Sheet Music & Toilet Seat Art – 13 of Bologna’s Offbeat Museums

A visit to Bologna, Italy is usually characterized by great food, exploring the wonderful architecture, perhaps doing the Portico walks, checking out the tall towers, and perhaps enjoying music, art, or cinema at Bologna’s many festivals.

Offbeat Art in BolognaHidden in the midst of all of that, are several wonderful offbeat museums that are definitely worth your time.  First of all, near the train station and slightly away from the center is a museum filled with works that just about no one thinks of when they go to Bologna – Modern Art.

The Museum of Art Moderne Bologna or MAMBO is bursting with treasures both inside and outside. The Museum covers Italian Art from World War II to the present.

The Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Bologna opened in 1975 in the spaces specially designed by artist and architect Leone Pancaldi; it was born in the atmosphere of intellectual fervor that pervaded the city at the beginning of the Sixties. Before GAM’s opening, more than a decade of events, exhibitions and competitions had taken place in hope of its construction, culminating in the opening activities joint under the title “A museum today.”

Inside you’ll find a wide array of rotating exhibits and a wonderful permanent collection that ranges through such an eclectic mix as tribute to New York break dancing videos to Toilet Seat art (which, by the way, the security seems a little uptight about – when I began lifting the lids to see the symbols painted under them, a very upset guard began yelling at me in Italian and then followed me the rest of the way through the museum – my contention is that there was art under the seats, so obviously the artist intended it to be seen!) Due to the close scrutiny, I was unable to take a photo of this wonderful toilet seat display.  Shit!!

Mambo museum in Bologna
A shot of the wonderful Marcel Boadthaers at MAMbo in Bologna, Italy

When I visited there was an immensely interesting  Marcel Broodthaers  temporary exhibit which highlighted his artistic path and how it developed over the course of an extraordinary career that lasted just 12 years, from 1964 to 1976. Titled, Marcel Broodthaers. L’espace de l’écriture, the exhibition was extraordinary.

Another Bologna Museum that I found to be well worth my time was the Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca Della Musica (International Museum and Library of Music). While this was a small museum, for music lovers it is a must see.  Tucked away inside the 16th century Palazzo Sanguinetti, this museum was designed to hold the musical objects of the city of Bologna, but quickly grew to become an international library for sheet music! With wonderful murals, a delightful old curator, and plenty of old instruments – you won’t be sorry if you pay a visit.

Offbeat Art in BolognaThe frescoes alone are worth the price of admission as they are meticulously restored 18th century examples of Neo-Classical and Napoleanic art that are unlike just about anything else in the city.

Here is a blurb from the museum’s website:

The first and most important intent was to bring awareness to the greater public of the rich variety of musical heritage that the Comune di Bologna owns and has kept for a long time. Until now, much of this heritage remained confined in warehouses for various reasons – the first and foremost being the lack of adequate space – and was only brought out occasionally for temporary expositions.

The museum’s core musical collections were created by Franciscan Father, Giovanni Battista Martini in the 1700’s who was not only a great scholar and collector but also the teacher of Johann Christian Bach and Wolfgang Amadé Mozart. In addition to enriching his library day after day, gathering manuscripts and musical works of various kinds, Padre Martini collected portraits of musicians.

Offbeat Art in BolognaFor me, the most fun was to see the instruments: lutes, flutes by Manfredo Settala from 1650, the pochette, various little violin, the ghironde, the serpentoni, the extraordinary series of horns and cornets from the 16th and 17th centuries, and finally, the tiorba, which is in the shape of a khitára.

So, as you can see – Bologna offers much more than just food and architecture. Here are a few more museums you may want to explore while you are in the heart of good living.

1) The Tapestry Museum in Villa Spada
2) The Leccaro Collection of Modern Art
3) The Herb Museum
4) Missionary Museum of Chinese Art
5) Civic Medieval Museum
6) Museum of Comparative Anatomy
7) The Toy Soldier Museum
8) Resistance Movement Museum
9) Industrial Heritage Museum
10) The Communications Museum
11) The Museum of Bee Keeping

If those thirteen museums aren’t enough for you, there are about fifty more within the center of Bologna and that ought to keep you busy!

 

The Vatican Museums – Three Paintings Out of Hundreds Not to Miss

Hand of GodThe three pictures in this post are some of my favorites though I took  hundreds. These pictures from top to bottom are more interesting though – read on to find out why.

When you are in Rome, whether it’s for a day or a week, one thing you have to do is visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. If the ticket price of 15 Euros sounds a little high, let me assure you, it’s not. What you will see inside is worth every penny and more.

I’d like to introduce you to some of the wonders that I came across as I wandered through this incredible collection of the world’s most wonderful art.

As in much classical art, there was an abundance of angry dudes and sexy nudes – and there was a bunch of art too.

 

1) Despite the angry security guards saying ‘No Picture, No Video’, nearly everyone was taking photos in the Sistine Chapel. That included me. When I showed this picture to my wife she was disgusted “Aggghhh, how obscene to think you could depict God in a painting. You can be sure that painter is in hell.” Not exactly what I was thinking as I looked at one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces.

Coming in, you find a staircase and as you wind your way up it, you will notice that there are more than a few canoes and canoe paddles from the many places that Catholic missionaries have landed, converted, and conquered. For some reason these struck me in a bad way…although it was a magnificent collection of canoes. Moving on…

 

2) Vatican paintingsWhen I first saw these saints painted in the niches, I thought they were real people. A photo can’t capture just how three-dimensional some off these paintings are…astounding.

If you are only going to visit one museum in Rome, certainly it should be the Vatican Museum. Add in a trip to the Colosseum, and a stop in Vatican City and you’ve followed the Vagobond itinerary to see Rome in a day. It wasn’t built in a day, but I feel like these three stops and the transport between them give you a good chance to get a feel for the what was once the capital of the Roman Empire and is still a masterpiece of a city.

The price of the Vatican museums might seem kind of steep at 15 Euros but when you consider that it includes some of the most famous art the world has ever produced and the celebrated Cistine Chapel, suddenly it starts to seem more reasonable. Museo Vaticani is a must see.

 

 

3) I’m not a religious man and I’m nowhere near Catholic, but this painting spoke to my soul. Note the hanging bodies, the monk, pleading and the people in the background seemingly just having a chat…this was real life. It lives on.

Powerful and amazing.

Vatican paintings

Ephesus Efes – Classical Mediterranean City – Swelled with Tourists

Ephesus Efes Selcuk TurkeyEven though we followed the good advice to go to Ephesus (called Efes in Turkey) late in the day to avoid the busloads of tourists from cruise ships, we still found it to have a population that may well have been in excess of what it held when it wasn’t a ruin.

