Nobody doesn’t love train rides. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying. When I was in college I knew a guy called “Chooch.” Trains are inherently interesting to everyone and for a good reason. The romance! The unparalleled ability to move stuff! The metaphor for determination!
Which brings us to Featherson and the Remutaka Range (this is the acknowledged spelling, although you will still see it spelled Rimutaka in places). Construction on the railway was authorized in 1871. The site for the Remutaka Incline had a gradient that was, in technical terms, “steep AF.”
The system chosen to get trains up and over the incline was that of the Fell locomotive. It was arduous and slow but ran from 1877 to 1955. And the Fell Locomotive Museum is in possession of one of the six Fell locomotives that served the line, and now the only Fell locomotive in the world. It’s been restored enough to demonstrate its movements, which you can see here with the power of your imagination (I do have a video but I refuse to upgrade my WordPress account at this time).
The museum has been nicely funded, and the exhibits include a model of the railworkers’ settlement and film of the train and workers in action. Mr. Exhibitist felt the film was perhaps a rosy presentation of what was an extremely isolated lifestyle for the workers’ families, but it is very nicely done.
Various artifacts of the rail line (there is still a train running through Featherson, but not on the Incline–the Fell locomotives and the line they ran on were taken out of service when the tunnel was made), news coverage, and information about the operation of Fell locomotives are in the museum, and the very knowledgeable volunteer docent can tell you a lot about it. I absorbed roughly nothing of these facts, but I remember that these contraptions had to do with passing identification disks to and from the trains. I think.
The centerpiece of the museum is obviously the locomotive itself, and you can get pretty up close with it.
Anyway, the Fell Locomotive Museum is a nice way to kill some time in Featherson, which is itself a pleasant place to kill some time outside of Wellington. It’s also a Book town, with many small bookshops and literary events. Just a swell little town. Entry to the museum is $6 for adults, $2 for children over 5, and/or $13 for a family. There’s a little shop! I bought a tea towel.
Happy 2022! Yes? February still ok for new year wishes? Has any of us emotionally marked time in any meaningful way in the last two years? Probably not. Have I been visiting museums? Still not like I used to. But having covered the country’s castle last year, let’s look at a slightly more modest historic home, built in 1876, five years after Larnach Castle.
Golders Cottage was built by John Golder, the son of Scottish immigrants and a real DIY kind of guy. The house was occupied by the Golder family up until 1985. Several pieces of furniture and other items in the house were made by John and have spent their whole existence there, now keeping company with some other period displays donated by the community.
John married Jane Martin the year after the cottage was built; they added 12 children and a few more rooms to it before John was killed in an accident in 1902. On our visit the guide asked, “Can you imagine 12 children in this house?” but frankly I cannot imagine 12 children. How do you think of names for them all. The original cottage was a bedroom and living/dining room downstairs with two small bedrooms upstairs, and the additions started in the 1880s, as it presumably got hard to breathe in there pretty quickly.
A kitchen and scullery were eventually added, but that was six kids in and Jane did the cooking over the fire in the living room up to then. John kept busy being a notable community person, but I can’t help thinking more about the monumental effort Jane had to make every day in a tiny space to keep the whole thing going, while being pregnant like, all the time.
The cottage is full of objects (as noted, some original to the house) from the late 1800s and early 1900s, from textile-making stuff to cooking implements to clothing to toys to books. Perhaps you’ve never seen how lace is made by hand:
And I am, as always, pleased to report the presence of several unsettling human stand-ins, which I’ll never get tired of.
The garden of the cottage (which I definitely must put in a good word for because my own kid has started volunteering as a garden helper) still has a few very old specimens, such as this lemon tree, which is over 100 years old.
There’s also this really lovely herb spiral, put in in the 1990s, and I want one. It’s so cool.
Golders Cottage is a great example of a well and long lived-in period home and worth a visit. It’s open on Saturdays and public holidays from 1:30-4:00. I believe for adults the entry fee is $5 (bring cash or be ready to make a bank transfer). Check out their website for more information about the cottage and the Golder family.
