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03/03 Sunday 12:40AM

Weird and wonderful in Paris

By Huwaida Ishaaq

In a study comparing major metropolises, Paris came in third for the most number of museums, behind London and Berlin. The crowning jewel is La Musée du Louvre, home to Da Vinci’s most gazed upon painting, the Mona Lisa. If you are the kind to venture off the tourist circuit, though, here are three of the lesser known sites which are worth your while.

Le Comptoir Générale

Do not expect any indicators for the entrance of this cultural centre hangout place.  Trust the address and your instincts, as you venture down a nondescript alleyway.  In minutes you will be rewarded with a social innovation.  Inside Le Comptoir Générale is a grand hall, canteen, library, barbershop and classroom, among others.  There are plants everywhere and the kitchen hides behind a door labelled the ‘Office’.  Check out, if you dare, the witchcraft cabinet.

To say the ambience is eclectic would be inadequate.  Ghetto in a box, this not-for-profit foundation is open every day, for good food, inspiration or even a little bit of magic.

Location: 80, quai de Jemmapes (just off the popular Canal St Martin)
Website: www.lecomptoirgeneral.com
Met: République or Goncourt
Operations: Daily, 11am - 1am, with a few exceptions
Admission: 2 Euros

(image from

Les Arènes de Lutèce

Les Arènes is not exactly a museum but in keeping with the theme of tucked-away gems, all three accesses to this park are easy to miss.  To avoid circling around the neighbourhood, on rue Monge, keep your eyes skyward for a cement gladiator head sticking out above the doorway.

Built in the second century AD, this ancient Roman amphitheater was able to accommodate up to 15,000 spectators. It has been ransacked in the past then turned into a cemetery and buried over.  It was rediscovered during the 18th century and what was left of the amphitheater was restored. Today, it is a quiet park ideal for picnics, alone times and imagining gladiatorial combats on the arena where local children now play football.

Location: 47, rue Monge (public entrances can also be found on 10, rue des Arènes, rue de Navarre)
M°: Monge, Cardinal-Lemoine or Jussieu
Operations: Daily, depending on the season, opens from 8am to 6pm (longer during summer time)
Admission: Free

(image by Nikki Dy-Liacco )

Le Musée des Vampires

A visit to this museum is by appointment only.  Built on a private property, the entrance is on an unnamed alley, so the curator, Mr Jacques Sirgent, often goes out to greet guests at the metro.

The museum is packed floor to ceiling with a gang of vampire and monster related items.  Amidst the chaos and ominous corners, however, there is sitting space where Jacques will share his knowledge on vampiric history and folklore.   After more than three decades of study, Jacques is a living, breathing expert on the undead.  Be warned – his storytelling can reveal more about human nature than things that go bump in the night.

Location: 14, Rue Jules David, Les Lilas 
Telephone: +33 1 43 62 80 76 (general), +33 6 20 12 28 32 (curator)
Met: Mairie des Lilas, Porte des Lilas
Operations: Daily, 12.30pm – 8pm, call for an appointment
Admission: 7 Euros

(image by Huwaida)

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