Lots of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese tourists were there. We were surprised to see two young Turkish girls go up to a Korean group and ask to have their picture with them “Can we have a picture with you? My friend is a big fan of Koreans.” Really, that’s what they said…in English. Then they all posed together for about fifty photos.

We had brought a lunch with us. We picked up a huge sandwich and some fries for 5 lira from a Libyan guy in Selcuk and then caught the minibus out to the site for 4 lira each. The entrance fee was 20 lira per person (2010) which you would think would include seeing all the ruins, but they want an additional 15 lira each to see the terrace houses which are well preserved and have some great mosaics, I know this because I looked at pictures of them on the internet after we chose not to pay the extra 30 lira.

While Efes is magnificent and I don’t regret seeing it, I have to say that because of the crowds and the high fee, it isn’t something that I would consider a must see, in particular if you have spent time in other well preserved classical cities (such as Volubulis in Morocco) .

People have been living cities in this area for about 8000 years. At about 1050 BC, it was a port city for the Greeks called Apasas. In about 300 BC, one of Alexander the Great’s generals changed it to Ephesus. For the Roman’s it was the capital city of the state of Asia. It was founded as a city dedicated to the Goddess Artemis who represented hunting and the moon.

The Romans called her Diana. Ephesus stopped being a port city when the sea receded about 600 AD. The city was also controlled by the Persians during its long history.

Ephesus Efes Selcuk TurkeyWithin the city there were an amazing number of statues that I am surprised have not been looted. Hanane said she thought they were all fakes. I didn’t want to believe her. Her reasoning was that things couldn’t be that old – my emotional response was that of course they could be.

The gorgeous Library of Celcius makes the perfect photo opportunity, for everyone, and no one got a solo shot while we were there. In fact, we saw some guys who were intentionally photo  bombing people’s shots at the last second. At one point the library contained 12,000 scrolls. The Goddesses of goodness, thought, knowledge, and wisdom ( Arete, Ennoia, Episteme, and Sophia) grace the exterior.

A short way up we found the Roman men’s toilets near the Roman brothel. The toilets were of an ingenious design with a hole on top to go in and a hole on the bottom to wash in. Apparently there were brushes that sat in a trough of running water that ran around the toilets. No divider walls. I can’t say what the whores were like.

The Great Theater was indeed great and we were amazed to eat our lunch at the top and hear the whispers of Chinese tourists on the stage floor. It was built to hold 24,000 people and is the greatest theatre of the ancient world. Personally, I think it deserves a better name.

The Gate of Hercules was also quite nice to admire too as were the many statues. As we wandered around and looked at the statues, I began to think that maybe Hanane was right and that many of the statues at Ephesus are indeed fake. It just seems strange that conquerors and ancient souvenir hunters would leave such beautiful treasures out in the open. On thinking about it, I think they are fake too.

 

Tillamook, Oregon – Cheese Factory, Planes, and a Really Really Big Hangar

tillamookcheeseNo trip up (or down) the Oregon Coast is complete without a stop in Tillamook, Oregon. While we haven’t had the opportunity to do all the fun things Tillamook (the town) offers, we stop every time at the Tillamook Cheese Factory – the tour through is fascinating – even if you know how cheese is made – and the sampling is divine. Trying 8-10 types of cheese where it is made, side by side is fun no matter how many times you do it – but the crowds in summer can be a bit overwhelming. img_2011In other seasons, you can really take your time as you enjoy the cheese. Even better than the cheese (okay, that might be an overstatement) is the Tillamook Creamery where you can get fresh, delicious ice cream in dozens of flavors – straight from the source. Since the Tillamook Cheese Factory has proved to be such a tourist hit – other foodie centers have sprung up – Blue Heron French Cheese Factory, Debbie D’s Sausage Factory, Werner’s Smoked Meats, Pacific Oyster, and some great farmer’s markets. Tillamook is a great foodie destination which also offers a wide variety of outdoor activities from kayaking to mountain biking to fishing and crabbing.

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The cheese factory is interesting and delicious, but the ice cream goes way beyond that.

The Tillamook Air Museum beckons from beside the highway just south of the Cheese Factory.  Situated in a massive hangar called Hangar B which was designed to house blimps during World War II. Hard to imagine but blimps patrolled the whole Pacific Coast back then protecting us from Japanese Submarines…the hangar is massive…you could play seven football games at the same time inside it! It houses a large collection of aircraft ranging from early aircraft to fighters, helicopters, and even a blimp. Inside there is a theatre and a little cafe – but my advice is to get your meal somewhere else. The admission price is worth going once, but beyond that, probably only if you are a real aviation nut.

tillamook-oregon-air-museum-outside-med img_2031 img_2027 img_2025

Art Not To Miss at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

I originally published this 11 years ago back in January 2009 upon the eve of what I thought was my final departure from the United States. I’m still looking for my shire. It’s not Morocco and it’s not Oahu and probably not the USA – Turkey was wonderful, until suddenly political and religious bullshit ruined it. Who knows where it might be but I wonder if I will ever find it?

 

The Journey’s Reason/ The Quest
Let’s start with the obvious, I leave the United States this afternoon. I have no idea what the future holds. I’m not even sure if I will ever be back here. That’s part of the reason why it’s nice to have been able to visit Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Chicago, Boston, Providence, Warwick, New York City and Queens before I leave. In addition, I was able to look at just about everything in between from the windows of the train. It’s an incredibly beautiful country filed with a lot of wonderful people.

New York is a magical place, but unless I somehow become wealthy enough to have a car service, hire taxis every day, and have a beautiful apartment here, it’s just too cold in the winter for me to ever consider calling it home.

Ultimately, that’s what this trip is about. It’s about finding a place to call home so I can dig in, plant some roots, and put my energy into creation. What about Hawaii? Well, Hawaii is great but I like it to be a little cooler than Hawaii (but not as cold as the Northeast), Hawaii is too far from other places, and unfortunately, I saw myself staying in one service job after another if I stayed there. Or becoming an academic and frankly neither option appeals to me.

So that is why I am leaving. It’s a journey, a searching, a quest and I suppose unlike the Lord of the Rings, this quest starts from a magical land and ideally takes me to the Shire. I’m looking for a Shire, not too hot, not too cold, not too far from the world, and connected via the internet.

On Aging

As my friend James pointed out the other day, we are getting older and it is becoming obvious. Of course sometimes it manifests in ways that I don’t expect and I have to admit to not enjoying that at all.

On the upside, I am more in control of my life than I have ever been before. My capacity to make decisions is unsurpassed in my own life experience. I have learned the lessons of this life I’ve lived (hopefully) and I feel like I am cooler, smarter, better looking, and more together than I have ever been. That’s a pretty good upside.

The downside is more subtle. I’ve been having a hard time finding couches to surf since the West Coast. I attributed it to my lack of planning more than anything else, but there is another possibility that I have to consider. I’m 37. It says so on my couch surfing profile. Even though I meet people and they generally think I am in my late 20s to early 30s, I usually find that their behavior towards me changes (if they are younger) when they find out my age. It happened over and over again in college.