I think we can all agree that 2020-2021 have not been great years for museum-going motivation. Even here in the relatively normal New Zealand, I haven’t got much energy for museums or blogging. I do have a few to catch up with though, so I’m going to power through it. But one place you should not just power through is Picton, NZ, however strong the temptation might be to view it as big ol’ ferry lobby.
Picton is the South Island end of the Wellington-Picton ferry services across the Cook Straight, but you’d be missing something neat if you don’t build in a couple hours to visit the Edwin Fox before boarding your own hopefully far more seaworthy vessel.
The Edwin Fox ship and Visitor Centre is the site of the remains of the Edwin Fox, built in 1853. According to the Centre’s website, the ship is the last surviving (it meets perhaps the most generous definition of “surviving” but as 168 years is a long time to hold anything together, I will grant it) wooden Crimean War troop transport and the last surviving Australian convict ship. It’s also the oldest merchant vessel and the oldest wooden NZ immigrant ship.
Let’s start with a look at ship life for the convicts being sent from Britain to Australia on the 1858 prison trip, starting with this sampling of offenders. Marvel at the consistency of sentencing in the 1850s. Ten years for stealing pants? Presumably they were awesome pants. Six years for stealing an ox? Damn those pants must have been frickin’ amazing.
Prisoners spent most of their voyage below decks, which I’m sure was singularly unpleasant. The holding space could only be accessed through one very tiny door.
And in the great tradition of unsettling museum mannequins, here’s this guy’s tear- and/or sweat-streaked face.
But the Edwin Fox had quite the life outside that one time it was a prison bus. In addition to the merchant activities, it was also the immigration bus:
It ended its functionality as a refrigeration and storage ship, having been stripped of the parts unnecessary for a floating cooler, until it was finally abandoned to the elements in 1950. Fifteen years later there was interest in preserving what was left of the Edwin Fox and it wound up in permanent dry dock in Picton. Artifacts found with the ship are on display in the visitor centre:
After strolling through the visitor centre, visitors then move to the outside-but-covered area that houses the ship itself. It’s kind of spooky!
The fun parts of the ship itself are the set ups that show what life was like on board. If you could avoid travelling steerage, I would recommend dodging it.
Mealtime spaces seem fine until you think about how many people were using them:
But it’s still preferable to the steerage “cabins,” which housed the whole family (up to six: two parents and four kids). The straw mattresses would be frequently dripped on from the deck above. It stunk, literally. The whole trip would take 12 to 14 weeks. And instead of running full tilt down the gangway and on to dry land to put the memory of your journey forever behind you, you actually dismantled the bunks and used the wood in your house.
Of course, the prisoner cells were just a bit worse.
Not all of the ship accommodation was so tight and gross. I can’t remember exactly but this might be the replica for the captain’s bunk (or maybe first class?):
Finally, there’s a nice replica wheel and compass on deck, which look a little jarring next to the haunted, not-wholly-there deck itself.
Definitely check out the Edwin Fox and its visitor centre; it’s open every day but Christmas from 9 am. People 15 and up are $15 (the young are free). There’s a nice little swag shop, and they give little kids a free activity booklet.
This is the story of New Zealand’s only castle, built in 1871 by William Larnach, a merchant and politician. Everyone in this story hated each other and also the castle.
That’s a slight exaggeration, but very slight. The castle is some distance from the city of Dunedin and has some very impressive grounds and views. It was fairly remote in the 1870s-80s, which is why the family ladies didn’t really like living there to begin with. William Larnach himself was not home much, as far as I can tell, so its deficiency as a residence for people who depended on social calls to avoid going insane with boredom probably escaped him. He didn’t escape much else though!
Briefly, the story of the castle and the Larnach family goes like this: William built it for his first wife (whatever that means, exactly), sparing no expense. Of course, we now know what sort of harbinger that is because we’ve all seen “Jurassic Park.” William, unfortunately, pre-dated that morality tale.
First wife Eliza had six children, but died at 38. William then married his wife’s sister, Mary, which the castle’s history room helpfully tells us was legal due to “The Deceased Wife’s Sister Marriage Act” of 1880. The fact that a whole-ass law had to be passed to make this sort of thing permissible also indicates that a lot of people thought it was gross. Some people who definitely thought it was gross were William’s children. There was some serious inheritance at stake. We’ve also all seen “Hamlet.”
