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Before the school year began, a friend of mine invited me and my munchkins to an outing to the Toronto Zoo. With over 700 acres and home to 16,000+ animals, it is the largest zoo in Canada. But it’s a long journey by TTC (Toronto public transit) if you live downtown; it takes almost 1.5 hours by subway AND bus to reach its location in “Scarberia” (=Scarborough, a Toronto suburb).

The Museum of Natural History in the Garden of...

The Museum of Natural History in the Garden of Plants ( Jardin des plantes ), in Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Paris has a couple of zoos within easy reach of its Metro (subway) system, my family didn’t visit them because there is really no comparison to the diversity and size of Toronto’s zoo. BUT, there is an enchanting display of taxidermy at La Grande Galerie de l’Evolution at the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle, which is comprised of some noteworthy edifices located in the Jardin des Plantes in the 5th arrondissement.

English: Jardin des Plantes of Paris - Map Fra...

Le Jardin des Plantes is an exquisite plot of land that once started out as the jardin du roi (“the king’s garden”) of Louis XIII almost 400 years ago and has since evolved into a public garden known for its medicinal herbs, roses and botanical displays. If your family likes animals, there is a small zoo (=”Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes, which originated from the Royal Menagerie in Versailles) that is adjacent to the symmetrical laneways of trees which head towards the statuesque building of the Grand Evolution Gallery. And if you want to see the gamut of animal evolution spread over 3 floors of traditional glass displays, wood interior and charming mezzanines, COME HERE.

Upon entering the Gallery (by big windows), you are greeted head-on by the exodus of magnificent animals as imagined from Noah’s ark. C’est fantastique!

The interior is purposefully dim, to add to the presence of all the creatures spotlighted, and many of the displays on the main floor are only roped off which makes them irrestible to touch! Moving from floor to floor, via the glass elevators, felt like being in a time capsule passing through different worlds. Some other memorable sights were an elaborate OLD clock that chimed a complex melody in a side room and (perhaps nearby?) a room of all animals extinct and endangered. Another favourite display was the phylogenetic tree of eukaryotes and prokaryotes represented in glass-blown figures: so delicate as life itself.

A poor photo of a wonderful display of single-celled and multicellular organisms, as glass-blown structures. I want to take it home!

My children soon lost interest in this place because you can’t touch or interact with anything. So we paid extra to visit La Galerie des Enfants du Muséum (Children’s Gallery) which is part of the Grande Gallery. Focusing on biodiversity and the environment, I recall the children’s area to be busy but not as large and captivating as I had hoped. But it’s a good place to start educating the young population about the fragile Earth.

We spent a lot of time trying to piece together the puzzle of Paris. We learned where the green spaces were and the marshlands that made up Paris in medieval times.

Since much of the info was en francais, I don’t know the significance of the elephant. But it was interactive…

We have returned to le Jardin des Plantes on a few occasions because of the variety of amusement it provides (yes, even an old carrousel hidden on the grounds behind the Paleontology Museum!).  The favourite with the kids: a serpentine labyrinth of bushes that winds around a hill with a gazebo at the top that affords wondrous views of the Garden (and the mosque across the street). But the kids really like it for hiding and scurrying through the bushes to play tag!

From the top of the gazebo, a view of the towering cedar of lebanon tree, rumoured to have been brought over as a seedling in a hat from England in 1734.

Sneaking THROUGH the labyrinth’s bushy walls and down the hill to seek out more secret holes and hiding places.

So not only is Paris great for seeing dead people, it’s also notable for dead animals too!