The book of the dead and those reflected in it.

The reason for this change and perhaps for this prejudice against people my age on things like couchsurfing.com is probably justified. Let me repeat that, I think it is probably justified. The truth is that for every guy like me (adaptable, smart, fun, and ‘ahem’ fairly normal) who is vagobonding, there are probably 10 weirdos of the same age that are out to exploit, steal, or who are just crazy. Let’s face it, at 37 I’m supposed to be married, in a career, a father, have some money in the bank, and be living a ‘responsible’ life. Either that or there is potentially something wrong with me…or (as in the present case) I am just a very different type of person who hasn’t followed the usual path.

Frankly, I feel like I think I was supposed to feel in my mid to late twenties. And I’m okay with that, actually, I’m really okay with that because I plan on living for a really long time so there is no need to become old prematurely. The problem is that for the past six nights I think I have been put in an ‘old men’s dorm’ at the Chelsea International Hostel. Nearly everyone in my dorm has been the same age or older than me and aside from ungodly snoring, farting, and other loud bodily noises, I’ve noticed that there has usually been something not quite right with these guys. So you see, maybe I’m guilty of the same prejudice. Here’s a funny thought, maybe all the old guys in the room (including yours truly) all are thinking the same thing.

In any event, I’ve become fairly certain that my age is working against me on couchsurfing and now in this hostel at least. Incidentally, aside from price and location, I wouldn’t recommend this hostel. It’s loud from repairs and old pipes, it doesn’t have a comfortable common area, no chairs in the dorms, and it doesn’t provide wi-fi. I think wi-fi and a comfortable place to sit are high on my list of desired traits in hostels.

And that brings me to cafes.
In the age of the laptop, a cafe without wi-fi is like a cafe without coffee. I’ve been staying in Chelsea and for such a hip and cool neighborhood, I have been surprised to find the only coffee shops with comfortable seating to be Starbucks. How much does that suck? At least in Honolulu we had the option of Starbucks or a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and at CB &TL there was free wi-fi if you bought anything. Here, the Starbucks are packed and the wi-fi is a big rip off from AT&T.

I found a handful of places offering wi-fi and out of those the only one that actually worked was here at the Brooklyn Bagel Company. And I have to wonder if the brushed metal seats and marble counters and tables are designed with making asses and elbows cold. I do like this place though. Great bagels with huge gobs of cream cheese, free wi-fi that works, and some interesting art on the walls.

ART
I spent yesterday at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was astounding and wonderful and overwhelming. It is filled with millions of objects d’art from all over the world. There are entire Egyptian Temples, dozens of mummies, giant rooms filled Picasso, entire rooms from famous mansions and when I say entire rooms, I mean the floor, the ceiling, the wainscoting, and everything else. There is a library parlor designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and everything else you can imagine.

The problem with all of that is that I was trying to see it all in a day. I’ve come to the conclusion that I would rather spend long periods contemplating one exquisite piece of art than to be running around manically trying to appreciate so much in so little time. Not that I would change having gone yesterday, I just realize that I missed a lot by seeing so much.

And finally,
Let’s look at the United States.

As I’ve said, I love the land and I love the people, but I think that we, as a country have lost something within my lifetime. I don’t know if it was born of the cynicism of Vietnam or the excesses of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but there is a sort of ugly greed that exists here. The culture here has become very much “The United States of Me” rather than “We the people”. The difference is of course in who is being served and who is taking responsibility.

I decided to do a different perspective of Venus. I don’t think she noticed. Nice, huh?

It’s not a big surprise at this point that we are heading into a fantastic depression. It might be a good time to start reflecting on those famous words of JFK “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I’ve lost faith that Americans are capable of such selflessness and perhaps I am simply one of the first rats fleeing a ship that I think is sinking.

Obama might be a fantastic change in the right direction though. I hope. We will see. The United States has become such an incredible slut to Israel, multinational corporations, and institutions such as the world bank, the WTO, and the IMF; unfortunately, I don’t see these relationships changing under Obama. I hope I’m wrong.

And then there is the racism. I’m terrified of the possibility that some nutjob racist will kill Obama. Or some foreign government pretending to be a nutjob racist. My mom, a bit of a nutjob herselftold me to focus on survival skills when I should have been focusing on math because she said that someday there would be a huge race war. She wasn’t a white nationalist, she was a freaky christian hippy, with some odd ideas and some leftover 1950’s prejudice. Frankly, I never considered her crazy ideas to have any merit even through Rodney King, Reginald Denny, and the LA Riots, but when I think of Obama getting shot by some redneck, suddenly I can picture LA happening on a nationwide scale…

Okay, not really. I think we are more rational and better than that, but it could certainly cause some problems. And what happens when Hope gets killed? It’s like the Langston Hughes Poem “A Dream Deferred”

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it sag on your back like a heavy load?
Or does it…Explode?

Anyway, I’m leaving. I might be back. I hope Obama can fix everything while I’m gone. Good night and good luck.

Originally posted 1/17/09

The Paris Catacombs – 6 Million Human Skeletons Up Close

Paris CatacombsWhen people began to get sick in Paris in the late 1700s, they did the natural thing – dig up all the 6 million corpses and artistically arrange them in an abandoned stone quarry under the city.

I admit that I am drawn to underground attractions (literally) and the more macabre sites around the world, if there’s a tunnel, a skull or mummified human corpse on display, I’ll probably go there. So of course, in Paris, the catacombs were on my must see list. Two out of three – check.

Since I only had six Euro the last time I was there and the cost of a ticket is 8 Euro, I had to miss it, but this time I was flush, so I caught the subway to Montparnesse, gave the vendor my 8 Euro, and descended into the bowels of the city where even though I had read about it and knew the numbers, I was astounded by the sheer volume and artistry of the human bone arrangements.

Before reaching the bones, I had to descend 19 meters on a rusty circular staircase, then walk through wet stone tunnels where I found a view to the massive aqueduct below and a model of the Port-Mahon fortress created by a former Quarry Inspector well before the bones were brought. The model itself was quite creepy, like a miniature city of the dead waiting for inhabitants. (The sculptures of the gallery of Port-Mahon made by a quarryman called “Décure”, veteran of the armies of Louis XV, who carved in the wall a model of the fortress of Port-Mahon, principal city of Minorque to the Balearic Islands where he would have been a time captive by English army. Finally restored and exposed by a specific lighting, they constitute an undeniable curiosity of the circuit re-opened to the public after 13 years of closing.)

In truth, the overflow of dead bodies had become a serious health risk in the 1700’s since the church made a huge profit on burying people in the ‘fashionable’ cemeteries – it is after all Paris and always has been. So they would put more bodies than the earth could decompose in the most expensive plots and it took the government condemning and shutting down the cemeteries to put an end to stuffing more status starved dead rich people into the chic districts.

