Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Royal Museums, Brussels, June 12th 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 13, 2015

If you’re my age or thereabouts, you remember learning a poem that begins like this at school:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along…

The poem is called Musee des Beaux Arts and it’s by W. H. Auden.  It goes on to describe the fall of Icarus, as painted by Brueghel which shows that no one takes any notice of the amazing event – a boy falling out of the sky. The painting is in the Musée Old Masters, part of the complex of Royal Museums here in Brussels.

Old Masters Museum, The Fall of Icarus (Breughel)

Old Masters Museum, The Fall of Icarus (Breughel)

It was one of my favourite poems at school because I loved the line about how the dogs go on with their doggy life, but there are two English teachers in our group who said they didn’t know it, so I guess nobody teaches it any more. What a shame!

There were so many lovely artworks in this museum!
We mainly focussed on early Flemish and Netherlandish art but there are a couple of later works in this slideshow:

 

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After a break for coffee in the cafe, we checked out the Musee Fin-de-Siècle.  These were interesting because there were quite a few Bolshie paintings and a couple of the sculptures looked almost like Stalinist art which made me wonder about Belgian politics at the end of the century.  Were they pro socialism??

Anyway, my favourite from this Fin-de-Siècle collection is the one called Listening to the Music of Schumann.  Does she like it, or not??

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We had a delicious buffet lunch at the Brasserie (ordered in my best French!!) and then we set off round the corner to the Museum of Musical Instruments. We confined ourselves to the second floor where they had the most fantastic collection of classical instruments I’ve ever seen. I’m sorry that the photos are not very good, everything was in glass cabinets and there were lights shining everywhere, but still, I hope you can see the amazing shapes and sizes of the early and experimental versions of the instruments our orchestras use today.

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Tomorrow (yikes!) we have to be on deck at 8:30 for a day trip to Wallonia. Will do my best to report in at the end of the day…

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Posted in Art Galleries, Belgium, Brussels, Europe 2015, Museums | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

MC Escher Museum, The Hague, Tuesday June 9th 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 10, 2015

Even if you’re not a great fan of MC Escher, the museum is good fun, especially on the top floor where the young and the young-at-heart can play with optical illusions of all kinds.

The house used to belong to the Queen but I am not sure whether the furnishings and more traditional paintings are hers or the Eschers’…

What I liked best of all was the amazing chandeliers –  watch the slideshow to see how stunning they are!

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Posted in Art Galleries, Europe 2015, Museums, Netherlands, The Hague | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Utrecht, Sunday June 7th 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 8, 2015

Utrecht is a university town southeast of Amsterdam, about 45 minutes by bus.   It is a lovely place to explore, and we were fortunate to have an expert guide called Ingeborg Behari to show us around.

We started off in the Railway Museum Het Spoorwegmuseum where Ingeborg volunteers as a guide.   We were not interested in the trains, it was the beautiful building that was so captivating.  Typical of many of these grand railway stations built in the 19th century it featured stunning architecture and grand interiors, and this one even has a Royal Waiting Room.  (Though truth be told, this room was actually somewhere else to start with, but was transplanted here to the railway station when it became a museum.  BTW, do check out the height of the mirror in that Royal Waiting Room.   It is absurdly high, impossible even for tall people so its purpose was really to make the room look larger.)

PS (Tuesday)  I had an email from Ingeborg with some extra info about the ceiling of the Royal waiting room.

“Because there were no photos of the original ceiling and the year is the same as Kasteel de Haar (1892) the architects who restored Kasteel de Haar decided the ceiling could have looked like this.”
Thanks, Ingeborg!

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After that, we took a stroll through the canal districts, where Ingeborg regaled us with all kinds of interesting stories about the rich, the famous and the ones who wanted to be.   But one who definitely deserves to be famous is Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen who won a Nobel Prize for discovering X-rays, and you will see a tiled image of him in the slide show below. Utrecht encourages its citizens to come up with good ideas to enhance the city, and as well as ones like this that commemorate its most eminent citizens, there are also some that show paintings from past times, sited in the same place so that visitors can see the place both then and now. The best of these is the one that shows the cathedral before the tornado blew half of it away in 1674.

