museum

A Day at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

A Day at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Located in south Los Angeles is Exposition Park. The 160-acre park and future site of the summer 2028 Olympics is home to the John C. Argue Swim Stadium, Banc of California Stadium, the future Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, California Science Center, Exposition Park Rose Garden, California African American Museum, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. 

Grand Rapids Public Museum

Grand Rapids Public Museum

If you find yourself in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a great way to spend a few hours is to explore the collections from A to Z at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. The hours are Monday & Wednesday through Saturday 9-5, Tuesday 9-8, and Sunday 12-5; the cost of admission: $10 for adult non-residents and $5 for children non-residents).

Ten Best Ways to Spend a Layover in San Jose

Ten Best Ways to Spend a Layover in San Jose

Don't spend your next layover at SJC hanging out in the airport lounge or in an uncomfortable plastic chair. Learn about ten ways you can spend your layover in San Jose, California with this guide to cheap and family friendly destinations and activities. 

The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

Almost ten years ago to the day, I graduated from UC Santa Cruz. More known for its radical politics and drug culture than academics*, Santa Cruz is not the most traditional of college campuses. This applies not only to its politics and choice of mascots (go banana slugs!), but to the physical layout of the campus itself; it's not what you see in college movies. Buildings sometimes resembling Soviet space bunkers hide amongst towering redwoods. In the morning, fog creeps down the bridge covered gullies and canyons, making it a magical walk to those 8 a.m. classes. It is the complete opposite of Stanford University.

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Sitting in the shadow of the Santa Ynez Mountains tucked between the Santa Barbara Mission and the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, the 100-year-old museum houses collections of mammals, birds, insects, and marine animals; a planetarium, several gardens; an auditorium; a research library; and a rotating exhibit (an exhibit of the history of botanical drawings were there when I visited).

7 Spots You Have to Visit in Reykjavik, Iceland

Have a 24 or 48-hour layover in Iceland? Completely jet-lagged from your seven-hour flight and 4 am arrival time, then spend your day wandering around the small, quaint capital of Iceland: Reykjavik. For a city of only 120,000 Reykjavik has plenty to offer tourists even when the weather is crappy. The city is walkable from any neighborhood you would likely be staying in and we found it pleasant even in pouring rain and 30 mph winds. Here are seven things to do, and one place to skip, during your time in Reykjavik. Think of this as not an exhaustive list, but a jumping off point for your own adventures. 

Þúfa by Ólöf Nordal

This outdoor art piece was something that we noticed on our first bleary-eyed morning in Reykjavik. A large grass dome at the edge of the harbor, this art piece provides spectacular views of the city and the mountains across the bay. At the top of the dome structure is a small shed for drying fish, and, in our case, a sheep's head. 

The Harpa (opera house) and the rest of the Harbor from the Þúfa .By the way, that letter at the beginning is pronounced as a "th."

Reykjavik from the Þúfa. 

Drying animal parts aren't creepy at all. Seriously, they would make a lovely addition to more public art pieces. :) 

The Harpa 

Once the only construction project in Iceland, the Harpa or opera house was completed in 2011 and not without controversy. The building is the most expensive in Iceland which sticks out when you think about how it was built during the economic crisis. Icelanders are still divided about the building, both as a symbol and the actual aesthetics. Personally, I think the genius and beauty of the building is best appreciated from the inside. Maybe that was because the outside was obstructed by an Icelandic conference on emergency and rescue vehicles while I was there. 

Beautiful geometric windows and a mirrored ceiling make this building a stunning retreat from the cold outside. 

Mult-colored panes make for the world's most modern and pretty glass beehive. 

Hallgrimskirkja

Possibly the most famous building in Reykjavik, the Hallgrímskirkja is the sixth tallest structure in Iceland. It stands out in the skyline and you can see it from almost anywhere in the city. The outside of the church resembles the prow of a Viking ship and appropriately, a statue of Leif Eriksson stands in front of the church. The inside of the church houses an enormous organ, but is otherwise rather spartan especially compared to the grand cathedrals of Europe (it is a Lutheran church, so this makes sense). You should absolutely pay the seven dollars to go to the top of the church; you will get some of the best views in Reykjavik. 

The view from Hallgrimskirkja. We went on a day with 50 km/h winds and got blown back from the windows. I'm sure on a nice clear day the views are even better. 

The Sun Voyager 

Designed by sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason, the sculpture commemorates the 200th anniversary of Reykjavik. Located down the street from the Harpa, the sculpture depicts a Viking ship and was conceived as a symbol of hope, progress, and freedom. From the pictures I had seen, I thought it was going to be much larger than it was, but is worth checking out on a walk from the Harpa to downtown along the waterfront. 

