Tag Archives: museum

USA 2019 – 14 Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC (2019-10-27) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 21 MAR 2021

There’s nothing more disappointing than finding your most eagerly anticipated tourist sight or experience covered in scaffolding and men at work signs. This then is exactly what awaited me as I, who suffers from a life long love and admiration for all things aeronautical, shuffled across the National Mall to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, having just spent the last couple of hours wandering through the halls of the incredible National Museum of American History. Clearly then the grey skies, dripping trees, and puddles of fresh rain water on the concrete perfectly suited that very moment when I turned the corner and discovered my eagerly awaited unicorn under all the cranes, scaffolding, and hard hat signs.

Of course, just because massive swathes of its space is closed for renovation, it doesn’t mean that the museum has entirely shut up shop, and so I joined the throng of excited visitors, cleared through security, and stepped into the impressive Milestones of Flight entrance hall, decked out with an incredible array of historical aircraft, including gems like the Spirit of St Louis, the Bell X-1, SpaceShipOne, and even the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia!

From there I wandered through the interactive, kid-focused How Things Fly exhibit, followed by a jaw-dropping walk about the Space Race floor that is devoted to all things rockets, including the infamous German V-2 rocket. Next to that was a hall dedicated to exploring the universe, examining solar systems and the instruments that we have developed to better study it, and across the passage, the Moving Beyond Earth immersive exhibition that places you “in orbit” as part of the shuttle and space-station era – allowing you to explore recent human spaceflight and future possibilities.

At the time of my visit, the only halls open on the second floor included one looking at the origin of powered flight through the lens of the Wright Brothers and their 1903 Wright Flyer, and another that focuses on Time and Navigation, detailing how revolutions in timekeeping over the years have influenced how we find our way. Hello GPS!

And unfortunately that was that. With about half of its floor space lost to the ongoing renovations, and almost the entirety of its collection of planes now stored at the museum’s secondary Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in nearby Virginia, this particular museum experience, while as incredibly interesting and engaging as what it was, just didn’t have what I was really looking forward to seeing the most: airplanes! (Spoiler alert though – the very last thing that I did manage to do on this particular USA 2019 business trip as I waited for my plane to depart from Dulles International Airport, was catch a bus to a certain spot in Virginia…)

USA 2019 – 13 Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington DC (2019-10-27) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 20 MAR 2021

My third day in Washington D.C. started out with grey clouds and a sprinkling of rain. Early breakfast at the hotel done, and underground Metro successfully navigated, I walked across the National Mall and up the stairs to stand in front of the solemn stone monolithic building that houses the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Of course it was at this point that the heavens truly opened and I stood in the rain, soaking up what felt to be just about every single raindrop that fell on that soggy morning. When the doors were finally flung open and we made it past security, there I was, a truly drowned rat that just so happened to have the most massive of silly grins on its face.

Originally opened in 1964 under the banner of Museum of History and Technology, the year 1980 saw the museum adopt its new moniker of National Museum of American History, a much stronger representation of its mission to collect, care for, study, and interpret objects that reflect the history and experience of the American people. Having undergone a couple of renovations since the early 2000’s, the National Museum of American History is a behemoth of a museum to visit. Spread over three exhibition floors, each with its own wings and lined with artifact walls, the museum is packed with a mesmerizing number and variety of displays, items of interest, and exhibitions, stretching wildly across the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific, and military history.

For those interested in conquest and power, the third floor focuses on the military history of the United States, as well as the American Presidency, and even an exhibition regarding the First Ladies of America (I can’t really explain that last one). On the other side of the hall, sport, music and culture gets a nod, and for my particular visit there even stood a temporary exhibit of classic American quilts. The second floor is pinned by the original Star Spangled Banner Flag, and features rotating exhibits that consider American ideals, such as who people are who make up the United States of America, how did they live, where did they come from, and what it took to ensure voting rights for all.

The first floor is focused on exhibits revolving around transportation and technology, detailing America’s modes of transportation over the years, inventors and inventions, science in terms of robots and America’s future, and even a recreation of Julia Child’s famous kitchen whilst looking at the impact of Food Technology as a whole. The final lower level of the museum features a number of smaller exhibits including one showing the impact of American commerce on the world stage, and believe it or not, a Gallery of Numismatics, i.e. the study or collection of currency.

