Europe travel-Vatican Museums, one of the world’s best


When I visited Italy a few years ago, I have to confess that I almost didn’t want to go to the Vatican. I found Rome really fascinating with so much to see. Luckily, I decided to visit the Vatican on my final day in Rome otherwise I would have missed out on one of the best museum experiences in my life. This would be the Vatican Museums, a grouping of fantastic museums boasting beautiful and historic artworks, sculptures and painted ceilings, including Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the famous Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican Museums is a grouping of over 20 Christian and art museums situated within one complex featuring over 50 galleries. It’s designed so that visitors can only go mainly in one direction. It’s smart because it allows you to take in everything on display, prevents people from getting lost, and eventually leads to the Sistine Chapel.

I went on a weekday and it was incredibly crowded, especially at the entrance where the line extended outside and around the corner (I’d booked a ticket online so I got to avoid lining up). Inside was just as crowded, though when you’ve spent time in China as I have, you never mind crowds anywhere else.

The museum is well worth enduring the crowds. There are beautiful paintings, lifelike historical sculptures, colorful painted ceilings, resplendent tapestries, and more. One of the most fascinating exhibits is a gallery of giant color maps of Italy created in the 16th century on the walls on both sides, while the ceiling is filled with golden decor and paintings. There are outdoor courtyard, with one featuring Roman sculptures as well as a more spacious one with lawns and giant bronze orbs.

While most of the artwork and exhibits are hundreds or even over a thousand years old, even dating back to Roman times, there are also galleries with modern contemporary paintings as well as a few done by 20th century masters like van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling is great, though it’s hard to appreciate it fully with all the people inside and the guards yelling at people not to take photos (it’s forbidden, allegedly due to the ceiling’s image rights being owned by a Japanese company; some say it’s to allow people to enjoy the artwork better).

I don’t think I covered everything in the Vatican Museums though I was there for at least 3 hours. I certainly wouldn’t mind going back to visit it.

How to get there: Get off at Ottaviano subway station and walk southwest.
Note: To avoid lining up, buy your ticket online (there is a small booking fee).


Perseus with the head of Medusa

  

Berlin travel- Museum mania

Berlin, Germany

I really like visiting museums, especially those that focus on history and anthropology. Berlin is ideal for museum lovers like myself because of its Museum Island, a cluster of museums on the northern half of an island in the Spree River, right in the middle of the city. Museum Island consists of five museums, each with a different focus and each housed in a magnificent building. For example, the Neues has Egyptian and prehistoric collections, the Pergamon has ancient Middle Eastern artifacts while the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) holds 19th-century artwork.

I didn’t have time to visit all of these museums so I chose the Neues (New) Museum, which despite its name was built in 1859. It’s new compared to the neighboring Altes (Old) Museum was built in 1830. The Neues Museum featured a great Egyptian collection featuring mummies, tombs, papyrus scrolls, and busts of pharaohs, as well as Germanic and Celtic exhibitions.

I also wanted to visit a museum about German history so immediately afterwards, I went to the German Historical Museum, which is just down the road from Museum Island. The museum features cool suits of medieval knight armor and weaponry, medieval paintings of battles and royalty, German cars, as well as World War II posters and newspaper clippings. However, I wasn’t able to see everything since the museum was about to close so I missed out on a few of the exhibits.

Also on Museum Island is the Berlin Cathedral, a neat fortress-like Protestant church with a massive green dome flanked by two smaller green domes. The domes remind me of Orthodox churches and the Kremlin. Built in 1905, the Berlin Cathedral actually isn’t very old and isn’t even a proper cathedral because it’s not the seat of a bishop.

Earlier that day, I had visited a friend in a scenic residential part of town, that had a park with horses and a barn nearby as well as a horseshoe-shaped housing complex. While the inner parts of Berlin, like the one I was staying in, seem rather gritty and gray, the residential neighborhood was like a whole different world. I wish I could have spent longer in Berlin.