Tjörnin Lake

 

Okay, calling it Tjörnin Lake is redundant since "tjörnin" translates to "pond." This small lake in central Reykjavik is perfect for an anytime of day stroll. Frequented by 40-50 different species of birds, including enormous evil swans, it is an excellent spot for bird watching. At the south part of the lake is Tjarnagarthur, a statue garden. The city developed around the lake and you can spot prominent buildings such as the supreme court, the Reykjavik Art Museum, the National Museum, and the Parliament building. A late afternoon stroll provides excellent lighting on the water. 

The Settlement Exhibition 871+/-

Discover the history of Reykjavik at this small exhibit. Home to the oldest human relics in Reykjavik, the exhibit is built around the archaeological site of a longhouse built around 871. The museum features technologically enhanced interactive exhibits such as a touch screen table that provides specific information on each part of the longhouse. Personally, it was not my favorite museum in Iceland (that goes to Viking World) and, like many things in Iceland, it was overpriced (1500 ISK which is around 13.07) for a one room exhibit. 

Laugavegur 

Normally, shopping is not an activity that I look forward to, and I still didn't do much of it in Iceland since the prices are so expensive. However, I did enjoy wandering around Laugavegur and its surrounding streets. Laugavegar is the major shopping street in downtown Reykjavik with many shops for tourists (i.e. at least fifty puffin related stores). If you're looking for famous Icelandic knitwear or puffin related merchandise, then this is the place to go. There's also a number of smaller art galleries and non-puffin related stores. There were several bookstores in the area, which is something that is becoming a novelty in the United States. This is where most of the restaurants in town are located and where you can spot the Wall Poetry from my other post on Reykjavik street art. 

 

These seven tourist spots are just some of the places and attractions you can find in small, but mighty Reykjavik. There are numerous museums, the Grotta lighthouse in Seltjarnes, and the Pearl, but we didn't have a chance to check those out. Well, we went to Grotta but only at night so there were no pictures. Now, onto one place to skip. 

The Icelandic Phallological Museum

I have to admit that the Icelandic Phallalogical Museum was on my list of must-dos in Iceland along with the northern lights, hiking on a glacier, and eating an Icelandic hot dog. I was pretty damn excited by the quirky museum dedicated to all things to dick, but like a lot of my early relationships, I was disappointed. 

At first, I thought oh cool, enormous whale penis in a jar. That's kind of neat. But after the fourth or fifth hacked-off cock in formaldehyde and the cod-piece made of whale penis skin, I was done. It honestly made me a little queasy and this is coming from the person who looked at every single agent orange aborted fetus at the War Remnants Museum in Vietnam. 

I wanted the museum to be cheeky fun but it just felt like someone's creepy basement collection. 

San Jose Featured Spot: The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

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Not far from the Planned Parenthood picketers and the gentrified Rose Garden neighborhood sits the delightfully whacky Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. Started by the Rosicrucian Society, a secret society that makes me think of a mash up of Knights of Columbus lenten fish fries, Free Masons, and John Rhys Davies' character from Indiana Jones, the museum holds the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts west of the Mississippi.

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The alabaster white exterior designed to look like a tomb is located across the street from the fanciest middle school I've ever set eyes on. The interior, split into two levels, hosts several major exhibits: life, death, alchemy (of course!), and gods and pharaohs.

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While I had seen a number of the reproductions at the British Museum, there were several items that truly caught my nerd fancy: a fake mummified baboon, the reproduction of a tomb with underground passageway and a musical instrument using the Pythagorean scale. Why would I like a "fake" baboon? Well, back in the day the priests realized people would pay good money for mummified animals so they started a trade much like the shifty entrepreneurial monks of the middle ages with Jesus' nail clippings and started selling fake mummified animals. So this "fake" was thousands of years old and reminded me that people have always been duplicitous.

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The tomb was unexpected and neat, but my favorite item by far, which I did not take a photo of, was the bells using the Pythagorean scale. The notes were just slightly off as to be unnerving, quite appropriate for the alchemy exhibit.

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The museum also houses a planetarium and a research library. The research library holds a collection of rare alchemy and religious texts. Outside they've planted papyrus to surround the obelisks and fountain. People were even doing a photo shoot in one of the gardens.

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I've known for years that the museum existed, but I'm still surprised such a place exists in the midst of bail bonds businesses and gilded age mansions turned dental offices.

Photo Essay: Railtown 1897

Railtown 1897
Railtown 1897

The theme of this week's posts was my Memorial Weekend trip to California Gold Country. Here are some of my best photos from our afternoon spent at Railtown 1897 Historic State Park:

The rusting engine in front of the park. 

Railtown 1897 Engine 2
Railtown 1897 Engine 2

A steam engine in repair. 

