November through February can be pretty bleak in London, but also an invitation to enjoy London at its coziest. There’s no shortage of inviting pubs, tea-houses and coffee shops to keep you dry and happy. Try the Builders Arms in Chelsea for a glam version of the enduring squishy sofas/giant fireplace combo. Or if you fancy lingering over your hot beverage, LJ’s on Soho’s Winnet street has classic board games like Scrabble and Wit’s End to while away some time over. Just around the corner, Dean Street Townhouse instead offers the slightly more grownup enticement of international newspapers.
England’s notorious weather (rain much?) is very possibly what prompted ministers to maintain entrance to our biggest national museum collections free. Head directly to South Kensington tube station and dive right in to the biggest three – Science, Natural History and of course the V&A. But for something less obvious, Somerset House in Mayfair – only free on Mondays – will allow you to enjoy your Manet without the throngs. And the Hunterian museum, a small enclave within the Royal College of Surgeons, allows silent and riveting access to the dissected animals, insects and yes – babies. Not for the faint hearted.
Short days require neon refuges after five, and they don’t come much brighter than the Westfield shopping centre near Shepherd’s Bush. From high end designer (Versace, Louis Vuitton) to ordinary high street chains, there isn’t a purchase that can’t be made in this mecca to consumerism. Go with an appetite, the restaurant selection is pretty broad too. If that seems far too modern an escape, travel through time and play spot-the-academic at the British Library, home to almost three hundred years and eight million volumes of books. When you’re done with the dusty tomes, enjoy some underground Bands, Bowling and Karaoke just five minutes walk away at the old-school Bloomsbury Lanes. Adored by the university students, guilty pleasure to large swathes of thirty-somethings too.
Green spaces lose their focus in these darker months, but do remember how romantic the cafe on Hyde Park’s Serpentine lake can be when the rain is lashing down outside. Definite contender for a Valentine’s moment, and with February also being LGBT history month, it’s the perfect time to search out some cut-price accommodation. Check our London apartments and B&B’s for last minute deals and rates.
With literally hundreds of museums and monuments in Paris, it’s easy for even veteran travelers to get overwhelmed. Here’s a guide to the city’s “big three” museums – Musée du Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou – which are conveniently organized by time period to help you set your sightseeing game plan.
Musée du Louvre
Thanks to its famous resident, the Mona Lisa, the Louvre is one of the most well-known museums in the world and third most visited attraction in Paris, after Notre Dame and Sacré Cœur. It’s also one of the oldest and largest museums, with more than 30,000 works of art ranging from Greek sculpture (including the Venus de Milo) to Italian and French paintings and other artifacts from ancient times through 1850. We can thank King Louis XIV, a great patron of the arts, for this grand and glorious collection, which was first opened to the public in 1793 after the French Revolution. This U-shaped royal palace-turned-museum is located on the Right Bank in the 1st arrondissement, connected to the Arc de Triomphe via a straight shot through the Tuileries and down the Champs des Élysées, giving visitors a sense of the lavish processional route that dates back to Napoléonic times. The entrance of the Louvre is adorned with a modern glass pyramid, designed by Chinese architect I.M. Pei, which was added to the museum in 1989. It’s impossible to see everything in one visit, so pace yourself and decide which galleries are your top priority.
France is synonymous with Impressionism, and the Orsay picks up where the Louvre leaves off, housing treasures from greats like Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Degas. The museum’s impressive collection spans 1848 to 1914 and includes a mix of paintings and sculptures, as well as decorative and graphic art. Inhabiting the former Gare d’Orléans train station in the 7th arrondissement, the beautiful steel and glass building is a work of art itself and a testament to the glory of the Industrial Age. Two restored clocks provide a backdrop to the light-filled gallery, which complements the light that the Impressionist masters set out to capture in their paintings.
You don’t have to look twice: the building that houses Paris’ modern art museum is indeed “inside out.” Named after France’s president from 1969 to 1974, the Pompidou Center is located in the 4th arrondissement and boasts an impressive exterior of glass, steel and brightly-colored pipes (green for plumbing, blue for climate control, yellow for electricity and red for safety and circulation elements). Inside you’ll find the largest collection of modern art in the world, with works from the early 20th century to the present, including must-see paintings by Picasso and Warhol to other more “out there” art. Even if modern art isn’t for you, the distinctive exterior of the museum is definitely worth a look. You can also take the exposed escalator to the top for a great bird’s-eye view of Paris.
All three of these museums are covered by the Paris Museum Pass, which grants you access to more than 60 museums and monuments throughout Paris and the surrounding area. The pass offers other perks too, like skipping the line at most sites, so you’ll have more time to explore Paris’ cultural wonders. You can find more time and money-saving tips for visiting Paris here.
Jessica is a Cross-Pollinate guest (having rented through us in Rome and Venice) who lives in the U.S. but attributes to her love of travel to her Italian heritage. When she’s not dreaming of Europe, she’s exploring it with her husband and favorite travel partner, Jeremy. You can read more of Jessica’s tips and experiences at her travel blog Boarding Pass.
