Paris’ Heritage: 3 Hidden Gems

In September this year, I returned to Paris for a long weekend with the intention of revisiting places I already knew and loved – the Eiffel Tower, the Sacre Cœur, and so on – and seeing some new sites too. Over the course of the weekend, I discovered some lesser-known spaces that I would highly recommend to anyone visiting the city.

Here are my top 3…

Sainte-Chapelle Chapel:

Following the devastating fire that burnt large sections of the Notre Dame Cathedral, this chapel has become a favourite with visitors. Just the other side of Pont Saint-Michel, this 13th Century Gothic Chapel is tucked away on Ile de la Cité, very close to Notre Dame. Though smaller in size, its stained-glass windows are just as stunning (if not more so) than the infamous cathedral.

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Its information panels were very informative and gave details about the restoration of the stained glass and the history of the chapel. Restoration of some sections of the chapel is ongoing, but this doesn’t detract from its sense of grandeur.

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Pop up pub on the Seine:

Just a few hundred metres from Sainte-Chapelle, on the other side of Pont au Charge, is a bar called Scillet. The bar is directly opposite the imposing Conciergerie (a gothic fortress and Revolution-era prison, housing Marie Antoinette’s former cell) that sits at the side of the River Seine, which glows with the evening sun as it sets over the city (well, it did when I was there in mid-September!).

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The staff are very friendly and were keen to offer advice on what to do nearby. The beer, made by local brewery ‘Demory’, was delicious. The aesthetic hails back to the history of the Seine, down to its marketing with a medieval ship as its logo. Okay, maybe the ‘vibe’ could be considered a bit too hipster for some people, but I loved it.

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The farm at the Chateau de Versailles:

I had a wonderful day at Versailles. The artwork, the history, the architecture, the gardens… it was all stunning. Undeniably, the Palace of Versailles is very beautiful… and very famous.

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What is less famous, however, is the little farm that is part of the Versailles estate. Past the gardens, on the way to the Trianon Palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate, is an adorable little farm that sadly is not accessible to the public. However, from behind a fence on an offshoot of the main boulevard, you can see ancient breeds of sheep and goats grazing the land. It’s so bizarre, wonderful and heart-warming that a little patch of quaint French countryside can exist (1) in the outskirts of a city and (2) mere moments away from a series of palaces. Taking a break from the eccentricities of the rest of the estate to simply absorb this idyllic scene is absolutely worth it.

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So, there we have it: a chapel, a bar and a farm. Quirky in their own ways, these 3 spaces are certainly worth a visit, adding a little je ne sais quoi to a city break in Paris.

This “city of love” has so much more history and culture than meets the eye, and I would encourage anyone visiting the city to take a step off the beaten track to discover even more hidden gems – you never know, you may just find the unexpected highlight of your trip!

Lizzie Champion – Multilingual Solutions for your Museum’s Accessibility

I recently reached out to museums in Cambridge over twitter about multilingual resources, and am thrilled to have already heard back from people who are interested! Off the back of this, I would like to extend the offer I made to anyone who feels that their museum would benefit from my Multilingual Solutions.

In recent years, I have observed a lack of multilingual resources available to those visiting museums throughout the UK. As a former Modern and Medieval Languages student at the University of Cambridge and a University of Cambridge Museums Volunteer, I feel that I can resolve this issue through linguistic dexterity and an understanding of the Arts & Heritage sector. I am able to provide a range of support, including:

  • Translations of existing museum content – signs, labels, leaflets, etc.
  • New content for museums, in English and Foreign Languages
  • Bespoke resources for museums, highlighting culturally relevant exhibits, artefacts and themes for international visitors in audio and/or text form
  • Collaboration with education, events and outreach teams to arrange multilingual, in-person support for sessions in museums
  • Bespoke tours/tour guides of museums in Foreign Languages

Further or alternate multilingual services can also be provided. I am also open to proposals, and any fees will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

I genuinely think that – especially in the face of Brexit – UK museums need to be as accessible as possible to those whose native language is not English. I am sure I am not the only person to think this, and believe I am capable of helping everyone to enjoy their museum experience, regardless of where they call home.