Paris CatacombsIt was a police lieutenant, Alexandre Lenoir, who came up with the bright idea of putting all the human remains into the abandoned stone mines.

Twelve years of bone filled wagons emptied the city’s dead into the caverns below where they sat in piles and heaps for twenty-two more years until Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, decided to turn the bone piles into an artistic monument which also incorporated gravestones and funerary monuments such as could still be found. Stacking the femurs and skulls in artistic fashion was difficult work and one can reasonably ask where are the finger bones, scapula, and toes since only skulls and femurs seem to have been used. The answer may lie buried in the rest of the vast network of combing tunnels that create a city of the dead beneath the city of love. And since it is Paris, it’s indeed a beautiful city of the dead.

Reaching the Paris Catacombs

The entrance to the Paris Catacombs is located at 1 avenue of Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy near the Montparnesse Cemetary. You can reach there by the Paris Metro station Denfert-Rochereau or by taking bus #s 38 or 68. If you are taking the Paris Open Tour, take the yellow line and depart at the catacombs exit. Entry is 8 Euro per adult.

Getting out of the Catacombs

You do a good long bit of walking down beneath the surface of the city. The catacombs extend hundreds of miles but only a small portion is open to the public. However, you do come out quite a distance from where you go in and it is completely disorienting. After coming out you will see plenty of confused looking people squinting into the sunlight and looking at maps and for non-existant street signs. Here is the simple way back to where you started. Come out of the Catacombs, turn right, walk to the next big street, turn right, walk back to Denfert-Rochereau, it should take you fifteen to twenty minutes. Or, just find the metro and go back underground.

 

5 Fun Family Activities in Istanbul – Turkey with Kids!

Family Fun Istanbul

Istanbul may not be the first place you think of to take a family vacation, but the city that bridges two continents is an extraordinary place to take a family vacation. While there may not be an Istanbul Disneyland (yet!), the city abounds with activities that are worthy of inclusion in any magic kingdom.

Istanbul AquariumFishtanbul!

The Istanbul Aquarium is filled with more than fish. Educational multi-media displays, 4-D films, hands on exhibits, and then there are the tons of fish, tunnels, old boats, and everything a kid of any age could want. (http://www.istanbulakvaryum.com/en-US/)

Koch Transport Museum

The Rahmi M. Koch Transport Museum has collections of just about everything you can imagine from dolls to bicycles, baby carriages, motorbikes, classic cars, boats, boat houses, locomotives, engines, toys, Rahmi Transport Museumand even a submarine. Plenty of hands on exhibits and you can even schedule a boat ride and a submarine tour. (http://www.rmk-museum.org.tr/english/index.html)

Dondurma Clowns

Go to Sultanahmet in Istanbul and you will pass brightly dressed guys who offer Turkish ice cream, called Dondurma. The price is a bit high but this is an especially delicious treat on a hot day. Of course, the real treat is the way they serve it. Expect to be tricked, but in a good way. Laughter can’t be contained around these guys.

Cruise Up the Bosporus

Family Fun IstanbulCould there be a better family excursion than a trip up the waterway that divides two continents? You can make stops in Europe and Asia and visit the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea before coming home. Plenty of treats along the way like the special yogurt of Kamlica and the delicious hamsi (Black Sea Sardines) at the Anadolu Kavagi village at the top of the Bosporus just before the Black Sea.

Turkish Dance Extravaganza

This family friendly dance show has something for everyone. Belly dancers, Black Sea folk dance, and even a little bit of Sufi sacred music. This show is more kid friendly than the Whirling Dervish specific show but both are great.  

Who needs Disneyland when Istanbul awaits you?

 

Santa Claus – Extraordinary World Traveler Vagabond

Real Santa ClausSanta Claus – He’s Not Who You Think He Is

Earlier this year, before her 1st birthday, my daughter had the opportunity to visit the real home of Santa Claus. No, we didn’t go to the North Pole. Nor did we go to Lapland.  We didn’t visit with the elves or travel through the snow.

We were in Demre, Turkey. If you don’t believe me, you can read a little about the history of Santa on Wikipedia or you can just read on and trust me with the facts.

If anyone ever tells my daughter that Santa is a made up person, I can show her pictures of us visiting where he really lived. He was a real person. A person named Nicholas.

If you are one of those people who says Santa Claus isn’t real – you’re right because he’s long dead, but he was real. He was a real person, so if you are one of those people who say Santa Clause is a fictional or imaginary character – you are wrong.

Santa Clause was born in the town of Patara, Turkey on the Mediterranean Coast. If you visit today you will find (much to the surprise of many) Santa shops, Christmas shops, and everything Santa you can imagine in this mostly Muslim town. At the time he was born, Turkey wasn’t yet a country and so despite being Anatolian, he was Greek. A Byzantine Christian to be precise. For those who don’t know, Istanbul was the capital of Byzantium and called Constantinople in those days.

His parents left him as a wealthy orphan and he used his inheritance to help the poor who weren’t as fortunate as he.  In particular, he was generous with children and traveled the known world distributing gifts and help to the needy.

Real Santa ClausIn 325 A.D. He became the Bishop of Myra (Now Demre, Turkey) and was a part of the Council of Nicea who cobbled together the Holy Bible from a vast assortment of documents. He died December 6, 343 A.D. In fact, in many parts of Europe, December 6 is a day to give gifts and exchange presents.

Six Facts You Didn’t Know About Santa (From Natalie Sayin’s Turkish Travel Blog)

 

So, how did he become Santa Clause?

Here’s a story you won’t see in Christmas cartoons…one of the most famous stories of St. Nick’s generosity was when he gave three orphaned girls dowries so they would be able to marry and wouldn’t have to become prostitutes! It was this gift that some say led to the giving of presents on Christmas today!

In the 10th century – Myra was attacked by Italian sailors who carried away all the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari where they still sit today.  He is the patron saint of archers, sailors, and children to pawnbrokers.

After his death, he was attributed with miracles aplenty. He brought boys murdered by a butcher back to life, he kept a ship from sinking with his prayers, and he levitated one sailor from the water to save his life. Hmmm…I believe he can fly!

Clement C. Moore, an American professor of divinity, was the one who turned Saint Nicholas into Santa with his 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” The poem provided the inspiration for the first portrait of Santa Claus, drawn by newspaper cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1870.

Real Santa ClausAfter he died, he was made a saint and a tomb was built for him in Demre. The Church of St Nicholas was built over that tomb in the 6th Century. It is a ruin now, but still a very beautiful piece of  Anatolian Byzantine architecture. Many of the mosaics and frescoes have survived.  There is a tomb there, but the bones are in Bari.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Russian Orthodoxy, so it’s not surprising that on peak days (around December 6th) you can find up to 60 buses per day of tourists – mostly from Russia. The government of Turkey issued a Santa Claus stamp in 1955 and have heavily promoted ‘Noel Baba’ as a tourist draw. It’s a pretty good one if you ask me.