The disapproving kids didn’t kill Mary or Polonius or anything like that, but they did also didn’t stick around. Neither did William, who was in Wellington for politician stuff for months on end. Mary was left with a big ol’ house and a drinking problem. She also died at 38, five years later.
Various properties and holdings had been put in Mary’s name because William’s business was going south, and Mary left the children everything, as she had agreed to. This was probably fine with them but it sure suddenly sounded like a terrible idea to William, who did not have control over his own assets anymore. What does a reasonable man do in this situation? He forces his adult children to sign some papers without letting them see what the papers say, naturally. These papers were an agreement to relinquish their newly-inherited stuff. Family dinners were probably really great.
William married a much younger woman next, Constance (we see you, tired cliche). His business deals went wholly belly-up and there were rumors that Constance was sleeping with his youngest son. Ruined and humiliated, William killed himself in a Parliament building in 1898. The surviving family fractured itself further fighting over his will, illustrating that once again, family fortunes mainly get inherited by lawyers.
The castle fell into ruins and went through several owners before the current ones, who’ve spent years restoring the place. The castle now has guest quarters, a cafe, and gift and garden shops. It operates as a museum and hosts events and is a fine way to spend an afternoon.
There was a children’s quiz and bears to spot when I visited, which is a fun way to keep little ones engaged throughout the self-guided tour. Should you find the bears too adorable to leave behind, they’re available in the gift shop.
The whole thing is interesting enough and the grounds really are lovely. I was rather puzzled by one particular room’s presentation, though. All the other rooms were restored to something like how they would have been in their time of use, in line with the numerous other old houses and palaces I’ve been to. Except Constance’s.
Contance’s room–or boudoir, if we must–does contain a number of personal effects, such as clothing. But then some parasols are just floating around:
And also there’s a ghost?
And an old lady?
As far as I know, Constance didn’t grow old in the castle–she was much younger than William and the family sold it in 1906. So what is happening here? If there was an explanation anywhere, I missed it. It’s just so tonally different from the rest of the house. It’s wild.
Anyway, you can have a pleasant walk around the gardens, and the food in the cafe was very good. The views really are something else, especially from the tower.
Finally, I have no idea which room this book was in but I really loved it.
Gather ’round, children, and hear the tale of Shrek.
New Zealand celebrity Shrek the sheep was a wily Merino sheep belonging to Bendigo Station, near Tarras on the South Island, that evaded shearing for six years, apparently by hiding in caves. After his capture, he was shorn on live TV by New Zealand’s top shearers, giving up a 60 lb (27 kg) fleece, which the linked article helpfully quantifies as enough for 20 large men’s suits. I am not saying that Shrek is the most famous and beloved native son of this country, but I am saying that Taika Waititi does not have his own museum.
Stop by the tiny town of Tarras and walk down this alley and you’ll find the House of Shrek, a two-room temple dedicated to this blessed icon of New Zealand industry. Here you will discover that Shrek’s massive fleece was not in fact turned into 20 men’s suits, but limited-edition sweaters auctioned off for charity by garment-maker Icebreaker. Icebreaker also made a coat for Shrek out of that fleece which sounds both reasonable and terribly weird for some reason.
Now why would a sheep need a sweater of its own? And why does Shrek appear to be taking an over-ocean helicopter ride in the first photo of this entry? Well, in 2006, small icebergs had drifted curiously close to the Otago coast, causing something of a sensation. Shrek was already raising money for Cure Kids via NZ$10,000 corporate appearances (he visited children and old folks’ homes for free). But there were other heights to scale. It was time for Shrek to get his second stunt shearing.
Now you might think that custom coat of his own fleece was the best accessory possible for Shrek on this visit to an iceberg, but I assure you it is not. The best accessory was the teeny crampons he had to wear to walk on the ice.
You can view part of this fleece at the House of Shrek, and if you are ever in Otago, I insist you do so.
