Walters Art Museum

This past Memorial Day, I visited Baltimore for a long weekend trip as I’ve never been before. Baltimore kind of has a reputation for being a dangerous city, so many people are a bit wary to go, but if you just practice common sense, you can have a great time. I’m happy to report that I had no issues in Baltimore, but then again my travel companion is sort of paranoid so we didn’t stay out too late or wander too far from the more populated areas. First stop is…

Walters Art Museum, located in Baltimore, Maryland

The Walters Art Museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, and on Thursdays from 10am to 9pm. Admission to the museum is free. The museum is accessible by driving, walking and using public transportation. If driving is your preferred method of transportation, there is parking across the street from the museum, however there is a fee. (Check the museum’s website for more information as I didn’t drive, so I’m not sure about the rates.) The Walters Art Museum is about a half hour walk from the downtown and inner harbor areas. (Downtown Baltimore is a bit scary with plenty of homeless people, so just ignore them and keep going if they talk to you.) The museum is accessible via various forms of Baltimore public transportation: Charm City Circulator, MTA buses and the light rail. The best way to get to the museum via public transportation is through the Charm City Circulator, Baltimore’s free bus that circulates around the tourist area. Take the purple route to either the Washington Monument or Centre Street stops, depending on which direction you’re coming from, and walk about 2 blocks to reach the museum. Other attractions to visit nearby include the Washington Monument and the George Peabody Library (which is definitely worth a visit as the library is really photogenic).

The Walters Art Museum is four floors, thus to best conserve energy, my travel buddy started on the fourth floor and worked our way down, so we wouldn’t have to double back. There’s actually two set of staircases, one being more scenic than the other. The scenic staircase is the one overlooking the main entrance, where the free lockers and free audio guides are located. (You have to ask the information desk for the guide; I didn’t get one cause I didn’t realize there was an audio guide till about half through the museum.) The other is the one within the building, the typical stairs surrounded by four walls. The whole fourth floor is one exhibit, “From Rye to Raphael: The Walters Story”, which features material about the Walters family alongside works of art that the family collected. Learn about who the Walters were and how they came about the pieces in their collection.

First up on the third floor is “Renaissance and Baroque”, which features French, Italian and Spanish art from the 13th to 18th century. Within the exhibit, the pieces are grouped by century, so that visitors can see art from a specific time period and how art has changed over time. Pieces in this exhibit included plenty of portraits and religious art. (I went backwards, starting from the 18th century to the 13th century, no big deal for me, but others might want to go in order.) Asides from paintings and sculptures, there is also a section on European ceramics.

Also on the third floor is the temporary exhibit, “Training the Eye: 19th Century Drawing”, which is on view from May 14, 2017 to August 13, 2017. (I did it, the post is still relevant, even if only for a day or so.) The exhibit features various drawings to illustrate the materials and techniques that were available to artists in that time period. Next to this exhibit is a small section on bookbinding. (Not sure how it fits with the drawing exhibit.)

Finishing up on the third floor is “The Medieval World”, which contains a variety of art from the medieval world that spans from the eastern Mediterranean to Western Europe. The exhibit is separated into sections to highlight the distinct works, including Early Byzantine, Islamic, Northern Europe, Romanesque and Gothic art, and Byzantine, Ethiopian and Russian icons. Another section is The Great Room, where one can sit down and enjoy a game of checkers with friends while surrounded by Medieval and Renaissance paintings and furniture.

On the second floor, “European Art/Sculpture Court” showcases the exhibits name, European Art and sculptures. The European Art part of the exhibit is separated into smaller sections, with each section focusing on a different theme, and it’s in these sections where the museum really shines. The sections include Collector’s study, Arms and Armor, Chamber of Wonders, 17th century Dutch Cabinet Rooms, and The Treasury: 18th century European and Asian Art. (The Collector’s Study and the Chamber of Wonders are my favorite as they contained lots of little trinkets and oddities.) The Sculpture Court contains a few a sculptures around the edges of the room, but the main area was a play place for children, with items supplied by the museum to entertain the younger kids.

The other exhibit on the second floor is “The Ancient World” that includes Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Roman and Ancient Near Eastern Art. The collection in this exhibit is pretty extensive (I enjoyed the sections on the mummies and the sarcophagi). The first floor contains the museum store, a café, and supposedly more temporary exhibits, but when I visited, there was nothing on display there.

