The Museums and Galleries Of London

I have been to so many museums in the last week or two that I hardly know where to begin. I had no idea London had so many and I didn’t even make it to all the ones I wanted to go to – I haven’t yet been to the Garden Museum and I saw a poster for a Goscinny and Uderzo (who created Astrix and Obelix) exhibition at the Jewish Museum and I didn’t make it to the Geology Museum or the Foundling Museum either.

I’ve already written about the London Museum and the Natural History Museum (both worthwhile and both free entry) so here are the others.

The Wallace Collection (fine art and armoury)

The WC (an unfortunate abbreviation) is an excellent collection in an outstanding building and, if you like design, worth a visit for the wallpaper alone. Check these rooms out!

It is home to some very famous artworks, my favourite was The Swing. When I was little we had one large book in our house on the history of art and I loved this painting most of all. To come upon it unexpectedly made me very happy.

Although the building isn’t huge it is like a jewellery box, fully of shiny and delightful things.

I could’ve posted a dozen photos but this entry is going to be long enough as is. Just trust me, if you like fine art get to this gallery!

The Wellcome Museum (medical history)

This museum is just over the road from Euston Station and free to enter so if you’re interested in medical history I’d recommend going, just be warned that despite being in a big building the displays aren’t huge, possibly because the Science Museum is about to open a big medical exhibition using items from the WM collection. Either way, the real draw of the Wellcome is the gift shop, which has a fun range of quirky things I haven’t seen elsewhere.

The exhibitions that were on while I was there included one on …

It was kind of gross but interesting.

… and weird. Pretty weird.

There was also a small display about obesity and an art exhibition. I couldn’t tell you what the theme of it was, but one room had giant pictures of cows wearing artwork woven out of insemination straws. I’m not kidding.

Another room had a display on HIV and gay culture. I liked the wallpaper. The art was mainly messy paintings that didn’t really appeal to me.

If I had to pick two themes of my photography in the last fortnight I’d go with stairwells and wallpaper, which is not what I would’ve expected on arriving in London, but there you go.

The last Wellcome exhibition piece was a group of films by a woman who learned to free-dive and each film was a single dive. It was very atmospheric and doesn’t translate well to photography but if you’re reading this and in London, it might be up your alley. I liked it but it felt quite claustrophobic after a while.

Anyhow, go browse the gift shop!

The British Museum (ancient history)

I’m doing these all out of order – the BM was the second last museum I visited. Another great piece of architecture but it didn’t take me long to wander through and recall why I didn’t spend long here when I visited last time. I love ancient history but I have almost zero interest in sculpture or historical relics. I read through the displays in the Alexander room and that was about it.

Going to all these museums has really made me think about what interests me and what is worth my time. Admittedly I’ve had heaps of time in London thanks to my hay fever but if I only had a few days I’d think really hard about what I wanted to see because there is an almost endless variety.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (um… everything?)

I was a bit blurgh on the day I went to the V&A and the thing I liked best was putting my feet in the pool. The V&A is a weird museum, it has a bit of everything and I think I would’ve had a better visit if I’d researched and gone to see a specific thing. I did admire the William Morris dining room but otherwise I wasn’t terribly inspired. I’d certainly give it another go when I felt a bit more energetic.

The Science Museum

I wandered in here on the same day I did the V&A and therefore wasn’t probably in the best frame of mind. However I can see the SM would be an amazing place to take kids and there’s something there for almost anyone.

I didn’t even take many photos in the SM. it was certainly deserving of more attention than I gave it.

Tate Britain (art through history, excepting whatever goes into the Tate Modern I suppose).

This was the first place I visited on this trip and I loved it. LOVED IT. I love fine art and the TB (another bad acronym) has a large Pre-Raphaelite collection. It was like a ‘greatest hits’ parade of romantic paintings.

There were lots of people sketching artworks and it made the gallery feel very lived-in… if that makes sense.

The thing that tickled me most in the TB was the entry hall installation. The artist had covered the entry in tiles…

And scattered sculptures around but also had a person dressed as a squash lounging around, just stretching and wandering.

Watching people watching this person-vegetable was terrific. People smiled, made eye contact with strangers, wondered out loud what it could possibly mean.

