We finished our RTW, so What Were Our Favorite… Museums?!

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.IMG_9186

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.

Posing with an austrolopithicus

Posing with an austrolopithicus

Shindler Factory Museum, Krakow, Poland

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.

Room of regrets

Room of regrets

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!)

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National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

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.

The Jockey of Arteision

The Jockey of Arteision

Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil, Sparta, Greece

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.

Della about to perform the pressing stage

Della about to perform the pressing stage

Antalya Museum, Antalya, Turkey

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.

One of the goddesses

One of the goddesses

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.

The exterior of the museum

The exterior of the museum

COPE Visitor Center, Vientiane, Laos

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.

Where the US dropped bombs on Laos during the war

Where the US dropped bombs on Laos during the war

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, Bangkok, Thailand

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.

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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.

14 Days with Peggy and Wayne in 14 Pictures: Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina

We wanted to share the best of our trip with Peggy and Wayne with you all. Here are 14 pictures from 14 days exploring Slovenia, Croatian, and Bosnia Herzegovina.

We met up with Peggy and Wayne in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. They took a long distance train from Vienna, we took one from Eger, Hungary. We met up easily and then spent a rainy day in Zagreb together. Here is our very first attempt at a family jelfie. Not bad for the first try!

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After one day and two nights in Zagreb, we headed into Slovenia. We knew we wanted to see the beautiful Lake Bled, so we wasted no time in getting there. What an amazing place! We enjoyed beautiful weather as we visited this lovely mountain lake. It is distinctive because it has an island in the middle with a church and a castle perched on a high cliff overlooking the region. We only wish we had remembered our swimming suits!

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After visiting Lake Bled, we headed back to Ljubljana. We had heard that this capital city of Slovenia was lovely. Not much to do per se, but perfect to enjoy the “Café Culture.” We did enjoy our day here!

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After one quick day in Ljubljana, we headed off to Skocjan Caves. This UNESCO Heritage site was a large cave in two parts. The first part was not super impressive if you’ve seen the likes of Carlsbad Caverns, but lovely all the same. The second part was magnificent. You are perched over a 47 meter drop to the rushing river below. You aren’t allowed to take pictures until you exit. Blargh.

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After the morning at the caves, we rushed back into Croatia. We stopped briefly at a small town called Opitija in the Istria region. We didn’t stay long, but we did stay long enough to enjoy our first views of the Adriatic and to allow our inner school children to emerge!

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After our brief stop on the coast, we went directly to the Plitvice Lakes region. Here we had the best dinner of the entire trip!

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After a bit of a rocky start, rainy and mist and clouds, we finally got a bit of sun and saw the beautiful lakes.

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After our day at Plitvice, we raced on to the lovely city of Zadar, Croatia. We’ve read blog posts that rank this city as having the best sunsets in the world. It definitely did not disappoint- though we have to say, it would be very hard to rank our top sunsets!

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After our evening in Zadar, we headed to our next destination: Split, Croatia. This amazing city is built inside the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace. It is hard to beat wandering around ancient Roman ruins.

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After enjoying a short trip in Split, we continued on down the Dalmatian Coast to the big event: Dubrovnik. We enjoyed the beautiful city but could have done without the high prices and huge cruise ship crowds. One of our favorite events was walking the walls of the city.

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One of Eric’s favorite things about having Peggy and Wayne along was that they brought along a Rick Steves guidebook. Eric’s new best friend and travel guru!

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After spending a day in Dubrovnik, we picked up rental car number 2. Everyone who knows Della should be exceedingly proud. She drove this one the entire time.. all by herself! After this trip, no one can hate on her driving stamina ever again!

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We arrived in the amazing, interesting city of Sarajevo. It was hard to explain our feelings about being here. We were relived to be away from the crazy tourist crowds, excited to see something completely different from what we had seen before, but in pain when viewing and hearing about the all too recent wars.

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Finally, we arrived in Mostar. A lovely city with a lovely bridge. It was fitting for our last evening together to dine here with an incredibly atmospheric (as Rick Steves would say) view.

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We are so fortunate to have both Peggy and Wayne, and earlier Donna and Steve, join us on our travels. We could hardly ask for anything better. Thank you parents!

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The second half of our time with Della’s parents was spent in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This country has been through some tumultuous times in recent history, but currently is quite welcoming to visitors. However, tensions still remain from the war. Still, we quite enjoyed our time getting to know this area just a little bit better.

