I was both excited and apprehensive about seeing the Wellcome Collection’s latest exhibition: “Teeth.” Excited, because the publicity material they released before the exhibition made it look great; apprehensive, because despite my general love for all things gory and medical, historic dentistry creeps me out (even though I’m not really afraid of dentists. Orthodontists, yes (my orthodontist’s awfulness had to be experienced to be believed), but not really dentists. But if you are afraid of dentists, this may not be the post for you). But in the end excitement won out, and I strolled on over to the Wellcome after I visited Cook at the BL.
Many’s the time I’ve spoken of my fascination with Captain Cook and his voyages, so I’m sure you can all guess that I was pretty excited to learn that Cook would be the subject of the BL’s latest exhibition. It’s the rare sort of exhibition I would have rushed out to see, but I was back in the States when it opened at the end of April, so I went to check it out on my first day off work after I got back (I don’t know why I always fly back the day before I need to go back to work; well, actually I do, because obviously I’m trying to maximise my time back home, but my first week back in London is always a big pile of jet lag, ennui, and homesickness).
The Hayes Museum was the only new-to-me museum I visited whilst I was in Ohio, but that doesn’t mean I just sat around twiddling my thumbs the rest of the time (though I did have a few days to just sit around reading some of the excellent selection of library books I can’t get in London, which was amazing. Hell, just being away from work was amazing!). I went to a few other museums which I’ve blogged about before, so I’ll share with you the exhibitions that have changed since I last visited, as well as my tour of a water treatment plant in Cleveland.
First stop was the Cleveland History Center (admission $10), as the Western Reserve Historical Society has been restyled (ostensibly because they’re focusing specifically on Cleveland rather than the whole of NE Ohio, but I suspect it’s also because no one knows what the Western Reserve was any more), which I visited with my brother before a very Clevelandy afternoon of gorging ourselves at the West Side Market and drinking beers at Great Lakes Brewery. Sadly, the Chisholm-Halle Costume Wing, which is my favourite part, was closed so they could change over exhibitions, but there were still some new things there to see, the first being the entrance gallery “Cleveland Starts Here” which is now very bold and graphic and fun to look at, and has some great artefacts. The highlights were the amazing wooden carving of the Terminal Tower, and that gorgeous stamp dress shown above (the painting of the family is from a different gallery, but I just had to include it. If anyone can paint me in that style, let’s talk commissions!).
They were also featuring a temporary exhibition on Cleveland’s involvement in WWI, which was nowhere near as extensive or devastating as Britain’s, because the US didn’t join the war until 1917, but at the time, Cleveland was the fifth largest city in the US, and had a ton of industry, so their contribution to the war effort was fairly significant. The best part of this exhibit was the propaganda posters – I’ve included my favourites above. I also looked at the small display on Carl and Louis Stokes (Carl was the first African-American mayor of a major US city (Cleveland, obviously), and his brother Louis was a long-serving congressman), which I hadn’t seen before.
Of course, because I was visiting with my brother, we had to look around the impressive (if you like cars) Crawford auto collection. I was much more into all the Great Lakes Exposition (held in 1936 and 1937) posters plastered around the gallery – they did have a small display on what the exposition would have included, and naturally it sounded amazing, but I’d love to see a whole exhibition on it one day (or hell, just re-create the whole damn exposition. I’ll be there in a heartbeat!). I have since purchased a reprint of one of the posters for my flat, and its glorious art deconess brightens up the whole room. Anyway, the Cleveland History Center really has something for everyone (there’s even a working carousel, but I have yet to go on it because I’m worried I’ll puke), and it looks better than ever with the new entrance gallery.
I also went to Columbus with my mom and aunt (mostly to visit the North Market, because I do love a food market), and though I was hoping this would finally be the trip I’d get to see the Ohio History Center (not that it looks all that exciting, it’s just weird that I haven’t been), we didn’t really have enough time for a large museum, so we ended up at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum again, since I’d enjoyed it so much the first time around. Except for the permanent gallery, it had entirely new exhibitions, so it was well worth seeing again. My favourite exhibit was Koyama and Friends, which featured comics published by Koyama Press. I’m not really into graphic novel type things normally, but these were more like quirky and irreverent strips, so I liked most of them very much.
My absolute favourite was Julia Wertz’s Fart Party (above left, I mean, she had me with the name alone), and I sat there reading one of her books for quite a while (I’ll have to get my hands on some of her work), but I also loved the “butt water” comic shown above the previous paragraph, and I had fun drawing the Koyama Press mascot (my attempt is at the very top, and that’s actually good considering my drawing skills!). The funniest part was that my mother and I both drew her at separate times without the other one watching, and we were able to pick out each other’s drawings from the wall on our first try.
