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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Difference Between Museums in London and Paris

You may not think so, but Eric and I are really into going to museums when we travel. I feel like it gives us a little bit of insight into where we're traveling, and they can be fun and interesting. It's cool to see the differences in them when we go to different places, but nowhere was it more apparent than when we went to London and Paris. 

London has tons of museums and many of them are free. In fact, we went to three free museums in one day when it was rainy and we were looking for ways to spend the day since we missed our trip to Stonehenge due to a hurricane in the night (yeah, we must have brought that with us) that delayed or stalled all the trains. We were disappointed, but we made the best of it. We probably wouldn't have made it to any of those museums if not for missing the train. 

Tate Modern
Okay, maybe I just don't "get" most modern art, but I was really confused by how most of the pieces in this place are considered art. In one part, we walked into a pitch black room that had a projection of a lady sitting in a chair complaining about life. What the? We stood in line for 10 minutes to look inside some light boxes that turned out to be...three different colors of lights. Eh? Heaps of scrap metal in one room constituted a "sculpture"? Yeah, I was totally not into it. The best thing in the place was a Picasso that was much smaller than I expected and the hilarity of someone who thought a starfish wearing a Barbie high heel was worth wall space. If you like such things, Tate Modern is cool. If you're not, then maybe skip it, even if it IS free. The walk across the Millennium Bridge was worth it though.

Victoria & Albert Museum
I had been wanting to visit the V&A for a long time. I have a thing for textiles (aka clothes, rugs and tapestries) and heard this one had a great selection. You can't beat free, so we headed over there after the disappointment of the Tate Modern and a thoroughly delicious Indian lunch. I could have easily spent all day in the Victoria & Albert. It was divided into sections by parts of the world and had an amazing array of items, like those mentioned above, plus artwork, sculptures, pottery and so much more. and if you love a gift shop, you'll be in heaven. Of course, most of what is in there is expensive, but it was still fun to look at. 

The British Museum
You should go to the British if nothing else than for the awesome entrance. The featured exhibit is in a round room and the museum space around it is topped by a fantastic glass ceiling. Of course, the featured exhibit requires admission, but the rest of the museum is free. I loved looking at the Egyptian pieces, including real sarcophagi and heiroglyphics. Much of the rest was taken up by Greek and Roman structures and sculpture, which were rather large and stunning. There's even Chihuly glass sculpture in the lobby, which is amazing. Go there!

Imperial War Museum
Generally, I don't like anything to do with war, but I had some sort of compulsion to visit this museum, especially since the Britain at War Museum closed. It took some walking to find it, which would have been easier if we had gotten off at the right Tube stop, but we learned not to trust Google Maps after that. We were treated to some cool cannons, warship guns and a tank! Did I tell you that I have always wanted to drive one? Well, I still didn't get to, but it was awesome anyway. What really got my attention was the Holocaust exhibit that they were holding here. It was free to get in and taught me so much I didn't know about the rise of Hitler and concentration camps. So sad, but a very important part of history to know about.

In Paris, almost all the museums charge a fee and even more if you want to see the special exhibit of the moment. If you want to hit up more than a couple, buy a Museum Pass, or else you're wasting your money. Make sure you will be able to visit enough museums for the cost though. Unfortunately, the museums aren't all open all year and many are closed during certain weekdays. We didn't get to go to the Salvador Dali museum, because it was closed for months for refurbishment. There are also a ton of museums that you have to get to right when they open or wait in interminable lines, like the Louvre (which we didn't visit) and the Musee de Orangerie, which we also didn't get to go to, because we got there at opening and the line to get in was over two hours. So much for getting to see Monet's pinnacle piece. Instead, we went to these museums:

Notre Dame Archaeological Crypt
Though we also hit up Notre Dame - how can you not? - we went underground to check out the archaeological crypt where we saw what Paris used to look like and learned how it turned into the city it is today. It's pretty cool, actually, however, I probably wouldn't do this without having the Museum Pass. It's nothing that you can't just read about online, even if you have the chance to see parts of walls, doorways and other ancient city parts.

I feel like this isn't really a museum, but they claim it is, so there you have it. We got in with our Museum Pass, like everywhere else, and wandered around the religious building. They were currently in the process of refurbishing parts of it, including the spectacular dome, so there were a lot of things about that to read. In the basement crypt were the remains of greats like Voltaire and Braille (yup, that smarty-pants who invented a way for the blind to read!). Actually, the crypt was far more interesting than the main floor, even though it was somewhat creepy and cold. 

Centre Pompidou
By far, this is one of my favorite museums and I feel like I would enjoy returning and spending more time in it. I'm sure you remember my blog post on it. It has more of a pop culture vibe and even the "modern" bits were pretty awesome. There are like five floors of crazy good art to check out, with some interactive pieces. You will need to use your Museum Pass here as well, or pay an admission, but I assure you this one is worth it. If you want to see the special exhibit, purchase your tickets downstairs or be pissed when you are on the top floor and they tell you that you need a ticket and you can't purchase one there. It also seems like this is the only museum in Paris that's open after 5pm.

While I enjoyed our time visiting museums in both London and Paris, I feel like London has the right idea by letting the public view art for free and asking for a charitable donation. I might feel differently if the cost for admissions in Paris were more reasonable, especially if I have to wait in line for two hours to view a few notable works of art. I mean, if you only have a few days in the city, it's hard to see more than a few, especially when they all open at the same time and you have to get their super early, or they are only open on some of the days you are in town.

{See more about my London vacation at IvBeenThere. It's a fun and easy way to share your trips with friends and other travelers and you can link it to your Facebook account.}

Do you have a favorite museum? Or feel differently than I do about Parisian vs British museums?

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