If you happen to be interested in any of the above, or know someone/somewhere that would benefit from becoming a multilingual space, please do get in touch via the form on my blog. Thank you for reading!

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I Graduated (6 Months Ago)! Reflections on my Time at Newnham College, University of Cambridge

65009780_2281698548551298_3337149774645166080_nOn Friday 28th June 2019, I graduated with a 2.1 in my BA Hons in Modern and Medieval Languages. At many points over the last 5 years, graduating was something that seemed very much beyond my reach. And yet, just shy of 57 months after matriculating, I graduated. But rather than delving deep into my personal journey to graduation, I would like to dedicate some time and space to some of the things that I learnt during my time as a student at Newnham College, and to some musings on my experience at the University of Cambridge:

  • I do not feel like a Cambridge Graduate; I feel like a Newnham Graduate. From the start of my Cambridge ‘career’, Newnham was incredibly nurturing. When applying to the college, I was already aware of the homely atmosphere that made its students feel so welcome, but it was only when I arrived that I appreciated the difference between Newnham’s ethos and that of the rest of the collegiate university. Being at Newnham, specifically, made me feel part of a community that was encouraged to think, learn and conduct itself in a certain way. For example, the Newnham MML cohort could take part in Literary Theory seminars that the college made available to us and held open ‘Pudding Seminars’ where students, alumnae and teaching staff could talk on a topic of their choice to whoever turned up to listen. Newnham felt like a ‘safe’ space, in which we could discuss a host of topics without fear of judgement, and as such we as women had the opportunity to grow in strength and confidence. Our extra-curricular and personal pursuits were also encouraged, and I personally felt like my Director of Studies genuinely cared about my wellbeing as well as my academic attainment. The things I learnt whilst at university are a result of not only my course but also the informal education that I received at Newnham College.
  • I love learning, but not studying. The focus on attainment in exams, and the idea that you had to “study for the exam”, often became toxic. Knowledge and understanding were often overshadowed by information recall and ‘playing the game’ or ‘cheating the system’ with rehearsed, adaptable answers and stylistic techniques. In a place that is infamous for its successful alumni, thinkers, scientists and academics, it was disheartening to realise that what you wrote in the exam hall during Finals was all that mattered. I was personally told by some members of staff that I only needed to pick and choose excerpts of the texts I was studying, rather than bothering to read the texts in their entirety. Your grade is dictated by the words you scribble on a page under timed conditions, regardless of previous demonstrations of understanding, knowledge or even expertise. Students at Cambridge are, of course, encouraged to learn… but they are first and foremost urged to study.
  • Everyone should consider taking a Gap Year. I say this because out of the most mature, grounded and confident individuals I met at Cambridge, the majority had done this. When I refer to a Gap Year, I am not referring to the obligatory Year Abroad that MML students have to complete, but instead a period of time taken between Sixth Form College and university study to NOT study; some people choose to work during this time, whilst the lucky amongst us travel and take a break. Like most British teenagers heading to university, not only did I not take a Gap Year but I was actively discouraged from doing so by my school. Had I taken a Gap Year, I think I would have been much more prepared for university study; mentally, I was keen – and ready – to go, but I had never been expected to do anything else. I think that the lack of time school-leavers have to reflect on what they want to actually do with their lives before embarking on a high-cost, high-effort degree has contributed to the mental health crisis among university students. I think everyone should at least consider taking a Gap Year and reflecting on what they actually want before heading to university.
