Tag: Free

A Must See Painting at London’s National Gallery

A Must See Painting at London’s National Gallery

A Sixteenth Century Masterpiece

If you visit the National Gallery in London, there is a remarkable painting that you must see.  It is The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger, dated 1533.

London's National Gallery must see painting - The Ambassadors by Holbein
Photo via Flickr by Tayete

At first glance, it seems to be a fairly typical painting of two Tudor-era men.  The man on the left wears secular clothing. The man on the right is dressed in clerical garb.

In between them are an assortment of objects, including two globes (one of earth, the other a celestial globe), a quadrant, a portable sundial, an astronomical instrument called a torquetum, open books, a lute with a broken string, and a hymn book.  Hidden behind the folds of the drapes is a crucifix.

Over the centuries, some scholars have stated that the items represent a unification of the Church and capitalism. Others think they could represent conflicts between secular and religious authorities.

But that’s not all.

Perhaps even more interesting than the objects and their potential symbolism, however, is the object on the floor at the bottom of the table.  It doesn’t look like much straight on, but when you move to the right of the painting, you can see that it is a skull. This is an excellent example of anamorphosis – a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to use special devices or occupy a specific vantage point (or both) to reconstitute the image.  Watch the skull come into focus here:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNlgLSRZaos]

The anamorphic perspective was an invention of the early Renaissance.  Perhaps Holbein was showing off his talent at this then-new technique.  Perhaps he wanted to startle people who walked up the stairs past the painting.  Or perhaps he wanted to encourage contemplation of life and inevitable death, for the inclusion of a skull is a memento mori, literally a reminder that we all must die.

Whatever the artist’s intentions, the painting is exceptionally well done and full of fascinating details.  If you’re in London, do be sure to check it out.  It’s located in Room 4.

If you’re not likely to get to London any time soon, click here for an interactive image that allows you to get a close up look at different parts of the painting… just click on the area you would like to see in greater detail.

The National Gallery is located in Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN, United Kingdom. Telephone +44 (0)20 7747 2885. Admission is free. The museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (10-9 on Fridays).  Closed December 24-26 and January 1.

Pinterest and header photo of National Gallery via Flickr by Jim Bowen.

National Gallery Must See Painting by Holbein the Younger.
The Baltimore Museum of Art

The Baltimore Museum of Art

Are There Any Free Things to do in Baltimore?

With the plethora of free museums in our nation’s capital, just an hour or so away from Baltimore, a lot of people might think that there aren’t any good museums in Charm City. And certainly not any free museums. Those people would probably be surprised to learn that the Baltimore Museum of Art offers free admission and has quite a lot to offer visitors.

The museum – which is one of the best free things to do in Baltimore – has an internationally renowned collection of over 90,000 items spanning centuries. That’s a far cry from its founding in 1914 when it had only one painting – Mischief by William-Sergeant Kendall. Part of its 90,000 items is the largest holding of works by Henri Matisse in the world.

When I visited, I found the Antioch Mosaics stunning. In the 1930s, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) joined the Musées Nationaux de France, Worcester Art Museum, and Princeton University during the excavations of the ancient city of Antioch (now known as Antakya in southeastern Turkey). During these excavations, researchers found 300 mosaic pavements dating from the 2nd to 6th centuries.. The BMA received 34 of the finest mosaics from the excavation, most of which are on display.

Free things to do in Baltimore -- check out the Baltimore Museum of Art, where you can see ancient mosaics

Free things to do in Baltimore -- check out the Baltimore Museum of Art, where you can see ancient mosaics

Free things to do in Baltimore -- check out the Baltimore Museum of Art, where you can see ancient mosaics

Free things to do in Baltimore -- check out the Baltimore Museum of Art, where you can see ancient mosaics

But as I stated above, the museum’s collections span many centuries.  There was also Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, which I loved:

Free things to do in Baltimore -- check out the Baltimore Museum of Art, where you can see Little Dancer Aged 14 by Edgar Degas

And fans of modern art will enjoy the collection of works by Andy Warhol, including the massive Hearts:

Free things to do in Baltimore -- check out the Baltimore Museum of Art, where you can see Hearts by Andy Warhol.

The Baltimore Museum of Art is located at 10 Art Museum Dr, Baltimore, MD 21218. Telephone 443-573-1700.  Admission is free every day that the museum is open (Wednesday-Sunday). Hours vary by day, so check the website or call when planning your visit.