My travel buddy and I spent a little over 2 hours at the museum, but as usual, different people will take a different amount of time. For a free museum, there is plenty to see, and they have free lockers and audio guides, so no complaints from me. The Walters Art Museum is a good family day trip idea since it doesn’t cost anything, and there’s enough material that there should be something of interest for everyone; there’s even a play area for the small children. Anyone interested in art will enjoy the museum, but it will probably be a great experience for the general population, too. Bring you friends and your family to the Walters Art Museum to enjoy a day of art and culture.

Mob Museum

The second post for this month almost didn’t make it due to variety of factors, but mainly due to my desire to procrastinate. Nevertheless, it’s here. Without further fanfare, I end my West Coast trip of 2016 with…

The Mob Museum, located in Las Vegas, Nevada

The Mob Museum is officially the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement (which sounds long and not quite as exciting as the Mob Museum.) The Mob Museum is open daily from 9am to 9pm. Admission to the museum is $23.95 when you buy in person at the museum and $19.95 when you buy online in advance. (Check for other types of discounts online, I was able to get my ticket for $17.) When you buy online, the site tells you to select a day and time for entry, but according to the Mob Museum website, you may enter any time as long as the museum is open regardless of what time you selected. The museum is accessible via walking, driving and public transportation. Should you choose walking as your mode of transportation, remember that the streets of Las Vegas are long, so something 2 blocks away could mean a 30 minute walk. If you choose to drive, there is a parking lot next to the Museum, which costs $6 for 3 hours and then additional after that. Public transportation is pretty convenient in Las Vegas, take the Deuce from the closest bus stop on the Strip and get off at Stewart Ave and 4th Street and walk a short block to reach the museum. Apparently there is a free Downtown Loop shuttle that one can take to reach the museum; unfortunately you’ll have to be in downtown Las Vegas for it to be useful as the shuttle doesn’t quite reach the more populated areas of the Strip. If you’re in the Downtown Las Vegas, check out the Freemont Street Experience or the Neon Museum to make a fun day trip of it.

The Mob Museum contains three floors of exhibits with a set route to explore the museum, starting on the third floor. Immediately getting out of the elevator, there is a photo-op for those interested to get a picture of themselves in a police lineupAs the photo-op is optional, those not interested can bypass the line and head to the first exhibit, “The Birth of the Mob”, to learn about the origins of the mob and how it came about in the early 1900s. There’s a short movie in this exhibit about Lucky Luciano, who is considered to be the father of modern organized crime in the United States.

In “A Tough Little Town”, visitors can learn how Las Vegas began as a frontier town and evolved to become a global capital of gambling and entertainment due to the construction of the Hoover Dam and the legalization of gambling and prostitution in Nevada. Next up is an exhibit documenting the Prohibition Era from 1920-1933, entitled “Prohibition”. The 1920s was a time of great economic and social change, where it was easy to defy Prohibition with bootleggers and speakeasies. The Prohibition Era saw a rise in crime due to the diversion of law enforcement to regulating alcohol distribution and to the establishment of black markets dominated by organized crime syndicates, which led to a stronghold for the Mob. The Great Depression brought about the repeal of Prohibition and ended the need for bootleggers and speakeasies, but the Mob had already laid deep roots and continued to thrive.

“The Feds Fight Back” focuses on law enforcement’s response to the growing Mob influence and rising crime sprees post-Prohibition. The exhibit highlights J. Edgar Hoover and his group of G-Men, known initially as the Bureau of Investigation, later as FBI. Originally, the agents weren’t allowed to carry guns or make arrests, but because of two sensational crimes of the era that led to murders in both cases, the G-Men were permitted to carry guns, make arrests and cross state lines to chase down suspects, as it isn’t within local police’s authority to do so. When the G-Men couldn’t get a Mob member through a serious criminal offense, the government brought in the T-Men, agents of the U.S. Treasury, who took down Mob members for tax evasion. (I find that quite funny and interesting.) Finishing out the third floor is “The Tentacle Spreads”, which focuses on the Mob’s endeavors after the Prohibition. With the end of Prohibition, people no longer needed to obtain alcohol illegally, so the Mob found other ways, such as gambling  and dealing drugs, to make a profit.

