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.

Budget: Singapore

This is one of our Budget series of posts to give you an idea of how much we spent traveling around the world. Here we will look at Singapore. Check our posts to see what kind of activities we did and where we stayed!

In Singapore we used the Singaporean Dollar. We converted to US dollars using the current conversion rates at the time of our visit. It was approximately 1 Singaporean dollar to 0.8 dollars.

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Total Spent (3 days): $317.06

Accommodation: $140.51

We stayed in a small hotel room.

Activities: $75.47

This included a free walking tour, a museum, and the night safari (which was quite expensive).

Alcohol: $0

Alcohol was super expensive in Singapore. We abstained.

Food: $67.52

We ate out about one time a day, but we had to purchase our own breakfasts.

Miscellaneous: $0.37

We purchased a postcard.

Transportation: $28.13

We purchased a tourist 3 day transit card which covered both the MRT and the buses.

This divides out to $105.68/day which is over our $100/day budget. This is a little disappointing, but Singapore was quite expensive. Especially for lodging!

A Swing Through Singapore

After Myanmar, our next major stop was going to be Bali. But, when looking into flights from Yangon to Bali, we noticed that the cheapest options went through Singapore. We had heard that this was an interesting place to visit, so we broke up our flights from Yangon to Bali in Singapore and gave ourselves three days to explore this modern city-state.

Where We Stayed

Singapore in general is quite a bit more expensive than Myanmar, so finding a place that seemed to have a reasonable price was a bit of a challenge. There were some dorms available, but they weren’t cheap and we decided we wanted our own room. We ended up finding the Chang Ziang Hotel on booking.com and getting their cheapest room. We certainly got what we paid for – the room was tiny, but it was conveniently located near an MRT (Singapore’s public transit train) stop and plenty of cheap restaurants. The neighborhood was a bit grittier than one thinks of when picturing Singapore, but we never had any issues with safety.

What We Did

Singapore posed a planning challenge similar to that of our visit to Dublin: it offers many interesting things to do, but many of them are expensive, and we only had a few days. So we ended up picking a few big ticket items and then finding cheap or free activities to fill the rest of the days. We actually intended on doing more than we ended up doing, but the heat and humidity made us a bit lazy and we stretched out some activities longer than planned.

Indie Singapore’s Riverfront Free Walking Tour – We were excited to see that there was a free walking tour in Singapore so this was one of our top priorities. Wei, the local tour guide, leads a different tour on different days of the week, so since we were in town on a Thursday we ended up on the downtown tour. This actually worked really well for us since it gave a good overview of both colonial and modern Singapore.

Wei walked us through the history of Singapore, which was all new to us. In 1819, Sir Thomas Raffles of Britain convinced his superiors that a small settlement at the end of the Malaysian Peninsula would be a good place for a new British colony. The new colony of Singapore turned out to be wildly successful, and attracted quite the mix of immigrants: Europeans, Chinese, Indian and Malaysian were the main groups. During World War II, the Japanese occupied Singapore, which was a dark time in the history of the area. After the war, the British took back over, but 10 years later Singapore decided to break free, first as a part of Malaysia and then as its own country. Today the nation is thriving, doing big business as a commercial hub in the region. The culture is an interesting mix: the four official languages are English, Malay, Mandarin (Chinese) and Tamil (an Indian dialect), and the food is also a nice mixture of the different regional influences.

On the tour, Wei led us past many of the sites that played a role in the colonial era, from the riverfront that was a hotbed of activity to the old Parliament, a still functioning Anglican church, and the field where the Japanese rounded up the Europeans before marching them off to a prison camp during the occupation. We also got to see the sights of modern downtown Singapore, including the large bank skyscrapers, the Esplanade Theaters and the iconic Marina Bay Sands luxury hotel. We also took a nice food break in the middle where he led us to try some of the local specialties (more on that later). We really enjoyed the tour and would highly recommend it.

The National Museum – After our walking tour, we wanted to learn even more about the history of Singapore. 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 actually very good. It walked us through the history as described above in a nice chronological fashion, with good displays. We also though that it did the best job of setting the mood of the different periods that we had seen since our visit to the Schindler Factory Museum in Krakow.

Walk Through Little India – When the British planned the city, they designated different neighborhoods for the different ethnic groups. These neighborhoods had survived into modern times and are a fascinating way to get a feel for the cultures of the different groups. Walking through Little India, we saw numerous shops selling traditional Indian items like bangles and saris while blaring out Bollywood music onto the sidewalks. We stopped in a Hindu temple and were fascinated to observe some sort of ritual going on that involved offerings to one of the shrines and a two-piece instrumental accompaniment. We finished off our tour through the neighborhood by getting some delicacies at a small sweet shop.