  • I loved MML… but I did the wrong degree. If you do not want to go into academia, be a language teacher, a translator or an interpreter, or ‘sell-out’ as a Cambridge graduate to Oxbridge-favouring City firms, MML is probably not the degree for you, as far as career progression is concerned at least. Admittedly, when I started my degree, I just wanted to learn, and academia was on the cards for me at the time. But I wanted to study languages because I was interested in people and culture, rather than linguistics or translation. When I applied to Cambridge, I was not aware that (a) you could sit language papers at the University Language Centre regardless of the degree you took, thus obtaining recognised qualifications outside of the course, and (b) ANTHROPOLOGY EXISTED AS A DISCIPLINE. The number of students I knew that realised this early on and switched out of MML to HSPS (Human Social and Political Sciences, under which you could study Anthropology) is frankly ridiculous. Why was I not advised against doing the degree that I did? Because this kind of information is not disseminated, and the people advising me probably had no idea that this option of Anthropology and extracurricular language study was viable. In the end, I did enjoy the content of my degree, and I was able to tailor my modules to my interests; I wrote on Baroque Art and the Incan Empire in my Golden Age Spanish paper, intersectionality in my Nineteenth Century French paper, and urban space, gender politics and contemporary philosophy in my European Cinema paper. I loved learning about these things. But the option to do a degree that was more appropriate to my interests was not one that I thought I had, and I wish that I had at least known that I had that option.
  • At Cambridge, you are in more control than you think you are. At the end of the day, even though Directors of Studies and Supervisors can chase you for work, they cannot force you to do it. I knew many students that would pick and choose the lectures they attended because they knew they didn’t want to study certain topics. It’s easy to forget sometimes that you are doing your degree for no one other than yourself; you chose the degree, and you have control over what you do and don’t do.
  • There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, the earlier you realise that it is okay to ask for help – academically or personally – the easier your university experience will be. At Cambridge, there is this huge pressure to succeed that ends up being crippling for many. Asking for help is often seen as a sign of weakness, and the thought of asking for help is considered to somehow damage your pride, making you ‘lesser’ than your fellow students. This is sooooooooo untrue, and academics generally really appreciate students who aren’t too proud to ask for help. Odds are also on your side that you are not alone in how you are feeling. Studying at Cambridge is tough, and no one that studies there has their life completely ‘together’. In this knowledge I hope that going forward, instead of this manifesting as a communal feeling of inadequacy and failure, this understanding will lead to more people asking for help and supporting each other.
  • Going to Cambridge is about so much more than just studying. I, a stocky 5’4” woman, learnt to row competitively at Cambridge. I took part in charity events. I went out on the town with my friends. I stayed in and watched TV with my friends. I stayed in and cried with my friends. I realised that I wanted to work in museums and volunteered for a University Museum. I learnt about other people’s subjects and taught others about mine. I relaxed, stressed, lived, slept, worked, panicked, ate, had mind-blanks and eureka-moments and felt a sense of belonging… in a place with people who think like me.
  • The amount and quality of support you receive at Cambridge can vary massively. I feel very lucky to have received the support I did when I was at Newnham, and so sad for the people who struggled during their time at Cambridge because they were elsewhere. I was lucky to be in a college that offered generous travel grants, book grants and bursaries. I was lucky to be in a college with an excellent, well-stocked library. I was lucky to be in a college where it was generally acceptable to walk around in your pyjamas, and where girls would huddle in the Buttery to talk as Directors of Studies and Supervisors wander past and join in with conversations as they go. College support at Cambridge is incredibly varied, and I have no regrets about choosing to study at Newnham. University-wide support has to be sought if it is wanted or needed, but at least the provision is the same regardless of your college.
  • Cambridge *does* open doors. I need to keep reminding myself of what a blessing this is and how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to have gone to Cambridge. I often feel that so many doors have been opened that I don’t know which one to choose, but I know that I am in a privileged position to have such a choice. I have taken the opportunities Cambridge has offered me for granted at times, and I hope that when I find myself in a career that I enjoy and that fulfils me, I will be thankful for the chances in life that going to Cambridge has given me.

