Around The World In 18 Museums

I’m a bit (a lot) of a history geek, and its International Museum Day tomorrow, so I thought I’d take a look at some of the best museums husband and I have seen on our travels. They’re an easily overlooked activity when you’re travelling because they have a reputation for being boring (probably because a lot of kids were dragged to them against their will at school), but there are soooo many different types of museums out there that are a hell of a lot more fun than what you did back in year 5!

Top left: Banff Park Museum -Top right: Chicago History Museum – Bottom left: Museum at Mondragon Palace in Ronda – Bottom right: Saga Museum in Reykjavík

1. Banff Park Museum, Banff, Canada
91 Banff Ave, Banff
https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/ab/banff/index
Cost: free
This museum looks at animals of all sorts native to the area (like elk, mountain goats, bears, wolves). It also has some gorgeous geological displays of stones and crystals and random curiosities donated by locals. And on the way out, for bonus points, there’s a beautiful library!

2. Chicago History Museum, Chicago, USA
1601 N Clark Street, Chicago
http://www.chicagohs.org/
Cost: USD$16.00 per person
This was like walking through a history book in the best possible way. I learned more than expected to about Chicago’s history, random things like how the city flag came to be, and about the incredible work of Vivian Maier, which I’m not obsessed with.

3. Museum at Mondragon Palace, Ronda, Spain
Plaza Mondragon, Ronda
http://www.museoderonda.es/
Cost: €3.00 per person
This old Moorish palace has been renovated and restored, and given new life as a natural history museum. A lot of the ceiling and tile details are original, and the garden (while small compared to some of the other palaces) is stunning.

4. Saga Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland
Grandagarður 2, Reykjavík
https://www.sagamuseum.is/
Cost: 2.200kr per person
This is like a history picture book come to life – with an audio guide to talk you through, you walk through the museum’s displays of figures (all crafted based on descriptions found in the Viking sagas and chronicles), demonstrating events from Iceland’s history.

Top left: Guinness Storehouse in Dublin – Top right: Mardi Gras World in New Orleans – Bottom left: DDR Museum in Berlin – Bottom right: Czech Beer Museum in Prague

5. Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland
St James’s Gate, Ushers, Dublin
https://www.guinness-storehouse.com/en
Cost: €17.50 per person
I’m not a beer drinker, and I still had a blast here! Yes, you get to go through a proper tasting session, and learn how to pour the perfect pint, and enjoy said pint in the rooftop bar with a killer view over Dublin, but it’s also a multi-level museum looking at everything from the beer creation process to it’s many marketing campaigns.

6. Mardi Gras World, New Orleans, USA
1380 Port of New Orleans Place
http://www.mardigrasworld.com/
Cost: USD$20.00 per person
You can read more about our visit to Mardi Gras World here, but basically it’s a tour through one of the warehouses the Kern family use to create the incredible parades floats. You’ll get to see the props and some floats, as well as getting a peek at some of the artists at work.

7. DDR Museum, Berlin, Germany
Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 1, Berlin
https://www.ddr-museum.de/en
Cost: €5.50 per person
This is an incredibly interactive museum, encouraging visitors to open cupboards, sit in cars, and listen to the sounds coming through the headphones. You’ll get a disconcerting taste of life in war-time East Germany, including being able to walk through a full “apartment” and rifling through the kitchen, bedrooms and lounge room.

8. Czech Beer Museum, Prague, Czech Republic
Husova 241/7, Prague
http://beermuseum.cz/
Cost: 280CZK per person
Again, not a beer drinker, so this was mostly for husband’s benefit, but turned out it was a really cool little museum! It covered the history of beer, had some crazy beer collections (bottles, labels, model trucks), and at the end of the tour, you received 4 beers to sample. Not little 30ml sips, but full glasses of beer. Enjoy!

Top left: MOMA in New York – Top right: Bier & Oktoberfest Museum in Munich – Bottom left: Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome – Bottom right: Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan

9. Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA
11 W 53rd St, New York, USA
https://www.moma.org/
Cost: USD$25.00 per person
It shouldn’t need much of an introduction – this is THE place to go for art in New York. The modern exhibits change regularly, but honestly, my favourite pieces were the classics like Monet’s Water Lilies and Van Gogh’s Starry Night – you see these in magazines and art textbooks at school, but in real life, they’re something else.