So you are in Istanbul and have visited all the important sights like Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Basilica Cistern. They are all on the “must-see” list along with the Archeological Museum, Dolmabahce Palace, City Museum, Press Museum, etc. If you have more time for some contemporary Istanbul, here are a few suggestions, especially for those into modern art. These are all private museums, mostly pioneered by prestigious families of Turkey, such as Koc, Sabanci and Eczacibasi.
Located in one of Istanbul’s oldest neighborhoods on the Bosphorus, Emirgan, the museum presents a multipurpose museological environment with concerts, conferences and conservation units. It has a rich permanent collection, temporary exhibitions (such as that of Pablo Picasso’s or Rodin’s works) that attract many people nationwide and internationally. It was built in the 19th century as a Horse Mansion, used by some consulates as well and was bought by the Sabanci Family in 1950 and transformed to a museum in 1998.
The permanent collection presents many pieces from Ottoman calligraphy, which is a 500-year-old specific calligraphy art. The collection includes rare manuscript copies of the Qur’an, official documents such as decrees and grants of appointment, privilege and income and individual inscriptions. Exclusive pieces of early Turkish Republic and late Ottoman Empire (1850-1950) can be found in the painting collection. Archaeological and stone works can be found in this collection as well as decorative arts and furniture. Check the website for temporary exhibitions http://muze.sabanciuniv.edu/
Address: Sak?p Sabanc? Cad. No:42 Emirgan 34467
Phone: (212) 277 22 00
Open daily between 10:00-18:00 except Mondays.
Originally constructed by architect Achille Manousos in 1893, the museum opened in 2005 by the initiative of another dynasty of business people, the Koc family. The permanent exhibition includes Anatolian Weights and Measures, Kutahya Tiles and Ceramics and Oriental Paintings. One of the most famous paintings in the museum is of Osman Hamdi’s “The Tortoise Trainer” (Kaplumbaga Terbiyecisi in Turkish).
Do not forget to check out the auditorium as there is always something interesting going on. There is an activity space for visitors, a nice cafe and a gift shop. They organize educational art workshops for children: http://en.peramuzesi.org.tr/
Address: Me?rutiyet Caddesi No.65 34443 Tepeba?? – Beyo?lu
Phone: (212) 334 99 00
Open daily between 12:00-18:00 except Mondays.
Previously the Ottoman Bank Museum, it was recently transformed to a comprehensive multilevel art place with 15,000 square meters of space. It is the largest cultural foundation in Turkey by size. A variety of permanent and temporary exhibitions can be found in the museum, from paintings to experimental art, films to literature. Salt is a multidisciplinary museum that everyone can find something to enjoy, be stimulated by, or question. The museum has two locations fifteen minutes apart by foot, one in Galata and the other in Beyoglu. Both are free of charge to visit.
Salt Beyoglu Address: Istiklal Caddesi No:136 Beyo?lu 34430
Phone: (212) 377 42 00
Salt Galata Address: Bankalar Caddesi No: 11Karaköy 34420
Phone: (212) 334 22 00
Both open Tuesday-Saturday 12.00-20.00, Sunday 10.30-18.00
The only one of its kind, a “museum-in-an-office” concept. The building functions as the office of the holding company during the week, and as a museum on the weekends. It is possible to see a variety of the art collection in the museum. Single artist and group exhibitions are displayed in the Haunted Mansion part. Educational programs and academic discussion sessions are regularly organized. Children’s workshops can be checked out at http://borusancontemporary.
Address: Baltaliman? Hisar Street, Perili Kö?k No:5, 34470
Rumelihisar?, Sariyer, Istanbul, Turkey
Open Saturdays and Sundays between 10 am- 8 pm
Opened in December 2004 with the initiative of the Eczacibasi family, this is the first Modern Arts museum in Istanbul. It is located at the renovated old docks of the Karaköy district facing Topkapi Palace. Istanbul modern has a rich library, exhibitions, photo gallery, sculpture courtyard, movie theater, cafe and souvenir shop. The permanent collection is called “New Works, New Horizons” and it presents the evolution of modern and contemporary Turkish art from its earliest stage to the present day and features the most prominent artists and works in Turkey. The text to the side of each piece discuss the social, cultural, economic, and political dynamics of this development.
Address: Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi Liman Isletmeleri Sahasi Antrepo No:4 Tophane / Karakoy
Phone: (212) 334 73 00
Open daily between 10:00-18:00 except Mondays.
Santral Istanbul Energy and Arts Museum
Known as Silahtaraga Electric Plant, the building used to be the electric power plant of Istanbul. Built by Hungarians in 1914 at the tip of the Golden Horn, it produced energy for Istanbul from the Ottoman period until 1983, but then it was shut down because it wasn’t effective anymore in competing with modern technology. The grounds were taken by Istanbul Bilgi University in 2004 and transformed into a university campus, restoring the power plant as well. Santralistanbul was opened as an electric museum displaying industrial power machines and modern art exhibitions in September 2007. Perfect museum to visit with children as it has many interactive tools to demonstrate how energy works and transforms. For current exhibitions: http://www.santralistanbul.