In conclusion, I am a more resilient person because I went to Cambridge; I am a more confident woman because I went to Newnham.

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Introduction: The 12 Days of Blogmas

I have decided to publish 12 blog posts over the 12 days of Christmas. Why? Because I realised that I had a backlog of content that needed publishing, of course!

The last 6 months have been a bit hectic. Discounting my recent post about the British Museum’s ‘Troy’ exhibition, I have not posted anything since June 24th 2019. This is a result of many factors, but above all due to low-self esteem following a series of unsuccessful museum-job applications and confusion about the future. I felt reluctant to post anything when my next steps felt so uncertain and my motivation was dwindling. Since June 2019, however, a lot of noteworthy things have happened which merit acknowledgement on at least a personal level.

And so, I find myself here, hoping to get myself back into good habits by motivating myself to post content regularly. For the next 12 days, I will be publishing 1 post a day, in order to whizz through the backlog of content. From January 6th onwards… Well, let’s wait and see!

Accessibility: myth and reality – A critique of the ‘Troy’ exhibition at the British Museum

There has been a lot of controversy about the latest temporary exhibition to be launched at the British Museum. Art Not Oil is one of many groups to have been outraged by BP’s sponsorship of the exhibition, for example. However, upon visiting the exhibition last week, my primary concern was that of the exhibition’s accessibility.

Access means different things for different people. In the Heritage sector, accessibility commonly refers to how equipped the space is to feel welcoming to disabled and/or differently-abled people of all ages. For me, access is more than that. Accessibility, in my view, goes beyond issues of disability, encompassing language-barriers, barriers to education, mental health issues, pricing, and so on… essentially, I would say that an accessible exhibition should present no barriers to anyone.

Unfortunately, the Troy exhibition was not an accessible exhibition, for the following reasons:

  1. The cost: A full-priced ticket to the exhibition costs £20. For many people, £20 would cover the cost of food for a week. To sell tickets to a single exhibition at such an extortionate price restricts access to those on a budget, trying to save or simply incapable of paying such an amount, many of whom may well be keen to see the exhibition or may benefit from seeing such an exhibition. Given the content of the exhibition – and its BP sponsorship – it is also unclear where exactly this money is going…
  2. Capacity: When I went to visit, on a Tuesday afternoon, the exhibition was full. People were crowding around exhibits and there were queues to see even the first objects on display. This was very odd, given that the exhibition did not seem ‘full’. I believe that the objects on display were too close together, so perhaps the rooms should have been laid out in such a way that would facilitate people’s view of the objects.78890291_523420575048936_6012507430427033600_n.jpg
  3. Labelling: The first half of the exhibition were labelled with panels that were very low down, at mid-calf level. There were elderly people hunched over trying to read the labels and others kneeling down or straining to do the same.
  4. Lighting in the cases: In many of the cases, light was shone onto objects either from the side or diagonally from above. This obscured the details on some of the objects, such as the fragment of pottery below, whose cuneiform text is totally indistinguishable because of the shadows caused by the lighting.78675211_982519448794739_2290266902292856832_n
  5. Lighting of the space: This was one of my biggest concerns. The exhibition was very dark, with low lighting throughout. I appreciate that this gave an ‘old-worldy’, mysterious atmosphere to the exhibition, but it was personally very disorientating, and did not help with the fatigue triggered by the case-lighting and low-level labelling.
  6. Sounds: There were also a lot of disorientating and distracting sounds being played throughout the exhibition. A high-pitched song (possibly a folk-song or chant) was being played on repeat in the second room and this could be heard as you travelled around the exhibition. Repetitive sounds are really unhelpful to those – like me – who are often overstimulated by what is going on around them. I often found myself unable to concentrate on anything, let alone the content of the exhibition.
  7. Content: My issue with the content of the exhibition is twofold. Firstly, the text was not as clear as it could have been. As a graduate who had the opportunity to study classical literature and culture, I was able to follow the content of the exhibition. However, had I not received the education that I had, I would have found it an incredibly difficult exhibition to follow. There was an attempt at a continuous narrative, but it was too wordy and in many parts comprised little more than a list of names which, without context, would mean absolutely nothing. Perhaps an introductory room, with a storyboard of key events in the mythical story of Troy and the key protagonists, locations and interpretations, would have made this more accessible. Secondly, I found the physical content of the first half of the exhibition quite underwhelming. A lot of the content had been lifted from artefacts that I felt I had seen before and which were doubled in the permanent Greek exhibits at the museum. The links between these objects and the Troy myth were also sometimes tenuous, and their relevance was not always explained. Furthermore, content that had been added from elsewhere only went to exacerbate the narrative that Troy belonged to a realm of white, male academia. The treatment of the story was dry, which is a shame given that the story itself is so exciting and could have presented a real opportunity for the museum to engage with a large audience that may not otherwise be excited by history and culture. I personally went to the exhibition in the hope of seeing something *new*. Thankfully, the second half of the exhibition did a better job of fulfilling this, but I was left disappointed by the first half. Perhaps the intention here was to show the contrast between ancient and recent history and their interpretations of the story of Troy… If this were the case, I feel it could have been carried out more effectively.

