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

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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The 10 Best Beaches in America, According to Dr. Beach

Grayton Beach? More like Blue-Ton Beach.
Grayton Beach? More like Blue-Ton Beach.
Jacob Boomsma/iStock via Getty Images

When searching for the perfect stretch of beach to laze away your vacation days, there are quite a few factors to consider. Some, like water clarity or sand texture, are more obvious than others; for example, you might not realize how much noise pollution a nearby highway generates until you’re already on the beach.

To help you choose your next seaside getaway, Florida International University coastal research professor Stephen P. Leatherman, also known as “Dr. Beach,” has released his annual list of the top 10 beaches in the U.S. Based on 50 criteria, ranging from the beach’s width at low tide to the presence of jellyfish, the data reveals the Florida Panhandle is home to the best beach in the country. Grayton Beach State Park boasts exceptionally fine, white sand known as “sugar sand”; shallow, warm water with calm waves; and a 2000-acre nature park with rare coastal dune lakes and a hiking trail. It wasn’t the only Florida beach to make the list—Caladesi Island State Park, off the coast of Dunedin and Clearwater, came in at number six.

North Carolina’s Outer Banks islands were well-represented, too, with Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach and Buxton’s Lighthouse Beach taking the second and fifth spots, respectively. Dr. Beach also bestowed top honors on two of Hawaii’s beaches: Oahu’s Duke Kahanamoku Beach and the Big Island’s Hapuna Beach State Park.

Even if you can’t make it as far as Florida or Hawaii, Dr. Beach’s metrics can help you decide what’s important to you when it comes to choosing the best beach closer to home. Maybe you’re not bothered by online reviews that warn about giant waves at a certain beach, but you’re unwilling to budge about overcrowding.

The list of criteria isn’t the only way that Dr. Beach is helping beachgoers plan the best, safest summer vacation possible—he’s also compiled a few handy tips for heading to the beach during the coronavirus pandemic. First and foremost, you should check the beach’s rules before you go; some places are only open for exercise, while others have made masks mandatory (even if yours doesn’t require a mask, however, you should still wear one). Dr. Beach also recommends having a backup plan, just in case your ideal beach hits capacity before you get there.

See the full list of top 10 beaches below, and find out more about them here.

  1. Grayton Beach State Park // Florida Panhandle
  1. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach // Ocracoke, North Carolina
  1. Coopers Beach // Southampton, New York
  1. Duke Kahanamoku Beach // Oahu, Hawaii
  1. Lighthouse Beach // Buxton, North Carolina 
  1. Caladesi Island State Park // Dunedin, Florida
  1. Hapuna Beach State Park // Big Island, Hawaii
  1. Coast Guard Beach // Cape Cod, Massachusetts
  1. Coronado Beach // San Diego, California
  1. Beachwalker Park // Kiawah Island, South Carolina