Berlin Cathedral
Berlin Cathedral
Museum Island, Berlin
Alte Nationalgalerie

Neues Museum

Berlin
Neues Museum exhibit, Berlin
Berlin, Germany
Ancient elk skeleton, found in Berlin, dating from 10,700 BC!

Altes Museum

Knight on horseback, German National Museum

Berlin, Germany



In a much different part of town, a horse pasture in a residential park

Seoul’s impressive museums photo roundup

Here’s a photo roundup from Seoul’s great museums – the National Museum of Korea, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Arts and War Memorial (military museum). This is the last of my Seoul travel posts so that’s it for South Korea for now.

IMAG2919
IMG_4415
DSC09494 IMG_4240 IMG_4269 IMG_4328IMG_4380IMG_4666IMG_4465IMG_4494IMG_4511IMG_4516IMG_4567
IMG_4602IMG_4621IMG_4627
There was a display of military uniforms and equipment for the 16 nations who contributed troops to help South Korea.
IMG_4649
IMAG2917
An opera tenor sings for one person, in this case the child on the seat, while other people watch

Seoul travel- its impressive major museums

IMG_4464
Seoul is one of the best cities I’ve visited, right up there with the likes of Shanghai, Osaka, Hanoi and London. One of the reasons is that it has the most impressive military museum I’ve ever visited, with basically an entire mini army and air force to the side, while its national history museum and contemporary arts museum are also quite good.

The military museum or War Memorial of Korea is a huge, formidable gray building (it used to be the country’s military headquarters).  In front are a few large sculptures commemorating the Korean War and to the side are a fantastic collection of dozens of old warplanes, helicopters, tanks and even a full-scale replica of a navy frigate. These could be an entire attraction itself, never mind going into the museum (but of course, you should).
The museum proper features historic weaponry, a full-scale replica of a 16th-century turtle ship used to destroy invading Japanese navies, and a full section devoted to the Korean War, featuring a memorial to fallen UN soldiers and the flags, military memorabilia and info of each nation that sent troops to help South Korea fight off North Korea and China.
DSC09469
War museum

The National Museum of Korea history museum is also in a large, gray, imposing building (maybe there’s a trend here) with a nice artificial lake in front. Like the British Museum in London and China’s national history museum in Beijing, this museum is completely free. The building’s entrance is a huge, conical glass section that leads directly to the exhibits which are on several floors surrounding open space in the middle. There were loads of Korean artifacts, paintings, and an Asian collection including Chinese, Japanese and South Asian items. Frankly, the ancient Korean artifacts didn’t impress me too much but what interested me more was Korean history. I learnt from the info on display that until the 7th century AD, there were three Korean kingdoms ( Goguryeo, Baekje, Silla,) that eventually became a unified entity after Silla, allied with China’s ruling Tang dynasty, conquered the other two kingdoms.
DSC07530
History museum

The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) was new, having just opened in January 2014, and was built at a cost of US$230 million. Normally contemporary art is not my thing and I wouldn’t go out specifically to view it, but I made an exception in this case due to all the articles I’d seen about this museum.
The MMCA (Seoul branch, there are other branches elsewhere in the nation) turned out to be worth it. The feature attraction was a giant transparent, hollow house made out of mesh cloth containing a smaller Korean house, a hanok, inside and was called “Home Within Home Within Home Within Home Within Home.” (really). There was also performance art with a soprano singing to a child, who was a visitor, sitting across from him, visual art and regular weird paintings that look like somebody took paint and threw it onto the canvass. I even saw a short film in the downstairs cinema which was big enough for a few hundred people about a Korean woman trying to remember a weird incident in the past involving answering a casting call of some sort.
DSC09640
The main attraction at the MMCA when I was there

History museum exhibits below
DSC07611 DSC07619
IMG_4338
DSC07694 DSC07697

War memorial/military museum photos below
DSC09464
DSC09465
IMG_4402IMG_4379
IMG_4581IMG_4577IMG_4553IMG_4604