First up on the second floor is “The Kefauver Hearings”, which includes a short 10 minute video in the actual courtroom used for the hearings in Las Vegas. The Kefauver Hearings provided many Americans with their first glimpse of organized crime’s influence in the US as the hearings were televised live on national television. The hearings concluded that the Mob existed, which was denied by some, including J. Edgar Hoover.  “Open City” is another Las Vegas centered exhibit. Due to gambling being illegal in many states, mobsters focused on Las Vegas as the place for their ventures since Nevada legalized gambling. See a variety of items on display, including showgirl outfits and a small display of cheating methods, and learn how casino owners skimmed money to avoid taxes.

“Spinning A Deadly Web” explains how the Mob has a hand in everything, from politics to world affairs. Last exhibit on the second floor is “We Only Kill Each Other”, which focuses on how the Mob lifestyle affected the individuals, their families and innocent bystanders. Visitors can view a variety of weapons used for hits, and images of some of the Mob’s most notorious hits.

The first exhibit encountered on the first floor is “Bringing Down the Mob”, which focuses on the joint efforts of law enforcement to convict the mob. The exhibit highlights some of the newer technologies in the 1970s, such as wire taps and listening devices, to get incriminating evidence on criminals. Also, there is a small section on undercover work. “Weapons Training” is an interactive exhibit that allows visitors to test their skills and judgement in the virtual world. (It’s quite fun, you get to shoot bad guys, but also weird cause other people are just watching you act silly.) Right next to the this exhibit is “International Organized Crime” that explains about crime in the 21st century; modern crime transcends traditional boundaries and is a more global affair.

Next is “Memories of the Mob”, which contains a room full of pictures relating to the Mob members and their families. “100 Years of Made Men” highlights the most notorious figures from 100 years of Mob history; a brief story for each figure is included. Last, but not least is “Hollywood and the Mob”, which details how Hollywood has merged fact and fiction pertaining to the Mob to create fascinating stories for public entertainment.

My travel buddy and I spent about 3 hours exploring the Mob Museum, but as usual others may take more or less time depending on interest level. The museum contains lots of reading material, but it was pretty crowded when we went, so it might take some more time if you want to read everything. (I skipped some of the more crowded sections as there was just too much people.) The price of admission at the door is slightly steep in my opinion, so try to look for deals, or at least buy online in advance to save some money. Anyone interested in Mob or organized crime history, or just history in general, will have great time at the museum. The museum has several videos and plenty of interactive exhibits, but is much better suited for adults and older children as there is a lot of reading involved. Las Vegas is known as Sin City, so it’s only befitting that its history is deeply entwined with the Mob’s, and where better to learn about both then at the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, or better known as The Mob Museum.

Grand Canyon National Park

It’s that time of the year again where I’m declaring there will be double posting per month. I can’t seem to keep up with the double postings for long, but we’ll see how I do this time around. I’ve already been on several trips this year, during the Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, so I have a lot of material for the blog. Moving along with the West Coast adventures is…

Grand Canyon National Park, located in Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park is separated into the South Rim and the North Rim. The South Rim is open 24 hours a day year round whereas the North Rim is only open from May 15th to October 15th each year. Admission to Grand Canyon National Park is $15 per person or $30 per vehicle. The admission fee includes access to both the South Rim and the North Rim, and is valid for seven days. (The NPS has an annual pass for $80 that grants access to various NPS sites if you plan to visit a lot of parks for the year.) The South Rim has two visitor centers: Grand Canyon Visitor Center, which is open from 9am to 7pm, and Verkamp’s Visitor Center, open from 8am to 8pm. The North Rim Visitor Center is open from 8am to 6pm. The South Rim is accessible via car, bus, shuttle or railroad, whereas the North Rim can be reached by car or shuttle only. Regardless of which form of transportation, expect to take at least 1 hour to get to the park or more if you’re coming from further away. Grand Canyon National Park covers a lot of land, however it’s possible to visit a few of the lookout points in a couple hours, but it can take a couple of days to hike down the canyon and back.