Utrecht is also very excited about two major events this year. They are hosting the start of the Tour de France, and they are celebrating the 60th ‘birthday’ of Miffy. If you don’t know who Miffy is, you had a deprived childhood, because the Miffy books are enchanting.  There are large Miffys all over the city, decorated by various artists, but this one is wearing a cape to keep it warm, courtesy of university students who play all kinds of pranks in the city, including chucking some of the ubiquitous bikes into the canals, so much so that they have had to increase the depth!

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We were sorry to come to the end of the tour, but we enjoyed a nice lunch at Graaf Floris.  Tim had Kroketten (which are, you guessed it, croquettes) and I had pork satays.  He also sampled two of the local beers including one drunk with a slice of lemon in it, and I had a cup of honeybush tea which was divine.  I haven’t had a decent coffee in the Netherlands yet, but their herbal teas are really nice.

We had just enough time to buy some bread, cheese and sausage at the Farmers’ Market for an in-hotel meal tonight and to duck into the cathedral before it was time to go.  The cathedral is gorgeous, restrained and elegant by comparison with the more extravagant Catholic cathedrals, and I was especially impressed by the altar which looks from a distance as if it is made of ivory.

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And then we were off to see Kasteel de Haar…

Posted in Cathedrals & churches, Dining out, Europe 2015, Historic buildings, Museums, Netherlands, Utrecht | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Imperial War Museum, June 4th, 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 5, 2015

Today started with a pleasant breakfast at Caffe Russell … a short stroll from the hotel through Russell Square.  There’s a pretty fountain, and lots of dogs rampaging around in a well-behaved British kind of way, and people sit outside in the sunshine with their briefcases and read the paper. Breakfast is unexceptional but the coffee is good and the wait staff are very friendly and nice. (Yes, you read that right, the coffee is good. It’s like Melbourne coffee).

We took the tube to Lambeth North via Piccadilly Circus, making the acquaintance of friendly Poms who’d been to Australia en route. We started chatting with the first one when he made a joke about making squeezing onto the train an Olympic sport and I said that the Poms would win that event for sure – and it turned out he’d been to Perth though not to Melbourne. Conversation started with the second one when he noticed the Tassie Wooden Boat Centre logo on Tim’s windcheater, and it turned out that he’d worked in Tassie for a year or so, and had spend a little time in Melbourne too. It’s friendly encounters like these that make me work harder at learning foreign languages, because I want to have similar experiences in other countries too, if I can.

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The entrance to the Imperial War Museum is dominated by these massive naval guns from WW1 battleships. They can fire 15″ shells for 29km, and those yellow things in the picture are the shells. It’s quite horrible to think of these things raining death and destruction at sea. But there were more than a few sobering artefacts in the museum, as you’d expect…

The purpose of our visit, however, was to see the Fashion on the Ration exhibition.  (Sorry, no photos allowed).  I was interested in this because my mother was a young woman during the war, and so her young womanhood was spent mostly in uniform.  She was in the ATS, driving POWs up to Leith Fort in Scotland, and ferrying supplies across the channel and salvaging spare parts from wrecked vehicles from near the front.   According to the signage, the ATS uniform was thought to be the most drab, and the lisle stockings a lot less desirable than the smart navy ones worn by women in the other services.

It was fascinating to see how women managed to make the most of the ration and still look quite smart.  There was a lot of mend-and-make-do, and they made sure to wear aprons and wrappers to protect their clothes when they were doing housework, but there were Vogue patterns for some stylish frocks and some amazing accessories made from plastic salvaged from the factories.  There were sobering vignettes about the dangers of factory work: some women did not like to have their hair tied back in those drab nets, but suffered terrible injuries when their hair was caught in the machinery.