Pinterest image of the museum entrance via By Nrswanson (talk) at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Free things to do in Baltimore - the Baltimore Museum of Art
Bucket List: La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires

Bucket List: La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires

I’ve mentioned before my love of old cemeteries. There is one that is pretty high up on my bucket list: La Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Established in 1822, it was the city’s first public cemetery.

Photo via Flickr by papajuan74

La Recoleta cemetery is set in 14 acres, with 4691 vaults, all above ground. Ninety-four of those vaults have been declared National Historical Monuments by the Argentine government and are protected by the state. The entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined walkways branching into sidewalks filled with mausoleums.

La Recoleta was named as one of the ten most beautiful cemeteries in the world by CNN, and it’s easy to see why:

Photo via Flickr by Michael K Donnelly
Photo via Flickr by Liam Quinn

The cemetery is the final resting place of many notable people, including Eva Perón (aka Evita), presidents of Argentina, Nobel Prize winners, the founder of the Argentine Navy, and an illegitimate granddaughter of Napoleon.

Photo via Flickr by David Berkowitz

As you can imagine, there are interesting stories that go along with some of the memorials there. Take, for instance, Rufina Cambacérès, who suddenly collapsed one evening in 1902 and was pronounced dead at the tender age of 19.

Photo via Flickr by Christian Haugen

The story goes that a few days after Rufina’s funeral, a cemetery worker found that the coffin had moved within the crypt and the lid was broken in places. Fearing grave robbery, he opened it to find something even worse— scratch marks covering the inside of the coffin, and Rufina dead, hands and face bruised from having tried to break her way out of the coffin.

And, if you’re into ghost stories, there is the story of David Alleno, a grave digger who worked at the cemetery for some thirty years. He saved his wages for years in order to buy his very own plot in the burial ground. According to the legend, after commissioning an Italian architect to sculpt a statue of him, he put the finishing touches on the precious spot then went home and killed himself. There are rumors that he haunts the cemetery at night, and that visitors can still hear the noise of his keys as he walks the narrow streets before dawn.

rsz_la_recoleta_alleno

These are just two of the stories centered in La Recoleta Cemetery. I’m sure there are nearly as many stories as there are tombs. I hope one day I can go discover more of them myself!

La Recoleta Cemetery is located at Junín 1760, 1113 CABA, Argentina. Telephone +54 11 4803-1594.  The cemetery is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. English tours are available at 11:00 am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

 

The Concrete Ship

The Concrete Ship

During and after the first World War, the Liberty Ship Company of Brunswick, Georgia, produced 12 ships made of concrete.  The second one was the SS Atlantus.

The Atlantus had a short but successful run of about two years, during which it  was used to transport American troops back home from Europe and also to transport coal in New England.  In 1920, it was retired to a salvage yard in Virginia.

Six years later, the Atlantus was purchased by Colonel Jesse Rosenfeld for use in the creation of a ferry dock out of her and two of her sister ships.  The plan was to dig a channel to the shore where the Atlantus would be placed, and the other two ships would be placed in a Y formation, creating a slip for a ferry to dock.

However, those plans didn’t last very long.  In June 1926, about three months after the Atlantus had been towed to Cape May NJ, a storm came up that caused the ship to break free of her moorings and run aground 150 feet off the coast.  And she’s been sitting there every since.

Digital StillCamera

However, time has not been kind to her.  there is very little still visible, so if you want to see a real life shipwreck and in you’re in the Cape May area, go check it out.

rsz_concrete_ship_nj_1.jpg

rsz_concrete_ship_nj_2.jpg

The SS Atlantus  is located off of Sunset Beach, Sunset Blvd, Cape May, NJ 08204.

Bucket List: A Light Festival

Bucket List: A Light Festival

I’m not being specific here, because there are light festivals in several different countries and I don’t really care which one I see because they all look pretty fantastic.

The first light festival that I learned about was the Light Festival of Ghent, Belgium, which is held every three years.  The last one was held at the end of January/beginning of February 2015.  The next one is set for 2018.  (Plenty of time for me to save up for a trip there!)

rsz_light_festival_ghent

But I have lots of other choices, too.  There’s Lumiere in England.  It’s held in the city of Durham every two years, and always in the winter.  The next one will be in 2017.  (They recently held on in London as well, but I’m not sure if that one will be a recurring event.)