As you may then guess, it takes literal hours to walk through this fascinating museum and its ode to all things American, and thus the chance of absorbing every little detail is virtually zero. That said, as you may be able to tell just from the size of the photo gallery featured down below, this little nugget of information was surely nowhere near good enough to stop me from trying my best to do so!

Besides, who can say no to any museum that counts and so confidently displays a blindingly neon lit Batman Forever Batmobile so prominently as part of its collection!?

USA 2019 – 04 The Memorials and Museums of the National Mall in Washington DC (2019-10-25) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 15 OCT 2020

If you are a history buff, enjoy grandiose memorials and monuments, or simply love absorbing knowledge wherever you go, then there is simply no finer American location for this than Washington D.C.’s incredible National Mall, the giant landscaped park area pinned by the famous Washington Monument in the middle, bounded on either side by the United States Capitol and the exquisite Lincoln Memorial, and flanked along its length by the grounds of the White House and countless Smithsonian museums (including the famous Smithsonian Institution Building aka The Castle) and other national arts and cultural institutions.

With long walkways and plenty of lawns stretching out all around you, this stretch of green is incredibly popular with the locals as an exercise and relaxation venue, though of course they have to contend with the never ending throngs of both domestic and international tourists picking their way through this smorgasbord of knowledge and culture. (So yes, this means a lot of busses, a lot of electric scooters, and a lot of foot traffic!)

And smorgasbord of things to take in it honestly is. The reality is you probably need more than a week to get a taste of everything on offer. For example, in terms of landmarks and museums contained in the National Mall proper, you have the National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, West Building of the National Gallery of Art, East Building of the National Gallery of Art, National Museum of the American Indian, National Air and Space Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Arts and Industries Building, Smithsonian Institution Building, Freer Gallery of Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, National Museum of African Art, and the exquisite National Museum of African American History and Culture. (And bear in mind, most of these are also paired with a garden or landscape to explore as well!).

The eastern end of the National Mall includes features like the imposing United States Capitol, Union Square and the United States Botanic Garden, while to the west lies the majority of monuments and memorials, including the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, National World War II Memorial, Constitution Gardens, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

And then there are all the nearby attractions which should all be included in the above lists but simply aren’t: for example, the White House, Library of Congress, United States Supreme Court Building, National Postal Museum, Union Station, Tidal Basin, Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

While I managed to at least catch a glimpse of every single item mentioned in the above list, my three days in Washington DC meant that I had to pick and choose between what I really wanted to get a taste of – and as you can see from all the items that I hyperlinked above, I only really managed to squeeze in about 12. Not a bad number, but man did my poor aching feet hate me so much! (In hindsight, maybe I should have tried my luck by precariously balancing on one of those electric rideshare scooter things!)

The museums were fascinating, the memorials somber, the beautiful stone architecture grandiose, and all this was paired with the start of Autumn’s magnificent foliage color change. An incredible experience and opportunity for sure.

A Fort of History at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town (2020-02-15) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 15 JUL 2020

Back when the world was still mostly blue skies and smiles, with not a single Covid-19 mask in sight, I took the girls out for an exploratory jaunt around the Castle of Good Hope, otherwise known at the Cape Town Castle, a 17th century pentagonal shaped bastion fort standing in the heart Cape Town, South Africa’s oldest city.

Built by the Dutch East India Company around 1666, the stone fortress that is the Castle of Good Hope served to replace Jan van Riebeek’s older wood and clay fort (Fort de Goede Hoop), and is currently the oldest existing building in South Africa. Built primarily in response to rising tensions between Great Britain and the Netherlands, the fort was seen as a way of safeguarding the Dutch Cape settlement which was responsible for replenishing ship supplies on the lucrative but long trade route between the Netherlands and the Dutch East indies, now known as Indonesia.