Shrek’s charity work went beyond the hefty amount he raised for Cure Kids; he also raised money to save the local school. It was about to close in 2006, when the children wrote a book about Shrek as a fundraiser. That book was so successful that a second book was published the following year. Conquering the world of publishing was added to Shrek’s list of enviable achievements, and the school received over $100,000 and remained open. Shrek was very chill and excellent with children. One of his many photo ops with children is included in the House’s own photo op for visitors, where you might sit next to a pre-sheared Shrek in his cave.
The House has many artistic tributes done by children on display, and it is very sweet.
Shrek lived to age 16, and his passing was international news. He lives on in our hearts, however, and in the books written by the Tarras School students (available, along with postcards, at the wool store across the alley) as well as a biography, Shrek: The Story of a Kiwi Icon. The House of Shrek is free and open while the surrounding businesses are I assume (I don’t recall seeing a sign and it doesn’t have a website–just drive through Tarras during normal working hours and walk right in). At a minimum, everyone you know needs to receive a Shrek postcard.
As you leave the House and Tarras, try to remember to live in the spirit of Shrek: be kind to children, be charitable, hideout in caves to avoid anything you don’t want to do, and always look as unbothered as possible, even if you’re floating on a tiny iceberg.
Do you know what is generally incomparably delightful? A well-done city museum.
We saw it in the wonderful Manaus museum in Brazil, and we see it again in the Wellington Museum. During my visit, I carefully selected my photo choices, ending up with a discerningly curated 50 or so. I, uh, will not be using all of them.
In the late 1800s, the museum’s building was the Bond Store, a warehouse for bonded cargo. I do have a video of the little holographic rat that runs around the storage room display, but WordPress issues require a workaround to post it and I’m not prepared to put that energy into it today. Use your imagination.
The first floor, Telling Tales, recounts the history of Wellington in the 20th century in vignettes and related artifacts.
The little displays cover things like establishing libraries, local lawmaking, and social issues–including the banishment of a Chinese immigrant diagnosed with leprosy to a tiny island in Wellington Harbour in 1903, where he lived in a cave until his death the following year. His food was delivered by boat or by flying fox, and whether that was a zipline or actual giant bat is not clarified.
Time for labour rights struggles!
The general strike that year–following a broken miners’ strike the year before–nearly led to civil war, according to the display, with the striking workers ultimately on the beaten end of street brawls with the better-armed cops. The strike lasted a week.
During World War II, the country had its own internment location on Matiu/Somes Island in the city’s harbour. Some internees were out-and-loud Nazi sympathizers. Some were just people with German names. The island’s prisoner population ended up including Jews, Pacific Islanders, Italians, Japanese, and actual Nazis all together. Shockingly, this led to some “tension and strife.”
And so on, around the room to the present day, as this blurry-ass photo somewhat illustrates.
That’s most of the ground floor. Next floor is devoted to the maritime history of Wellington.
Throughout, the museum has little interactive elements and multimedia displays, which of course I appreciate, and which I thought I’d mention here because I hadn’t yet, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with the photos.
Part of the floor is devoted to the sinking of the Wahine ferry in the Wellington Harbour (Cook Straight has seen many shipwrecks) in 1968. Two storms–Cyclone Giselle moving south and another moving north from Antarctica–merged over Wellington as the ferry came out of the straight, in just about the worst possible case scenario. Fifty-three of the 734 people on board died.
A short film is shown in the Wahine area.
The storm was truly a disaster; it also killed nearly 200 albatrosses in the Wellington area–birds that do not readily succumb to harsh sea conditions.
It’s the nature of history-focused museums to have some pretty emotionally difficult sections to them, and hopefully the physical space of the building is used to help ease the visitor back into the collections. In this case, the Wahine disaster is at the end furthest from the staircase, and so you do have the walk back to it to decompress a bit before ascending to the next floor.
The Ngā Heke floor houses a beautiful work of Māori art, Te Whanganui a Tara, and other works of contemporary Māori artists, and it also presents objects with imaginary histories “as a way to think about what history is and whose voice tells it.” Visitors can take tokens to choose which story they prefer for the objects.
There was a Māori stories exhibit on this floor that was closed for a booked group when I was there, so I look forward to returning to see that.
Instead of making this just crazy long, I am going to Tiny Tour the Attic, which definitely has its own vibe, as well as the temporary exhibit on Mittens, noted Wellington cat. In the meantime, you can find the Wellington Museum on the city’s waterfront, being generally awesome from 10am to 5pm, seven days a week. Entry is free, so hit that amazing gift shop on the way out.