The other exhibition was on Mad Magazine, and though I’m not the biggest fan of Mad, the exhibit did have some amusing cartoons in it (I like Stranger Things, but their piss-take of it was actually pretty accurate), and I’m glad it was there, because my mom and aunt spent quite a while looking at it, which gave me plenty of time to read all the Koyama Press cartoons. It remains a cracking little museum, and I’ll definitely return again when the exhibitions have changed.
I also went to see the display of Katharine Hepburn’s clothing in “Dressed for Stage and Screen” at the Kent State University Fashion Museum. There was no photography allowed, so I can’t show you anything, but if you are in NE Ohio before it finishes in September, go check it out! There’s some really beautiful stuff there (including the photos of Cary Grant), and the free guidebook had a lot of interesting facts about Hepburn’s life and personal style.
The final thing I did worth blogging about (unless you want to hear about the endless delicious parade of ice cream I consumed, but I kind of feel like I should have a separate blog just for that) was my visit to the Garrett A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant with my mom and her friend. They were offering free tours while I was there, so I signed us all up. It was really cold downtown that day (the treatment facility is on the lakeshore), so it was nice that they had a heated bus for us to wait in whilst we waited for our tour to start (we only had to wait for about ten minutes anyway). We weren’t allowed to take photos for security reasons, but it was about an hour long tour that took us through about three different buildings (they took us in vans from one side of the site to the other). At each stop, different employees told us what happened to the water during that part of the treatment process, and of course some were more informative than others, but it was all interesting. Until 1918, when a facility on this site was built, Cleveland was basically just pumping untreated water from Lake Erie into people’s homes, which led to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. But now, obviously the tap water is intensively filtered and treated before it goes out, and Cleveland is meant to have some of the best tap water in the country (at least according to the people who work at the plant!).
Cleveland actually has four water treatment plants, but Garrett Morgan is the oldest. It is named after the African-American inventor who in addition to inventing the traffic signal (not the same thing as the traffic light) and a special oil to keep sewing machine needles from overheating, which was a real problem for the local garment industry, because it could easily start fires (he also found out the oil could be used to straighten hair, which led to him starting a hair care business); also invented a smoke hood that helped save workers constructing the first version of this very plant (which was obviously not named after him at the time). They were tunneling under Lake Erie in 1916 when they hit a pocket of natural gas, which exploded. Many of the men were killed by the explosion, and more would-be rescuers were killed by the gas, but thanks to Morgan’s hood, which Morgan himself used to rescue them, two men were able to be saved, though sadly, because he was black, Morgan was not given the credit he deserved at the time.
I really enjoyed getting to learn more about him (the guy who spoke about Morgan was by far the best speaker we had on the tour), and it’s nice that he is finally getting some recognition for his good deeds through this treatment plant (he was a wealthy and long-lived man, so at least he had some compensation for his life-saving inventions). The tour ended before the last room of the plant, which was filled with stalls from local environmental organisations offering freebies (I picked up some pens, magnets, and a tote bag), and there were a few food carts and things outside, but it started completely pissing it down by the time we left, so we just ran back to the car and treated ourselves to some pastries from nearby Farkas bakery. I hear the tour of the sewage plant, which is offered in September, is even better, so I’d like to try to come back in the fall to check it out (I mean, I’d like to come back in the fall anyway – I’ve been going home much more frequently this year which is really nice when I’m there, but just makes me even more homesick when I have to go back to London. I really need to figure out what I want to do with myself!). But the water treatment tour was free, and the buildings it’s housed in are pretty cool, so it was definitely worth doing (and we had the smelliest people on our tour; not to be mean, but even the van driver was complaining about how bad they smelled (not to their face, of course), which provided many moments of hilarity, especially since it was a water treatment plant!). Since I don’t have pictures of the plant, I’ll just leave you with pictures of some of the ice cream I ate, which is all I have to sustain me until my next trip home (see, I’m not actually talking about it, I’m just showing pictures).
Well, I finally (and happily) got to visit another presidential home and museum! I was back home for a visit in early May, and if I could, I would have driven down to Cincinnati to visit Taft’s house, but because I never learned how to drive (I really should work on that one of these days), I am dependent on the goodwill of others in places with no public transport. And since Marcus wasn’t accompanying me on this trip, this basically meant going wherever my mother was willing to take me. In fairness to her, she is of course always happy to go places with me, but three and a half hours each way is a lot to ask of someone who isn’t particularly interested in presidential history. So instead, I opted for Rutherford B Hayes’s former home and museum, located about an hour and a half away from NE Ohio, in Fremont, near Sandusky (still a bit of a trek, but doable as a daytrip).