 

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There were aspects of the exhibition that I really liked. The collaboration with Waterloo Uncovered, for example, was wonderful. It was excellent to see the exhibit addressing (albeit briefly) contemporary issues such as mental health in its discussion of grief and PTSD. The same was done with brief comments on colonialism and sex-trafficking in relation to Marian Maguire’s artwork and Helen of Troy’s experience respectively. It was also encouraging to see the exhibit (finally) address the role of women, but disappointing that this appeared as an afterthought, at the end of the exhibition. ‘The Shield of Achilles’ was also an exceptional addition to the exhibition.

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The main conclusion to be drawn from my visit is that the accessibility of the exhibition was compromised by its curation. I feel that changes could have been made to make the exhibition more engaging, accessible and ‘complete’. If I were to re-curate the exhibition, I would perhaps start from the end, from the present day, and work backwards; I think this would be a more impactful, engaging and tangible way to start the exhibition. I would prioritise the sensory experience and eliminate the aforementioned barriers to appreciating and interacting with the content. It is clear that accessibility was not a priority for this particular exhibition, and perhaps the price of entry charged by the British Museum was set as a deliberate barrier to dissuade attendance of those that its accessibility issues would affect…

Cambridge Museums: Museum of Zoology

I have spent a lot of time in and around the Museum of Zoology. Not because I work or volunteer there, but because a close-friend of mine – due to begin her PhD at Yale very soon, and perhaps the most impressive and interesting person I know – has been studying, researching and assisting there since we both began our studies at Cambridge in 2014. Until very recently, however, I had not “done the tour” exactly; I’d been behind the scenes, in the stores and the labs, down dark corridors and through many high-security doors, but had not ventured into the exhibition space itself, beyond the first column on the top floor.

And so, now that I have finished my first degree and have a bit more time on my hands before starting a paid job (hopefully!), I have decided to explore Cambridge’s museums, starting with the Museum of Zoology.

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My first impression of the exhibition space was “Wow. That’s a lot of bones”.              There are skeletons of all shapes and sizes, in displays, in boxes, hanging from the ceiling… It’s quite a surreal space for someone who is used to books, buildings and bits and bobs. But there is far more to the museum than just lots of bones! The museum is arranged really pleasingly, with a balcony overlooking the lower floor, integrating all of the animals together but thematically and by family. There is also an exhibition space below the entrance foyer, which – at the time of visiting – housed many works by Jonathan Kingdom, which will remain there throughout the summer.

The Jonathan Kingdom exhibit was facinating. The theme, ‘Evolution as Inspiration’, attracted children and adults alike with its bright colours and patterns. It seemed a very accessible exhibit, depicting the key concepts relating to evolution in a tangible way.       A range of media was used; sketches sat next to paintings, bronze sculptures sat next to ceramic masks. I was pleasantly surprised to see this sort of exhibit in a scientific space. Having been to the Natural History Museum in London, I expected animals, animals and more animals, but did not expect to see them in pieces of modern art. Kingdom’s sketches had also been placed among the species themselves, where appropriate, including my favourite sketches of his (those of a serval cat). My favourite piece overall was the gorgeous bronze zebra-head that resembled a helmet of a Roman Praetorian Guard… Very majestic indeed.

There was also a bronze sculpture akin to the work of Henry Moore, simply entitled ‘Mammalian Motherhood’. It is unclear what type of mammal Kingdom based this piece on, but the message is clear: all mammals, through nursing, are dependent on the generations before them. I found it to be a very humbling piece, placing us as humans alongside the rest of Earth’s mammals, just as strong and just as fragile, just as dependent and just as nurturing.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Museum of Zoology, and will definitely be going back again soon!

How Museums Have Improved My Mental Health

This year, International Museum Day (May 18th) has fallen at the same time as UK Mental Health Awareness Week. Although the focus of Awareness Week is quite specific this year (Body Image), I think it is still important to discuss all mental health issues at this time, where more exposure is given to such issues. I’d like to address both Mental Health and my appreciation for museums this International Museum Day by reflecting on how my involvement with museums has improved my mental health and wellbeing.

