Before I read Vietnam Eye, I didn’t really know or understand Vietnamese art. It wasn’t covered in my History of Art A-Level, or the Fine & Applied Arts section of my undergrad degree (both were unfairly weighted towards Western art, except for a token glance at Japanese woodblock prints), and I’d never knowingly learned about a Vietnamese art movement in galleries around the world.
However, the coffee table book Vietnam Eye (published by Skira) is a chance to understand contemporary Vietnamese artists, and the enduring themes they deal with. Many of the artists are graduates from the Vietnam University of Fine Arts, and their work now sits in galleries around the world. Here are some of my favourite discoveries from this new coffee table book.
‘The hand and the machine’ is the vague-sounding inspiration for Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, at the Metropolitan Museum. It’s about the high levels of craftsmanship involved in making fashion since 1900, either by hand-sewing and embellishing or using sewing machines and 3D printers in the process. Kind of dry until you realise how important the fashion industry is around the world, how it reflects society, and how many economies it supports. It seems we could all learn from this show.
Amid last year’s mental health scandals – including spending cuts, insensitive comments from politicians, and crisis care failures – there was a big step forward in tackling the stigma of psychological illness. It came from a newly-opened museum and charity: Bethlem Museum of the Mind, in Beckenham, Kent, recently nominated for the 2016 Museum of the Year award.
Yes, the name might sound familiar. Bethlem is the fourth site of the notorious hospital better known as Bedlam. You won’t find power-crazed doctors leaving patients in chains – a stereotypical mental image associated with the ‘madhouse’ of earlier centuries – but you will find a place where modern mental illness is explained. What’s more, entry is free, and it’s open to everyone.
I’ve seen couples posing for romantic photos at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and children use it as a playground, leaving sweet wrappers behind; I’ve seen bored teenagers struggling to feign interest at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In those cases it was the visitors, not the attractions, lacking emotional intelligence and leaving me speechless.
London’s Jack the Ripper Museum, in the heart of Whitechapel, has gone one step further in terms of emotional intelligence failures, by actively encouraging tourists to mock murder victims. The appalling serial killings of Victorian prostitutes are offered as the perfect subject for a selfie or two this Halloween weekend. A recent press release, publicising the museum as a Halloween attraction, suggests visitors take “a selfie with the serial killer” (or, at least, a mysterious bloke in a top hat). Fancy “a picture with Jack in Mitre Square together with the body of Catherine Eddowes”? Go ahead. It’s not like Eddowes can complain, right?
Dublin is mostly a walkable city and, though you can navigate it easily, there are always extra things to be seen from the road and from the experts. When I visited last week for a short break with my parents, I knew a bus tour would be on our agenda, but we wanted to get the best value for our Euro.
I chose Dublin Sightseeing’s Freedom Pass as it seemed like good value for money: €33 (or £24) provides three days’ unlimited hop-on hop-off bus travel on two sightseeing routes, plus public bus travel (the blue and yellow buses you see everywhere), a free Pat Liddy walking tour and free entry to the Little Museum of Dublin, alongside a range of attraction discounts. Not bad for the equivalent of €11 (£8) per day. But would it be useful in reality?
A Louis Vuitton trunk at the airport speaks volumes about its owner. For one thing, they’re probably not bothered about excess baggage charges (no fear of Ryanair restrictions here). For another, they probably won’t buy three copies of The Daily Telegraph in WHSmith just to get the free giant bottles of Buxton water for the flight and the onward journey. And they won’t have a dilemma about whether it’s ok to nick the blankets from the plane on long haul flights or not, because they don’t fly economy.
Whether you’re travelling en famille or you’re flying solo, you know there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all city break. As there are far too many existing Paris guides aimed at couples, I’ve aimed to redress the balance for the rest of us with these tips, following on from my guide for first-time visitors.
Paris with Kids
I recently compiled a city break itinerary for a family of five, so I can promise you this city is child-friendly. It’s just a case of finding what will keep everyone entertained…
The city of light can be dazzling, which may explain why it’s on so many travel bucket lists. Paris seems maze-like and full-on at first, with its different arrondissements (neighbourhoods) and its constant trendsetting, but once you start wandering you’ll see it’s not so daunting after all. Are you ready to explore?
