We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip. We’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.
This third edition will cover our top 10 favorite museums around the world. These are not in order of preference, instead they are in the order in which we visited them.
Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa
The museum started with the beginnings of Joburg as a mining town, and then went through the first attempts at segregation to the implementation of the full-fledged apartheid system in the 1940s. Then, there were displays about the realities of living under apartheid, and the first wave of resistance that led to Mandela being sentenced to life imprisonment. Then, as we went chronologically. We got into the student uprisings of the 70s. For the 1980s, there was a gripping video detailing the horrific violence that brought the apartheid movement to its breaking point. We then moved on to the 90s, which detailed Mandela’s release, then end of apartheid and the founding of the new government (and also showed how close the country came to total anarchy at the time). The museum is particularly gripping as it starts right out with you being randomly assigned to be white or non-white, and then having to enter through the respective door and then garnering a different experience for the first room based on what you picked. While we visited, there was also a large exhibition on the life of Nelson Mandela.
Cradle of Humankind Museum, Outside Johannesburg, South Africa
This nice (and relatively new) museum is set up to explain the history of life on Earth and the history of human life as well. Once you enter the main building, you are taken down into the basement and you do this cheesy but fun boat ride that takes you though the different elements necessary for life. We then went through the different exhibits in the large space. There ranged from discussions about DNA,to extinct animals, to the different types of hominids that paleoanthropologists have identified (many of which have been found in the Cradle) to what it means to be human. We particularly enjoyed some of the interactive exhibits, for example, there was a long hallway with illustrations which helped to show the length of different eras in time.
This was the only museum we visited in Krakow, and it was excellent! The permanent exhibits walk you through what happened in Krakow during the years 1939 – 45, during the Nazi occupation. The museum does fascinating things in each room, designed to make you understand the subject with all of your senses. The room for before the war has nice, warm lighting and happy music playing. It feels like sitting in a comfortable room, watching old family movies about Jewish life in Krakow. Then you enter a hall which describes when Germany attacked. It is black and gloomy with red lighting streaking across the walls, representing the fire, and the sounds of shooting and bombs is everywhere. Even the floor of each room played a big role: in the room describing the initial attack, the floor was uneven; in a room describing life for the Nazis, the floor was fancy swastika tiles; in a room for a concentration camp the floor was actual white gravel. The last room was quite interesting as well. To get into it, you walk through a dark room with a spongy floor (we aren’t quite sure of the interpretation). Then, you enter the “room of regrets”, which is stark white and covered with snippets of writing. Upon closer inspection, the snippets are quotes from people who did something (or didn’t do something) during the war period. The building was actually Schindler’s Factory (from Schindler’s List), so his office is preserved and there are a few rooms dedicated to him.
Gallery 11/07/95, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
We paid a visit to this moving and disturbing exhibit in Sarajevo – a series of exhibits that attempt to explain some of the tragedies of the war, mainly the genocide at Srebrenica. Our guide gave us a brief overview of what happened there. It’s hard to give a concise explanation in this space, but the gist of it is that over 8000 Bosniak people in the town, mostly males, were killed and dumped into mass graves by the approaching Army of Republika Srpska, even though the town was supposedly under UN protection. We walked through the photo gallery, watched a documentary, and also listened to the stories of some individuals who were affected. The gallery also included a small display and a documentary on the siege of Sarajevo. We vaguely remembered that Sarajevo was in the news when we were kids, but I don’t think we realized the scope of what the town went through. It was under siege for almost four years, which is the longest siege in modern history. The residents had to live in constant fear of being attacked by snipers in the hills surrounding the valley that the city sits in. The documentary, called Miss Sarajevo, was shot during the siege and showed the resilience of the residents in the face of this (and was later turned into a U2 song). It is extremely moving and worth a watch. (If you do watch the documentary, and you should… it’s linked in the previous sentences… and you find yourself as taken with the young girl in the beginning and the end as we were, here is a video of what she was doing in 2009!)
The museum went in chronological order and was quite extensive. The first major area was the Cycladic figurines and other art, from the 3rd century BC. Then, they covered the findings from Mycenae. We were pretty excited to see the artifacts from Mycenae that we had heard about when at the site and from reading Greek Treasure. The next stop was the Archaic era, where we again learned more about the kore and kourous statues. The next major era was the Severe Style. The sculptures started to get more realistic, but the expressions were stern. For the classical era, many of the finds were split into different rooms. There was a large collection of rooms focused on the art found on tombstones in the ancient cemeteries. There were many elaborate marble carvings to be found. The next period is the Hellenistic era, which was characterized by sculptures which more realistic faces (instead of idealized) and more active movements. The final period covered was the Roman era. Here they tried to copy the Greek styles and were somewhat successful, although the art was less impressive. All of this chronological history was enhanced by enjoying the museum while listening to Rick Steves’ audio tour. There is much more to the museum so it could be worth multiple trips.
It may not sound interesting, but we found it fascinating. The top floor of this little museum gives the history of the olive and discusses how it and its oil can be used for a wide variety of purposes: food, light, rituals, etc. The lower floor discussed all about how to make olive oil, and had examples of the different machinery that has been used to make the oil from ancient times until the present.
This is a large archaeological museum, and we enjoyed seeing the different exhibits that included the Stone Age in the Antalya area, ceramics, Roman-era sculptures and sarcophogi, and finally a small exhibit on life during the Ottoman era. Our favorite exhibit was a room with different sculptures of Greek/Roman gods found at the nearby site of Perge, mainly because each statue included a sign with extensive text describing the myths around the god.
The National Museum, Singapore
When we visited, we were disappointed to discover that the main exhibits at this museum were under renovation, but ultimately it turned out that the temporary exhibit on the history of Singapore was very good! It walked us through the history as described above in a nice chronological fashion, with good displays. It also worked hard to set the mood and tone of each period in history through the size, color, and feel of the rooms.
COPE is an organization that helps provide prosthetic limbs to those who can’t afford them all across Laos. The visitor center describes their work in making the prosthetics, but also talks in detail about one of the main reasons so many are needed: the tons of unexploded ordinance (UXO) that remain in the country as a result of the many bombs the US dropped during the “secret war” as part of the Vietnam war. We also watched a couple of short documentaries about the efforts to go in the countryside and defuse the found items before someone is hurt by them. The problem is especially tough because scrap metal can bring in a significant amount of money, so people will risk harm and handle items that they shouldn’t. The visitor center was small, but we found that it contained a lot of interesting information and was quite moving.
This museum is actually within the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok and is free with admission with a palace ticket. Our first intention was just to take advantage of the AC and uncrowded bathrooms, but we also checked out the exhibit on the Queen’s fashion and were fascinated. Apparently, before a world tour in the 1960, she helped revive some classic Thai styles and designed nine different outfit styles that are still used by the Thai women today. There was also an activity room that described silk fashions, and Della got a chance to try on a traditional outfit.
We visited a lot of museums on our RTW the world tour, and came up with a few observations about the ones we liked the best. It was important to us that the museum have good signage and/or a good audio tour. We also enjoyed when the exhibits were interactive or really created a good atmosphere. In addition, the museums that taught us the most about things we didn’t know about or if we were moved by their content.