10. Bier & Oktoberfest Museum, Munich, Germany
Sterneckerstraße 2, Munich
http://www.bier-und-oktoberfestmuseum.de/en
Cost: €4.00 per person
This little museum lives in an old (when I say old, I mean from the 1300s) townhouse, accessible by a 500-year old wooden staircases, over a few floors. You’ll find an impressive collection of Oktoberfest paraphernalia (mugs, posters, etc), and can sit down to watch a short film about the history of Oktoberfest. Even as a non-beer lover, this was an awesome piece of history to see.

11. Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome, Italy
Lungotevere Castello, 50, Rome
http://castelsantangelo.beniculturali.it/
Cost: €14.00 per person
It took me three visits to Rome, but I finally got to Castel Sant’Angelo! It’s had a few lives, originally built as a mausoleum, and also serving as a fortress and castle before turning into a museum. The most stunning part of the museum are the paintings, Renaissance era frescoes, which have been preserved almost perfectly. Even if you’re not an art lover, they’re worth seeing. Speaking of worth seeing, make it all the way to the top and you’ll be rewarded with one hell of a view.

12. Totem Heritage Centre, Ketchikan, USA
601 Deermount Street, Ketchikan
https://www.ktn-ak.us/totem-heritage-center
Cost: USD$5.00
It’s not a huge museum, but the history it holds is massive. It holds some of the city’s most previous totem poles, as well as other native artifacts (think intricate hand-beaded purses and ornaments).

 

And, because this wasn’t our first (nor will it be our last!) adventure, here are a few more museums worth checking out that we’ve found on our travels…

– Holocaust Museum, Washington, D.C., USA
– The Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt

An interesting encounter at the Temple of Karnak, Egypt

3.367

We arrived at the Karnak Temple complex after a quick visit to the Colossi of Memnon, and bang in the middle of a sandstorm. It was one of those things you see in movies or travel documentaries that looks kinda cool, but is actually just crap in real life. The sandstorm, not the temple.

A staggeringly enormous open air museum of sorts, it’s the second largest temple complex of it’s type in the world (Angkor Wat takes the title). While it’s hard to pick favourite parts, some of the more impressive sections, in my eyes, included the great Hypostyle hall of columns, the rows of ram-headed sphinxes lining the entrance to the complex, and the few obelisks scattered around.

3.368

3.371

3.382

It was an amazing complex, quite different from a lot of other sites we visited. It stood out for another reason, too. A confronting incident with another visitor.

3.386

Our tour group was made up of myself, my husband, another young woman and two other guys, all of us being around the same age. Us two girls hadn’t had too much trouble during the trip, which we were very thankful for, but what happened here certainly tested our nerves. While we were looking around the lake, we became quite conscious of the fact that we were being circled by a few young Egyptian men, somewhere between 18 and 25 years old. Anyway, I guess the cockiest one, with the oiled, slicked back hair, tight fitting singlet and gold neck chains got a little bored of staring from a distance – I hadn’t really registered that he’d disappeared from my sight until I turned around to look back at the lake to find him only a few inches in front of me and my fellow female travel companion, camera pointed in our faces, clicking away like a possessed paparazzo.

Thankfully, our amazing local guide, Medo, stepped in pretty quickly to get rid of him. Once he was gone and we’d gotten over our initial shock, we asked what the hell it was all about. Medo explained that the big temple complexes attracted a lot of young guys coming from the “country side” (remoter areas) where they don’t get Western tourists. They come to the big tourist spots with their cameras to capture the foreign women they see, so that they can take the pictures back home to their friends and brag and exaggerate about what they’d seen and their holiday conquests. Because I wasn’t already feeling like enough of a zoo animal, being porcelain doll-white, auburn-haired and freckled.

3.384

While it freaked me out, it was also a really interesting experience; I think I’d kind of expected to encounter this sort of thing the whole time we were in Egypt. But this was the second last day of our trip, and it was the first confrontation of that type we had. Us Melbournians aren’t really all that surprised or intrigued by different cultures to the extent those young man were. Melbourne is a stomping ground for any and every culture under the sun – Fijians, Chinese, Americans, Italians, Vietnamese, Indians, Brits, Greeks, Jews, Muslims, Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks: they all coexist without any of the outlandish curiosity we were shown in Egypt. Hell, I’ve seen a mature-aged gentleman of what seemed to be eastern European descent standing in the middle of the CBD dressed in a skirt and heels, holding rosary beads, and no one blinked an eye at him as they walked past. It really made me wonder about my own upbringing and how much I’ve completely taken for granted exposure to other cultures from such an early age. Even as a kid, with friends who looked so clearly physically different to me, I don’t think I ever really wondered (or cared) why, yet here were these young adults making special trips from their quiet, secluded home towns to see what foreigners looked like and take home proof that they’d seen these fantastical creatures.