When I saw a lifesize image of Dior’s New Look which so captivated my mother after the war, I mentioned it to Tim – and was immediately asked about it by some schoolgirls who were there visiting the exhibition.  The signage was really well done, I thought, but perhaps it had more impact to hear about these things from a real person?  The girls gathered around me and asked about this and that, and so I told them how when my mother was their age that she would have had very few clothes compared to them, and that she was thrilled by the new designs that used so much more material when the restrictions were lifted some years after the war.  We talked about how boys like her brother (my Uncle Pat) were only allowed to have shorts until they were 13, and men couldn’t have turn-ups on their trousers.  And I showed the girls how they wouldn’t have been allowed to have so many pleats on ther uniforms that they were wearing either. They were just at the age when clothes really start to matter, so they were really interested…

They didn’t know anything about food rationing so I told them about how it was still in force when my older sister was a baby so that there was just one egg for the family for the week, and how it was a disaster when as a baby she threw a shoe out of her pram unobserved and my father tramped the streets afterwards looking for it, but never found it.   I suppose all this is so long ago for school kids now, that it’s ancient history!

From there we went upstairs to the Heroes exhibition, which profiled the numerous VCs from Britain’s wars, and then we went to the Holocaust Exhibition.  It was very sobering, especially seeing the scale model of Auschwitz which showed the dreadful process in a ghastly white snowy landscape.  On the lower floors there was an exhibit about Britain’s secret operations, from the Enigma codebreaker to MI5 and MI6, and there was also a vivid exhibition about one family’s experience of WW2.

All in all, it was much better than I had expected: I thought there would be more about weapons and equipment, but it mainly focussed on people and the impact of war.  I probably would never have gone to this museum if not for the Fashion on the Ration exhibition, but I’m really glad we went.

IMG_1743We had an indifferent lunch at a nearby pub called The Three Stags – which had the most interesting wallpaper I’ve ever seen!  Until I looked properly I thought it was just another set of nostalgic images that you see everywhere, showcasing British country life.  But no.  On closer inspection, the images turned out to be social commentary.  On the top RHS you may be able to see the man in a suit striding past with his mobile phone  – oblivious to the homeless person sitting on the park bench.  And below that on the LHS, you can see a man being held up by a robber.

Tomorrow we’ve off to Amsterdam,  so we bid farewell to the lovely people at the Montague who have looked after us so well.  It will be our first trip to the Netherlands so we are really looking forward to it:)

 

Posted in Museums, UK 2015 | Tagged: | 11 Comments »

Carnavalet Museum, Paris

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 7, 2012

We had a lovely lunch at the Royal Turenne Bistro (where the food was scrumptious and the waiters were friendly and helpful (and kind to me about my awful French) and then made our way to a most enjoyable afternoon at the Carnavalet Museum, Paris.

This museum traces the history of the city from its beginnings to the present day and it is full of fascinating exhibits.  If you watch the slideshow you can see

  • fragments of a massive statue of Louis XIV which was pulled down during the revolution, locks of hair from the murdered royal family, the dauphin’s toys and a model of the guillotine
  • Voltaire’s chair, and a bust of him too
  • Proust’s bedroom where he did much of his writing,
  • gorgeous miniatures and lovely porcelain used to advertise wares in the days when people were illiterate (and a modern one of Lanvin’s boutique)
  • Fouquet’s glorious art nouveau cafe, and
  • memorabilia from the French Revolution.

All of this is in two lovely buildings with more than 100 rooms decorated in style from the 17th to the 20th century.  There are also two formal gardens and a kitchen garden, a pleasant place to sit and rest weary feet.

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Posted in Dining out, LitLovers pilgrimage, Museums, Paris 2012 | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Alte Nationalgalerie and Neues Museum, Berlin

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 5, 2012

After a cafe lunch we’d best forget, we plodded on to the Alte Nationalgalerie which is a collection of Neoclassical, Romantic, and Impressionist artworks.  I’m not sure whether it was we were becoming a bit footsore or if perhaps it was indigestion, but the artworks here did not take my fancy the way they did in the other museums and I took hardly any pictures.