 

7 Offbeat Adventures in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Old China Cafe KLWhile in Kuala Lumpur back in 2011, I did more than just drink beer and watch street walkers, I also saw some very cool places and attractions you might not have come across.

 

The Old China Cafe

Old China Cafe was a great lunch of Malay-Chinese cuisine and had an interesting feel. Finding it was the hardest part but a friendly guy sniffing glue on the corner pointed me in the right direction. I’m lucky to have been in China before it’s modern transformation…this reminded me of that.

From their site:

This building was the guild hall of the Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association. The guild was set up at the turn of the century and moved to this part of Chinatown in the 1920s.
As the guild members prospered, the founding members moved to this building in 1930. The two large mirrors that face each other are traditional feng shui mirrors that Chinese believe would perpetually reflect the good luck when the first rays of the morning sun light up the interior.

Even the interior doors still have wooden latches. This type of pre-war (World War One/1914-1918) shophouses may not last forever. Already several in the neighbourhood (Jalan Panggong, Jalan Petaling and Jalan Balai Polis) have either been demolished or renovated beyond recognition.

Old China Café tries to maintain a semblance of the Chinese community’s old social life which will soon fade into history.

Bukit Nanas ParkBukit Nanas Forest Reserve. Sitting in the center of ultra-modern, ultra-urban Kuala Lumpur is a rainforest preserve where you can hike across wooden bridges, see monkeys, and get your feet muddy on tropical trails. Since 1906 the 11 hectares of the preserve have been a beloved spot for locals and visitors to get away from it all by heading to the city center. Great trails and for tree lovers you can check the signage to discover Kapur (Dryobalanops aromatica), Keruing bulu (Dipterocarpus baudii), Jelutong (Dyera costulata), Meranti pa’ang (Shorea bracteolata) and Rattan (Calamus manan) and many other trees. A botanical herb garden, orchid area, nature center, and jogging trails all make this a more than worthwhile nature stop in the center of the city.

Ain Arabia is a completely neat idea to me. Sure, Malaysia is a Muslim country, but it’s not an Arab country. If, however, you want to experience the Arab world of the Middle East while visiting Southeast Asia, the place to head is Ain Arabia. The street is located at Jalan Berangan in Bukit Bintang. Oddly, the area seemed to be filled with mostly Arab tourists and I’m told that during the month of Ramadan, many Arabs come from stricter countries to avoid the enforced fast. Since I lived in Morocco, I found the Sahara Tent Restaurant and the Berber laundry service to be more than a little bit odd.

Cosmo's World KLCosmo’s World Theme Park gives you a chance to experience a theme park but without having to go outside so you can enjoy the air conditioning. The park is located at Level 5, Berjaya Times Square. It fills 380,000 square feet and has separate theme parks for adults and children called Galaxy Station and Fantasy Garden. Sorry, the Fantasy Garden is the part for kids…Still, you have to love indoor roller coasters and a ride called the DNA mixer sounds like it is much more adult than it really is.

Little India. Indians are one of the three main ethnic groups in Malaysia so Little India makes sense. For those looking for an Indian experience without going to India. This works. Jalan Masjid India is one of the oldest parts of the city and dates back to 1870 when the Indian mosque was built.
Little India is the heart of a thriving neighborhood built up around the mosque. It is filled with colorful flowers and garments and is easy to reach. Just get off the tram at Masjid Jamek Station or walk from China town.Bales of saris, shops heaped with gold, traditional pharmacies and gorgeous glass bangles fill the shops and delicious aromas come from the many restaurants which offer tasty Indian snacks like samosa, ghulab jamun and vadai.

KL Bird and Butterfly ParksThe Bird and Butterfly Parks. The Bird Park and Butterfly house are located in the Lake Gardens, a 60-hectare reserve since 1888. It is the world’s largest free flight, walk in Aviary. The butterfly park has over 6000 butterflys and more than 120 species…and they are alive not stuck to pin-boards.

National Planetarium. I’m a sucker for planetariums. I just love them. It’s the blue domed building above the Lake Gardens and has a space museum that includes replicas of ancient observatories. The planetarium shows were in English and not only interesting, but fun. Of particular note was the very nice juxtaposition of traditional Islamic architecture with the space age. Very nice.

Mummified Love in Andong, South Korea

To celebrate Halloween, here is another monster story, but this one with a twist – it’s a mummy love story. I first shared this back in 2011. Enjoy!

Andong MummyWhen you travel the world you come across wonderful things, but some of them touch you more than others. The story of an ancient Korean mummy and his heartbroken wife hit me hard as I traveled and thought of my wife at home, pregnant with our first child. My own journey here was very random as I had come to Andong with no idea of what to do or see and when the bus passed by Andong National University, I figured it was a good place to wander around since Universities tend to have free libraries, galleries, cheap food, and interesting people who speak English.

It was my good luck to find the free archeology museum where the Andong mummy lives so that I could discover this story. It’s a famous story by now, but maybe you haven’t heard of it yet. Everyone in Korea knows it though and when the mummy was found and the letter with it was read, it touched hearts around the world. On this day, it touched my own.

Andong Mummy Love LetterThe 16th century mummy was found by archeologists in Andong City and identified by researchers at the Andong National University as Eung-tae, a member of the very ancient Goseong Yi Clan. Eung-tae was in a wooden coffin in a earth hardened tomb. The archeologists were very excited to have found a male mummy, not a common thing in South Korea. His beard and clothing were still preserved and they found that he was fairly tall at five feet nine inches, which even today in Korea would put him above the average. On his chest, much to their surprise, they found a letter from his wife, which is actually how his identity was revealed.

The letter was heart-breaking and over the next few years led to novels, films, and even an opera. Here is the text of the letter translated to English:

To Won’s Father
June 1, 1586
You always said, “Darling, let’s live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day. How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live without you? How could you die before of me?
How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, “Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?” How could you leave all that behind and die ahead of me?
I cannot live without you. I want to go to you. Please take me to where you are. My feelings toward you I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where can I put my heart now and how can I live with your child missing you?
Please look at this letter and tell me in detail in my dreams. I want to listen to your words in detail in my dreams and so I write this letter and put it in with you. Look closely and talk to me.
When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.
You are in another place, and not in such deep grief as I. There is no limit and end to my sorrows and so I write roughly. Please look closely at this letter and come to me in my dreams and show yourself in detail and tell me. I believe I can see you in my dreams. Come to me secretly and show yourself. There is no limit to what I want to say but I stop here.