Karori Cemetery was opened in 1891, following the stuffing-to-the-seams of the cemeteries closer to the center of the town. Karori at the time was still rural, and so the first burial, that of premature infant Frederick Fish, remained alone on a windy, bare hill for six months, when the next burial took place.
Karori Cemetery is the second largest in the country, and has about 83000 burials (and counting). Being so big, I didn’t see all, or even most, of it–but broadly, the big sections are the Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, and public sections.
Naturally, as I took photos, I assumed that I would remember at least the basics of the people mentioned. I assume this every time I take photos on a tour, and I am wrong 100% of the time, but hope springs eternal, along with wildly unearned optimism.
Let’s take a look at some of the grave symbolism, a thing that modern graves are often woefully short on (although I did not upload any photos of stones inscribed with the disconcerting euphemism of “fell asleep on” such-and-such date).
I haven’t been in New Zealand long enough to know much about Maori symbolism, but here’s a couple of graves I passed that include some.
Let’s look at the inside of the chapel and crematorium, since I did not get a photo of the outside for some reason. It was built in 1909, which you know because that’s the large number chiseled on the wall.
The glass windows were commissioned to memorialize members of William Ferguson’s family, including 8-year-old daughter Louisa (I know, but you can’t talk about cemeteries without mentioning some real raging bummers). They came from the Irish workshop An Túr Gloine, world renowned glass artists. “Faith,” shown below, is one of two created by Wilhemina Geddes, noted glass bad-ass.
The windows held to be real gems of stained glass art by those who are into that sort of thing, and having done a tiny bit of stained glass work in my teens, I can vouch for its hardcoreness, in terms of blood shed.
Before wrapping this entry up, let’s have a peek at a couple more gravey vistas.
The Karori Cemetery is open every day, and I believe you may go in even at night, although the road gates are closed at dusk. There are a couple of self-guided tours (linked above, for soldiers and the SS Penguin victims), and the Friends offer themed tours on the reg, so consult their page for information.
Ok, so, like probably everyone, I’ve been doomscrolling various social media feeds as a primary activity. It’s not great! But despite all the hot garbage everywhere, I managed to find a job, and now here I am, trying to find my blogging rhythm again. I don’t know how readable the post will be, but I’m opting to dig into a museum that was a very sweet visit for my little knitter’s heart.
This is the Wool Shed, and here you will learn about the wool industry and its history in New Zealand. Two old, authentic wool sheds are packed with sheep- and wool-related artifacts, as well as vaguely unsettling mannequins, yet another museum feature that is near and dear to my heart.
Sheep and sheep products used to be a seriously critical aspect of the New Zealand economy, and even today, there are 27 million sheep here–almost 6 sheep for every person.
The town of Masterton hosts The Golden Shears, an International Shearing and Wool Handling competition, which describes itself as “three days of non-stop action and entertainment,” a claim I have no reason to doubt. I had no idea it existed before I visited The Wool Shed, and it is now on my bucket list. Sure, you can see it on TV, but as the website says, “you can’t beat the excitement of being there to witness history being made and to soak up the lanolin infused atmosphere as the sweat drips off competitors brows.”
Footage of the competition is shown at the museum, and it is indeed a richly lanolin-infused atmosphere. I deeply regret not capturing on video the part where the announcer says a competitor is “having the shear of his life.”
I’m gonna go some day, mark my words.
But back to the museum!
The displays in the wool sheds show how the sheep were penned and various tools of the wool trade. Also, yes, that is an insane rat up there on that post. Having apparently just had a litter and munching on a weta.
But nevermind that! There are historic shears! Including this pair of left-handed ones, which as a lefty, I very much appreciate.
You’ll also read some history related to labor issues for shed workers:
As well as many examples of shed vocabulary and terminology.
As regular readers know, I also approve of interactive displays in museums, so I was of course very pleased to see this:
But maybe you’d rather familiarize yourself with some of the grimmer aspects of animal husbandry. No worries; the Wool Shed gotchu.