Although it seems out of place, originally the Castle of Good Hope actually sat on the coastline of Table Bay, but following extensive land reclamations that took place around the city, the fort, an historical monument (now a provincial heritage site) since 1936, now sits completely inland, with its five bastions (named after the main titles of William III: Leerdam, Buuren, Katzenellenbogen, Nassau, and Oranje) surround by the city it was once tasked with protecting.

In the past the Castle acted as local headquarters for the South African Army in the Western Cape, and today houses the Castle Military Museum and ceremonial facilities for the traditional Cape Regiments. The Castle is also the home of the Cape Town Highlanders Regiment, a mechanised infantry unit. Extensive restorations were completed in the 1980s, resulting in the Castle of Good Hope being one of the best preserved examples of a Dutch East India Company fort still left standing.

In its heyday the yellow painted fortress, that colour chosen because it lessened the effect of heat and the sun, housed a church, bakery, various workshops, living quarters, shops, and cells, among other military-themed facilities. A dividing wall was eventually added around 1695 to protect citizens in case of an attack, serving to split the courtyard and also to house the De Kat Balcony (now fronted by four legendary bronze South African warrior kings).

These days the Castle serves as a museum, with the public invited to stroll around the grounds, watch the ceremonial guards of the castle undertake the daily Key Ceremony, observe a signal canon being fired, browse around the top of the bastions, visit the military museum, take in the William Fehr art collection, peek into the torture rooms, or simply join one of the many guided tours to learn more about this bit of our shared City of Cape Town history.

A Shipwreck Museum in Bredasdorp (2019-03-23) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 23 OCT 2019

Bredasdorp is the main economic and service hub of the Overberg region. After a particularly nice coffee stop at Bredasdorp Square (i.e. a bribe), I next dragged Chantelle and the girls off to the most surprising of attractions in this small town – a shipwreck museum that happens to lie more than 23 km away from the sea!

The Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum commemorates the 1815 wrecking of the Arniston (372 lives lost) as well as the other nearly 150 historic wrecks that occurred along the nearby Agulhas Reef. The museum is fairly unusual in that it is the only museum of its kind in the southern hemisphere!

The dimly lit main building is filled with artifacts from the Arniston and other wrecks, and you will be treated to all manner of mastheads, cannons, and interesting stories collected over the years. (Interesting fact, the seaside village of Waenhuiskrans has become so associated with the wreck that it is now primarily known as Arniston, and the wreck itself had a direct influence on the eventual decision to build the famous lighthouse at Cape Agulhas in 1847).

In addition to the shipwreck hall, the museum also opens up at the back onto a big lawn with a few more building converted into museum pieces. The house museum has a lot of interesting vintage decor and antiques on display, while the barn is home to a vintage firetruck, hearse and a couple of well looked after carriages.

And then there are all the anchors, neatly arranged around an old (equally as interesting) tree, giving a picture of how anchor technology has changed over the years. There is also a collection of glass bottles and old sewing machines of all things!

In short, an unexpectedly pleasant little tourist attraction that would appeal greatly to any history buff.

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A Giant Jersey, Pancakes and Silly Fun at Tuinplaas in Albertinia (2018-09-22) Family Attractions | Photo Gallery 05 JUL 2019

With the impossible to miss combination of colourful flapping flags and ridiculously dressed ostriches waving to you from the side of the road, sooner or later you are simply going to have to pull off the N2 at the edge of Albertinia and investigate just what exactly this silliness is that labels itself Tuinplaas. So that then is precisely what I did.

With the girls and myself travelling up for a weekend away in Mossel Bay with my folks, I decided to call up mom and dad (who were already there) and asked them to drive down and meet us in Albertinia for a quick breakfast. Amazingly, they agreed to my plan and soon enough we both pulled up in the vast parking lot of our destination. Hello Tuinplaas.

As it turns out, Tuinplaas is in fact a business that is wonderfully not afraid to throw anything and everything at you in order to be successful. At its core, Tuinplaas probably started out as a garden concrete mouldings specialist (hence the many concrete statues, pots and other garden pieces for sale), but then also successfully dabbles as a plant nursery, with a specific focus on its many beautiful succulents.