Now, although Hayes appears in the list of “mediocre presidents” in the Simpsons’ song of the same name, he has something going for him that most other presidents don’t: he was smoking hot as a young man. I’ve made no secret of my fondness for a young Rutherford (even the bearded version had a certain twinkle in his eye, as seen above), so even though he doesn’t loom as large in the mind as poor Taft (who by all accounts, actually had quite an unassuming (cough, dull) personality, and would be terribly embarrassed by my rude attempt at a pun), I was not at all upset about visiting Rutherford’s house instead, especially because they had plenty of evidence of his pre-beardy hotness on display. The site is split between Spiegel Grove, his former home; and his presidential library and museum (which share a building). It costs $13 to visit both, which is what we did, but you have to buy tickets inside the museum so they can set you up with a tour time for the house, which is viewable only by guided tour.
Since we got there right before a tour started (they are every half an hour), we started with his home, which is lovely, though sadly does not allow photography inside. The person at the admissions desk said the tour would take around an hour, though it ended up being more like an hour and a half, which was fine, because our guide was pretty knowledgeable and had a good sense of humour. It was actually just me, my mom, and an older man on our tour (we got talking to him after the tour, and he was very nice, but he was one of those people who was like, “Oh, I wish I had done a history degree,” and then goes on to name whatever super successful career they had instead that they never would have gotten with a history degree. Not that I’m bitter), which was also fine, since I don’t like a crowd – also it meant that no one was asking stupid questions. You are only allowed inside the first two floors of the home (which has four floors, though I know it only looks like three in that picture), but the top floor is literally just full of windows, which the Hayes’s specifically had built to let in light and air. I won’t bore you with a complete rundown of everything inside, but they were able to restore it to its 1880s (after Hayes’s presidency) appearance because the Hayes family allowed someone (I think a relative) to photograph all the interiors in 1885. The bathroom was probably my favourite room, because it not only had plumbing of sorts (they collected rainwater in a tank on the roof, which would run through the pipes), but Rutherford turned it into a hiding place as well. It had all the normal bathroom accoutrements, but also bookshelves and a comfy chair, and apparently when they had guests he didn’t like, he would just hang out in there for hours reading (presumably sitting on the chair rather than the toilet), which I can definitely get behind (ha). There was also a saw on the wall, which they specifically placed there because it had appeared in one of the 1880s photos. I don’t know if you all are familiar with the story of the poop knife from Reddit (and I don’t know if I want to lead you down that path if you’re not), but that’s immediately where my mind went when I saw it. Poop saw!
Rutherford (or Rud, as his family called him, and I will refer to him henceforth) inherited the house from his uncle, who actually built the house with the intention of living in it with Rud and his family (Rud’s father died when he was very young, so his uncle essentially adopted him). They named it Spiegel Grove after the German word for mirror because apparently when it rains, pools form on the lawn which look like mirrors (I would think a lawn that flooded that easily wouldn’t be ideal, but what do I know?). He and Lucy had eight children: seven boys and a girl, though three of the boys died in infancy. Their daughter was named after his beloved sister Fanny who died relatively young, and as the only girl, she was quite spoiled. In fact, the boys all had to sleep together in one room, but she got her own room with really nice matching furniture. The house had a gorgeous staircase running up the middle, installed at great expense, and an extremely hideous antler chair made by a mountain man Rud was friends with (mountain man also made one for Lincoln), who also appeared in statue form in the house. Lincoln and Washington were Rud’s favourite presidents, so he collected memorabilia relating to them, which was spread between the house and the museum. It was definitely one of the more enjoyable presidential home tours I’ve been on, and since both Rud and Lucy died in their bedroom, three or four years apart (she died first when she was only 57), that’s another famous person deathbed I can say I’ve seen.
Speaking of their deaths, they are buried around the back of the house in a fairly modest (by presidential standards) tomb, along with their son, Webb, who was responsible for establishing the site as a presidential library and was a Medal of Honor recipient (the Hayes children mostly had terrible names. There were also Birchard, Rutherford Jr (both family names, as was Webb, which was Lucy’s maiden name), and Manning Force. Only Joseph, George, and Scott got off easily name-wise, and Joseph and George both died in infancy (as did poor Manning Force)). Family pets are buried around the fence enclosing the tomb, and there are also some very friendly squirrels hanging around (apparently too friendly, as we were told they rush at you if you have food).
