John’s Journeys; A Trip to the Past.
John Burke suggests what to do when the beach is wet with rain
The brochures suggest that sea, sand and sun come top for selling holidays –
but not to everybody, and it does not always work for anyone else. Apart from ski-ing and city breaks, the attractions of travel also include culture and cuisine. Besides, what does one do in bad weather or if children get bored?
The answer is to head for the nearest museum, art gallery or historic building. Such refuges can be found even within easy reach of the Mediterranean, and other shores. If it rains on the Costa del Sol, for example, Ronda has a museum of banditry, while 285 of Picasso’s works can be viewed in Malaga.
Not far from Normandy’s coastline is Rouen with provincial France’s finest art collection (dominated by La Martyre de Sainte Agnes) and a new museum to another martyr, Joan of Arc, who also comes back to life in Orleans. Brittany’s regional museum in Rennes is interactive, complete with the Dreyfus trial.
There seems to a museum of just about everything, somewhere on Earth, ranging from mustard in Dijon to music in Berlin and from pencils in Keswick to fishing in Katwijk. Playing-cards are displayed in Turnhout and Altenburg whereas Brighton, Penang and Tartu go for toys. And you can learn about botany in Uppsala or bread-making in Ottawa.
Bottles of Cointreau and Coindreau stand side by side in the Parisian museum of counterfeiting that also houses examples of bogus trademarks in ancient Rome. Las Vegas boasts its Mob Museum, while several dealing with law enforcement include the Mounties’ heritage centre in Regina.
For further swashbuckling, visit Dawson’s hoard of Victorian manufactures that littered the Yukon after the Klondyke Stampede. And pre-Columban gold is on view in Lima and Bogota to compete with gems in Istanbul.
Belo Horizonte has a mineral museum, but the tourism director took me to a reconstructed colonial classroom – whose curator was his wife! Disciplined children of the same era are remembered in the Struwwelpeter museum in Frankfurt where Goethe’s house has been rebuilt from its wartime ruins.
Besides the residences or birthplaces of artistic or historical figures, including
Beethoven in Bonn (note his ear-trumpet) and Bolivar in Bogota (my guide was a general’s daughter), hundreds of castles and churches preserve items of antiquity.
Every château along the Loire and in the Ardennes is a museum, and so are many palaces such as the Achilleion, built on Corfu by the Empress of Austria. What used to draw tourists to the Coconut Palace in Manila were Imelda Marcos’ shoes, but the 3,000 pairs have been relegated to the national museum.
You can escape to bygone days inside Leyden’s windmill or among the mediaeval waxworks in Carcasonne. The same applies to cottages and farmhouses assembled outside towns as far apart as Cork, Tallinn, Calgary and Barcelona. Skansen in Stockholm and Sung Dynasty Village in Hong Kong belong to the same rustic league that sometimes add folk-dancing or craft-demonstrations to the olde worlde background.
Stations and shipping, even the submarine-pens in Saint-Nazaire, have been converted into museums. A patrol-boat of the Chaco War is moored not far from Asuncion’s old terminus whose steam-engine is not quite as old as the 1835 Adler in Nuremberg. At several stops on the Athens underground are window displays of Greek pottery, dug up during tunnelling.
Amid the jars and coins in Rhodes’ archaeological museum are rudimentary magnifying-glasses used when carving tiny inscriptions, while the technology that most amazed me at the Egyptian museum in Cairo was not Tutankhamun’s mask but the chariot wheels of 2000 BC with their six spokes and axle-pins.
Modern civilization is reflected in almost 200 automobile museums, half of which are in North America, and there are just as many collections of old planes, trains and trams, including one in Luxemburg and four on the Isle of Man. Hamburg prefers to boast the world’s largest model railway with over 50,000 feet of track.
Viking ships can be seen in Oslo alongside the Kon-Tiki raft that crossed the Pacific in 1946. Housed in Stockholm is the Vasa, the only wreck of the seventeenth century to be fully restored (buy a replica of the square copper coins recovered), while the oldest surviving warship – Admiral Dewey’s in 1898 – floats on the Delaware. Moored near Jules Verne’s home in Nantes is the Maillé-Brézé, a destroyer built in 1953 that nonetheless played a Royal Navy ship in the film Dunkirk.
Conflict has spawned as many museums as science and technology, not least a small one in Vichy that belatedly but bravely acknowledge the namesake regime that collaborated with Hitler. (It issued iron coinage.) Major capitals usually have a military museum, and so do many battlegrounds such as Arnhem, Dieppe, Narvik and Quebec. Wax figures in Singapore bring to life the Japanese surrender in 1945.
Darwin displays Australian armoured vehicles at East Point, besides screening a newsreel of the Japanese air-raid in 1942. Another museum nearby is the only one I know with bad weather indoors. One room simulates Cyclone Tracy that devastated the Northern Territory’s capital on Christmas Day 1974.