On top of all that, next is the homely restaurant (situated right next to all the plants and pots), and beside that, the intriguing farm museum that is host to an incredible collection of scale models (with over 8,000 models on display), ten vintage tractors (the oldest being a 1933 McCormick Deering), and incredibly (because this is Albertinia of all places), the Guiness World Record certified largest hand-knitted jersey (jumper) in the world!

And then there is the very silly, impossible to categorize, R.O.A.R., aka the Royale Ostrich Ancestral Republic, concrete ostriches “installation”. It is very silly (in a good way).

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The Whale Museum in Hermanus (2018-08-25) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 12 JUN 2019

The Whale Museum, or more accurately, the Whale House Museum can be located within the historic Fisherman’s Village section (right next to De Wet’s Huis Photographic Museum) of the Old Harbour Museum complex in Hermanus.

By the early 1990’s, whales had become the primary tourist attraction for this popular coastal town, and as such it was suggested that Hermanus establish a whale museum with the mission of informing and educating both local and international visitors alike. Built up over 3 distinct phases, the main hall (which was completed in 1998) is the museum’s centerpiece, now dominated by the suspended skeleton of a young female Southern Right whale that had washed ashore at nearby Onrus River in 2003.

With a strong focus on digital displays with audio/visual interactions, the Whale House Museum is a treasure trove of cetacean information and although not a large space by any means, it provides a good learning experience for any youngsters stepping through its doors.

There is a also a very interesting mini-sub lounging on its floor (a favourite with the girls) and naturally, there were plenty of photos taken on the day:

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Caravel and Post Office Tree at Bartolomeu Dias Museum in Mossel Bay (2018-06-26) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 01 JUN 2019

As one of the larger Western Cape museums in existence today, Mossel Bay’s Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex is a treasure trove of local cultural, Portuguese maritime, and natural history. In addition to the outside displays of the famous Post Office Tree, the Ethno-Botanical Garden, the Fountain, the Munrohoek Cottages, and the Malay Graves, the complex is also home to three distinct museums, The Granary, The Shell Museum (the largest shell museum in Africa), and the primary focal point of the complex as a whole, the Maritime Museum.

Although its history stretches back to that of about 1963, the museum complex in its current form was only really established in 1989, a direct outcome of the incredibly successful and well attended 1988 Dias Festival which celebrated the 500 year anniversary of the 1488 arrival of the first European explorer to set foot on South African soil, the highlight of the festival being the big spectacle landing of a seaworthy, life-size replica of Bartolomeu Dias’ famous caravel.

Now after dawdling through the grounds, touching everything in the garden, reading up on the historic mountain passes in The Granary, marveling at the beautiful mollusk homes in The Shell Museum, hiding under the Post Office Tree, and rolling down the sloped lawns (the kids, not me), we next traipsed over to the secret big reveal of our museum visit – the nondescript stone building marked as The Maritime Museum.

And yes, just like the surprise we ourselves as kids experienced when walking into the museum for the very first time, my girls got just as big a thrill when they entered down the stairs and walked into this:

And yes, of course we explored it.

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Fish and Shells at The Shell Museum in Mossel Bay (2018-06-26) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 15 MAY 2019

The Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex in Mossel Bay consists of a number of different elements all clustered in one location. There are the outside attractions of the famous Post Office Tree, the Munro Cottages, the Ethno-Botanical Garden & Braille Trail, the Fountain and the Malay Graves, and then the main buildings namely the Granary, the Maritime Museum, and finally the Shell Museum.

The Shell Museum is an interesting little animal in that it is part aquarium, part shell museum, and part African mask museum. Housed in a building that was erected all the way back in 1902, this small museum is a wondrously colourful look into some interesting examples of aquatic life (complete with touch tank – an absolute delight for the little ones), and hosts a very nicely displayed collection of sea shells and masks – all well presented with copious amounts of interesting, informative (and quite often artistic) displays.

The museum itself is not a particularly big space (it does have two levels though), but as with any museum installation, the value that you get out of visiting is directly proportional to how long you stay and more importantly how much you read.

And if you are as curious a person as what I am, then those two usually end up being a lot longer than any of my kids like!

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