The TB, while not as outrageously fabulous as the Natural History Museum, had its own architectural beauty.

The John Soane Museum (architecture and Victorian life)

The JSM is an unusual museum on several levels – literal and metaphorical. It is the collection of one man and displayed in his house. John Soane was an architect and I wish I’d learned a bit more about him before going to his house because there aren’t labels on anything, to help preserve the feel of the experience. Photography is not allowed in the building, however I did take this sneaky shot in the toilets.

First time I’d used an original!

There were a lot of staff around who were happy to explain things but I wasn’t feeling talkative that day. Plus most of the collection is sculpture so not entirely my thing. The house itself was quite interesting with much of the original furniture in place.

The Cartoon Museum

The very last museum I visited! Almost over the road from the British Museum, the Cartoon Museum is quite small and costs £7 to enter. However if you are interested in cartoons I’d recommend dropping in.

Danger Mouse! One of my childhood favourites.

Some of the displays were familiar, some new. Some were one page of a book or series, some were one-off pieces.

The Saatchi Gallery

More like an Australian art gallery than any of the others, the SG has big white rooms and big artworks. When I went there were four or five exhibitions. I particularly liked one by a collage artist who did huge works on photographed backgrounds.

So my advice, if you want to see museums and galleries in London, is to do some research and think about what you like. Don’t waste time on a big name if you don’t actually like that style or period – for example I think the Tate Modern is outstanding, but don’t go unless you like modern art or you’ll waste half a day and walk five kilometres around the gallery for nothing. I’ve learned not to bother with miles of rooms of statues.

I enjoy variety when I travel and I think I’ve had my fill of high culture for now – the next week is all about visiting family, Luke arriving (yay!) and then back to Andrew’s and a visit to Luke’s family before Lauren arrives and we’re off to sun ourselves on Croatian beaches.

But first I need to finish writing up what I’ve done in London. I hope you didn’t think this was it!

Here Comes The Planet 54 – Tanzania 07

In this episode of Here Comes The Planet we take a cultural tour around Mto wa Mbu Village in Tanzania. This consists of walking through the village’s farms and sampling an amazing array of delicious food, learning about the village’s history and entertaining its children.

We also watched some local artists at work, sampled banana beer and found the village nightclub!

Also – DISCO TOTO!!!

New York: The Cloisters

A couple of days ago we spent a lovely (albeit freezing) day seeing the Metropolitan Art Gallery, starting with its smaller and less visited gallery at The Cloisters. The Met is divided into two properties, the enormous building in Central Park and the much, much smaller Cloisters, located at the northern end of the Manhattan.

Many of the ‘Top Things to do in New York’ articles I’d read mentioned The Cloisters but didn’t really describe it in much detail. Our friend Sean wanted to go so we agreed to meet there at 10am.

It really was a long subway ride north – by the time we got to the right stop pretty much everyone had gotten off except a bunch of old ladies. There’s an elevator specifically for the Cloisters and Tryon Park from the station platform and it goes a surprisingly long way up through the hill. We walked out and into Tryon Park, a truly gorgeous stretch of landscaped gardens that was glowing with colour in the morning sunshine. We really picked a good time to see the city – I can’t imagine any other season being so visually impressive.

See what I mean? Beautiful!

The Cloisters building is relatively new, but is built to resemble a medieval cloisters and contains many elements that are genuinely antique. Old doors, stained glass windows, alter pieces and furniture are built into the structure and compliment the quite impressive collection of medieval art and artefacts. Impressive in terms of quality, not quantity – but I quite liked being able to peruse in detail a small but excellent collection.

The effect of the building somewhat spoiled by the bus stop and street lights.

They have some astonishingly well preserved tapestries – in fact you may well recognise this one, which is part of a set that tells the story of a unicorn being hunted and caught.

Poor, sad unicorn!

There were some really incredible books that were about 1000 years old, hand written (obviously) by monks and the writing and illuminations are so perfect that it is no wonder their art was preserved for holy subjects almost exclusively.

Another charming aspect of the building was the medieval garden, in which grew medicinal plants and edible herbs. It was arranged and tended beautifully. There were quince and fig trees and even the remains of hops vines.