Railtown 1897 Engine 34
Railtown 1897 Engine 34

Steam engine No. 34

Railtown 1897 Rail Cab
Railtown 1897 Rail Cab

Early 20th century steam rail cab

Railtown 1897 Hetch Hetchy
Railtown 1897 Hetch Hetchy

The Hetch-Hetchy speeder

Railtown 1897 Fire Speeder
Railtown 1897 Fire Speeder

The fire brigade speeder following us on our trip

Railtown 1897 Roundhouse
Railtown 1897 Roundhouse

Getting ready to bring the speeder into the Roundhouse

Railtown 1897 Hair Cut BW
Railtown 1897 Hair Cut BW

Who doesn't need a free beer while getting a hair cut?

Jamestown Shovel Art BW
Jamestown Shovel Art BW

Shovel art!

London: Cultural Voyeurism and the British Museum

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Courtesy of Designhotels.com
Courtesy of Designhotels.com

In December, my boyfriend and I went to London. Boyfriend was on a work trip and we stayed at Eccleston Square Hotel, a swanky establishment in close proximity to Victoria Station. Our exorbitantly priced boutique hotel room was like being stuck in a poorly designed iPad app: slick looking with a plethora of gadgets that did not work consistently or at all. Sometimes the light switches turned on the bathroom lights, sometimes they turned on the towel warmer, and sometimes I couldn't figure out if our door was locked or not.

The bed was completely adjustable and vibrated, which was relaxing after a day of sightseeing or in the case of boyfriend, working. The continental breakfast provided by the hotel was delicious: a selection of cheeses, soft-boiled eggs, croissants (butter or chocolate), cereal, yogurt pots with fresh fruit, and other breads for making toast. Plus coffee or tea or juice. The coffee was fantastic. In fact, I would say that coffee was one of the best damn things about London: not a drip brew in sight, all espresso.

Oh, and the elevators are extremely closed in and have about twenty television sets.

Enough about our Big Brother hotel. I want to talk about my absolute favorite place in London: the British Museum.

I have many mixed feelings about the British Museum, and museums in general: awe at the history, panic at the number of people and exhibits, and guilt, angry guilt mixed with overwhelming passion for all things old. I went three separate times on my week long trip and I want to go back again. A junkie, wanting to relive the first overwhelming awe of staring at thousands of years of history in the face.

Let me get back to the guilt. The British Museum is an ode to British Imperialism and Colonialism. It screams: look at all the places we conquered and subsequently stole from. Cultures reduced to reproductions of architecture, post-it note summaries, and exhibits to be gawked at by thousands of tourists. Cultural voyeurism. At times I felt like I should be wearing a pith helmet and bringing out my smelling salts.

In front of the British Museum.
In front of the British Museum.

White, western guilt aside, I loved the British Museum. A free museum, it is very crowded especially during the holiday season and on a Sunday. It was filled with tourists from all over Europe, particularly Russians, Italians, and Spaniards. While English culture is not far removed from my own American (particularly Californian) culture, my experience as a tourist in Europe was a lesson in cultural differences regarding personal space and public niceties. A few things I encountered in the British Museum and London in general: people get very close to you, such as almost on you; people do not hold open doors and if you hold the door open for them they do not thank you or acknowledge you; and people never seem to say excuse me if they ram into you, cut in front of you, or open a door into your face (all things which happened to me). I suppose one could argue this is big city behavior, but this is not what I experienced in Vancouver, New York City, or Edinburgh. Just London.

I could tell you about everything that I saw in the Museum, but you could get that from a guide book. And really it's worth more to see it yourself. These were my favorite parts of the museum. I apologize for the poor photo quality; I took these with an unfamiliar tablet camera app.

I'm super impressed with the beards
I'm super impressed with the beards
  • Akhadians: All things cuneiform and beards!
  • Façade replica of the Nereid Monument in Turkey.
    Façade replica of the Nereid Monument in Turkey.
  • The Monument of the Nereids: No wonder Cassiopeia said Andromeda was more beautiful. They don't even have heads.
  • Replica of rare Saxon helmet from the Sutton Hoo burial
    Replica of rare Saxon helmet from the Sutton Hoo burial
  • Sutton Hoo: A Saxon Treasure Ship
  • Tablets on Gilgamesh, how to read tablets, and a thesaurus
    Tablets on Gilgamesh, how to read tablets, and a thesaurus
  • Cuneiform Tablets: Tablets about how to read a tablet. I took this photo on a tablet.
  • This cup: "East India Sugar: Not Made By Slaves"
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    blue cup

    I also loved the Ghana coffin, African textiles, and Buddhist statuary exhibits. The Japanese history exhibit was also greatly enjoyable. But seriously, how can you beat a tablet that's about how to read other tablets? Did I mention I went here three different times during a week trip?