Driving Through Republika Srpska

As we did on our trip through Croatia and Slovenia, we decided to rent a car. The first leg of our trip involved driving from Dubrovnik in Croatia to Sarajevo, the capital of the country. This drive actually provided our first glimpse into the interesting politics of the region. We knew that we were in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but we saw signs for the “Republka Srpska” and plenty of flags that looked like the Serbian flag. It turns out that the Republic of Srpska is a separate entity within the country that is composed mostly of ethnic Serbs. They have their own government and are culturally much more similar to Serbia (Cyrillic was much more commonly used), but it is still part of the same country.

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A sign in Cyrillic and the flag of the Republic of Srpska

Sarajevo

We spent three nights and two full days sightseeing in the very interesting city of Sarajevo. This city is in the other main political entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina called the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The majority of the residents in this part of the country are ethnically Bosniaks, which means that they are mostly Muslim (as a holdover from the long occupation by the Ottoman Empire), Therefore, you see a lot of mosques around. We even had the chance to visit the inside of one of the most important mosques in the city, the Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque. However, Sarajevo has always been a place where the different cultures mix, so we also saw Serbian Orthodox churches and a Catholic Cathedral (for the Croats).

The Ottoman influence is definitely also felt in the architecture of the Old Town. The core of Old Town, called Baščaršija, looks and feels like a Turkish bazaar. We wandered through the narrow alleyways and took in the sights and smells (and sampled some cheap food!). Leaving this part of Old Town, you immediately see another culture that influenced Sarajevo: the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Another stretch of the Old Town feels a little like Vienna. There is an interesting spot within Old Town where you can clearly see the shift between the two styles.

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The “Eastern” side of Sarajevo. Note the ottoman feel

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The “western” side of Sarajevo. Note the Austro-Hungarian feel

The Austro-Hungarian occupation led to another event that Sarajevo is famous for: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, an event which set off a chain of events that led to World War I. There is a small museum at the assassination site that we spent some time visiting.

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The monument no longer exists. However, the sign marks the spot where the shot that began the chain of events leading WWI was fired.

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A reproduction of the Archduke and his wife in the small museum.

After immersing ourselves in the older history of the city, we knew that it was time to learn more about the recent war.We paid a visit to a moving and disturbing exhibit called Gallery 11/07/95 – a series of exhibits that attempt to explain some of the tragedies of the way, 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… its 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!)

After leaving the museum, we went and walked through the downtown core which was the home of “Sniper Alley,” one of the areas that was most vulnerable during the siege. You could still see a lot of old damage, such as destroyed buildings and grenade and bullet scars, but at the same time, the city has also repaired and rebuilt many sites.

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Sniper scars in the buildings

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Monument to the children who died during the siege

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A “Sarajevo Rose” A grenade blast memorialized with red resin

Even with all this tragedy in the city, we still found our time there enjoyable. People are friendly and the food was interesting, cheap, and easy to find. Sarajevo has had a lot of bad things happen in the past, but we felt perfectly safe visiting in the present. We didn’t get a chance to talk to too many locals about the war, but the ones we did talk to said that they hoped to move forward as a united nation. However, they also made it clear that many in the older generations do not feel the same way, and the same ethnic tensions remain. It is clearly hard to forgive other ethnic groups for the terror everyone went through.

Mostar

After our time in Sarajevo, we spent one more day in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the town of Mostar. This town provided another interesting glimpse into the complex fabric that is Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was the site of major battles during the war, but this time between the Croats and Bosniaks (as oppose to the more Serb/Bosniak conflict in Sarajevo). Even though they have rebuilt since the war, you can still see many damaged buildings, and also damaged relations: there is a clear geographic divide between the Croats and their Catholic churches on one side of the city and the Bosniaks and their mosques on the other side of the city.

The big attraction in Mostar is the famous Old Bridge. It was originally built during the Ottoman era, and was an architectural marvel of its time. Unfortunately, the original bridge was destroyed during the war. However, post-war, multiple sources chipped in and the bridge was rebuilt in the same manner as it had been previously, once again spanning the Neretva River. One interesting tradition that has regained popularity is that locals will collect tips and then dive off of the bridge into the river far below.

On our last night in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and our last night together as a group of four for a while, we ate dinner at a nice restaurant overlooking the bridge. As the sun went down, we were serenaded by multiple calls to prayer from the mosques in the area. It was a fitting end to our fascinating trip through this interesting nation.

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The lovely bridge at sunset from our dinner table

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Sunset over the mosque across the river