Photo Journal: Philae Temple, Egypt

3.267

It’s funny; it didn’t seem to matter how many temples we visited in Egypt, they were all so different, and all so beautiful in their own ways. Philae Temple was a favourite for me, because it felt so secluded, isolated, and so peaceful.

3.272

Located on a little island in the middle of Lake Nasser, it’s believed to have been founded around 370 BC. “Philae” translates roughly to “the end,” because it’s location defined the southern limit of Egypt at the time it was built.

3.246

Much like Abu Simbel, also located on Lake Nasser, the original site of Philae temple was actually flooded, making it yet another wonder that was thankfully relocated and therefore saved for countless generations to come. It’s not located on an island called Agilika.

3.276

One of the things that really stood out for me were the intricate lotus petal designs that crowned the columns throughout the complex. The lotus features prominently in a LOT of the temples we saw, and held special symbolic meaning to the Ancient Egyptians, representing creation, rebirth, the sun.

3.261

For the most part, the hieroglyphs were still incredibly in tact, considering the age of the temple, and we did see something that completely amazed me: ancient graffiti. Below is one of the images I captured of a Coptic cross, defiantly etched over the original hieroglyphs by early Coptic Christians. They actually made their way through the temple defacing a lot of the original reliefs and art work, and it’s believed that a Christian altar was actually erected around 500 AD, in the courtyard.

3.253

My most concrete memory of this place, though, was the view that greeted us towards the end of our wanderings. Lake Nasser, in all its sparkly glory under the midday Aswan sun. It was perfect, and always will be in my memory.

3.282

Visiting the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

3.346

This place was regal. Beautiful. Completely surreal. And stunningly enveloped within high rock faces of Deir el Bahari. The day we arrived coincided with a strong sandstorm, which, believe it or not, only made the whole experience even more incredible.

3.355

Quick history lesson:
– The temple is believed to have been built around 1480 BC, for the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut.
– She often depicted herself as a male, which you can see in some of the reliefs around the temple.
– The temple was built in dedication to the goddess Hathor, who was the guardian of the area, and you will also see a lot of statues and reliefs in her image around the site.
– Queen Hatshepsut has a reputation with modern Egyptologists as a prolific builder, and one of Egypt’s greatest Pharaohs, holding her reign for around 20 years.
– The site of the temple is often recognised not for it’s majesty and beauty, but for the massacre that occurred there in 1997, where 62 people (mostly tourists) were killed.

3.353
This temple was incredibly striking. The monotone beige landscape, the swirling sand and dirt that enveloped us, the colossal figures that completely dwarfed me, it all made for a really magical experience. I felt tucked away by the surrounding cliffs, which only gave me a sense of peace and calm for some reason. I find it hard to say it was one of my favourite temples in Egypt because they were all so infinitely fascinating, but this place was really something.

Desert sunrise, a police convoy, and Abu Simbel

I won’t lie – I was more than a little pissed off when our poor, patient guide Medo told us we’d have to be up around 4am to join the 4.30am police convoy to Abu Simbel the following morning. We’d just had a pretty long day, disembarking the Princess Sarah in Aswan and visiting the Nubian Village where everything had changed for me – I was physically and mentally exhausted. “But there’ll be a beautiful view of the sun rising over the desert! And I’ll bring you all breakfast!” Dude, 4am.

I’m a pretty solid morning person, with my body clock usually waking me up by 7am if I haven’t set an alarm. But 4am hurt. We piled into our little van and stared bleary eyed out the window as others did the same. We saw the police, dressed to the nines and accessorised with machine guns, directing the early morning operation. We sat together on the bitumen for a while, wondering what the hell was taking so long; eventually, engines started to hum to life and the convoy began the long, 300km drive from Aswan. We all found comfy spots in our little van and promptly fell asleep.

Why the need for the police convoy to get to Abu Simbel? Medo simplified it for us: “Money making.” Ahh… those two little words that make the world go round.

