Ophthalmosaurus at Paléospace L’Odyssée.
Villers sur Mer, a small Norman coastal city just down the road from the famed resort town of Deauville (known as Paris’s 21st arrondissement because of its high population of Parisians on weekends and in the summer) has just opened a new scientific museum, Paléospace L’Odyssée, a kid-friendly museum with lots of interactive exhibits. Located near the beach and on the edge of a bird-filled marsh fitted out for walkers, the museum looks back to the origins of life in this fossil-rich area, which was covered with a tropical sea during the Jurassic period 160 million years ago. In addition to numerous fossils of various forms of underwater life, it displays the skeletons of three strange creatures that once swam in its waters, including a Ophthalmosaurus, a sideways-swimming ichthyosaur with huge eyes (the better to see with in the dark Jurassic waters) that literally weighed a ton. Another area of the museum focuses on the question of measurement of time with explanations and displays of marine instruments, an interactive globe and the Greenwich Meridian, which enters the European continent in Villers sur Mer. The current temporary exhibition (through end 2011) shows dinosaur eggs and babies in situ in their fossilized nests. Afterward, take a walk on the beach at the foot of the crumbling Vaches Noires cliffs, where fossils millions of years old can be had (easily and legally) for the picking. Heidi Ellison