I_Love_Durham_lumiere

In Singapore, there is iLight Marina Bay, which just became an annual event and is generally held in March.

iLight Marina Bay Singapore

In the Dutch city of Eindhoven, the GLOW Festival is held every autumn.

glow eindhoven

Every December there is a light festival in Kobe, Japan, as well.

rsz_kobe-luminarie-christmas-lights-20

And these are just a few!  It seems most countries that have these festivals hold them in the winter months, which is pretty brilliant, because that’s the time when we have less sunlight, fewer holidays, and tend to become… well, sort of depressed, if I’m being honest.  How amazing it must be to go into a brightly lit city that sparkles in a multitude of colors against the night sky!   Wouldn’t you enjoy going to one of these festivals?

The National Zoo

The National Zoo

The National Zoo is a little panda-intensive.  And with good reason, as there are only four zoos in the United States where you can see pandas.  The National Zoo has four, including Bei Bei, who was just born in August of 2015.  My luck at being able to see the pandas over the years has been hit or miss. The last time I went, I was successful in getting one photo of the cuddly creatures:

National Zoo Panda

He was a little shy.  If you aren’t lucky enough to see the pandas in person, you can take advantage of the zoo’s Panda Cam which allows you to see them real time.

My favorites at the zoo (any zoo) are the big cats.  This was a particularly good trip for catching them alert.  Sometimes I haven’t been so lucky.  Here are the photos I snapped:National Zoo Cheetah

National Zoo Lion

National Zoo Tiger

I think we were there towards the end of the day — somewhere between 3 and 5 pm.  That seems to be a good time for catching the animals when they are alert as it’s probably getting closer to their feeding time.

Exhibits at the zoo include the following:

  • Giant Panda Habitat
  • Elephant Trail
  • Asia Trail
  • Lemur Island
  • Small Mammal House
  • Great Ape House
  • Think  Tank (education)
  • Gibbon Ridge
  • Cheetah Conservation Station
  • American Trail
  • Invertebrate Exhibit
  • Amazonia
  • Great Cats
  • Reptile Discovery Center
  • The Bird House
  • Kids’ Farm
  • American Bison Exhibit

Insider Tip:  If you take the Metro (Washington DC’s subway system), there are two stops you can use to get to the zoo.  The Woodley Park-Zoo stop (which most people use because of the name) is an uphill walk to the zoo.  The Cleveland Park stop is the same distance, but is a flat walk.  If you choose to drive to the zoo, there is limited parking available but there is a hefty charge (as of this writing, $22).

App It: The National Zoo has an app that includes interactive maps, schedules, animal information, and more.

The National Zoo is located at  3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008. Telephone  202-633-4888.  The zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas.  Hours vary by season, so call or check the website when planning your visit.

national-zoo

Diamonds and Bling, They’re Totally My Thing

Diamonds and Bling, They’re Totally My Thing

I cannot adequately express how much I love the Gems & Minerals section of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. I’ve been fascinated with it since I first saw in on an elementary school field trip.  My inner princess still squeals with delight as we approach the room with the Hope Diamond. Every time, without fail.

The Hope Diamond is one of the most infamous pieces of jewelry in history. Its ownership has been documented 400 years back. What makes the gem so special? Well, it is a startling blue color, which is rare among diamonds. Officially, the color is called “fancy deep grayish blue.”

Also, it is big. The diamond weighs over 45 carats, and it was cut from an even larger stone, believed to have been 112 carats in weight.

Its history is impressive as well, from its origins in India to the royal court of King Louis XIV of France, who had it cut down from 112 to 69 carats. It was later stolen and resurfaced in Britain after an absence of 20 years, but it had again been cut down to the current 45 carat size. In England, it became the property of King George IV, then was sold many times until it ended up in the hands of Pierre Cartier. Cartier sold it to a Washington socialite, who enjoyed it for over thirty years. Upon her death, it was sold to Harry Winston, another famous jeweler. Winston was persuaded to donate the diamond to the Smithsonian and in 1958, he mailed it to them – in a brown paper envelope!

Even more intriguing than the list of its rich and powerful owners is the legend that the diamond may be cursed. According to the legend, two former owners of the diamond committed suicide and countless others met with a gruesome death, such as being torn apart by wild dogs, hanged by a mob, and being thrown off a cliff. Many others’ lives ended in ruin and disgrace.

