Exploring the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi

Following the Taste of Anatolia Film Festival at the end of September, I went to Georgia as a representative of Balik Arts, with Balik Arts’ Chairperson, to take part in an Erasmus+ training program focusing on Gender Equality. Before meeting with representatives from across EU and EU-partner countries for the program in Bakuriani, I had a spare couple of days in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city. Of course, this gave me the opportunity to do some site-seeing and get to know a bit more about Georgian heritage. Up to this point, I had never been to the Caucasus region and knew very little about soviet history, let alone ancient Caucasian history. And so, after making my way around the city to see its hilltop fortress, its many orthodox churches and its markets, it seemed only natural to take the time to explore the country’s National Museum.

It truly is an amazing museum. Although relatively new, its contents are incredibly varied and extremely well-curated. The museum integrates a number of collections that were previously housed elsewhere, including the Museum of Ethnography, the Institute of Paleobiology and the Museum of the Soviet Occupation. It is this latter collection that stood out to me as a must-see, as I was totally uneducated on the topic.


The Exhibition of the Soviet Occupation of Georgia was both educational and humbling. With a very simple layout and circular route spanning two levels, it detailed the events between 1919 – with the Founding Charter of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Georgia – and the present day.


Given recent political history, it was interesting to see the effects of both western and Soviet involvement in Georgia, which depicted both the UK and the USA in a relatively positive light. Russia (or rather, the former USSR) is unsurprisingly condemned throughout the exhibition, and with good reason; damning documents calling for the deaths of Georgian civilians, politicians and priests, photographs of those killed during the occupation, and propaganda are displayed on every wall. The photographs had a particularly strong impact. In many cases, a picture of siblings, cousins or a whole family would be presented with simple captions detailing who the people were, how they were related, where and when they were killed, and how old they were when they died. Poignantly, the exhibition opens and closes with a reflection on current relations with Russia. The emotionally charged film that can be seen as you enter the exhibition is contrasted with a map illustrating the bare facts as you leave the exhibition. I was astounded to discover that areas of Georgia remain under occupation and are sites of ongoing conflict… Indeed, the exhibition has been the subject of a great deal of criticism, with accusations that it exhibits “purely nationalist propaganda”. Given the evidence in the form of official documents, letters and photographs, however, it seems difficult to dispute its verisimilitude.


Inevitably, the remaining exhibitions in the museum could not top the experience I had in the Exhibition of the Soviet Occupation of Georgia, but I thoroughly enjoyed them nonetheless. The paleo-biological display of skulls was unlike any presentation of pre-Palaeolithic history I had seen before, and the examination of Georgia as a “crossroad of cultures” was fascinating. With artefacts dating back to 3000BC, I was left awestruck by the richness of Georgian culture.

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Particular attention was paid to the Goblet of Trialeti, a work of Bronze-Age goldsmithery encrusted with coloured stones and amber. I quickly learnt that Georgia and the rest of the Caucasus regions played an important role in the dissemination of cultural and technological innovations between the Middle East, Near East and Europe.


I left the Georgian National Museum keen to learn even more about Georgian culture, and thankfully I had the opportunity to do so over the fortnight that followed. I doubt that I will find myself in Georgia again (at least, not any time soon) but I would definitely return to the museum again if I had the opportunity. I have to say, this museum takes tied first place with Madrid’s Archaeology Museum as the best museum I have been to this year. Please, if you happen to be passing through Tbilisi, take the time to visit this wonderful place – you won’t regret it!

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.


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.


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!).


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.


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.


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.


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!

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.
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.

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.

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.

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!


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.