Your First Trip to Paris: The Basics
Start as you mean to go on…
If you’re travelling from the UK, choose the Eurostar over planes. Charles De Gaulle airport is nowhere near where you want to be, and it’ll cost €10 for a train ticket to the city centre, whereas the Eurostar takes you straight to the Gare du Nord.
The Mayor of Paris’ website has a ‘First time in Paris’ guide full of tips – I like the sound of the helium balloon tour in the André Citroën Park (weather-permitting).
Using the Metro is pretty straightforward, and the ticket machines have an English language option. Buy a carnet which gives you 10 tickets – much easier than buying a single or return each time. Try to avoid travelling at rush hour (09:00-10:00 and 18:00-19:30).
Read the free Metropolitan magazine on the Eurostar for up-to-date events listings and more ideas of what to see. Text is in English (phew!).
The big Tourist Office is at 25 Rue des Pyramides, near the Opera metro station.
Find out which local markets are on during your stay – useful for buying fresh food or souvenirs.
Safety tips are as standard for any European city; keep an eye on your valuables, be wary of walking alone at night in quiet areas, and don’t react to tourist scams (e.g. someone asks if you’ve dropped a gold ring, in the hope of distracting you).
We all know the French are a stylish bunch, but save your Louboutins if you’re seeing Paris on foot. Swap them for a pair of unisex Stan Smith trainers by Adidas – loved by the ever-chic Phoebe Philo of Celine, seen in a 2013 issue of Vogue Paris and sold at hot designer boutique Colette, where Pharrell Williams even issued a limited edition customised Stan Smiths range.
You don’t have to do these, but you’ve heard about the hype…
I won’t big up the Eiffel Tower – you’re either desperate to visit or you’re not bothered, let’s be honest – but get alternative city views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. The Arc de Triomphe is open from 10am-11pm, with free entry for under 18s. Adult tickets cost €9.50. Notre Dame is open 10:30-18:30 Mon-Fri and 10:00-23:00 Sat-Sun. Tickets are €8.50, and queues move quickly.
Montmartre’s famous Sacré Coeur church is open daily from 6am-10:30pm. The nearby Muséede Montmartre (2/14, Rue Cortot) is on a side street, and it’s open every day from 10am-6pm. There’s also Paris’ last working vineyard, Clos de Montmartre, opposite.
If you won’t rest until you’ve seen the tiny Mona Lisa, pre-book your Louvre tickets to cut down some queuing time. The Paris City Pass gives you free entry here, and to many other museums and galleries.
Desperate for a Seine cruise? High-end evening trips can cost up to €180pp, which isn’t good value in anyone’s books. Instead, the Paris Tourist Board has a range of daytime cruises from €6pp. Bateaux Parisiens has lunchtime trips from €33pp, including a one hour tour; if you get a Paris City Pass you’re entitled to a one hour Bateaux Parisiens Seine cruise (without food) for free.
The Musée des Arts et Métiers (60 Rue Réaumur) is a bit like London’s Science Museum, with exhibits covering science, technology, energy and communication, including Foucault’s pendulum. Visit from Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm, and late night on Thurs until 9:30pm. Tickets are €8 for adults and €5.50 for children.
Food and Drink
Not every meal is baguette-based or best consumed with wine…
Dovecot is a pretty well-hidden venue. Tucked at the end of Edinburgh’s Infirmary Street, in what used to be a public bathhouse, the Dovecot Studio produces tapestries and rugs for worldwide clients. It also maintains its own creative foundation, and the Dovecot Gallery shows contemporary art exhibitions, which drew me in to visit.
The Dovecot Gallery’s leading current exhibitions are striking in their own right, but together they make a formidable pair, and they’ll be running until late September to give you a serious culture injection.
The Royal Academy’s latest exhibition, Wanderlust, is like being given an intravenous drip feed of retro travel photos, postcards and scrapbook materials. It’s like swallowing hundreds of ‘vacation’ Pinterest boards in one go. For anyone with an incurable sense of escapism, this is a drug, and it’s delivered by a little-known bachelor from Queens, New York, who never went abroad.
A self-taught American artist, Joseph Cornell created mixed media collages using anything from Baedeker’s travel guides to old maps, tickets, compasses, adverts and newspaper clippings, calling his collections ‘explorations’.