One room of the museum houses this old hut along with examples of historic machinery and old wool presses. In the hut, you can select the oral histories of several people involved in the wool trade…
…while simultaneously viewing more unsettling mannequins.
HAHA OK THEN SO WHAT ELSE IS THERE
Well how about some fiber education!
Any knitter will tell you, merino is some very nice stuff.
Suzy the feral sheep got her maiden shearing done at the museum by world record shearer Peter Casserly, losing about 15 kg of wool right before summer.
The museum also hosts spinning and weaving demonstrations and has a lovely collection of spinning wheels.
But sheep are not only good for wool, of course.
Finally, let’s have a look at some wool-related art, because this little place truly has it all.
Obligatory Lord of the Rings entry:
So there you have it! Wonderful museum, chock-full of information and artifacts, good-sized shop full of wool swag. Open all week, 10am-4pm, $10 for adults, $3 for children under 15, $20 for families (two adults & four children). Children under 5 are free. Of course, if you just wanna shop or see the Golden Shears Wall of Fame, those areas are free.
Hoho, what do we have here? A third country?! YES! It is time to visit some museums in an ENTIRELY. DIFFERENT. BIOME.
The city of Manaus, in northern Brazil, is called “The Gateway to the Amazon” because it is smack in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Its boom age was the late 19th/early 20th century, when it was at the center of the rubber industry. The rubber barons brought a lot of European sensibilities to the city as well as opulent displays of insane wealth. It feels a little weird, looking around Manaus, as it does sort of give the impression that several shiny European buildings were plopped in the middle of the jungle. Which, fair, I guess.
The City Museum is housed in the old city hall building, constructed in 1879. And it’s frickin’ neat. The museum is tech-heavy, at least tech-heavier than I’m used to in a history museum, and it’s done really well. You don’t even have to take my word for it: The museum has an app. You can go download it now (it’s called Museu da Cidade de Manaus). It’s got an English setting.
If you’re actually at the museum, you’re definitely going to want the app. If you don’t have it in advance, the museum has free WiFi, in addition to museum-grade air conditioning (yaaasssssssssss).
This is the ceiling of the Mayors Room, which displays the portraits of Manaus’s civic leaders through the years. The app will have the biographical data on these guys, but it is sadly thin for this one:
Next up, the room of Growth Rings!
This is an interactive display about the growth of the city of Manaus. You can trigger the projection of the history images by moving your hand over the tree rings where the maps are projected. You can see the relationship between the city’s growth and deforestation. If this all sounds very informative and you are wishing you could read more about it and see the projections yourself, you totally can because the museum has them on Youtube and the app links right to it.
Next up is the room of Flying Rivers. Yes, all the rooms sound like they’re in Hogwarts.
See how the Amazon rainforest fits into the water and carbon cycles (including the impact of Manaus’s pollution). The forest’s role in water circulation is known as the “flying rivers,” according to the museum. I do love it when some good poetic turn of phrase is applied to science stuff. Again, the room’s video is linked in the app.
Time for archaeology!
The area around Manaus has been occupied for at least 11,000 years. There’s been a lot of research in the region, and this room lets you take a peek, not only through the glass floor but also through VR headsets.
The video is introduced and narrated by a Brazilian university professor with a pretty good speaking voice, which is great for Spanish speakers as it makes him easier for them to understand. For non-Portuguese or Spanish speakers, you’re a bit out of luck, as the VR has no translation. But it is still a very rad (heh) look at the sites and artifacts. You can see the introduction portion, with English subtitles, through the app.
There’s a room with an art exhibit in it related to Brazilian poet Thiago de Mello–art inspired by him–and I’m tossing it in here because I really like this one.
And now, my second favorite room: the market!
You can scan, with your phone, many of the plant labels for recipes and folk stories (also guess what ALL THERE IN THE APP YOU CAN DOWNLOAD RIGHT NOW), although the folk story animations also play in the bottom of this barrel:
Which sounds kind of weird but actually really works.
Wandering back over to the other side of museum there is my favorite room, Affluent Rivers.
As you move along the water, the history of Manaus is projected onto the surface. Once again, I can’t do better than the app: “A timeline is like a river: flowing uninterruptedly, carrying different layers of time, which sometimes overlap, sometimes become separated and then reconnect.”
