9 of the Most Unusual Museums in Paris

Items from the Musée d’Histoire de la Médecine (Museum of the History of Medicine)
Items from the Musée d’Histoire de la Médecine (Museum of the History of Medicine)
Emma Jacobs

Paris has been home to collectors and collections for centuries, and they've left behind a landscape of small museums. The author Edmund White once wrote that “Paris has countless small and bizarre museums, little corners where someone's bid for immortality goes unnoticed.” Occupying every sort of building, from former wine warehouses to 16th century cellars, the subjects of these small museums range from medical instruments to fairground automatons. Emma Jacobs, author of the new book The Little(r) Museums of Paris takes us through some of the most unusual offerings.

1. Musée d’Histoire de la Médecine (Museum of The History of Medicine)

The displays in this gallery, tracing the history of medicine from antiquity to the 20th century, have plenty of grim handsaws, drills, and other unnerving medical instruments. Some items, by contrast, are charming, like the painted pharmacy jars from Renaissance Italy. The museum also has an intricate wooden anatomical model that Napoleon Bonaparte ordered for Paris’s medical school during his Italian campaign, as well as the tools used for his autopsy.

2. Musée de la Préfecture de Police (Police Prefecture Museum)

This admittedly grisly museum testifies to the long appeal of true crime stories in France. Gustave Macé, a 19th-century police chief, assembled cabinets of murder weapons and evidence in his office while writing a memoir he called My Criminal Museum. The objects have since entered this official museum, occupying a floor of an actual police prefecture on the Left Bank. Besides famous assassins, thieves, and spies, the museum also introduces famous figures in the history of Paris law enforcement, like Macé and forensics pioneer Alphonse Bertillon.

3. Musée des Arts Forains (Museum of Fairground Arts)

Cavernous warehouses built as part of Paris’s wholesale wine market have been made over as a picturesque fairground. Vines twine around mermaids and chandeliers in the courtyard, while inside, carousels, arcade games, and other finds are artfully arranged and recombined. Figures rescued from a shuttered wax museum, including those of Louis Pasteur, painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Thomas Edison, wear colorful costumes from a long-lived Paris theater, the Folies Bergère. Both children and adult visitors to the museum can play the vintage arcade games and ride the carousels.

4. Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting And Nature)

Full of taxidermized trophies, the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature could very easily feel dated, like an old hunting lodge, but instead it is a world of humor and whimsy. The design—with its feathered bronze banisters, and animals at large like a fox curled up on an upholstered chair—makes the museum feel both charming and contemporary, with modern works of art also integrated seamlessly into the décor.

5. Phono Museum

Items from the Phono Museum
Items from the Phono Museum
Emma Jacobs

The Phono Museum has a collection of sound recording technology dating back as far as the 1880 cabinet-size mechanical music box from Switzerland, and spanning everything from 1930s phonographs to a record player from the studios of Radio France. Unlike many more traditional museums, the Phono Museum still regularly turns on vintage machines playing records or even antique wax cylinder recordings for visitors.

6. Musée de la Magie and Musée des Automates (Museum of Magic And the Museum of Automatons)

A visit to the Musée de la Magie begins with a performance of basic illusions by one of the resident magicians, followed by a tour (also in French) of the collection of magical objects displayed in atmospheric, 16th-century vaulted cellars. Just adjacent, more than 100 mechanical figures come to life with the push of a button, waving wands, playing instruments, or swinging on swings in the automaton collection. Most date to the 18th and 19th centuries, the golden age of the form, when automatons proliferated in fairgrounds, departments stores, and even on stage.

7. Musée Édith Piaf (Edith Piaf Museum)

Items from the Musée Édith Piaf (Edith Piaf Museum)
Items from the Musée Édith Piaf (Edith Piaf Museum)
Emma Jacobs

In this pint-sized museum, two rooms are packed tightly with armchairs and clothing mannequins, and even more mementos on the walls: photographs, letters, paintings, and record covers. Even Édith Piaf's collection of decorative ceramic plates are arranged on hooks. A teddy bear precisely Piaf’s diminutive height (4 feet 8 inches) occupies an armchair in the corner.

Piaf lived here for only a year in the early 1930s, when she was 18 and still singing for change around Paris. Piaf devotee Bernard Marchois, who met Piaf as a teenager, has lived discreetly in half the apartment, opening the rooms dedicated to Piaf three afternoons a week since the mid-1970s. Reservations must be made in advance by phone.