Andong MummyThe letter and the mummy made me suddenly aware of the risks I was taking by traveling and being away from my wife and the child she carries. It was at that moment, that I just wanted to go home, to be with her. From there forward, my journey held no joy for me. Certainly I met wonderful people, saw interesting things, and yes, I enjoyed myself, but my heart was no longer in it. I just kept thinking of this woman, weeping upon learning the death of her husband, weeping as her child was born, and struggling through life as a single mom and without the man she had come to depend on.

Perhaps it was for this reason that I didn’t have a desire to take any great risks, to test the limits of my endurance, or to push the limits of my already very limited budget. It would be several months before I would be able to permanently be at home with my wife and our unborn child, but upon meeting the mummy, I made a promise that I would make certain to be there for them. And so, from Andong to Busan, back to Seoul, back to Kuala Lumpur, to Singapore, Jakarta, and back to Turkey I walked carefully and kept in mind that there were two people waiting for me and relying on me. And now, I am home- back in Morocco with my wife and our child will be coming in a month or so. Suddenly, I can relax and much of the tension I felt while away has melted since I know that my wife and child have me with them at this very important time.

Belgrade, Serbia – The Scars Remained but the Beauty Shined Through

Serbia in 2011 was still a very rough place to be. I’m glad I went, but it wasn’t easy. I look forward to returning to Belgrade someday. I felt as scarred as the city by the time I left – and that’s reflected in this decidedly unfair remembrance that I wrote soon after. 

Belgrade SerbiaBelgrade is more than a gritty city filled with bad graffiti and dog turds. I know it. and while I found pockets of what seemed like paradise, for the most part, the city felt like what it is, a scarred and damaged war zone where unspeakable atrocities have taken place. Despite having the reputation of being the Paris of Eastern Europe and having the best night life of just about anywhere in Europe, the Serbians I met generally said the nightlife wasn’t so great. While I didn’t visit the many museums of Belgrade, I still did get a sense that this is a cultured place with a highly educated population. I wanted to experience that, but somehow just missed it.

From the apartment I’d been staying in, I wandered to a hostel called 1001 Nights. The owner ran a clean place with a friendly vibe. I arrived at around 8 a.m. and he offered me coffee and rakia. I accepted. Nearby was a wonderful little cafe called JazzYoga which had great jazz playing and illustrated yoga postures on the walls. The food was carefully crafted healthy vegetarian fare. These two places told me that there is certainly more to Belgrade than graffiti, dog turds, and obnoxious fans of the former regime.

Belgrade SerbiaIn fact, as I walked around, I saw signs of cultured life just about everywhere I looked. In a city of approximately 1.7 million that has been influenced by Turks, Celts, Romans, and many others since it was founded in the 4th century there are signs of art and refinement everywhere you look…if you look past the dog turds and bad graffiti which were everywhere. One thing that was disturbing me but took me a while to figure out was the lack of diversity in Serbia. Serbs are almost 100% white. No blacks, no browns, no coffee colored, no shades other than white and often with blond hair and blue eyes. I usually live in incredibly diverse places and having no skin diversity was frankly pretty creepy. The fact that Belgrade is nicknamed “White City” and has a magazine named the same just made it creepier. Utah has more diversity.

In many ways it is like a nightmare with the stories of kidnappings, organ stealing, human slavery, bombed out buildings, ripped up streets, and utterly shitty grafitti on every possible surface. While for the most part, the Serbs I met were kind, intelligent, and gracious I had to wonder if the interior landscape is as scarred and fucked up as the exterior landscape.

Belgrade SerbiaI spent the day wandering through streets of the city. I strolled down the main pedestrian shopping area Knez Mihailova Street and then took a little side trip to the Bohemian cafe section. I snapped a few photos of the famous horse riding statue of Mihailo Obrenovic in Republic Square. I saw quite a few giant cathedrals and plenty of museums that I didn’t get the chance to visit because they were closed on Monday. The Temple of Saint Sava was impressive in its massiveness though only dating from about 1935 so not an ancient site by any means.

A highlight was a visit to the massive Kalemegdan Fortress which was once the cities main military fortification. These days it is the Serb version of Central Park. The park is filled with museums (closed on Mondays) and has wonderful views of the old fortifications, some interesting public art, and incredible viewpoints of the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers.

Belgrade SerbiaHoused within the fortress is the Belgrade Zoo. I have to say, I’ve never seen so many bizarre animals in one place before. The highlight was this massive white tiger that sat in it’s cage looking about the size of a VW bug. I’ve never seen such an impressive animal. This is the king, never mind the lion.His name is Khane and he was awe inspiring. In some cases only a small fence separated me or other visitors from the many big cats, wolves, or dangerous ostriches of the zoo. I’m certain that people have lost limbs or body parts in this zoo which is housed in an ancient fortress. I spent the better part of four hours wandering around the zoo and getting up close and personal with the animals. Because it was freaking cold, there weren’t a lot of people there. Just me, the caretakers, and a handful of others. The animals from tropical areas were inside a winter barn which was heated for them, must be a long winter since the barn wasn’t all that big judging by the number of animals inside. Think Noah’s Ark. Oddly, there was a section of the zoo that seemed to be all domestic dogs put in zoo cages. I wonder if they were wild dogs caught amongst the dangerous packs in the city. The man at the hostel told me that people are killed by dogs on a regular basis in Belgrade. Seems like a big problem.

Belgrade SerbiaI enjoyed my day of wandering around in Belgrade though I have to admit that I’d been feeling a vague sense of unease since I had arrived in Serbia. It’s a little hard to describe, but suffice to say that I have felt the same thing in the United States, in particular after coming back to the USA from places like Canada. I kept looking over my shoulder. I wasn’t really looking for dogs, though that might have been part of it. It was more like I felt like I was being watched. I felt completely observed, just as in the United States. In the USA these days, if you look around you will find a camera, someone is watching you and chances are there is someone with a gun not too far from wherever you might be (FBI, CIA, DEA, Park Rangers, Forest Service, City Police, State Police, Highway Patrol, Homeland Security, Federal Marshals etc etc etc). Serbia feels the same way.

Later, when I returned to the hostel I asked the owner what the sign that was flashing outside my window was for. To my surprise, he told me it was for a laundry. Sex is used to advertise everything in Serbia it seems.

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Visiting the Battleship Missouri at Pearl Harbor

Battleship Missouri High on the list of many visitors to Honolulu, Hawaii is the chance to visit the USS Missouri, the last of the great American battleships – which is permanently anchored as an attraction at Pearl Harbor as part of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

The ‘Mighty Mo’  was the last American battleship commissioned (1944) and the last of the great ships to be decommissioned (1992). The ship still serves, but now it is as a monument to those who have served on American Navy ships.