The Grand Canyon is majestic; pictures don’t do it justice, you just have to go yourself to see it in all its glory. I wasn’t able to make it to the North Rim during my visit, so this post will cover only the South Rim. The South Rim is the more popular side of the Grand Canyon, receiving about 90% of the visitors to the national park. One of the highly recommended things to do at the canyon is to watch sunrise or sunset (or both). The lookout at Hopi Point provides a great view of sunset and isn’t extremely crowded as it’s further away from the visitor centers. Mather Point lookout is quite popular for viewing sunrise and sunset as it is close to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. (However, a part of the canyon blocks the view during sunrise. You might want to try Yaki Point that lies a bit further east, so it probably offers a better sunrise view, but since I woke up late, I couldn’t make it there in time.) Regardless of where you choose to go to view either, go early as the lookouts are often crowded. Also make sure to dress appropriately, as the temperatures vary widely between the day and night. The lookout points are located relatively close to each other, so it’s possible to walk from one to the next. However, if you don’t want to walk, there are three free shuttle bus routes that connect all the lookout points to one another. For those who aren’t experienced hikers, but want something easy with nice views of the canyon, do the Rim Trail, which is a mostly paved trail with slight inclines. The total distance of the Rim Trail is about 13 miles, however the trail has conveniently placed shuttle bus stops so that one can start and end where they like. I only covered the distance from Grand Canyon Visitor Center to the Grand Canyon Village, which took about 1.5 hours and is about 2 miles. For others who are more experienced, the park offers 4 other trails to explore. In addition to hiking, there are ranger lead programs that visitors can attend free of charge. One can also ride a mule into the canyon, but you have to book early as the mule rides get filled up quickly. (Early as in a year in advance; check the NPS website for more information.)

Grand Canyon National Park has two visitor centers where one can get more information about whatever activities they wish to do. One can view a short 20 minute movie, Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder , at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center in addition to seeing various exhibits containing historic artifacts pertaining to the canyon. At the Verkamp’s Visitor Center, there are exhibits about the history of Grand Canyon Village; what it was like to live and work at the canyon.

Yavapai Geology Museum is located within the national park, so there is no additional admission fee. The museum is open from 8am to 8pm, and is most easily accessible via the Rim Trail or the orange shuttle bus. The small two room museum contains exhibits that explain the rock layer deposits of the canyon and how the Grand Canyon was form. The museum has a topographic model of the Grand Canyon that includes both the North and South Rim to demonstrate the vastness of the canyon. In addition to the exhibits, the museum offers a great view looking out across the canyon. It took about 30 minutes to view everything at the museum thoroughly, so others may take a little less time if they aren’t particularly interested in the subject matter.

My travel buddy and I spent about 2 days at Grand Canyon, which is sufficient as we got to see sunrise and sunset, did a bit of walking on the Rim Trail, and visited the Visitor Centers and the museum. How long one will spend is very dependent on what they want to do there, so plan ahead, but I recommend staying for sunset if you can; the canyon is a lot prettier during that time. Admission to the national park is pretty inexpensive, since it allows access for 7 consecutive days. Most people will probably enjoy a visit to the Grand Canyon, as it’s not something you see every day, and it’s definitely something to see in person. The Grand Canyon is a good trip idea for families with older children as there’s a bit of walking involved and lots of non-enclosed space, so safety might be a concern for younger children. Dress in multiple layers and wear your comfiest shoes to wander in one of the world’s greatest wonders at Grand Canyon National Park.

Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay

My big trip in 2016 was to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. The Grand Canyon is one of those places that I’ve felt that I should see, and now I have, it was majestic. Las Vegas is a destination that a majority of people will visit at least once in their life, so why not. Let the western U.S. adventures begin…

Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, located in Las Vegas, Nevada

The Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay is open Sunday to Thursday from 10am to 8pm, Friday to Saturday from 10am to 10pm, and during the summer months, it’s open until 10pm daily. Admission to the aquarium is $20. The aquarium is accessible by car, public transportation or walking. The resort where the aquarium is housed does contain a parking lot, but I’m unsure if there are fees are not, as I didn’t drive around. The aquarium is easy to get to using public transportation, just take the Deuce or SDX buses to the Mandalay Bay stop. The Deuce or SDX buses are the two that visitors will become most familiar with when visiting Vegas as they are the two buses that travel along the Strip and to downtown Vegas. If you’re in Vegas and need to take public transportation, buy the 24-hour pass as it’s only $2 more than the 2-hour pass, and is valid for a full 24 hours. (There are other types of passes available, check the RTC website for more information.) Finally, walking to the aquarium is a possibility, but note that the blocks are actually more like really long avenues, walking just one block will take about 10 minutes. (I did some walking some days to save money, but if you plan really well, you can get by with the 24-hour pass.) Las Vegas has lots of fun things to do, so check out the various hotels and resorts to see what is interesting.

