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.

Been There, Done That

london, Travel

Both of my parents had been to London before, so the simple entertainment of crossing off all the classic sites wasn’t available. We had plans to see a show or two, and obviously a graduation to attend, but there was still plenty of day light to fill. I had to think of little surprises to prove to them that I had in fact seen more of London in my year living there than the average tourist sees in a week-long trip. So here’s a few of the bits and bobs that entertained three folks who’d been there, done that:

Leave London

I know it’s an absolute shocker of an idea, but there’s more to the UK than London. Bonus points: the UK has a great train system that’ll get you to plenty of exciting sites in an hour or so for relatively cheap. We went to Salisbury and eventually Stonehenge via train, but other options include Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton, Birmingham, Windsor, 

and Bath. If you’ve been to London before, you should spend a day of your vacation outside the city.50970752_2298766570359956_570854711880581120_n

For the History Buffs

We tried to see one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta at Salisbury Cathedral, but only got to view a replica because of bad timing. For my father, who carries around historical biographical tomes for light reading, we were gonna find some old dusty important stuff.

So we went underground: if you haven’t already visited them, the Churchill War Rooms are incredible. London was right in the middle of the action for World War II (which is a strange thought for Americans who visit a modern and constantly under construction city). The War Rooms take you back, fill a morning with history, and pop you out right next to the classic history of Parliament and Westminster. (Another historical spot worth visiting is St. Dunstan’s in the East, where the remains of a bombed out church have been turned into a community garden.)50985910_391025211632427_4581915461205098496_n

For the Artists

If you can’t find art in London, you’re not looking hard enough. A personal favorite gallery is the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House, but if you’re looking for something quick and cheap, you can pop in and out of the Queen’s House in Greenwich, the National Gallery of Art, the National Portrait Gallery, or the Tate museums.

It was on a trip to the Tate Modern, crossing the wibbly-wobbly bridge (properly known as the Millenium Bridge), that my mother stopped to look at the tiny designs drawn onto the gum dried between the ridges of the bridge. Fortunately, it’s a pedestrian bridge so no cars could take her out, but there was a whole new batch of mini art pieces created since our last visit in August. As we reached the end, we noticed a man laying on the ground with a tiny paint brush in hand. A fantastic conversation later, Ben Wilson, the Chewing Gum Man, may be my mother’s new favorite artist.51464800_341016886744046_5651513002541711360_n

View from the Top

When the view from the ground gets dull, go high. To beat the jet lag, I took my parents on a meandering walk to Primrose Hill, but the views from the Greenwich Observatory are pretty good too. If you’re looking for some history on your way up: St. Paul’s Cathedral (you’ll also get the added bonus of traumatizing your child while you’re at it, thanks mom and dad). We had nice views from the top of the Tate Modern, as well, to make up for the weird art inside.51176038_295319167723476_8234029172079460352_n

Eat

When in doubt, sit down and enjoy yourself with a nice pint and some chips. You’ve been here before, there’s no need to rush. Take the time to see the folks around you and chit chat. As much as I love a quick Pret for the road, you have time to eat a long meal, like my personal happy place Dishoom. (I mentioned some of my favorite places to eat around the world in a previous post here.) Other recommendations: Have a cup of tea at Fortnum and Mason. Eat like a local at Nando’s or Byron Burger. Grab a pint at Temple Brew House or Marquis Cornwallis or the Sugar Loaf. (Other mentions include the best pizza at Pizza Sophia, the post-show meal at Angus Steakhouse, and the off-the-main-road-surprise at Mike’s Cafe near the Portobello Road Market.) Does this make me a food blogger? Or am I just ready for lunch?