To get to the Missouri, you will first need to go to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center where you can purchase a ticket if you haven’t already bought one online. The entire complex contains the Missouri,  USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. From the visitor center you will take a military operated bus to Ford Island.

Don’t be surprised by the size of the ship. It is huge! At more than 18 stories tall from top to bottom and over three football fields long, be ready to climb lots of stairs and do lots of walking- there are elevators available for those who are mobility challenged.

Battleship Missouri

The ship is kept in a state of what seems perpetual readiness and the smell of diesel fuel and paint is strong wherever you go. The passageways, galleys, and chambers on the ship feel ghostly alive with the sounds of the crew that no longer serves on board, recorded in the past and piped in on speakers in the present. Most of the ship feels as if you have arrived just as the crew is taking a break and has gone elsewhere – it’s eerie to look into the empty medical offices, machine shops, galleys, berths, mess halls, and quarters and not find a soul there (except for other tourists)

The Missouri is most famous as the site where the formal Japanese surrender happened. That and the site where  Japanese kamikaze pilot smashed into the ship are both memorialized. The kamikaze display below decks, where the faces and final letters of the young men who committed suicide by smashing their planes into American ships is perhaps the most disturbing of the many museum displays on board the ship. It’s important to remember the high cost of war while you visit this huge machine of death – World War II killed an estimated 88 million people of which as many as 55 million were children, women, senior citizens and other civilians and non-combatents.

Battleship Missouri

Battleship Missouri

If you are not a patriotic American or a true fan of war machines or history, the first part of the tour can be a bit rough. You are required to take a docent guided tour where patriotism and gushing anthropomorphic descriptions of the ship are shared from a well memorized script. This portion can run from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the tour you book and your guide’s enthusiasm The guides always refer to the big ship as ‘her’ or ‘she’. After the guided portion, you can wander through the ship at your leisure – watch your head and don’t trip as you crouch through the hatchways.

There are two tours available – the standard guided tour (Mighty Mo) – which shows you the main decks and the nearly three times as long ‘Heart of the Missouri’ which takes you to below decks and through some of the museums and displays.

 

Battleship Missouri

As with most attractions in Hawaii, Kamaʻāina and military members with photo I.D. get discounted prices. Visitors cannot bring purses, backpacks or bags into the entire complex. There is bag storage available or just leave it behind.

Battleship Missouri

 

The Valor in the Pacific Memorial and Pearl Harbor Historic Sites are located at

1 Arizona Memorial Place Honolulu, HI 96818

Open daily. 8 am- 4 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day

There are many ver official looking sites that offer tours and tickets, but this is the only truly official website for the sites. https://ussmissouri.org/buy-tickets

The Istanbul Archaeology Museum and the Basilica Cistern – Slideshow Saturday

Istanbul Archaeology MuseumThe Istanbul Archaeology Museum is located near the Topkapi Palace inside Gulhane Park in Istanbul. I first visited it when my wife and I honeymooned in Turkey in 2010. The museum has more than a million objects in its collections many of them from Byzantine, Greek, Roman, and even earlier civilizations.

This visit was not the most exciting part of our trip, especially for my wife, but she enjoyed the incredible collection of statues and the ancient sarcophagi, some of which date back as early as 400 BC.

Istanbul Archaeology Museum

As you enter the museum grounds there is a statue of a lion which comes from one of the ancient wonders of the world, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.The museum is massive. It took us nearly half a day to stroll through the main collections at a rapid pace.The sarcophagi are definitely worth seeing, though I was disappointed to read that the Alexander Sarcophagus is actually the tomb of a king named Abdalonymous.

One of my favorite finds was the snake’s head from the Serpentine Column in the Hippodrome. I thought the serpents looked rather headless. The Museum of the Ancient Orient was closed for renovations while we were there.

If you want to visit the museum, it is open Tuesday – Sunday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is 10 lira.

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Crveni Krst (Red Cross) Concentration Camp in Nis, Serbia

Red Cross Concentration Camp SerbiaTravel is about seeing things that broaden your experience. Both good and bad.  I’ve never had any desire to see a Nazi Concentration Camp as either a victim or a tourist, but back in 2011 I was in Nis, Serbia when I found out that there was a concentration camp nearby, I decided it was important to visit. I’m glad that I went. It was powerful and important.

Red Cross Concentration Camp Serbia

The camp was called the Red Cross Concentration Camp (Crveni Krst in Serbian) which sent a very mixed message. It was a strange contrast sort of like the interactions I had with most of the Serbians I met. I never really got the sense that they hated me, but in their rhetoric I sometimes heard a blind hatred of my country that included me and that, was most certainly not something that could be ignored.

Red Cross Concentration Camp Serbia

To get to the camp, I had to walk out of Nis and into the surrounding countryside. It was cold in either direction and the scenery was like a depressing Soviet era film all about life in the Gulag. Knowing I was heading to a concentration camp probably didn’t do anything to raise my level of happiness, still, I was curious what it would be like. As I got closer, I felt a cold wind not just blowing outside the walls of the camp but also blowing inside of me as I thought about the atrocities of the Nazi regime.

Red Cross Concentration Camp Serbia

The camp was built by the Nazis during the occupation of Yugoslavia during World War II. Coming closer and seeing the swastica, barbed wire, and guard tower- I felt chills as I thought of the way human beings are able to kill each other. I’ve talked with killers before and they say it becomes easier each time and soon, it’s like just about anything else. Interestingly, butchers or hunters say the same thing. Incredibly disturbing.

Red Cross Concentration Camp Serbia

I walked in and was ignored by everyone there (about five people). I went to the ticket office, but no one was there so I walked around. It felt sort of surreal to be buying a ticket to a concentration camp anyway. I found some maintenance guys and a pretty Serbian girl eating some borek and I sort of shrugged my shoulders as in “Hey, am I suppossed to pay someone or something?” The girl came over and in halting English told me “Just go in, pay ticket later.”

Red Cross Concentration Camp Serbia

So, I went in. Inside I found three American Missionaries from Missouri. A husband and wife who are missionaries in Macedonia and the wife’s father, a retired Army pastor. The lady who sold tickets was giving a tour and the American missionary woman was translating.

Red Cross Concentration Camp Serbia

It turns out that this particular concentration camp was the site of a story that was actually sort of uplifting. In 1942 an armed revolt led to the largest escape from any concentration camp. The escapees were mostly not Jewish but partisan fighters. Thinking back, my American education seems to have populated the camps with nothing but Jews like Anne Franke. By no means do I mean to say that this was not a triumph of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming adversity. These were partisan fighters. They were communist guerrillas from Josip Broz Tito’s movement who were captured by German forces during the Battle of Kozara. The escape was immortalized in a film by Miomir Stamenkovic called Lager Nis (another name for the camp) in 1987. It turns out that 100 out of 150 escaped, the other fifty were killed in the barbed wire by machine guns. On the upper floor a touching display of artwork by local schoolchildren had more than a few dead bodies in the wire along with mass graves and other horrors.