There are plenty of other dazzling pieces of jewelry in the Smithsonian’s collection besides the Hope Diamond. Take, for instance, the Cullinan Blue Diamond Necklace:

Cullinan Blue Diamond Necklace

This light blue diamond (although it appears clear in my photo –  sorry) was presented by Thomas Cullinan, then chairman of the Premier Mine in South Africa, to his wife Annie, around 1910. The gift was to commemorate the largest rough diamond ever mined – the 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond, discovered in 1905. Nine major pieces were cut from the original Cullinan rough; the two largest stones are in the British Crown Jewels, and the other seven stones are in the private collection of Queen Elizabeth II.

The necklace is set with 243 round colorless diamonds and nine blue diamonds. It is believed that the nine blue diamonds represented the nine pieces that were cut from the original Cullinan rough. The blue diamonds highlight the bow and pendant section and have a total weight of 5.57 carats. The Cullinan Blue Diamond is the largest blue diamond in the necklace, a 2.6 carat oval brilliant that is the centerpiece of the pendant.

Then there’s the Hall Sapphire Necklace:

Smithsonian Jewels 5

It was designed by Harry Winston, Inc. and features 36 sapphires from Sri Lanka, totaling 195 carats, set in platinum. There are also 435 pear-shaped and round brilliant-cut diamonds, totaling 83.75 carats.

Next, we have the Hooker Emerald:

Hooker Emerald.jpg

This 75 carat Colombian emerald was once the property of Abdul Hamid II, a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who according to legend, wore it in his belt buckle. Tiffany & Co. purchased the emerald at auction in 1911 and initially set it into a tiara. In 1950, it was mounted in its current brooch setting and was featured on the first page of the Tiffany Christmas catalog. In its platinum setting, the Hooker Emerald is surrounded by 109 round brilliant and 20 baguette cut diamonds, totaling approximately 13 carats.

The Marie Louise Diadem has always been one of my favorites:

Marie Louise Diadem.jpg

Napoleon gave the Diadem to his second wife, the Empress Marie-Louise, on the occasion of their marriage. Originally the diadem, commissioned in 1810, was set with emeralds, which were replaced in the mid-1950s with turquoise. (Why?!?!?)  The diadem has an elaborate design and contains 79 Persian turquoise stones (totaling 540 carats) and 1,006 old mine cut diamonds (totaling 700 carats) set in silver and gold.

Point of trivia:  A crown encircles the head in a complete circle and can be worn by men and women; a diadem is not a complete circle (usually ¾ way around), it has an opening in the back and can also be worn by men and women; a tiara (semi-circular high crown) is a smaller headpiece worn at the front of the head, by women only.

Another item on display that belonged to Empress Marie-Louise is the Napoleon Diamond Necklace. It’s stunning.

Napoleon Diamond Necklace.jpg

Like the diadem above, it was a gift from Napoleon to Marie-Louise, on the occasion of the birth of their son, Napoleon II in 1811. It has 234 diamonds.

So, if you also like shiny things that sparkle, check out the gem & mineral collection at the Smithsonian. In addition to these fantastic pieces of jewelry, you can also see a fascinating and very thorough collection of minerals in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors.

The National Museum of Natural History is located at 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560.  Telephone 202-633-1000. Admission is free. The museum is open every day of the year except Christmas, from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.

The Prettiest 5 Miles in Texas

The Prettiest 5 Miles in Texas

Try this experiment. Tell random people that you are going to San Antonio at some point in the future. With very few exceptions, the most frequent reaction you will receive is a breathless gasp followed by “Oh, you have to go to the Riverwalk!” Not the Alamo, AKA the birthplace of Texas. The Riverwalk: shopping and dining mecca.

I thought it was a bit ridiculous when I kept running into that reaction from everyone. But then I actually went and I could completely understand why. Where else might you walk freely through a city, unperturbed by cars and noise, and happen upon a waterfall?

San Antonio Riverwalk 1A.jpg

Or perhaps you’re into art. How about some mosaics?

San Antonio Riverwalk 3.jpg

Or maybe architecture is your thing.

San Antonio Riverwalk 2

Bottom line, the Riverwalk is probably the prettiest 5 miles in Texas. We would go see the sights, but we always kept coming back to the Riverwalk for its imagined solitude and relaxing ambiance.