We then headed back to the museum, because it was already getting fairly late in the day, and it looked like a biggish museum, so I wanted to make sure I had time to see it all! It looks to have been renovated not very long ago, as the layout was very eye-catching and modern, and there were even a few little interactive bits and bobs thrown in. It opened with a short video and small display on the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, which was a World’s Fair, and looked awesome, like all old fairs. 1876 was the year of Hayes’s election, which was an election of great controversy. His opponent, Samuel Tilden, a Democrat, won the popular vote, but neither man took the electoral college, and after a lengthy negotiation, the Democrats agreed to accept Hayes (a Republican) if he agreed to withdraw troops from the South, thus ending Reconstruction (which meant that African-Americans were left unprotected by the federal government from Southerners’ wrath, which was the opposite of what Rud had supported when he was Congressman).
The museum gave a very comprehensive rundown (almost too comprehensive, since I didn’t really have time to read everything) of the major events of Hayes’s presidency, and though he is one of the least well-known presidents, his term was still full of things that we would see as controversial, particularly some of the “Indian” policies that were enacted under his administration, like the beginning of off-reservation schools for Native American children where they were forced to cut their hair, accept Christianity, and were forbidden from speaking their tribal languages, which obviously had a terrible effect on traditional tribal culture (which was basically the whole point).
I have to say that although his administration was responsible for some terrible things, Hayes himself seemed like a decent enough guy, at least by the standards of the time (and I’m not just saying that because he was handsome). He clearly deeply loved Lucy and his children, and had a sense of humour that comes across in his diaries and letters. And despite Lucy’s somewhat stick-in-the-mud reputation, she actually seemed like a pretty cool lady. She was college-educated (the first First Lady to be a college graduate), followed Rud to camp (with their children, which led to Joseph dying of dysentery, but she still persevered for the greater good) whilst he was serving in the Civil War to nurse soldiers, was an abolitionist and supporter of civil rights, and had an awesome set of china commissioned for the White House (see above) depicting native flora and fauna (and I just found out her birthday is the day after mine). And honestly, I’m not a big drinker myself, so I can get behind the temperance thing (and apparently, it was actually Rutherford who banned alcohol from the White House, not her! Lucy didn’t drink herself, but was OK with others doing it in moderation). Not the Christian aspects of it, but I do think it would be nice to be able to socialise with people in ways that don’t involve drinking (especially in the UK, where it seems to be the only way people want to socialise!).
The upstairs part of the museum was more about Rud’s presidency, but the basement held loads of their personal possessions, including Rud’s collection of weapons and artillery (not what I would have chosen, but I would absolutely have his collection of presidential memorabilia), and some delightful tableaux depicting their service during the Civil War (Rud was seriously wounded in the arm and only survived because Lucy’s brother, who was an Army doctor, found out about it and personally took care of him – otherwise they probably would have amputated his arm and gangrene or disease would have gotten him). Before the war Rud was a lawyer, but he never ended up returning to his practice because despite his refusal to campaign until the war ended, he was elected to Congress in 1864, and later became Governor of Ohio (elected to three terms, but only served two and a bit before being elected president).
This floor also explained more about Rud and Lucy’s courtship – they met at a popular gathering spot (some kind of fishing hole?) at Ohio Wesleyan University (Lucy graduated from their female college, because women weren’t allowed to earn a degree from the main university, though they could attend classes), but Lucy was only 15 at the time, and Rud, to his credit, decided she was much too young for him (he was 23). But his mother thought she was a good match for him (Lucy had also lost her father at an early age (he died from cholera after travelling south to free some slaves he had inherited), and they both seemed to have fairly formidable mothers), so she encouraged him to contact her again after Lucy graduated from college, and they ended up falling in love and marrying two years later (when Lucy was 21). Above is Lucy’s wedding dress, and a delightful depiction of their first meeting (though they both look much older than they would have been!).
The museum contained two temporary exhibits, one on Bhutanese-Nepalese immigrants to the area, and the other on Jacob Riis’s photography. I didn’t get to spend much time looking around these because my mother had finished looking around and I didn’t want to keep her waiting too long, but they looked interesting, and I enjoyed reading a few tidbits on Bhutanese customs. At this point, we thought we had seen everything, and headed up to look around the shop (which disappointingly had no souvenirs with young Rud on them), when I spotted a postcard with a dollhouse on it, and was like, “wait, I never saw a dollhouse!” The woman working there explained where it was, and it turned out we had missed a whole section of the museum (the entire original museum building, as it happened)! So we rushed back to see it.
And I’m so glad we did, because in addition to not one, but two dollhouses (only one of them actually owned by Fanny Hayes though), and a cracking bust, this was also where most of Rud’s collection of presidential memorabilia was kept.