My garden dreams of gardens like this.

There was a special exhibit there when we visited. The choir from Salisbury Cathedral in the UK had collaborated with an artist to record a special musical piece where the artist had recorded each member of the 40 strong choir individually then each voice was played at the gallery through an individual speaker. This meant we could walk between the speakers and hear what each voice sounded like and how the rest of the choir sounded to each member. It was amazing. The song was written in the middle ages by one of the most famous composers of the genre (don’t ask me who) and was very complex and extraordinarily uplifting. You could see everyone in the room being overcome by the beauty of the music.

The music was so right for the setting. A shame I can’t really convey it in a blog.

I’ll leave you with one last image, from a tapestry that was ancient. However I couldn’t help the fact that, because it looked rather cartoonish and I was surrounded by American accents, I could almost hear the two other characters saying in sad, Californian teenage voices to Jesus “OMG… you’ve got like… holes in you,” and Jesus, equally bewildered, replying “Like, yeah, god, I know… bummer.”

Or is it just me?

Italy: Random Photos.

This is pretty much just a photo post because there’s a bunch of stuff that I took with my phone that I didn’t have time to deal with earlier thanks to my laptop dying. Again.

Hope you like them!

I just don’t.. uh.. what?

Baby Jesus says ‘Wassup?’

Mary looks disappointed that Baby Jesus wanted to be painted like one of your French girls.

Saucy saints are saucy.

I’ve only included another photo of this fountain so one of my friends could see the animal the mermaid is sitting on. I… think it might be a sea-spaniel. With no ears. Or something.

Our initial thoughts were that Jesus was escaping from men with crossbows that had traveled back in time from the middle ages, when crossbows were invented, because they were gong to kidnap him and use his magical powers to enjoy endless amounts of awesome Jesus wine. Turns out it’s some other saint. Supposedly. 

Boy George’s great, great, great, great etc grandfather. For reals.

No funny here – just the best gelato shop… maybe in the world! Check it out if you’re in Bologna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italy: Florence and Bologna

Irritatingly, my laptop has died for the second time on this trip. So while I’ll still be able to update it will have to be when Luke isn’t using his laptop. It also means limited facebook and everything else since I hate using my phone for anything that involves typing more than 10 letters. First world problems, eh? 

But on with the show

We booked three nights in Florence, which turned out to be enough time to get a bit of a feel for the place but it was certainly not enough time to see everything. We also had a bit of confusion regarding our accommodation – we arrived to find a note on the door with my name on it. Apparently the toilet in our room was broken so they’d booked us in at another hotel a few blocks away for one night then we’d be staying at another hotel for the second and third nights. Fortunately they were no further from the city, but all the checking in and out and extra taxis cost us money.

Fortunately our hotel was near a laundromat. And you know what makes spending an hour at a laundromat better? You guessed it.

We didn’t really do much homework on what there was to see in Florence before we arrived. I’d heard of the Uffizi Gallery and Luke was keen to visit that, but otherwise we just strolled around, took some photos and tried to stay out of the most crowded streets. Fortunately Florence is like Rome in that regard – the tour groups all seem to walk the same paths so if you want to avoid them it’s not difficult. Only the main piazzas and places like the Ponte Vecchio (Florence’s most famous bridge, lined with jewellery shops) are jammed with people.

On our first night we didn’t do a great deal. After a long nap (Italy seems to have brought out the nonna in me and I’ve had even more naps than usual) we took the advice of Guy I Met On The Train and Taxi Driver From The Station and ate at a restaurant that specialised in meat dishes and particularly a t-bone cut that is in season at the moment and also famous in the region. One serving was big enough for two. In fact it was probably big enough for four. The piece of meat must’ve originally been Flintstones-worthy but was cut into 5 pieces (each of which was a regular steak size but about 3 inches thick) and the ‘t’ bone was upright in the middle of the plate.

After a day of walking around town and taking photos (and perhaps eating the odd gelato) we spent part of our second evening at the Mayday Club, a small, quirky bar that we found on Tripadvisor which had a glowing recommendation from our friend James. It was indeed an interesting place, but I think we were there too early as we had it to ourselves for over an hour. The drinks were lovely though – I ended up having two glasses of strawberry wine and a cocktail, which ruined my plans for some night time photography.