Anyway, credit where credit’s due – he woke us up just as we were about to drive into the sunrise and distributed breakfast lunchboxes to us all, with orange juices, chocolate croissants, and some strange but delicious packaged Egyptian sweet biscuits and breads. And he was right about the beautiful sun rise…

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

We finally rolled up, after what felt like an eternity, yawning and rubbing our eyes… It wasn’t what we were expecting. But then again, none of us were really sure what we should have been expecting. Not this. Not an absolutely stunning lake in what felt like the middle of nowhere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Turns out we were standing on a plateau overlooking the beautiful Lake Nasser, the largest man-made lake in the world, spanning over 5000km². It was breathtaking. We all fell silent and eventually still; I looked around and realised we’d all stopped in our tracks, disregarding the winding path before us to see the temple itself, completely taken by the view over the lake. The photos do not do it justice – the water literally sparkled and glistened under the sun. No one ever speaks about this lake when Abu Simbel is mentioned, but they really should – it’s perfect.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

We were eventually hurried up by Medo – as one of the first groups to arrive, he wanted us to get as much time without the huge crowds as possible. Legend. We couldn’t for the life of us work out where this temple was – we were coming from up high, walking down a dusty path winding it way around to the left (as you can see two pictures up). We looked out, and couldn’t see anything. All of a sudden, the first of the group let out a huge gasp. As we came around the bend to the left the enormous structure appeared underneath the plateau we had started on top of. Words can’t justify it, and neither can photos. But here’s a try.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

I’d spent a lot of time imagining what it’d be like to stand before this leviathan, but it was beyond anything I could have pictured. The main temple is the Temple of Ramesses, one of the handful of temples constructed in the reign of Ramesses II. Over the centuries, the temple was eventually abandoned and covered by the desert sands. It was rediscovered in the early 1800s, and eventually an enormous re-location project began in the mid 1960s; the temple was under threat of submersion from the rising waters of the Nile that would come from the upcoming build of the Aswan Dam. Over four years, the entire structure was cut into blocks of around 20 – 30 ton per piece, meticulously recorded, moved and put back together around 65m above it’s original location.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

One of the most phenomenal feats of the relocation was the fact that the original temple was aligned so that on 22nd of February and October each year, the sun would shine through the entry of the temple and directly onto the beautiful back wall – the relocation was so exact, that the sun shines now on the 21st of the months – pretty close to the original. Not only did the relocation get it right, but the original architects, all those centuries ago, managed to nail it without any technology.

Standing at the base of those statues was so surreal – enormous doesn’t even begin to describe it. I stand at a pretty average 170cm (or 5’7) and as you can see below, I was utterly and completely dwarfed…

3.212

 

There is actually another spectacular temple at this complex which sadly doesn’t get quite as much attention – The Temple of Hathor and Nefertari. This beauty was built to honour Nefertati, the favourite consort of Ramesses II, and it marks the second time that a temple was dedicated to a queen. Nefertari is also depicted as the goddess Hathor, with the cow horns and solar disc on her head. This one was particularly special to me as I have that symbol tattooed on my wrist.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

After we’d been through both temples, taken our photos, stumbled around wide eyed and with our jaws to the ground, four of the five of us met up on a block overlooking the entire area. We just sat there in quiet reverence, and you could just tell that everyone really appreciated what they were experiencing. As we watched the other tourists running around with their cameras to their faces, listening intently to their guides, pouring over maps and guide books, we just sat there and watched it all. We stared at the temples and gazed at the lake, all in silent contemplation.

What the others were thinking about, I couldn’t tell you. What I was thinking about though was my life. How small and insignificant it is in the whole scheme of things. I’ll never be wonderful or grand, magnificent and well known. I’ll never be loved by the masses, nor will I be feared. People will probably never know my name, and there will certainly never be any temples or sculptures built in my honour. I’m just another girl leading another life. But on that day, I also thought about how happy I was and how proud I was of myself for having finally overcome some of my demons and for finally starting to live the life I’d so desperately wanted and coveted for so long. Yeah, I’ve had some luck along the way (I didn’t chose where or to whom I was born, for example, but I’ve been very lucky on both of those accounts), but it’s been a lot of hard work as well, actively seeking out opportunities, making the most of it all, planning, preparing… it was really beautiful to reflect on how far I’d taken myself, and how much further I could go.

And I was happy. We all were. That’s why I really love this photo.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014