This was pretty great. The highlight was definitely Lincoln’s goat (antelope?) slippers, which he wore the day he died (not actually to Ford’s Theatre, though I kind of wish he had. Poor man should have at least been comfortable before his assassination), the gloves he was wearing when he was assassinated, and a cast of his hand. There was also one of George Washington’s canes, a ring containing some of his hair that he originally gave to “Mrs. Alexander Hamilton” (Eh-liii-zaa…and Peggy. No wait, just Eliza), and some bricks taken from Mount Vernon (none of his dentures, but not to worry – I just saw a pair elsewhere, which you’ll get to see in a few weeks too!).
I was also pretty excited to see a copy of the famous Resolute desk, which was first given to Hayes by Queen Victoria, and used by many subsequent presidents. You could even sit behind it and pretend to be president (I should probably never be president, because I have dictatorial tendencies, but I guess I couldn’t be any worse than Trump). After this last little bit of excitement, we’d finally seen everything (except the library, which I had no real reason to visit, unless they had more pictures of young Rud in there), so we headed off (and were subsequently disappointed that the Mexican bakery in Fremont we had planned on visiting afterwards had apparently gone out of business), but I was so glad we’d ended up visiting, because this site was excellent. The museum, the house – everything was great, and I liked that they didn’t shy away from the more controversial parts of Hayes’s presidency (which is admittedly easier to do with someone who has been dead for more than a century than more recent presidents, but still). Highly recommended, and there are other museums in nearby Sandusky and Tiffin that look interesting (I was hoping to visit the Civil War Museum of Ohio in Tiffin, but we didn’t have time), but plan on spending at least three hours around the Hayes site, because there’s so much to see! 4.5/5 – a really nice day out, capped off by a stop at Krieg’s Frozen Custard in Amherst on our way home (which weirdly, Yelp says is closed, and it claimed the Mexican bakery was open, so the moral of the story is, don’t trust Yelp, but do eat frozen custard)!
Relative to most of my trips, I didn’t actually visit all that many museums on this Budapest jaunt – in large part because we arrived on a Sunday evening when everything was shut, and were there over a Monday which is the museum closing day in Budapest, which only left us only Tuesday, and Wednesday morning for museums – but that doesn’t mean we weren’t busy. On the contrary, my feet were still aching days later from all the walking we did (and from uncomfortable shoes, because I always pick form over function). So this post will cover the rest of the things we did, with of course plenty of photos (courtesy of Marcus).
Here’s a tale of two attractions. There’s not really anything to not like about Vajdahunyad Castle (just look at it!), but the Hungarian Agriculture Museum is a different story (in other words, “it was the best of times, it was the…blurst of times?! You stupid monkey!”). Actually, blurst (or worst) is a bit of an exaggeration (I’m just trying to carry on with the Dahl’s Chickens/Simpsons theme), but it wasn’t great.
Vadjahunyad Castle has a pretty interesting history. It was originally built in 1896 for a Millennium Exhibition in Budapest (I’ve no idea why they were having a Millennium celebration then, but whatever) and proved super popular, but was constructed from temporary materials that eventually began to fall apart, so in 1899 the original architect (Ignac Alpar) was called upon to rebuild a castle that would last, and indeed, it’s still there today, in the middle of a big park. It was designed to showcase a number of different architectural styles, hence its somewhat eclectic appearance, and is totally free to visit, though you are apparently unable to go inside most of it (I’m not sure whether there actually is much inside, other than the museum). There are a number of amazing statues scattered around the castle, but the main reason I wanted to go was the bust of Bela Lugosi, which is hidden around the back.
This was all just as amazing as I was hoping, and I had a grand time wandering around and having my picture taken with everything, even though sometimes I had to dodge other tourists to do so (Bela was all mine though – he was hidden away at the back of the castle, and I don’t think most people even knew who he was). So of course, I had to check out the Agricultural Museum, which has been based in the castle as long as the castle was here (they moved it out during reconstruction, but put it back in again after reconstruction was finished), especially because it is billed as Europe’s largest agricultural museum, and I tend to be a sucker for superlatives.
Admission was 1200 HUF (about £3.50) which wasn’t too bad, but no one really gave us any information when we came in, and much like the Hungarian National Museum, it was in a massive, beautiful and confusing building, so it wasn’t immediately apparent where we were supposed to start (even the map by the stairs wasn’t super helpful). I spotted some mannequins off to our left as we entered, and because there were about a hundred schoolchildren having lunch outside the museum who I imagined would be re-entering at some point in the not too distant future and I wanted to make sure we could photograph the mannequins uninterrupted, we headed there first (on the plus side, this was the only museum we visited in Budapest that didn’t charge us extra to take photos).