Shark Reef Aquarium is nestled within the resort, so it’s still a bit of walk inside, but there are plenty of signs to lead visitors to the correct place. The aquarium is on the small side, where the rooms are interconnected by hallways, so that all visitors take the same pathway to view the animals. The aquarium starts with what it designates as the “Jungle” area, where visitors can see a Golden Crocodile, a Komodo Dragon and Amazon Predators. The area is decorated rather lavishly with trees and even a statue (since this is Vegas, even there aquarium is a bit vibrant). Moving on is the “Temple” area, where the first of two underwater tunnels is located; this one highlights Indo-Pacific fishes, which include angelfish and sharks swimming all around and above (I’m a big fan of underwater tunnels, so this was a pleasant surprise). Exiting the underwater tunnel, visitors can  view sea jellies and an octopus. Also in the “Temple” area is a touch tank featuring horse crabs and stingrays. The last area is “Shipwreck” and highlights the aquarium’s namesake, sharks. There are actually two shark exhibits, one is a standard exhibit with the big window for viewing, and the other is the underwater tunnel where the sharks are swimming everywhere. (This one was popular when I visited, people were lingering in the tunnel. )

My usual travel companion and I spent only 30 minutes at the aquarium, but I think most visitors will need another 15-30 minutes to fully take in everything the aquarium has to offer (we had to move fast since we had a timed excursion after.) As always, the times are just suggestions, so others may take even less time or a lot more if they deem it necessary. As to the admission price, I’m not sure if it’s a fair price or not. On the one hand, there are plenty of exhibits (and underwater tunnels), and the aquarium is clean and well maintained. However, on the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be enough to see since I was able to go through it so fast, it makes me feel it wasn’t worth the price. Any who, shark enthusiasts should definitely take a visit since there’s plenty of sharks to see. Families with children may want to consider visiting as it’s something the kids can do in Vegas ( I don’t think they can be gambling in the casinos just yet.) When you need a break from all the gambling and entertainment that Vegas has to offer, take a visit to the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay to feel slightly closer to nature.

Independence National Historical Park

I took a trip this past Memorial Day weekend, so I’m loaded with more material, so I may switch back to posting twice a month in the coming months. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s finish with my last stop during my Philadelphia day trip from last August…

Independence National Historical Park, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Independence National Historical Park encompasses several street blocks, thus various buildings and facilities are considered as part of the park. The historical park is open daily from 9am to 5pm, but hours may vary for some of the buildings and facilities, thus it’s best to check the park’s website for hours of operation. Independence National Historical Park is easily accessible via car and public transportation. If you choose to drive, there are various parking lots nearby, but note that fees do apply. If you choose to take public transportation, take the SEPTA Market-Frankford Subway, the blue line, to 5th Street/Independence Hall Station, and walk about one block west to reach the Visitor Center or one block south to reach Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The historical park can be a short half day visit if you want to visit the must see sites only, but if you want to see everything, it can take several days, so there’s plenty to do. Should you wish to switch things up a bit, stop by the Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation to take a break from history and learn some chemistry.

As mentioned above, Independence National Historical Park includes a lot of sites, but I only managed the must sees during my visit, thus this post will cover only the following: Independence Square, Liberty Bell Center and Independence Visitor Center. Independence Square is comprised of Independence Hall, Congress Hall, Philosophical Hall and Old City Hall. To get into Independence Square, visitors are required to go through a security screening, but the line moves relatively quick. Independence Hall is open daily from 9am to 5pm, and to 7pm in the summer. Admission to Independence Hall is by tour only. Timed-entry tickets are required between March to November. Tickets are free and can be obtained at the Visitor Center on the day of the visit, or for a small fee tickets can be reserved in advance either online or by telephone. ( I didn’t want to pay a fee, so I just headed to the Visitor Center first thing and obtained tickets. Don’t get there too late, since they do have a limited amount of tickets per day.)  The tour starts in the East Wing of Independence Hall, where the ranger guide gives a 10 minute overview on the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence, followed by a 20 minute tour of the first floor of the Independence Hall, bringing the total tour time to 30 minutes.

The West Wing of Independence Hall contains the Great Essentials exhibit. Visitors can view original printed copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution. There is also an inkstand on display. (Please excuse the poor photos, my hands aren’t still enough for longer exposure times needed to take pictures in low light.)

Congress Hall is open from 9am to 5pm daily. Congress Hall is accessible only by tour, but there is no need to obtain tickets, as it’s on a first come first served basis, so just show up around the scheduled tour times. Tours last about 15 minutes and are scheduled for every 30 minutes. Congress Hall was home to the U.S. Congress from 1790 to 1800, when Philadelphia served as the temporary capital of the U.S. The building is two floors, the open space ground floor was where the House of Representatives met, and the U.S. Senate congregated on the second floor, which is comprised of several rooms.