Funk-tastic!

We did a lot of walking in Florence. We walked over both sides of the river and up and down many side streets. We ate some really great food in quiet piazzas and I bought a necklace and some earrings from a little boutique. The Duomo turned out to be much more interesting than I’d suspected… in fact I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t actually know what it was before we got there and then we rounded a corner and POW! Huge marble cathedral in pink, green and white! It was a bit optical-illusion-y, in that from some angles the statues and detail appeared painted on and the whole thing looked like a huge paper sculpture.

I couldn’t get far enough back to fit in this building with my 10mm lens. It’s huuuuge.

The Uffizi Gallery, which I *had* heard of, was interesting, although no photography was allowed (obviously I did take a few sneaky photos on my phone because I’m planning on going home, printing them out and selling them as the real thing… I mean *why* are we not allowed to take photos after we’ve paid heinous amounts to get into these places? Hrumph).  There were a few paintings I recognised and a few that were amusing and way, way too many Catholic artworks. Which is what they did in those days – I get it – but I’ve had enough. No more old art galleries for us on this trip. We’ve both come to the same conclusion.

Mountains of gelato!

On to Bologna. I don’t really like jamming two cities into one post. Most people get reader fatigue or something after about 500 words and I also like to make lots of posts so I can say ‘wow, look how many posts I’ve made’, which is stupid but there you have it (115 now! In 6 months! Pretty impressive, huh? If only I’d put all these words into a thesis I’d be a doctor or something by now).

So Bologna. It was pretty cool too. We’d decided to spend another 3 nights somewhere between Florence and Venice and Bologna was easy to get to and so decision made! Plus it was going to be another surprise city since neither of us knew anything about it. Actually, this whole trip is kind of dispelling my ideas about myself as a knowledgeable and worldly person. There’s so many places I know nothing about – but that’s the way of things, isn’t it? The more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know.

You realise you don’t know that fountains like this could be paid for by city councils rather than, say, feature in men’s magazines.

So Bologna.

It’s a city that exceeds every other in one respect: porticos. During the 16th century (possibly.. don’t google that. We went to a gallery exhibition on the history of Bologna but my memory is a bit hazy because I’m writing this about a week after but just go with it) when every other city in Italy (maybe Europe?) was telling people to get rid of their porticos, the governors of Bologna mandated that every house had to be fronted with a portico and they had to be at least 4 metres (well, obviously not in metres but you know what I mean) wide and high enough for a person on a horse to ride under. Which means that Bologna has over 40kms of weather-proof footpaths and that is a wonderful thing indeed.

Halfway up the world’s longest arcade.

One of these walkways goes for 3.4kms without missing a beat – that’s 666 archways, 519 stairs (we counted), not to mention a great deal of ramps, to the top of a hill just out of the city. From the top there’s lovely views over the countryside. For once our pleas to friends on Facebook was early enough to yield results we could actually act on. So thanks Nikki for that piece of advice.

One of the many thousands of water fountains dotted around Italy. One of the many things I love about this country. This one was at the top of the hill. Perfect!

Our friend Mauricio recommended a gelateria where we had a dark chocolate gelato that was … I have not the words. Like pure cream but almost bitter, dark and divine. We hiked to the other side of town to have it then on our walk back we found another of the same store within a block of our hostel. D’oh!

Speaking of our hostel, it was possibly my favourite from this trip. Not that it was all that special in any kind of luxurious way, but we had a room to ourselves, a four poster bed (handy for drying clothes), marble floors, a well equipped kitchen and it had this lovely old, faded elegance that lent a decadent air to our evening sessions of cooking pasta, drinking wine and watching Archer in bed. I think this is my favourite way to travel. Up at a reasonable hour, walk around lots, eat some great food, retire to bed to relax, watch something funny, write a bit about what I did that day and get a great night’s sleep, uninterrupted by the snores of 4 strangers (dorm accommodation is not my favourite thing).