As A Visitor:

Before I was involved with volunteer work and an academic career that involved museums, I benefitted from exposure to the Arts and Heritage sector as a visitor. I have been visiting museums since a very young age, and as a small child, museum visits often took place on weekends with my siblings and my Dad – who, at the time, was working extremely long days in a financial role to support our family whilst my Mum was training to be a teacher. Often, my weekend trips to museums, parks and events would be the only moments where I got to spend quality time with my Dad. They engaged me intellectually and emotionally – I was a very sensitive child, and took a lot from museums and galleries, which gave me so much material to connect with and think about – and my Dad seemed to love witnessing and being a part of that.

Some of my favourite places were – and still are – museums. Museums can be loud, exciting and stimulating, but they can also be quiet places of reflection. When the real world of the here and now gets a bit too much, museums offer a refuge where you can distance yourself. Even objects taken from the same here and the same now possess a detached quality when placed in a museum; they become objects you can analyse and think about; they are artefacts. Meanwhile, objects from the distant past carry an ethereality, and an ephemerality, in spite of their age; they seem other-worldly, intriguing, and amazing.

And, beyond the intellectual stimulation and distancing that museums create, they have also benefitted my mental health and wellbeing in very simple ways. When I visit museums, my step-count goes through the roof, and I exercise without really feeling it. In my reflective state, my breathing is controlled. I am very much in touch with the things around me, feeling grounded and mindful. When I am at a museum, I am having fun, and I smile.

As a professional:

As I highlighted in my first blog post, working in a museum gives me a sense of purpose. Beyond that, however, there are genuinely so many benefits to working in a museum as far as mental health is concerned:

  • Social engagement, with the public and with collegues; people are interested, and intersting! Interacting with other people who are likely as keen to hear about the museum as you are to tell them is a joy, and social contact is super for encouraging good mental health.
  • Getting creative, using arts and crafts to help children and adults engage with a museum, is awesome. Whoever says cutting and sticking is for infants is frankly just… well, wrong. Cutting and stick, and colouring, and painting, and doodling, and flower-making, and pot-decorating… these are all really relaxing things to do, as well as really heart-warming things to help others do too.
  • Being organised, or at least forcing yourself to be organised, is vital. On bad mental health days, it can be really difficult to find the motivation to do anything, so having a fixed time and place to be really helps with feeling like you have things under control.
  • The museum community is so supportive. In #MuseumHour – a twitter phenomenon where people come together from the museum sector to discuss topically issues online for an hour a week – has prompted so much warmth and comfort; sometimes, knowing you’re not alone in your concerns and struggles – whether related to finding a job or coping with issues at work – is all that is needed. IRL, the museum workforce is also incredibly encouraging. I may be biased, but I think museum workers might be the best out there!
  • Working – and looking to work – in the museum sector creates resilience. I know there are many jobs out there that make people stronger than when they stepped in the front door, but in museum jobs, there are so many pressures, and often very small teams fighting them. Work can be unpaid, inconvenient, or simply non-existent at times. It’s an incredibly popular and competitive sector, and job-hunting is sometimes soul-crushing… but it makes you stronger, and even in the early stages of my Arts and Heritage career, I am noticing changes in my resilience, for the better.

 

I am so happy to have museums in my life. Yes, that is such a sappy thing to say, but it’s true. I am a happier, healthier person because of my involvement and engagement with museums. It’s important to have a passion, and it’s important to have a purpose. But it’s vital to be well. And anything that promotes your wellness can’t be a bad thing, in my book.

5 Things I Can’t Wait to Do in Hawaii

In June 2020, my partner and I are taking a trip to Hawaii. I am incredibly excited, especially given that my recent and on-going volunteer work at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge has focussed around Polynesian culture and life in the Pacific. The museum recently ran a Pacific-themed ‘late’ – an evening that involved Arts and Crafts (my remit), Climate Change activism, tours of the museum’s Polynesian collections, music from the Beats of Polynesia group, and dancing workshops, run by a local group of Polynesian dancers. It was an amazing evening, and one of the many enjoyable events I have had the pleasure of working at the MAA. And now, I get to go to a Pacific island myself! Having heard about what’s on offer from my partner (who has already been to the island state) and done a little bit of guidebook-reading and Google-searching, I have compiled a short list of things that I definitely cannot wait to do when I am there:

  1. Walk the Manoa Trail Waterfall And Rain Forest Hike: A gorgeous looking hike, through rainforest, past waterfalls, looking out at the sea. Beautiful flowers, beautiful scenes, humidity, adventure… it looks and sounds wonderful.
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A photo taken by my partner when he hiked the trail this year

2. Visit Shangri La: An odd choice, perhaps, given the richness of Polynesian art and culture. However, this place looks amazing – a once private collection now open to the public; a home of islamic art in the middle of the Pacific. Bizarre, but so intriguing.

