Before you run for the hills, I should warn you this isn’t really a ‘Hygiene Museum’ at all: it’s more like the love child of the Science Museum and the Wellcome Collection (two brilliant London sights for curious tourists). In other words, this attraction is ten times more fascinating and approachable than its name suggests.
For many of us, the word ‘hygiene’ conjures images of hand washing, medical scrubs and stern matrons, yet this in no way represents the current collection in Dresden. Admittedly in its earlier incarnations this was a place for teaching the masses about good health and cleanliness – in a 1930 report, Time Magazine called it ‘exemplary’ and ‘instructive’ for educating ‘lazy, ignorant, indifferent people’ – but now the aim isn’t to lecture visitors, just appeal to their curiosity.
Imagine a world where the Mona Lisa is placed next to Stalin and Oscar Wilde jostles for space alongside Pope John XXIII. Nearby, poor old Christopher Columbus is lumped beneath Adolf Hitler. This weird state of affairs is the norm inside Rome’s Museo delle Cere, or Wax Museum.
My sister, who’s been to both Madame Tussaud’s and the lesser known (but much more laughable) Louis Tussaud’s, knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into when she suggested we step inside and hand over €9 each. However, I wasn’t quite so prepared for the comedy value ahead.
Long-suffering readers of the blog will know that I’m in my element when I’m tracking down unusual or obscure sights on my travels, but I know not everyone finds it easy to do the detective work, especially if you’re short on time or patience.
I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t take much of an effort to really research a destination, so that’s why I was pretty chuffed to see Expedia throwing down the gauntlet to travellers with the launch of their new interactive map, called Hidden Places, centred around Dubrovnik, in Croatia.
Two museums separated by the Atlantic Ocean tackle similar issues, but from opposing viewpoints. Prague’s Velvet Revolution may be decades old, yet the relief at being free from communism is still palpable on a visit to the city, most notably in the Museum of Communism, where the reality of Czechoslovakian life from 1948-1989 is laid bare.
In contrast, Havana has been under the revolutionary eye of Fidel Castro (and, lately, his brother Raul) for decades, and its Museo de la Revolución is filled with artefacts described in chillingly stylistic communist prose, featuring phrases like ‘his courageous will’ and ‘an unbeatable soldier’. Having visited each museum in the last two months, I couldn’t help but compare these two attractions.
Saucy seaside postcards might look a bit tame these days when compared to today’s pop culture references (Miley Cyrus’ twerking and sledgehammer licking antics, anyone?) but, back in the 1950s, the tongue-in-cheek images produced by artist Donald McGill were seen as risque and even borderline offensive. Most of the British public – readily stereotyped as sexually repressed and a bit dull – couldn’t get enough of his work and they lapped up the puns, however the heavy-handed censors of the 1950s weren’t far behind.
Funnily enough, I arrived at the College of Psychic Studies, on the first day of the Open House London initiative (a.k.a. legitimate house and public building snooping), through a set of unforeseen circumstances. Well, unforeseen to the staff at Open House London, who failed to anticipate the crowds of 18,000 people wanting to roam the gutteral insides of Battersea Power Station before it’s refurbished. Not like that would be a big deal to the general public or require any kind of sensible ticketing system whatsoever… anyway, I digress in my bitterness.
How much of an island can you see in a day? This was my challenge as I headed over to the Isle of Wight, determined to cram in plenty of cultural sights and loads of postcard-worthy views during my trip ( thanks to Red Funnel ferries for getting me there!). Armed with a hit list of places to visit, and a car to get around, I had nine hours to spend soaking up the atmosphere.
I’ve been to the island a couple of times as a child, so it wasn’t totally new to me, and this did affect where I chose to spend time. Having ticked off Blackgang Chine, Shanklin, Godshill Model Village and Osborne House years ago, I had to be ruthless and cut them from my schedule, in favour of experiencing something a bit different. As I stepped ashore at 10am, I knew I wanted to see a mixture of nature, history and the arts, with a dose of island quirk.
Having been pretty ill in recent weeks (to paraphrase Gok Wan in the new Activia ad, I haven’t been ‘feeling good on the inside’, though it’s nothing Activia and Gok can fix), this weekend it was time for a cheering up treat, in the form of a visit to Britain’s only bone chapel. There’s nothing like checking out 700-year-old skulls to help you put your own health issues into perspective… or to act as a nice distraction.
St. Leonard’s Church is in Hythe, which is a fairly nondescript town in Kent. Strangely enough, there’s no specific reason for its bones to be on display – no devout monastic order at work (as in the case of the Capuchin Crypt in Rome), no prominent case of severe overcrowding in the churchyard (as was the case at Les Innocents in Paris, later forming the backdrop to Andrew Miller’s novel, Pure). Nobody really knows why the bones are stacked so neatly and not interred in the ground, which just adds to the intrigue for me. I’m also relieved that they haven’t been discarded or removed by over-zealous authorities at some point.
Last night I reluctantly flew home from Reykjavik, after four days of thirstily drinking in the city’s culture. Whilst I would easily call it the friendliest and most welcoming place I’ve ever visited, equally I can’t help but point out – and fully embrace – the average Reykjavikur’s obsession with death.
For those of you still baffled by the name of my blog, ‘calavera’ means skull. I chose it because I have a bit of a thing about skulls, which increasingly shapes my travel plans as I drift towards anatomical museums, graveyards, castles with years of history and possibly a resident ghost… the list goes on. With Iceland, I didn’t really know there was such a predilection for the morbid until I really got here; I was just keen to see how such a vibrant and creative nation has sprung up in a country that looks so post-apocalyptic at times.
One of my priorities when I visit a new place is to see beyond the main streets and to find the places that don’t make the cover of the guidebook; they’re not traditionally photogenic and they’re perhaps a bit grubby looking, if truth be told, but they’re just as important as the scenic routes.
Dresden is a fairly easy city to navigate your way around and so it wasn’t too difficult to find its alternative side, beyond the stunning Frauenkirche and the art galleries.