I believe it was the “History of Hungarian Agriculture” gallery, and there was indeed a lot of history covered in the signage, with English translations provided, but just like at the Hungarian National Museum, it was not engagingly presented, and was just too damn much to read. So I did skip quite a lot of it, but some of what I did read was interesting, like the information about types of crops they grew (there was a nice display of wheat. Apparently Hungary grew some award-winning wheat) and the domestication of farm animals (though come to think of it, I guess that was actually part of the exhibit entitled “Domesticating the Animals”), particularly the display case full of weird bare-necked chickens that were popular in Hungary. The mannequins were somewhat disappointing though, since they didn’t even have proper faces (I like a mannequin with some character).
After this, we tentatively headed upstairs (it wasn’t entirely clear whether we were meant to, but the guard saw us hesitating and made a “go on” gesture) and saw an exhibition about horses, which was fine. I’m not interested in horse racing, but I liked all the fake horses you could pose with (I didn’t risk sitting on the saddle, because it said there was a 30kg weight limit, but I totally wanted to).
There was another exhibition upstairs, which apparently held all the treasures of the collection, so of course I wanted to see that, but it turns out there was a separate admission fee (I’m not sure what it is, because no one mentioned it to us at the front desk, and I didn’t see any signs) so we couldn’t. I did use the nearby toilet though, free of charge, because the guard couldn’t stop me doing that (I honestly don’t think he even cared, but at the time I had the attitude of “well screw you, I’ll use this nearby fancy-looking toilet then.” It actually wasn’t that fancy, but it was clean, and free public toilets in Budapest seem to be pretty much nonexistent, so use them when you see them).
We then headed back downstairs, and checked out another small gallery on animals (maybe that was “Domesticating the Animals?”) and then looked around for the rest of the museum, but all we saw was another small gallery at the back, which by this point was full of all the schoolchildren that had been outside and had a teacher standing guard outside the door, so we felt weird about entering. Since we couldn’t see where any other parts of the museum would be, other than in the back gallery, we just left, but it felt rather small for the largest agricultural museum in Europe, since it seemed like the agricultural section at the delightful Technical Museum of Slovenia was larger than this museum. Well, we later popped our heads into the museum shop (which had a separate entrance) and got a view through the back window of a bunch of cases of taxidermied birds in what was evidently a gallery we’d completely missed, so obviously the museum did carry on for quite a while! I’m not even sure what exhibits we didn’t see, because the website says there are nine at the museum, and even if there was more than the “History of Hungarian Agriculture” in the one gallery, I reckon we still missed at least four exhibits, including the whole amazing sounding Gothic wing!
I’m pretty disappointed we didn’t get to see the whole museum and experience the full joys of the largest agricultural museum in Europe, but I doubt if they would have let us back in, and by the time we discovered the missing museum sections, we needed to head back to the city centre to grab some lunch before our flight home. But definitely do a better job of poking around if you’re in there than we did, because it is clearly hiding a number of secret galleries somewhere! I can only give it 2.5/5 based on what we saw, but maybe better things await the persistent. The castle is awesome though – at least go check out the courtyard, even if you skip the museum!
I always like to visit some sort of national history museum when I’m in a different country so I can learn more about the place, and Hungary was no exception, particularly because I don’t really know much about its history (my knowledge of most of Eastern European history (or Central European? Never quite sure what the boundaries are because they seem based more on culture than geography) is patchy at best, to be honest). And the Hungarian National Museum was housed in a very impressive building, as you can probably see (if you ignore all the construction work), so I was keen to explore.
Admission is 1600 HUF for the permanent exhibitions (about £4.50), and there is an extra charge for the temporary exhibition, which we decided not to see on this occasion even though it did look quite interesting (it was about the journey of a “fallen girl” in mid-20th century Hungarian society), because I was worried not everything would be in English, and also, frankly, my feet hurt, and I could only take so much museuming that day. We also had to pay extra, once again, for a photo pass (it was 500 or 600 HUF) and Marcus had to put his backpack in the cloakroom immediately after arriving, but at least that was free (and near the toilets, which you know is always a concern of mine).
We started with the lapidarium (having only familiarised ourselves with the term the previous day at the Parliament building, which you’ll see in a later post. Not because it’s a Hungarian word (it was obviously Latin), it just wasn’t really a term we’d seen used before). And boy, was it sure lapidary. It was a bunch of Roman ruins, which normally I am not really into, and this was no exception, though I did enjoy pointing out how most of the beardy guys carved in stone looked a bit like Marcus.