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Inside Shangri La, courtesy of wheninyourstate.com

3. Spend a day at The Bishop Museum: In contrast to Shangri La, this museum is all about Hawaii, Polynesia and the Pacific. A gorgeous looking collection tugging on my anthropology-loving heartstrings.

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A photo from the Bishop Museum’s website

4. Walk through the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Of course, it has to be done. I’ve seen volcanoes from afar, and trekked up mountains, but never (unsurprisingly, for a Brit) treked through a Volcano Park. A huge segment of Big Island, this national park looks ridiculous, and awesome.

Thurston Lava Tube at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.
Courtesy of travelandleisure

5. Celebrate 4th July: Our fortnight-long trip to Hawaii just happens to coincide with Independence Day; this wasn’t intentional, but it looks like it’ll be great fun. With fireworks displays across the islands, and (I imagine) a host of beach-parties, this is going to be a fun place to be on a national holiday.

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Courtesy of hawaii.com

So that’s my list! What do you think? Anything you’d swap out or recommend instead/as well? Please leave me a comment if so, and thanks for reading!

36 hours in Madrid

I pondered for a long time about what title to give this post. I settled on ’36 hours in Madrid’, because a day and a half is a relatively simple amount of time to get to grips with. The New York Times has written a load of ’36 hours in’ articles already. The truth of the matter is that, *technically* my recent trip to Madrid only lasted 32 hours. I stepped off the plane at 10:00 on the Monday and took off again at 18:00 on the Tuesday. Door to door – from my home in England to Madrid and back again – it was a 41-hour round trip. Oh, the joys of visa-free movement in the European Union; R.I.P.

It was a pretty ridiculous thing to do really, go to Spain and return again within two days. I qualified my trip to myself with reassurances that visiting a friend up North would cost just as much and take just as long. In fact, my fleeting trip to Spain was very inexpensive – approx. £100 including food, flights, a night in a hostel, and travel to and from the airports!

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After leaving home at 4am, I arrived at the Museo Nacional del Prado at 11.30am. There was a long queue to get in, but I was *in* by midday. Returning to the museum following my first visit 5 years ago was the main focus of my trip; one of my final year papers for my degree in Modern and Medieval Languages focuses on Early Modern Spanish and Latin American Culture, and I have chosen to focus a lot of my attention on Baroque Art. Earlier this academic year, I wrote on Velazquez’s ‘Mythologies’ – housed in the Prado – and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a closer look in person. I was in my element, writing notes about the colours, the tones, the narratives, the naturalism, the brushstrokes, the classical-roots, the Venetian influence, his links to Rubens and Titian… it was an absolutely nerdy, truly wonderful experience.

Although I spent a solid 5 hours in the Prado during my very-mini-break, I also made sure to take some time to visit places I had not previously been to: the Parque del Retiro, the Templo de Bebod, the Plaza de España, the Jardines de Sabatini, Plaza de Colón and the Archaeology Museum (M.A.N.). The Archaeology Museum in particular was amazing! It is one of the best museums I have ever visited – clearly laid out, really engaging, and full of incredibly tangible content.

 

Was my very-mini-break worth it? Well, it was planned for a very specific purpose – which it achieved – and I got to see some cool new places too, so yes! Would I ever do such a short museum-based trip again? Probably not; it was a very rushed trip, and even though I took my time walking around El Retiro park, I was constantly checking the time to make sure I squeezed as much as I could into every moment. It was not a *relaxing* trip, but having not taken a trip abroad in a while, it was a refreshing one, and makes for a quirky little story to tell at parties.

 

Why Museums?