MMCA photos below
DSC09645DSC09624DSC09632

Hong Kong roundup 2015 – famous skylines and Cheung Chau

Hong Kong’s famous skyline is probably its most well-known feature, symbolizing the world’s most densest collection of skyscrapers and HK’s status as a financial and commerce hotspot. Indeed, that skyline, which lies over Victoria Harbor on HK Island, is something I never get tired of looking at and taking photos of from the southern tip of Kowloon, called Tsim Tsa Tsui. But that is just one part of a diverse landscape that includes packed highrises, countryside villages, scenic beaches and hilly country parks with vast greenery.
DSC01063
I could never tire of this view, especially at sunset and even with multiple ships – tourist boat, container ship, and ferry (left to right).

I didn’t hike on any mountain this time but I did go to Cheung Chau, a small island that is a former fishing village-turned-holiday retreat southwest of HK Island. The island has a busy waterfront with seafood restaurants and several temples and weird rock landscapes. There’s nothing spectacular but a pleasant island vibe and a decent excursion. People still live on the island, and there are holiday homes and school and religious retreat centers as well. It’s one hour from Hong Kong Island by slow ferry and half-hour by fast ferry.
IMAG4955 IMG_5716 IMG_5724 IMG_5730 DSC01091 IMAG4953

I also went to the HK History Museum again, the first being back in 2007. It was just as interesting as I remembered, with probably a few changes. HK may not seem to have much history given its current form as a busy commercial city and port stemmed from when the British colonized it in the mid-19th century, but fishing and pirate villages on the coast and rural villages inland had already existed for hundreds of years before. HK also has a diverse Chinese makeup including the Punti, Cantonese from Guangdong Province, and the Hakka (my father’s people), the Hokkien, from Fujian province, and the Tanka boat people, who mostly do not live on boats anymore. This assortment makes for a few distinct traditions such as walled villages and festivals involving noisy lion dances and climbing of bun towers. Nearby is the June 4 museum, which commemorates the terrible tragedy in Beijing (and other cities) in 1989 that saw a mostly student movement crushed by the authorities. Needless to say, such a place does not exist in the mainland.

IMAG4777
June 4 museum, a small but worthy effort to commemorate the tragedy. Located near the history museum, it’s on a floor inside a building (you need the address since there is no sign outside the building) and features photos and information, which unfortunately are all in Chinese for now.
DSC01037
IMG_5662
New Territory sunset

DSC01067
West Kowloon, the red junk is a faithful reproduction of traditional Chinese ships that sailed in this harbour as recent as the 1970s
IMG_5684 IMG_5697
HK has a busy commercial port so there are always container ships to the west of Victoria Harbor.
IMG_5669
Cruise ship docked at Tsim Tsa Tsui’s cruise terminal, with a junk in front

IMAG4835
Mongkok street market in Kowloon
IMAG4874
Indian/Pakistani food, which was quite good
IMAG4775
New Territories
DSC01047-a
Enjoy the HK skyline again

Ho Chi Minh City- day 2 photo roundup

DSC00267
Side view of Notre Dame Cathedral.

DSC00028
US vehicles and firepower outside the War Remnant Museum.

DSC00261
The troop strength of the US, South Vietnam and its allies during the war.
I’m surprised to see that Thailand and the Philippines contributed troops. The latter was wise to send a few and to withdraw after 1969. The South Koreans were staunch allies, if not a bit foolish, keeping their numbers up throughout the war.

DSC00146DSC00087DSC00081
Tortured and killed political prisoners in South Vietnamese jails.

DSC00267
US casualties, bombs dropped,  and costs in the Vietnam War compared to World War I and II.

DSC00049 
The ubiquitous Bell Huey UH-1, seen in every single movie and TV show about the Vietnam War. Even the pretty girl can’t resist getting up close.

DSC00008a
Inside the Saigon Central Post Office. The map on top is of HCMC (Saigon) in the 19th century.