We then headed up to the first floor to explore Hungarian history, starting with the Middle Ages. As you can see, the journey up the stairs was spectacular, so I was a little disappointed that the exhibits didn’t quite live up to that level of grandeur. There were English translations on most things, but some of the signs were so old that half the letters had fallen off, which was obviously not ideal, and some of the translations were a bit…patchy anyway, so it was hard to tell exactly what they were trying to communicate in some of the rooms. Also, the presentation was very dry, with no interactivity at all, and considering I was already quite tired and reaching the end of my tether (we’d already been to the Semmelweiss Museum and Buda Castle that day, and stopped at the Central Market, so I was justifiably tired, especially because I also wear not very comfortable shoes), I just couldn’t summon up much of an interest.
I will give them credit where credit’s due and say they had some great paintings of people with amazing eyebrows (no wonder the clerk at our hotel asked if I was Hungarian!) and a really interesting banner showing the execution of three men who participated in a rebellion (the fourth had a ransom paid for his life, and I think may have possibly later ruled Hungary, though the museum didn’t explain whether it was the same person, or a descendant with the same name). There was also a painting of Suleiman the Magnificent just casually slung in here that I swear is really famous, and the label didn’t say it was a facsimile, so I assume it was the original?
The second section upstairs was the history of Hungary from 1703 (after the Ottomans were expelled) until 1990, which is presumably the last time the museum was updated (or just the end of communism, but I could totally believe that most of the displays were almost 30 years old). This was more interesting to me because I understand more about this time period – and I’m always happy to look at dirndl-style national costumes or old communist art (probably shouldn’t have posed with the statue of Stalin, considering what a monster the man was (though he was disturbingly hot when he was young), but I couldn’t help myself. I have some kind of sick compulsion to be photographed with statues).
My favourite part was actually the Liszt room, not because I’m a particular fan of Liszt (even though he does look like a vampire, and is even featured in my Vampire Tarot deck (not just because of his looks – I think he composed something vaguely vampiric)), but because it was air-conditioned and had a real comfy bench on which I was quite prepared to settle down and listen to recordings of some of his compositions, until a couple walked in and started ostentatiously trying to read the sign behind my head, so I had to get up.
When we headed back downstairs, it became obvious that we’d gone around the museum in the wrong direction, because we spotted a prehistory gallery down there. It’s a shame I’m not more interested in prehistory, because this gallery had been updated relatively recently, and had some interactive things and a much more appealing appearance than upstairs. By this point, I was pretty much done though, so we rushed through pretty quickly (I tried to use the bow and arrow interactive to see what kind of animal my strength would kill (bit grim I know) but I couldn’t figure out how to pull back the bow and the guy working there said something to me in Hungarian, and I was worried he was telling me I was going to break it, so I just left).
We somehow missed seeing the Coronation Mantle, which is apparently a pretty big deal, but I honestly didn’t see another gallery we could have gone into, so I’m not sure where it was (this would be a recurring problem at Hungarian museums). I think the building is stunning, and the collection has a lot of potential, it just hasn’t been fully utilised. The amazing (and free!) Swedish History Museum has become my gold standard for this sort of thing, and the Hungarian National Museum fell well short of this ideal. With more interactivity, and some updated signage (at least the updated signage!) I think it could be a pretty great experience, because clearly Hungary has an interesting past (I mean c’mon, Ottoman occupation? Transylvania? Communism? This stuff is interesting!), but the way it’s presented is not engaging. 2.5/5.
I talked a little bit about the history of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs in my post on “Making Nature” at the Wellcome Collection, and mentioned that I would try to revisit them at some point in the future so I could blog about them. I was intending on going in nicer weather (though I only just realised I said I would try to see them over a year ago, so I don’t know what the hell my excuse was last summer, other than the fact that I was working a terrible horrible job at the time and didn’t want to do much of anything other than escape), but my friend who had never seen them kept badgering me to go with him until I finally just gave in, even though the day we picked was super cold (for April) and rainy, and to quote Gene Belcher, “I’m more of an indoor kid” even at the best of times.
Even though I was reluctantly going, I still always aim to be a punctual person (I think lateness is rude), so I felt like a real jerk when Marcus and I ended up meeting him there half an hour late (my fault because I wanted to get cake first, though mainly I blame the TfL website for not mentioning that a rail replacement bus service was in operation, because if the trains had been running we would have made it in time. Rail replacement my ass) and therefore tried to be more agreeable about the whole experience than I normally would, even when I was cold and wet and tired of walking around, which meant we ended up spending an hour and a half there instead of the half an hour I was planning on, and took in most of what Crystal Palace has to offer (not just dinosaurs!).