There is no point in pretending that I have always known I’ve wanted to work in a museum, because that simply isn’t true. As a student of Modern and Medieval Languages – a pretentious name for a course that should be called ‘French and Spanish: not just the languages, but the old cultural stuff too’ – there are many directions I could have, and still could, choose to go in. Arts and Heritage is certainly not the most obvious direction. The assumption is that language students end up as translators, teachers, or in corporate roles at an international level. I have always been firmly against the idea of entering the corporate world, the reasons for which are plentiful, and frankly irrelevant to discuss here. I am not good enough/ confident enough at the languages in which I am most proficient to jump into translation work, IMHO. And whilst I love education, and have enjoyed the experiences I have of teaching, *language* teaching is not something that really appeals to me at this stage. Language teachers are those that had the biggest impact on me going through secondary school – hence why I grew to love language learning so much – but I personally don’t feel that I am capable of giving lessons to classes of increasingly apathetic students. I have heard stories from teachers who take joy in the fact that the odd one or two pupils are particularly keen to learn more, whilst the majority treat language classes as a doss lesson, because “what’s the point?”. It saddens me that this is the case, and luckily there are many passionate graduates who are lapping up the government’s financial incentives to teach languages in the UK. I am just not one of them.

So, the question still stands: why museums?

On reflection, an archaeology and/or anthropology degree might have been better suited to my extra- and intra-curriculum interests. When I planned my year abroad, my plans revolved around travel – not ‘oh my god I’m living my best life on my gap yah’ travel, but rather ‘I want to see more of other cultures’ travel. I wanted to see temples, and huacas, and geological sites, and wildlife, and ranches, and cities, and cathedrals, and castles… and museums. I went to South America with the intention of gaining valuable teaching experience whilst also absorbing as much of the cultural heritage as possible. After my year abroad – which ended up being somewhat more eventful than intended – I finished my dissertation on the short stories of a female Argentine author who wrote under military dictatorship, and signed up for a load of final year papers focussing on language and linguistics. It didn’t take long for me to realise that my paper choices were awful, and that I’d chosen them for the wrong reasons. No doubt this added to my already very poor mental health, which led me to intermit for the remainder of the academic year. And it was whilst I was intermitting from study that I had a real chance to reflect on what it was that I actually enjoyed. Much introspection, reflection and self-dissection led me to the answer: I enjoy cultural heritage.

I started looking for jobs I might enjoy, thinking about the times I felt happiest, and what I could do to make myself even happier. I reminisced to the many times when my mum and dad took me and my siblings on holiday as kids, to English Heritage sites, to castles and abbeys and manors. I remembered going into London to visit galleries and museums. I vividly recalled examining the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, aged maybe 9 or 10, in awe of the ways history was documented in early civilisations with already such complex languages and scripts. And it all started to make sense.

Throughout my intermission I continued to teach, tutoring children, teens and adults just to keep my brain active and my finances stable (ish). I looked at summer jobs I could perhaps take, in archives and libraries and heritage properties, but realised before I even got round to finishing my applications that I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready *yet*.

Fast-forward to September and I had successfully applied to work at Education and Outreach events at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. I was an ideal outcome: I could work one-off events over the course of my second attempt at my final year of university study, doing something I would theoretically really enjoy. I don’t think I appreciated on applying for a position that I would enjoy my work with the MAA quite as much as I do. I get to lead handling sessions, where members of the public can come in and touch artefacts that would normally be in storage or behind cases. I get to run activities that encourage kids to engage with celebrations like Día de los Muertos, using knowledge I have accrued from my own studies to help them learn about significant aspects of world heritage. I get to be part of huge teams of people from all different walks of life that run university-wide events, including Twilight at the Museums, which took place this week. I love the work I get the chance to do, because it is no chore to do it. It is all I could have asked for, after a difficult couple of years of not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life or where I wanted to be.

Museums are the happy meeting point of all the things that I love: travel, culture, art, history, education – learning and teaching – and outreach, people, places, and so on. And what’s more, I love visiting museums too! I can’t guarantee where I’ll end up or what I’ll be doing, and I am only a fraction of the way through my life of learning and growing and working and living (I hope). However, whether behind the scenes or simply visiting for leisure, I sincerely hope museums will always be a part of my life.