There are plenty of restaurants along the Riverwalk, and stores too, but the best way to enjoy it is to stroll along and do a little people-watching. Take in the scenery, listen to the water, and enjoy the fact that the noise and traffic are out of sight, out of mind.

San Antonio Riverwalk 5

The Riverwalk is located one floor below street level in downtown San Antonio, Texas.

The Doll’s House at the Smithsonian

The Doll’s House at the Smithsonian

Since 1967, the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History has housed a 29 room dollhouse. The family that calls the dollhouse home is (what else?) the Doll Family. This miniature family consists of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Doll, their 10 children, two visiting grandparents, five servants, and 20 pets.

Smithsonian Dollhouse 2
Grandfather Doll in the Guest Bedroom

The house consists of 23 rooms, each painstaking decorated by a girl named Faith Bradford, who donated it to the Smithsonian in 1951. The scale of the house is 1 inch = 1 foot, and the time period is turn-of-the-20th-century. Some of the household furnishings were purchased from area toy & specialty stores; others were made by Ms. Bradford.

Smithsonian Dollhouse 3
Dollhouse Library – Right Side

Everyday items were transformed into miniaturized versions of other items. Buttons became stacked dinner plates in the pantry, and matchsticks became shelved books in the library. Bradford made ceiling fixtures for the nursery and nurse’s room from parts of electric plugs.

Smithsonian Dollhouse 4
Dollhouse Library – Left Side

Faith Bradford even made a scrapbook about the dollhouse, with fabric swatches and detailed descriptions about what was in each room. The dollhouse was exhibited publicly at a charity toy fair in 1932 and at a Woodward & Lothrop department store in 1933.

Smithsonian Dollhouse 5
Dollhouse Drawing Room with Woodthrop the Parlor Maid

When I was a little girl, I loved looking at this dollhouse. I still do. When I took my Girl Scout troop to Washington DC and we stopped in at the museum, they all loved it too. I think that the appeal of a dollhouse is timeless – there is just something fascinating about looking into a fantasy world and seeing every aspect of daily life portrayed in miniature. No matter what age the spectator, the dollhouse is sure to be appreciated for its size and scope.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is located at 14th St and Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001.  Telephone 202-633-1000. Admission to the museum is free.  Hours are 10:00 am to 5:30 pm every day of the year except for Christmas.

Hidden Gem: DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum

Hidden Gem: DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum

I am so excited to tell you about this hidden gem! It is one of those rare places about which I simply cannot say enough good things.

I found it almost by accident. When my son was in high school and my daughter was in elementary school, I wanted to come up with some summer activities that would be the perfect combination of fun and educational, but also inexpensive (or preferably, free). There were not many things that fit the bill, but DiscoverSea certainly did.

I headed out with the kids and when we got to Fenwick Island, my GPS had led me straight to a souvenir shop. Not a museum. I had a moment of panic where I thought that the museum had closed and I had been looking at an out of date web page. I pulled into the parking lot of a souvenir shop with the intention of asking the store clerks if they knew of the museum. Imagine my surprise when they told me it was upstairs.

The kids and I went up to the second floor and started look at the informative and nicely displayed exhibits. There were beautiful things, like these necklaces:

DiscoverSea Amethyst Necklace

DiscoverSea Victorian Necklace

There were things that the ocean had tried to claim as its own:

DiscoverSea Crystal Bowl

There were coins, of course:

DiscoverSea British Coins

DiscoverSea Gold Coins

And there was the just plain weird:

DiscoverSea Walrus Bone
The sign reads, “Believe it or Not:  This is a walrus penis bone club called an oosik by the Eskimos.  It is made from the penis bone of a walrus and was made by the Eskimos as a club for killing other walruses.”

What made the visit go from great to spectacular, though, was meeting the owner, Dale Clifton Jr. He engaged both of my kids in conversation about the exhibits and even let them hold some very valuable artifacts. It was easy to see that he has a lot of enthusiasm about maritime history and for the items recovered from shipwrecks.

DiscoverSea Treasure Chest

If you’re anywhere near Fenwick Island, Delaware, go to DiscoverSea. You’ll be glad you did!

DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum is located at 708 Coastal Highway in Fenwick Island, Delaware. Telephone 302-539-9366. Hours vary by season; please check website or call for opening and closing times when planning your visit.