Crystal Palace takes its unusual name from the Crystal Palace, as in, the giant glass structure that was the centrepiece of the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was moved from Hyde Park to what was then called Penge Common in 1854 and soon joined by a number of other attractions, including the famous dinosaurs, which are the oldest dinosaur sculptures in the world. (They were made by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins under the direction of Richard Owen, who was the dinosaur expert of his day. Unfortunately, he was working with incomplete skeletons and somewhat flawed scientific knowledge, so he got a lot of things hilariously wrong, as you can probably see.) Crystal Palace sounds like it was amazing until it fell into decline in the late 1800s, and eventually burned down in 1936. All that you’re left with today are some statues, some (most?) of the dinosaurs, and a pretty big park, which I suppose is nothing to scoff at, but still not as great as seeing the Crystal Palace itself would have been.
We started with the dinosaurs, some of which have recently been restored. The collection, which also includes some prehistoric mammals, is arranged on four different “islands” which surround a lake that is apparently meant to represent primordial ooze (you can paddleboat on it these days). I loved the signage they have there now about the dinosaurs, which explains what modern palaeontologists think the Victorians got wrong (to amusing effect…please read the last sentence on the Hylaeosaurus), and also describes how Hawkins and Owen deliberately hid the dinosaurs whose reconstructions they were least confident about (yet left the Iguanodon out there loud and proud…). The Mosasaur is my personal favourite (below right) – he’s so damn derpy, but they all are really, and you have to wonder how the Victorians thought they would obtain food with those big fat bodies. Maybe just sit there with their mouths hanging open and wait for something to fly in?
The mammals are marginally less hilarious, though I still have to wonder about the tails on those camel-headed things, and I don’t know what they’re trying to hide on the giant sloth, because you can’t even see his face from the path. The giant elk look fine, but that’s because elk are still a thing, so they didn’t have to guess what they would look like (they originally had real antlers, but they were too heavy for the sculptures and the heads were in danger of cracking off, so they had to be replaced with fake ones). There’s also a random gorilla statue off by himself (not part of the islands), though I’m not sure why he was there, because he didn’t have a sign (other than the dinosaurs, pretty much nothing here does, which is a little frustrating when you’re trying to figure out who a headless statue was meant to be).
After getting our fill of laughing at the dinos, we headed off to explore the rest of the park, which meant tramping through an awful lot of mud, mainly. I was thrilled to discover there was a maze, though when we got inside, the giant puddles proved the greatest impediment to our journey, as the hedges weren’t grown in yet at this time of year and we could see right over the tops (it still took longer than I thought it would to find the centre though, so that’s something).
We also found a stage, so perhaps they have concerts there on occasion, though it was in such a state of disrepair that I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to stand on it. There are a couple of TV towers that loom over everything, but really the main other attractions of note are the only remaining parts of the original Crystal Palace complex, which include the aforementioned headless statues (and some with heads -still no idea who they are, though I looked it up afterwards, and apparently they’re meant to represent different countries), and those rather grand sphinxes on an Italianate wall. They have also re-created a corner of the original structure, but it very literally is the bare minimum they could have done, and I would have loved to see more. I mean, why even bother just sticking up a couple of pieces of metal?! That’s just a tease!
After an hour and a half of exploring, we’d all had enough (frankly, I’d had enough after the dinosaurs, but like I said, I was trying not to complain as much as I usually do), so we headed off to a brewery in nearby Gipsy Hill (which I also didn’t complain about, even though I’m not normally very keen on drinking), passing a house that Leslie Howard used to live in on the way. The dinosaurs are a delight, and well worth seeing (in better weather, if possible), but I do wish they could rebuild more of the Crystal Palace (and restore more of the dinosaurs). There is also a tiled Victorian subway in the area that is occasionally open to the public, and a small Crystal Palace museum, which I strangely did not visit (I’m not even sure if it was open when we were there). It’s all free, and at any rate, it’s something to do of a weekend, especially if you enjoy looking at dogs in sweaters (and one with a tennis ball who followed Marcus around for quite a while, see below – I would have taken him home with us, but I think the owner might have objected).
I recently went to see the new special exhibition at the Wellcome Collection: “Somewhere in Between,” which runs until 27th August (my birthday!). I normally wouldn’t exactly rush out to something arty like this, but I wanted to make sure I also got to see “Ayurvedic Man: Encounters with Indian Medicine” in the first floor gallery, which ended on the 8th of April (also I had a hankering for roti canai, which was the main reason I needed an excuse to go to Euston (there’s a Malaysian restaurant near the station)).