The Sights Around the Marina Bay – We had heard that everyone who comes to Singapore has to take their picture with the famous “merlion” statue – an invented creation that is half fish and half lion. We then walked around the bay as the sun set, passing many people working out and many others filling the trendy bars that line the waterfront. Our destination was the front of the Marina Bay complex, where there is a nightly light show. We were wondering how it would work, since the seating faced the water, and there was no screen… where would the lights be displayed? As it turns out, the lights are displayed on a “screen” made of a thin spray of water shot up vertically from the bay. The show included moving pictures displayed on this screen as well as lasers, mist and fire cannons. A nice free way to end an evening!

Singapore Botanic Gardens – These large gardens are considered one of the highlights of Singapore, and even more impressive, are free! Therefore, we ended up spending almost a whole afternoon exploring the different sections of the garden, including a foliage walk, an evolution of plant life section (which we somehow ended up doing backwards… depressing how flowering plants turned into ferns), a “Healing Garden” highlighting the medicinal uses of many different plants, a rainforest, a ginger garden and finally the iconic swan lake. We were a little disappointed that many of the plants were not in bloom, but it still made for a pleasant respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Walk Through Chinatown – This is another one of Singapore’s enclaves set up for members of one of the primary ethnic groups. Given its close location to downtown, it has also become a pretty popular neighhborhood these days. When we visited, there were red decorations all over the place in preparation for the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations. There were also a ton of stalls in the pedestrian-only alleyways selling all sorts of trinkets.

Night Safari – This was our most expensive activity in Singapore but also our favorite! They have set up a special zoo that you only visit after the sun sets. All of the exhibits are designed with the nighttime visitor in mind, with soft floodlights and illuminated signs. We walked the different paths and got great glimpses of different animals. Some of the highlights were fishing cats, hyenas (flashback time), leopards (meaning that we finally can say we have seen the “Big Five”), Asian lions, tigers, and an enclosure where we could get quite close to wallabies. Also included in our admission ticket was a tram ride that first went past some of the same exhibits we saw on foot, but then went into a tram-only section meant to represent the Asian rainforest, so we got to see animals like tapirs, wild cattle and different types of deer. In some parts of this section the animals could roam free and got very close to the tram! The only downside of the visit was that we felt rushed in the end because we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the last train back into town (the Night Safari is far on the outskirts). So if you plan on going, we’d recommend getting there as soon as it opens for the evening!

Where We Ate

Since Singapore is such a mix of different cultures, the food is also quite a mixture of the foods from those same cultures. We found a few lists of iconic dishes and made sure to try as many as we could!

The food in Singapore was surprisingly affordable, especially if you went to one of the “hawker stalls.” These are kind of a cross between a food court and street food – they would be in a building like a restaurant, but there would be many different counters offering different types of food. We ate at these as often as we could.

Our first meal was at an Indian Muslim stall near the Chang Ziang. Eric got a biriyani (Indian rice) with a piece of fried chicken on top, and Della got char kway teow, a dish with fried flat noodles that she likes because it reminds her of her favorite Thai dish, pad see eew (we had this dish at one of our favorite Asian places back in Denver, Jaya).

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While on our free walking tour, during the break we went to a local coffeestand and tried the special Singapore dish called kaya toast, which was pieces of toast served with a coconut jam called kaya, some sugar and large pats of butter. We took our guide’s suggestion and ate it dipped in sauce which we made from swirling soft-boiled eggs with soy sauce. It was interesting, but a little too sweet and buttery for our tastes.

We also at a a branch of Kopitiam, a food court chain in Singapore. Here Della visited one stall and got a Chinese-esque nodle soup with dumplings.Eric got a laksa, which is a coconut-base curry soup with noodles and some things that looked like stale bread but may have been bean curd puffs. It was spicy but good.

The day that we explored Chinatown, we found one street that had many hawker stalls set up in an open-air courtyard. Here Della decided to get the laksa soup, while Eric tried another local favorite: Hainanese chicken rice, which is a simple dish with tender steamed chicken served over rice with chicken broth on the side. For dessert, we decided to get  large concoction we had seen other people get: a large chunk of shaved ice topped with durian (a controversial fruit due to its somewhat pungent odor) ice cream. There were also pieces of jelly and red beans at the bottom. Definitely an interesting flavor combination!

We did have one meal where we didn’t really explore unique local food. While walking though a mall near the Esplanade, we spotted a salad place and decided that after so many fried noodle and rice dishes that something simple might be good! Eric did make a slight concession to local food by getting the salad that had fake crab and a chili-based dressing (chili crab is a local specialty). The fresh greens were good, but it turned out to be our most expensive meal in Singapore!

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Final Thoughts

Visiting Singapore was a little bit like a visit to a location in the US: everything was clean and orderly, and it was easy to get around and figure out things to do. We were a little nervous about the high costs of visiting, but we were actually able to find a good number of affordable things to do. We were also fascinated to learn more about the small island nation’s history and its mix of cultures – and sample the resulting mix of cuisines! We feel like we only scratched the surface, so we’d definitely like to visit again if given the chance!

