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Paris: Musee Carnavalet

How is it I have never been to Musee Carnavalet before? It's a museum about the history of Paris, and I guess I was never interested before because I'd heard it was all in French. I just thought it would have a bunch of stuffy exhibits with long explanations in French.

Turns out it's just a gorgeous gem of a museum. Starting with an incredible courtyard garden, it's an experience just to enter the beautiful scene. Even better, there was NO LINE at all, and on this particular day at least it was FREE. It felt like we'd stumbled on a secret museum!

Inside it's chock full of paintings of Paris, paintings in chronological order from throughout the history of painting. It was like a condensed tour of every era of French painting, but at a manageable scale, and all with Paris itself as the main subject.

In addition to the paintings, there are amazing exhibits and models - models of the Guillotine, the Bastille (the armory prison which was torn down during the Revolution and so no longer exists), models of Notre Dame and other churches, and tiny models of medieval Paris herself.

Because it's in two adjoining mansions and not in a huge museum building, we incorrectly assumed it was small. But after two hours we realized we had only seen the 16th century through the 18th century sections! There were still entire WINGS devoted to the Revolution, 19th century painting, and ancient, pre-Roman civilizations. We realized we'll have to come back again to really absorb it all. After three hours we were worn out, and we used our last shred of energy to buy the hardcover catalogue of the museum from the bookstore.

The best part about getting worn out in Paris is.... there's always a cafe nearby to recuperate in!

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