Living in Excess

london, Travel

Perhaps because I’ve spent too many hours watching The Crown, or perhaps because I’ve just finished reading Rebecca (or more realistically it is probably due to my current existence in a tiny studio apartment), but I’ve found myself reflecting recently on the grand homes and palaces that I have visited over the years. As a kid, the large estates were home to magical boarding schools and princesses, and as an adult they are home to the question “how many clocks is too many clocks?”.

Home to thousands of years of aristocracy and royalty, Europe is filled to the brim with old historic homes. Of course, the Brits are prominently featured in my current entertainment choices, but my appreciate of palaces in England has been mostly via Instagram accounts. I’ve visited a surprisingly small amount of grand estates in the U.K. Without counting the times I stood outside Buckingham Palace‘s gates wondering if the Queen was home or when I walked past the Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh, the only visit to a home worthy of a period drama that comes to mind was in Brighton. I visited Brighton when I was living in London and my morning was spent in the Royal Pavilion, a strange former palace that brought weird mixes of Asian influences inside its walls.

Another visit included a tour of the Queen’s House in Greenwich with its beautiful spiral staircase. (Many of these grand homes are maintained as museums, allowing you to wander about under the guise of a history lesson, while you’re really trying to decide whether that weird looking panel is a secret door or not.) Unlike visits to cathedrals throughout the U.K., I’ve somehow managed to miss the grand estates so prominently featured in my media consumption.

Scandinavia has provided quite a few palaces over my travels (partially because I spent a decent amount of time there, both alone and entertaining my parents). The question about clocks comes from a tour of a room at the Swedish Royal Palace in Stockholm – apparently royals run out of gift ideas just like the rest of us! I think its particularly interesting to visit the Swedish Royal Palace because you’re in this grand old building, while daily life is happening just outside the window. There’s no distance between the old and the new – unlike Drottningholm, a Swedish castle on the UNESCO World Heritage list, that’s located further out of the city of Stockholm and still maintains a large grounds and garden around the building.

Copenhagen is home to a pretty good Royal Palace or two, but I really enjoyed venturing a little further out for Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød. The castle is now a museum and is genuinely in the middle of a lake. As if that wasn’t cool enough, it also features a really gorgeous (borderline over the top) chapel. [If you’re bored, please feel free to look up the history of royalty in Scandinavia and enjoy the chaos that is the region’s history. Whether they borrowed a prince after winning their freedom or named every single king some variation of Charles Gustav, Scandinavian royal history is fascinating.]

If you’re looking for over the top, the most extravagant palace I’ve ever visited was outside Paris: Le Château de Versailles. Each room is incredibly stunning and filled with an abundance of history. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Versailles and if you’re a fan of ogling at excesses of wealth or the strange French royals, you will be too. The gardens are so ridiculously over the top and the entire place is a good day trip from the city of Paris. I really enjoyed the Hall of Mirrors (an addition to the earlier question about clocks, “how many mirrors is too many?”).

A friend recently posting on Instagram asking if anyone had been to Asheville and paid to visit the Biltmore. A response she received was that it was a “poor man’s Versailles“. They weren’t wrong. The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina is an American’s attempt at the grandiosity of European estates. If you can’t hop across the pond and want to see the excess of a grand palace in person, this is one of your best bets in the U.S. The tickets are a little pricey, but the tour is interesting just to pretend you could one day be rich enough to own an estate like royalty. Another option in the U.S. that isn’t quite the same is the White House. Visiting the White House on a public tour is less of a “princess running down the hall” experience and more of a “history happened here” experience. When you consider how young the United States as a country is in comparison to most of Europe, our half-hearted attempts can be forgiven, right?

Either way, if you’re going to hoard wealth, you might as well build a grand estate with perfect gardens and an interesting story for me to learn about through an audioguide. Until my bank account catches up, I’ll have to live vicariously through Keira Knightley period dramas and the new Netflix adaptation of Rebecca.

Five Favorite Things: Museums

Five Favorites

Growing up, I was very spoiled by the quality of museums in the DC area. And many of them are free to visit (shoutout to the Smithsonian). I could learn about history, art, space, animals, you name it, all within a few walkable blocks. When I started traveling around and museums weren’t up to snuff and they charged me to visit, I was supremely disappointed. I’ve popped my head into many a museum over the years, in various places. In reflection, some of my favorites are free and some are not, and only one is in DC. Here’s my list of five favorite museums:

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

If you find yourself in Paris, ignore the instinct to wait in line to get a grainy picture of a thousand hands in front of the Mona Lisa. Unless you have all the time in the world, the Louvre is not nearly as interesting as we were led to believe in elementary school French classes. Paris is an architecturally beautiful city and one of its gems is the Musée d’Orsay. Housed in a former railway station, the Musée d’Orsay houses some of the most stunning Impressionist art. I could spend hours wandering through the pieces and people watching. Plus if you go upstairs, you get a pretty good view.

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Children’s Museum, Indianapolis

Got kids? Despite being a little older than the target demographic and lacking in a child of my own, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis was visited many times during my Indiana inhabitance. The fourth oldest and the world’s largest children’s museum is home to interactive and educational fun, ranging from dinosaurs to space to a carousel, all indoors. The space also hosts rotating exhibits (I even went with my grandma to see the terra-cotta soldiers there).

Courtauld Gallery, London

Another place I visited with my grandma was the Courtauld Gallery at the Courtauld Institute of Art. When my mother and I visited London many years ago, we purchased the London Pass which ended up not saving us very much on anything, but led us to a smaller gallery just a few blocks from Trafalgar Square. Located in Somerset House, the gallery has a wonderful collection of paintings that includes Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, as well as ceramics from the Renaissance and Degas sculptures. It’s usually much calmer than the National Gallery down the street so you can avoid the chaos that is tourist London.

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Renwick Gallery, Washington, DC

Another gallery to avoid the crowds is my one DC gallery on this list. Part of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, the Renwick Gallery is a smaller space that allows each piece to take over individual rooms, shaping the experience with the integration of the piece into the physical space. The gallery is located literal steps from the White House and, because it is part of the Smithsonian family, entry is free.

Glyptotek, Copenhagen

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen was a surprise find on a family trip to the city. The collection was built around the personal collection of the son of the founder of certain well-known beer. Though the primary focal point of the museum is sculptures, the highlight of my visit was the beauty of the collection in a stunning building. White sculptures stood out amongst crisp colorful walls; an atrium filled with plants sat at the center of the museum; the ceilings are just as stunning as the floors. And there’s a beautiful rooftop space that gives you a lovely view of Tivoli Gardens.

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** I do feel I should defend my list slightly. It’s heavy on the art galleries and lacking slightly on the quirky museums every city seems to have. Don’t get me wrong – the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Natural History are two favorites. The Air and Space Museum in Dulles is also really good, and I will never turn down a little museum that is oddly specific. But the ones on my list make me (want to) return again and again. They’re places I’ve spent hours and hours, only to leave and wish for more hours in the day.