8. Maison d’Auguste Comte (Home of Auguste Comte)

Comte, a 19th-century French philosopher, has only become more obscure in recent decades. His apartment has undergone a natural aging—paint peeling, creaking floors—that enhances the feeling of walking around a hushed shrine to a forgotten hero. This seems appropriate for a man who created an actual, though little-known, religion. Called “positivism,” or the “Religion of Humanity,” this belief system revolved around Comte’s optimism for organizing a better society based on science and reason. Comte’s disciples kept his apartment and carefully reconstructed the furnishings in the 1960s based on a detailed inventory. Scientific instruments sit on mantelpieces and in cabinets. His utensils even have their own glass vitrine in the kitchen.

9. Musée des Plans-Reliefs (Museum of Relief-Maps)

A model from the Musée des Plans-Reliefs (Museum of Relief-Maps)
A model from the Musée des Plans-Reliefs (Museum of Relief-Maps)
Emma Jacobs

Louis XIV (1638-1715) had 144 maps made to plan his military campaigns, which aimed to secure France’s borders against its rivals, the Habsburgs and Protestants. This 3D atlas gave the king and his generals aerial views of France that may seem banal in the era of Google Earth, but that no one in the 17th century would ever have seen. During these wars, towns traded hands between the great powers, and so the same model could be used to plan fortifications against a siege and later to reconquer the same terrain. The king kept the models under lock and key in the Louvre’s Grand Gallery, admitting only select visitors to view the sensitive material. His relief maps and those built by future French rulers now occupy an upper corner of the Musée de l’Armée in Les Invalides.

Adapted with permission from THE LITTLE(R) MUSEUMS OF PARIS © 2019 by Emma Jacobs, Running Press

This Is the Most Expensive City in the World

f9photos/iStock via Getty Images
f9photos/iStock via Getty Images

Experiencing all that a new city has to offer is a lot easier when you can afford it. Whether or not going out to eat or hailing a cab will put a dent in your travel budget (or totally obliterate it) usually depends on what part of the world you're in. If you're looking to save money abroad, think twice before going to Hong Kong—that's the most expensive city in the world, as MarketWatch reported in July.

To determine the most expensive city to live in on Earth, the human resource consulting firm Mercer looked at a number of factors, including the costs of housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment. Its annual Cost of Living Survey placed Hong Kong in the No. 1 slot. This is the second year in a row the survey named the Southeast Asian city-state the world's costliest place for expats.

Hong Kong's ranking reflects a wider trend seen throughout the region. Of the top 10 most expensive cities, seven of them are located in Asia. That includes Tokyo at No. 2 and Singapore at No. 3. The only non-Asian cities that rank in the top 10 are Zürich in Switzerland, Ashgabat in Turkmenistan, and New York City.

Fortunately, the world's priciest cities aren't the only places worth living abroad. There are plenty of spots around the globe that offer great food, culture, and public amenities at affordable prices. If you're itching to move somewhere new, here are some cheap destinations to consider.

[h/t MarketWatch]

You Can Now Go Inside Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 Control Room

bionerd23, YouTube
bionerd23, YouTube

The eerie interior of Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 control room, the site of the devastating nuclear explosion in 1986, is now officially open to tourists—as long as they’re willing to don full hazmat suits before entering and undergo two radiology tests upon exiting.

Gizmodo reports that the structure, which emits 40,000 times more radiation than any natural environment, is encased in what's called the New Safe Confinement, a 32,000-ton structure that seals the space off from its surroundings. All things considered, it seems like a jolly jaunt to these ruins might be ill-advised—but radiology tests are par for the course when it comes to visiting the exclusion zone, and even tour guides have said that they don’t usually reach dangerous levels of radiation on an annual basis.

Though souvenir opportunists have made off with most of the plastic switches on the machinery, the control room still contains original diagrams and wiring; and, according to Ruptly, it’s also been covered with an adhesive substance that prevents dust from forming.

The newly public attraction is part of a concerted effort by the Ukrainian government to rebrand what has historically been considered an internationally shameful chapter of the country's past.

“We must give this territory of Chernobyl a new life,” Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky said in July. “Chernobyl is a unique place on the planet where nature revives after a global man-made disaster, where there is a real 'ghost town.' We have to show this place to the world: scientists, ecologists, historians, tourists."

It’s also an attempt to capitalize upon the tourism boom born from HBO’s wildly successful miniseries Chernobyl, which prompted a 35 percent spike in travel to the exclusion zone earlier this year. Zelensky’s administration, in addition to declaring the zone an official tourist destination, has worked to renovate paths, establish safe entry points and guidelines for visitors, and abolish the photo ban.

Prefer to enjoy Chernobyl’s chilling atmosphere without all the radioactivity? Check out these creepy photos from the comfort of your own couch.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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