Monthly Recap: Month 7

It is a little surreal to be writing a monthly update for month 7! That means we are more than halfway through our trip… Feels very strange. In some ways it feels like we’ve been going forever! In others it feels like we’ve barely started… And when we think about our long break at home and then heading off to a brand new continent, it almost is like we really just started!

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited: 5 (USA, Thailand, Burma/Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia) Though, Indonesia hardly counts because we just arrived on Jan 31.

Beds Slept In: 11 (This is a particularly high number in part because we had 3 different beds in Mandalay… all in the same hotel, but three beds all the same!)

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited: 0  Total on RTW: 34

We traveled by 6 planes this month!

We traveled by 0 trains this month.

We traveled by 2 long distance buses.

We traveled by 1 long distance boat.

We traveled by 2 shared taxis.

Top Moments:

~ We arrived in Mandalay not entirely sure what to expect. We had heard that it might be difficult to travel in Myanmar… However, the minute we arrived at our very first guesthouse we were overwhelmed with the kindness of the people. “Mama” at Yoe Yoe Lay guesthouse treated us as if we were family and was kind, generous, and fun to be around. Every other staff person there seemed unbelievably kind. The accommodations were also quite lovely and at a good price. It also didn’t hurt that the moment we walked in, we started talking to another couple who we really enjoyed and hungout with multiple times thereafter. The guests at the guesthouse were great and the staff was even better. It made Mandalay particularly enjoyable for us!

Della with "Mama" - the head of our amazing guesthouse - Yoe Yoe Lay

Della with “Mama” – the head of our amazing guesthouse – Yoe Yoe Lay

Eric enjoying breakfast at Yoe Yoe Lay

Eric enjoying breakfast at Yoe Yoe Lay

~ We knew we were going to take a boat tour on Inle Lake. It was a “must do.” However, we had read some conflicting accounts about the tours. Some people said they were canned and that the guides kept taking you to shops and trying to get you to buy things. Others complained about the limitations of being on a tour, feeling constricted in their freedom of where and when to spend their time. Some of those things were true on our boat trip, but somehow it didn’t matter. We spent hours floating through the lake. The destinations on the lake actually hardly mattered – we thought just being on the lake and observing the beauty and the way of life was wonderful. The day was gorgeous and we spent the time on the lake in quiet contemplation, enjoying our ability to do this trip and explore new places.

Families zipping through the waterways

Families zipping through the waterways

People working their fields

People working their fields

Beautiful Inle Lake

Beautiful Inle Lake

Runners up for Top Moments:

~ Our second town in Myanmar was called Pyin Oo Lwin. We had heard that the town wasn’t really worth the trip, that it was only blah. However, we were interested in visiting because Della’s parents had visited on their rtw trip 35 years ago. They had many great memories of the beauty of the town, the old colonial buildings, and of the people out strolling the gardens under their parasols. We wanted to see what they remembered. We spent a whole day chasing the past in Pyin Oo Lwin! We ran into some troubles finding some of the places, but ultimately succeeded and really enjoyed the time biking through town. In additions, the gardens were absolutely gorgeous. We again had a lovely day!  Unfortunately, we didn’t see any parasols.

The pagoda in the beautiful gardens of Pyin Oo Lwin

The pagoda in the beautiful gardens of Pyin Oo Lwin

The beautiful colonial house Candicraig - where Della's parents stayed when they visited 35 years ago

The beautiful colonial house Candicraig – where Della’s parents stayed when they visited 35 years ago

~ Our final day in Myanmar was in Yangon. We spent several days in Yangon, probably more than we really needed to, but it allowed for some relaxing days. Our last day, we headed to the National Museum and then to the nearby People’s Park. It is a lovely park with some strange attractions, like an old plane, trees with hanging bridges between them, and giant banana statues. It also has great view of the Shwedagon Pagoda. But the most fun part was that they decided to blast music throughout the park. When we first heard it, we thought it must be some sort of performance or event, but it turned out it wasn’t. Della was, of course, tempted to dance, though she didn’t because no one else was even moving to the beat. We enjoyed the music, the views, people watching, and the sunset as our time in Myanmar wound to a close.

Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset as seen from People's Park

Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset as seen from People’s Park

The sun sets on our time in Myanmar

The sun sets on our time in Myanmar

Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

Nothing!

Packing Update:

See our posts on both Della’s and Eric’s packing update!

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read Snuff by Terry Pratchett (3), Animal Farm by George Orwell (4), The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (3), I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (4), Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (4)

Eric has read Wild by Cheryl Strayed (4), Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind (3), Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (3), No Birds Sing by Jo Bannister (3.5)

Eric and Della have BOTH read Burmese Days by George Orwell (4), Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (4), My Sister’s Bones by Cathi Hanauer (3.75), Hearts in Atlantis by Stephan King (4)

The rating system is for Della’s mom who is refusing to just go look on Goodreads. It is 1 to 5, 5 being the highest.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2, Monthly Recap 3,Monthly Recap 4, Monthly Recap 5, Monthly Recap 6