The only other thing I have to mention about Bologna is the colour of the place. The whole town matches superbly in shades or ochre, yellow, salmon (normally my least favourite colour ever), umber, cream… it was another one of those eye-popping cities. Combine the amazing colours with the fresco’d, mosaic’d porticoes and it was a visual feast. Despite all this prettiness, Bologna is full of students rather than tourists and it was nice for a change not to be fighting through the crowds. It was also charming to come across young lovers sitting on railings, leaning in alleys, kissing and canoodling. Italians seem to do that a lot. Speaking of romance, next we’re in Venice!

A fountain in Florence. All the lens flare!

Reykjavik

We spent our first full day on Iceland looking around Reykjavik. For reasons known only to themselves, the company we booked our self-drive trip through booked us into accommodation 40 minutes out of town so it was a bit of a drive back. I was still sick so, while I was glad that it was a bright, sunny day, I was also not feeling my best and my eyes were watering the whole time from the blinding brightness of the near-arctic sun.

First stop, after immediately finding a park right where we wanted for the first time since leaving Australia, was Harpa, the very new and shiny entertainment/conference venue in the middle of town. I’d seen pictures of it in the inflight magazine on the way over and thought to take a look.

Fortunately nothing in Reykjavik is outside of walking distance, so we found it in moments and went inside to take a look. It was like I’d imagine bees would do large scale architecture.

Reykjavik’ll make you… jump, jump!

Then we wandered around town and found a fantastic little skate park full of great graffiti. Later on in the day we walked past again and it was full of families of all ages plus young people in groups hanging out and being a bit rowdy. Everyone around town just seemed to want to be outside in the sun.

We walked over to Roadhouse Burgers, which I’d recommend if you’re not on a budget (heck, I wouldn’t recommend Iceland if you’re on a tight budget) because it was definitely the best meal we’ve eaten so far. Then it was up to Iceland’s most recognisable piece of architecture, their very modern Lutheran church.

The rocket-shaped church with a statue of Leif Erikson in front, a gift from the USA to the ‘original discoverer’ of America. Except for all those pesky native people, of whom Leif himself wrote upon his return to Iceland.

You’ll have to forgive me regarding the paucity of photos at the moment. The internet is slooooow anywhere outside the capital and we haven’t even been able to connect the last few days.

The church looks cool but the inside is as bare as the outside and, after all the gilt and marble of other European churches, it looks sort of unfinished. Maybe needs some paint rather than the bare concrete, I don’t know.

Next we walked down the hill to a bar that had been recommended by a friend of a friend – ‘Lebowski’s’ and of course all the decor was movie themed. It was a bit cheesy but we had a drink anyhow and gave our feet a rest.

The final thing on my to do list for the day was look at some Icelandic wool stuff, even just buy a couple of balls of wool and some needles to keep me occupied. Well. Wool here is nasty, nasty stuff. The locals seem to take great pride in it but I couldn’t feel much difference between the wool jumpers and one of those coir doormats. Blurgh.

We spent the last couple of hours before the show we’d plan to see in the evening, sitting in the foyer of Harpa on a couch is the sun reading our kindles.

The show Luke had found out about was a one hour, one person history of Iceland, performed in the back room of a pub. And we were the only audience, which wasn’t as weird as you’d think, especially after we had a chat with the girl performing it. The show was pretty good, too, although there were a few slow bits. Thanks to my reading a history of Iceland before we came I already knew a fair bit of it but being able to ask questions afterwards was helpful.

I was most interested in hearing about the traditional turf houses and the way in which people lived before modern times. I was told that the last people to move out of turf houses (which mostly had no electricity or plumbing) did so around the 60’s and 70’s. Which meant that there might still be people alive today who transitioned from what was, essentially, a medieval lifestyle to one that involved cars, microwaves and the internet. This boggles my mind in so many ways and I’m not even sure why I find it so enthralling. I think it reminds me of that 80’s movie, Encino Man and how I always wished I could be there to see how someone from the past reacted to all the changes that have occurred over the last X centuries. Either that or I could travel into the future and boggle at what has become of the human race.

I guess travel is a bit like that. You see people living in the technological past and also in elements of the future. You see inventions that amaze you and conditions that appall you. It certainly makes every day interesting.