The bust of Goethe will interest my bookish friends, (and I’m pleased to say that I have finally read something by this author: you can read my review of The Sorrows of Young Werther over on my ANZ LitLovers blog). There were some lovely sculptures of the sort that people had in their formal gardens, but they seemed similar to ones I’ve seen elsewhere so I didn’t photograph them.  And the Impressionists were quite disappointing.  There weren’t very many of them, and the ones they had weren’t especially fine.  I thought that some of them might be in need of restoration because the colours seemed a bit dull, or maybe they’ve overdone it with the special lighting to protect the artworks, at the expense of being able to see them properly?

But the painting that intrigued me was this one: for some reason, some of the figures have been blanked out.  Who were they, and why was this done?  Did some nut-case do it, or was it some sort of vandalistic political correctness?  A couple of French women in the gallery were very indignant about it, so I wondered if the figures were French heroes?  Anyway, I photographed the information caption in the hope that someone who reads this will recognise the painting and be able to enlighten me.  It seems such a strange thing to do, to display a painting that has been mutilated like this! (Update, after a Google search: it’s not a defaced painting at all, it’s just not finished! See here and scroll down to the paragraph about Frederick the Great’s Address to His Generals Before the Battle of Leuthen (1859-61). )

Our last stop was the  Neues Museum, which specialises in Egyptian antiquities.  Once again Tim was in seventh heaven, especially when we finally got to see Nefertiti in all her glory.  For some bizarre reason, although you’re allowed to photograph everything else (as long as you don’t use flash), photos of Nefertiti are forbidden – which is daft, because there’s a gazillion images of her on the web anyway.  She’s displayed in a gallery all by herself, and it’s quite uncanny the way she seems to look out at people like us who are gawking at her.

But what I liked best was the early examples of writing – it never ceases to amaze me that these were somehow translated so that we can understand what these early scribes were recording. The funerary objects were very interesting too, and some of the sculptures of children were very moving – their expressions are very sad, showing that human emotion, especially grief, hasn’t changed at all over the millenia.

We finished up our time in Berlin at the tapas bar of the Melia Hotel.  This is an excellent hotel, and if you are keen to see the museums it is ideal because it’s within easy walking distance and it’s very central to everything else as well.  The service was great, the people friendly and the dinner we had in the restaurant was the meal of the trip.

That may change now that we’re in Paris of course!  Tim has booked us into a very nice restaurant for tomorrow night!

Posted in Art Galleries, Berlin 2012, Museums | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Altes Museum, Berlin

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 5, 2012

After the Bode, (and a restorative coffee in the cafe) we visited the Altes Museum.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s full of splendid classical antiquities.

I was pleased to see a bunch of primary school children sketching the vases and statuary, and only too happy to submit to being ‘interviewed’ by some of them.  The two little girls that you can see in the slideshow were ecstatic to have found two such exotic subjects as a couple of Australians, and they were pleased to find a use for the English they’ve been learning at school.  They were lovely kids!

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Bode Museum, Berlin

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 5, 2012

I’m writing this from Paris after a long day and a late dinner, so it’s just slide shows from me tonight – sorry!

We spent our day in Berlin ‘doing’ the Museums, starting with the Bode Museum.  It’s a sculpture collection showcasing mainly Christian Art from Coptic Egypt, Byzantium and Ravenna;  sculptures from the Middle Ages, and the early Renaissance.   It was my favourite of the day.

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Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 4, 2012

The Pergamon Museum in Berlin is splendid – but take my advice and do not waste your money on the Welcome to Berlin Museum Card.  It is a pain to buy, a pain to activate, and it doesn’t save you either money or time in getting into the museum.  (And the people whose job it is to explain it to you or facilitate its use, aren’t interested in doing that).

What’s special about this museum is the displays of the Pergamon Altar, (Ancient Greece) the Market Gate of Miletus (Ancient Rome) and the glorious Ishtar Gate from Ancient Babylon.  (See Wikipedia).

