my list of places to find apartments is different, I agreed with his assessment that if you stay in Paris more than a week or are traveling as a family or group, get a place of your own instead of a hotel room.
  • As usual, I found his attitude respectful and reverent. He shined with the historical backgrounds presented and his cultural sensitivity.  
What I didn't like:
  • Although the guide covered a wide variety of sites and museums, he didn't really get off the beaten path. He covered the things most people know or have heard about. I will review another guide that really has me wanting to step "out of bounds" a bit more.
  • The map of the city was poor, concentrating only on the central arrondissements, even though he covered some areas outside of these neighborhoods. There are plenty of great maps out there, but it's nice not to have to juggle more than one book at a time. 
Overall, I highly recommend RICK STEVES' PARIS 2012. My general attitude is to read many guide books BEFORE you go and only take one or two. This should definitely be on your list to slide in your day pack!

For more information about planning a trip to Paris, visit ParisMadeSimple.