Again, the images are interactive, and can be triggered by the visitor’s hand movements. It is such a clever and gorgeous concept, which makes it my favorite room.
Finally, I’m going to mention briefly the Bath of Origins room, which was too difficult to photograph, but you stand in the middle of several screens with projections of locals, who give their stories in turn. They are all standing at the river’s edge, and after they talk, they dive in, and then you see them swimming on the floor you’re standing on. The affect is cool, but there are no English subtitles. HOWEVER, you can see the videos with English subtitles through the power of your imagination. Just kidding, you can totally see them through the app, too.
The City Museum is amazingly well done. The interactive elements are creative and well designed. I can’t speak highly enough of the museum’s app–it’s the best museum app I have ever seen. The museum has clearly been heavily invested in, and I hope it continues to be. If the shop had been open, I would have bought a lot of swag because the museum frickin’ earned it.
The City Museum is free (FREE!), open from 9am to 430pm Monday through Friday, 9am to 1230pm on Saturday, and the second Sunday of every month from 5pm to 9pm.
The museum opened in 1826, owing to the work and advocacy of Bernardino Rivadavia. It was the first natural sciences museum in South America, and kind of a big deal. The current building, in the slightly-out-of-the-way-for-tourists Caballito neighborhood, was inaugurated in 1937. It’s got SO MANY ANIMALS.
There’s more, and I recommend walking around the inside and outside of the museum squealing in delight when you spot them.
When I visited, it was the winter break for the local schools, and the place was full of excited, noisy children. There was a line out the door and around the gate to get in when I was leaving around lunchtime. It was glorious. The children were even exclaiming over the minerals.
There is more than awesome rocks to see, of course. The museum does boast a large collection of native specimens, but it’s not limited to them. And who doesn’t love dioramas of successful hunts and dramatic battles for food and survival?
Giraffes aren’t the only ones who like to nibble trees.
Although you might know the species better as that “popcorn eating gazelle” meme.
This is a pretty photo-heavy entry, you guys, because I appreciate and value artistry.
There is a very nice hall of bird specimens, including some in dioramas of Argentina’s environs. This was my favorite one, because it happens to depict a park very near my house.
I especially loved the little riff on a fairly common stencil graffiti motif.
The bird wing (haha) is actually really good.
You might know, if you are into dinosaurs (you are, because everyone everywhere always is into dinosaurs), that Argentina is pretty rich in dinosaur fossils.
It’s no Sue, but it’s not at all shabby! There’s plenty of other native megafauna, too, which is great because ancient megafauna are so frickin’ weird.
There’s also a section of the building that covers the museum’s history.
At the start of the military dictatorship (no not that one) of 1966, faculties of the University of Buenos Aires were occupied by students, professors, and graduates in protest of the military’s overthrowing of the government. The protesters were violently removed, beaten, and arrested during La Noche de los Bastones Largos. The military ended university autonomy, hundreds of professors left the country, and research was quashed. It was an enormous setback for academia in Argentina. This is your pointed reminder that there’s no such thing as “sticking to science” because everything is political and education is the enemy of oppressors. So, study hard and fight evil.
Anyway, that’s a pretty big bummer, so how about a preserved giant squid’s eye as a palate cleanser.
The only objection I have to the Natural Sciences Museum is the aquarium hall (no photos were allowed). It’s very small, which is fine, but the tanks all look like the worst aquarium store that would be allowed to legally operate. The fish are in bare, small tanks with nearly no features aside from a layer of gravel. The lone piranha, sad enough because they are a schooling fish, had only a small plastic plant to hide behind, which it was trying to do the whole time I was in the hall. I really hope they improve the conditions for the fish soon.
The MACN is a really a lovely visit overall. It’s set in the Parque Centenario, a huge park with a small lake. Like all the bigger parks in the city, it’s a nice spot for bird watching (the tiny museum shop sells a guide to the park’s birds). Entry to the museum is a very reasonable 100 pesos (about $2 US, and as always subject to change). It’s open every day except holidays from 2pm to 7pm and easy to get to by bus and the B subway line. Check the website for up to day admissions, closures, and guided tour info.