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Posted in Berlin 2012, Museums, Travellers' tips | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Jewish Museum, Berlin

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 4, 2012

We began our day in Berlin with a rather forgettable city sightseeing bus tour.  To put it charitably, perhaps because Berlin is designed to be pedestrian and bike-friendly the roads don’t go past very interesting places?  The route mostly took us past dull apartment buildings and shops rather than places of historic or artistic interest.  I think it’s a shame that in a city where they had/have the opportunity for post-reunification rebuilding, their architecture is so unimaginative.

Anyway, we got off the bus at the Jewish Museum.  It is a very moving experience to visit this place, which consists of two buildings.  You enter through the old Berlin Museum and go downstairs to enter the new building which is a twisted zig-zag reminiscent of a misshapen Star of David.  But we didn’t enter straight away: there was a cafe where they were selling real Jewish cheesecake, the kind my neighbour Mrs Kuperholz used to make, which for me is the gold standard cheesecake that is so very hard to find.  But it wasn’t just the cheesecake of course, it’s also that I found it very hard to visit the Holocaust Museum in Elsternwick at home, and here in Berlin where the Holocaust was conceived and executed, I felt an even greater need to brace myself a bit before entering the museum.

(Actually, I don’t think I would ever have visited the Holocaust Museum at home if I had not met Elfie Rosenberg at the Melbourne Writers Festival, long ago when it was still at the Malthouse Theatre.  There, one had coffee between sessions at convivial tables, and because I was by myself I got chatting to the elderly lady at the same table.  She turned out to be the author of Serry and me, Kindertransport and Beyond and in the course of talking about her book, I confessed that I had never had the courage to go to the Holocaust Museum.  I feared that I couldn’t cope with it emotionally, and was ashamed of that, because after all, how can just visiting a memorial site compare with the lived experience of its victims?  They had to live through it, and I was afraid just to learn about it?  Elfie understood, and she offered to take me there herself.

So we met for coffee one day not soon after that, and she guided me through the museum, and amongst the heart-rending memories I have of seeing a model of Treblinka made by one of the survivors, and of a matchbox filled with soil from the camp at which a survivor’s mother was murdered,  I also have memories of Elfie chatting and laughing with one of the survivor-guides there, an inspiring reminder that life goes on, and that to let yourself be bowed down by grief, is to deny your oppressors triumph.)

The architecture of the Jewish Museum in Berlin is designed to disorientate.  There is a Garden of Exile, designed to represent the experience of not belonging for those who fled Germany or emigrated afterwards, and both Tim and I could not stay in there.  There are vertical columns set not quite in place, so that your brain is out of synch with your body and you feel nauseous.  Literally.  There is also a ‘Void’ – an entirely empty four-sided space about 20 metres tall, barren and grey and lit only by a scrap of a window up above. When the door shut behind us, I felt panicky, and again we had to leave.  We could, of course.  The victims of the Holocaust could not.

There was also a sickening fragment of the yellow Star of David cloth they used to stigmatize Jews.  I had never thought about anybody designing, manufacturing and distributing this material before.  This new (to me) example of perfidy really upset me, for reasons I can’t quite explain.

But once you leave behind these awful sensory experiences, the exhibition shows you the cultural and intellectual life of pre-war German Jews.  There is memorabilia which belonged to people now lost – dolls, sewing machines, Bar Mitzvah ornaments, books and photos, but also lovely photos which show the contribution that Jewish people made in all kinds of endeavours, and also that they were interesting, lively, congenial people that anyone might be pleased to have as neighbours.  (As I did, when I lived in Caulfield as a teenager).

People deal with an experience like this in their own way, but I have to say that there were some American tourists there who were incredibly tactless.  When they moved on from the sections about pre-war Jewry and came to the Holocaust display, one of the women announced loudly that it was ‘too much’, to which one of the men replied casually that ‘this was all familiar, they’d seen it all before’.

Bored by the Holocaust…what kind of people react like that?

Posted in Berlin 2012, Museums | Tagged: | 5 Comments »