Of the 30,000 people who went through this camp, it’s estimated that 12,000 of them were executed at nearby Bubanj. Many of the others (especially those who were Jew or Gypsy) were sent to the other death camps and so probably perished as well. This camp was mostly filled with Serbian communists.On the top of three levels, were the solitary confinement cells. There were lists of who had occupied each particular cell and when. In some of the cells graffiti carved or scrawled by the prisoners is covered by plexiglass in order to preserve them for the future.

Red Cross Concentration Camp Serbia

On the floor of some of the cells barbed wire lay stretched out of frames. When I asked why it was there the ticket lady told us that prisoners were made to sleep on the barbed wire as a punishment. Apparently solitary by itself was not enough.

 

After wandering around in the cold, dark, damp building and trying to imagine what it had been like, I went outside and paid the ticket lady. The price was only 120 Serb Dinars (less than a dollar) and the proceeds go towards preserving the museum. As I left, I felt just one thing…an urge to get away.

10 Things to See in the Louvre – Saturday Slideshow

Pyramid Paris LouvreOn my first trip to Paris, I went to the Louvre – saw the huge line of people waiting to go into the glass pyramid and said “Forget this, I’d rather walk along the left bank and look at the book stalls.” There are incredible things to see in the Louvre.

After hearing about the crowds around the Mona Lisa, I almost decided to skip the Louvre on my second trip too, but instead, I decided to do a bit of research so that I could enjoy the highlights of the museum, have some time to explore, and avoid the crowds. I’m glad I did. By itself, The Louvre is reason enough to visit Paris (as if you need a reason!) but doing it smartly is the trick.

About The Louvre

The largest art museum in the world opened it’s doors in 1793 without the pyramid or the lines. Inside are some of the world’s most precious treasures. Not just Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa but more than 35,000 individual wonders that each could be the centerpiece of a smaller museum. With massive mazes of corridors spread through eight cultural departments including decorative arts, antiquities, sculptures and paintings. You could spend a lifetime there and that doesn’t even include the huge line.

Knowing what you want to see in the Louvre is essential. Study the map or go to the museum’s website.

Avoiding the Crowds

So, first things first – skip the line. The Paris Pass or the Paris Museum Pass allows you to walk by all the people waiting in line and go straight in. Or, if you don’t want the pass (and by the way, it is completely worth it) you can enter through the Carousel (Louvre Mall) across the street and go right to the ticket counter, thus avoiding the big line outside the pyramid. With your ticket you will get a highlight map that points out the major treasures. Of course, if you want to wait in the long line for some reason you can go very early in the morning or after 4 PM and it will be more manageable. During the week, the crowds inside the museum are smaller and don’t forget that it is closed on Tuesdays.Once you are inside, here are my suggestions for ten things to see that will make you thirsty for more.

My Top Ten Highlights

Mona Lisa Louvre1) Of course you want to see the Mona Lisa, despite the crowds and the poor presentation. To see the Mona Lisa, head straight for the 13th-15th century Italian paintings section (on the first floor).There will be a crowd of people elbowing their way close to the painting. Good luck getting a picture without someone’s head in it.

 

 

 

 

nike of samothrake2) Nike of Samothrace aka Winged Victory. Almost 2000 years old, massive and beautiful. Take some time to contemplate here, it’s worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venus de Milo louvre3) Venus de Milo – I mean you have to see her, but really, she’s not all that hot. A big armless woman not wearing a top. Here’s a funny fact, the statue used to be on the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Fill in your own punchline.

 

 

 

 

 

Louvre Islamic Art4) Islamic Art Collections – spanning thirteen centuries and three continents, this collection is astounding. Islamic art holds a special place in my soul because of my time in Turkey  and  Morocco. If you take a bit of time here, I think you will see why.

 

 

 

 

 

19th century dutch artists

5) 17th and 19th Century Dutch Artists. You know what’s great about this section – you will probably be alone and frankly, the art is mind blowingly wonderful. Not nearly as many religious themes and plenty of drunk, stoned happy looking people (in the pictures I mean).

 

 

 

 

 

raft of Medusa6) The Raft of Medusa. This 1818–1819 by the French Romantic painter and lithographer Théodore Géricault is simply astounding. Rather than a classic Greek theme as you might expect, this is the aftermath of the shipwreck of the French Vessel Meduse’ where 146 people struggled to survive on a raft. Only 15 were rescued, the others were eaten, committed suicide, were killed or died of the elements. The painting depicts the moment when rescue appears imminent. The history of this painting alone is worthy in terms of art history and historical events.

 

 

 

Louvre Madonna7) Madonna on the Rocks by Leonardo danVinci. The Virgin Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist. Not so much the religious icons, but this painting gives you the chance to see da Vinci’s mastery much closer than you can with the Mona Lisa.

 

 

 

 

 

Coronation of Napolean8) The Coronation of Napolean by Jacques-Louis David is ten meters by six meters. Massive and beautiful. Painted in 1807 and depicting the coronation at Notre Dame. This is a painting that will also enhance your visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame and Napolean III’s Apartments.

 

 

 

cupid and psyche9) Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. This masterpiece, Antonio Canova’s statue Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, first commissioned in 1787. To me. this is the ultimate classical sculpture. Riveting.

 

 

 

 

 

Akhenaton Rebel Pharaoh10) Akhenaten, the rebel pharoah’s statue – his name and images were systematically destroyed by later Pharaohs. This statue piece is over 3,300 years old. The Sphinx at Louvre is another great piece – again over 4,000 years old. Check out the history of Akhenaten – awesome dude.

 

 

 

Finally, give yourself time to indulge in some aimless wandering.

Location, Admission, and Hours

To get to the Louvre take the Metro to Palais-Royal / Musée du Louvre or just walk along the Seine until you reach it. You can’t miss it, but you will only see the pyramid when you enter the Louvre’s courtyard. Inside you can find expensive food court food to sustain you – even a bit of wine, but here’s a winning tip, bring a small backpack and pack your own food. There are areas you can sit and picnic in the Louvre!

The museum is open every day but Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Mondays the Musee d’Orsay is closed so expect crowds. Wednesdays are probably best because it is open late. There are also evening openings until 9:45 p.m. on Fridays. It is closed on New Year’s Day, Labor Day (May 1) and Christmas Day.

Entry costs 17 Euro for general admission. The price drops a bit after 6 p.m.  A ticket is valid all day for repeat entries. Entry is free for anyone under age 18 (or under 26 on Friday evenings) and the disabled. The first Saturday of each month, admission is free. By the way, a two-day Paris Museum Pass is gets you in this and 60 other museums around Paris.

Get the audio-visual guide and keep in mind that you are in France so don’t expect all the descriptions to be in English

 

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