Address: Eski Silahtara?a Elektrik Santrali, Kaz?m Karabekir cad. no1 Eyüp (Free Bilgi University shuttle could be taken from Taksim Square in front of AKM, every 30 minutes)
Phone: (212) 311 50 00.Open daily between 10:00-22:00 except Mondays.
by Alexandra Korey
Much loved in the 19th century, the national museum of sculpture in Florence, better known as the
Bargello, now sees a much smaller flow of tourists than the flashier Uffizi and Accademia. While there
are reproductions of the Uffizi’s colourful paintings and the very famous David on everything from
serious books to less serious men’s underwear, the duller stone and bronze works housed at the
Bargello seem unable to compete.
The reality is that the Bargello houses more naked men per capita than the Uffizi, and does not lack in
famous names either: with its 3 Michelangelos, one ought not to snivel at it. It’s also pretty colourful,
since it’s got a great collection of maiolica (glazed terracotta). I know that many short-visit tourists don’t
go to the Bargello since there are, apparently, more important options. But I was surprised to hear
that many Florentines have never been there. This museum contains sculptures that put Florence
on the map – works by Donatello that essentially began the Renaissance. How strange that my friends
had never been inside.
While the Uffizi is getting new signage, services and spaces, the Bargello lags behind in modern
museology, making it useful to take a qualified tour (I like Context Travel) if you don’t happen to have
an art historian handy. Museums like this require narration to be understood and fully appreciated. You
could print this post and bring it with you, and that’d be like having an art historian in your pocket. To
complete this effect I’m going to walk you through the space chatting as if you were my best friend. I’ve
turned off my scholarly voice.
There is no map available to visitors of the Bargello, so you’re going to have to use your imagination.
After you purchase your ticket, you’ll enter an open courtyard that has an imposing stone staircase on
its right side. The courtyard is decorated with hundreds of coats-of-arms of the podestà, the head of
Florentine government who resided here. The building dates to 1255, with many subsequent additions
and alterations. This history helps explain the rather illogical arrangement of rooms and the steps that
separate them even on the same level. When the Medici had full control of Florence, the role of the
building and of the podestà turned toward law enforcement, and later it became the city jail. Only in
1840, thanks to the discovery of some frescoes, was this use of the building revoked (the jail was moved
to Le Murate, where it stayed until 1985, and that building has now been renovated and turned into a
The rooms in this museum are not arranged chronologically, in that the first room to the right,
near the stairwell, houses the Michelangelo and Michelangelesque sculptures. If you were to do
things “right,” you might first head upstairs to the Donatello room, complete the second floor with the
Verrocchio room, and then head down to Michelangelo at the end. This order of rooms would present a
traditional “progressive improvement” view of art history that can be helpful for the simple reason that
students keep styles and artists’ names in their head best if taught things in order.
As you’re not a student, feel free to check out Michelangelo’s Bacchus in that ground floor room first.
He’s a youthful work by Mike, and what I think is coolest is the way that marble is made to look like soft
flesh. Drunkenness requires a softness of focus that is not easy to render in hard stone. The other works
in this room are less spectacular, but the Pitti Tondo is a nice way to see Michelangelo’s work in
The largest room in the Bargello is on the first floor: the Donatello room contains, as you might
imagine, sculptures by this man who first used the natural contrapposto pose that characterizes early
Renaissance sculpture. Compare two Davids by Donatello with the more famous David by Michelangelo
at the Accademia! Don’t miss the snarky naked putto (cherub) in bronze, sheathed in mystery (we don’t know
when he was made, nor what he really represents).
This room has two possible exits – a door toward the back of the room, or the door through which
you originally came. Take the latter if you want to get to the loggia in which there are some fun bronze
sculptures of animals. Take the former if you like strange Ottoman bronze objects. In the intermittent
rooms are decorative objects in metal, maiolica, and ivory. There is a large glass case that contains
jewelry and cameos that I find particularly fascinating. There is a ring that has a velvet lining for
comfortable wear, an item that particularly intrigued me when I first came here as a student.
There’s a frescoed chapel with a pretty good scene of tortured souls in Hell and what is claimed to be
a portrait of Dante on the altar wall. In the glass cases at the back of the room don’t miss the small
enamel and silver plaques that are some of the most amazing goldsmith work you’ll ever see.
Many people seem to miss the upper level of this museum which houses a huge coin collection, a room
full of miniature bronze sculptures, another dedicated to seriously gaudy maiolica by the Della Robbia
Family, and finally the Verocchio room. The star of this room is yet another statue that represents
David, so of course you’ll want to compare him to the Donatellos you saw downstairs. On the left
wall just inside the door is a fascinating bas-relief that represents the story of a woman who died in
childbirth and the grief of her husband, who commissioned this work. It’s one of the most touching pieces
in Renaissance art history.
Alexandra Korey no longer teaches art history, preferring blog readers to students, since if you’re still
reading this, you’re really interested in hearing what I have to say. You can read more of her ramblings
about life in Florence with an aesthete’s eye on her blog www.arttrav.com