Philosophical Hall houses the American Philosophical Society (APS) and its museum. The APS was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 to promote useful knowledge.  The APS museum is open between April to December, from Thursday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm. (Check their website for current hours and exhibits.)  The museum contains one exhibit that rotates on an annual basis that features the society’s collection of historical items and materials. The museum is on one floor of the building, spanning several rooms. When I visited, the exhibit on display was “Gathering Voices: Thomas Jefferson and Native America”, which lasted from April 15, 2016 to December 30, 2016. The exhibit highlighted Jefferson’s collection of Native American languages. I didn’t get a chance to visit the Old City Hall as I was running low on time and also I couldn’t find the entrance, so I decided to skip it and move onto the next destination.

The Liberty Bell is one of the most famous sites in Philadelphia. The bell can be seen in the Liberty Bell Center, which is very close to Independence Hall. The center is open from 9am to 5pm year round, to 7pm during the summer months. Admission is free.  Asides from viewing the Liberty Bell (which is a lot smaller than I expected), there are various exhibits highlighting the history of the Liberty Bell.

Last, but not least, is the Independence Visitor Center. I started here to get tickets for Independence Hall, but didn’t see the exhibits inside until the end. The visitor’s center contains a theater where visitors can enjoy films about the founding of the United States and the Revolutionary War. In addition, there’s an exhibit inside showcasing some prominent historical events and figures related to Philadelphia, such as the Underground Railroad and Benjamin Franklin.

Seeing all of the above took me about 2.5 hours total, including travel time to each place, and waiting for tours to begin and in lines . The majority of the time was spent with the guided tours as the time was predetermined; in the self-guided areas, I spent significantly less time, not more than 20 minutes in each area, and looking back now I don’t feel it was an adequate amount of time for some of the sites. Thus other visitors will most likely need more time to see all of the above, but the minimum time to spend is 2.5 hours (however, you may spend less time too, if you read and move faster). Everything at Independence National Historical Park is free, thus it’s a good place to bring your friends and family as there’s enough to do that everyone will find something interesting. People who enjoy history will definitely have a field day as every where they turn, a piece of history is staring back. So put on your good walking shoes and learn about the founding of the United States at Independence National Historical Park.

Benjamin Franklin Museum

The weather is getting warmer and the summer is coming soon, I hope to see more places this year, but we’ll see how that goes. Any who, continuing on with my previous adventures in Philly…

Benjamin Franklin Museum, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Benjamin Franklin Museum is open 7 days a week, from 9am to 5pm. Admission to the museum is $5. The museum is part of Franklin Court, which was Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia residence from 1763 until his death. Franklin Court contains the “Fragments of Franklin Court” exhibit, a Printing Office and the courtyard, which all are accessible to visitors. (My one-tracked mind latched onto to the museum as the main event, so I was unaware about the additional exhibit and the printing office. I suppose they are also part of the reason as to the small crowds when I visited.) The museum is accessible by car and public transportation. There is no onsite parking for those who intend to drive, but there are various parking lots within a mile of the museum. For those who wish to use public transportation, take the SEPTA Market-Frankford Subway, the blue line, to the 2nd Street station or 5th Street Station (they’re about equidistant from the museum) and then walk a few blocks to reach the museum. Visitors can see the other attractions at Franklin Court if they have time, or walk a little further to visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. If it’s too much history for one day, then stroll around the corner to the museum at Chemical Heritage Foundation (which I highly enjoyed).

The Benjamin Franklin Museum is located underground, beneath Franklin Court. The museum is one floor and contains five exhibits exploring the different aspects of Franklin’s life. Right at the start of the museum, visitors can find Skugg the squirrel, who is a sort of scavenger type-like guide for visitors; he can be found sporadically throughout the museum, pointing out fun tidbits. The first exhibit is “Ardent and Dutiful”, which focuses on Franklin’s personal life. Visitors can learn about his family, his friends, his hobbies and even his household expenses. Franklin suffered from gout, due to excessive eating of red meat and drinking wine, hence he wrote a story about a conversation he would have with his personified gout; visitors can view a clip of the story at this exhibit.

The next exhibit is “Ambitious and Rebellious”, which focuses on Franklin’s life as a printer. Franklin bought the Pennsylvania Gazette, oftentimes contributing pieces to the newspaper under various alias, and made it one of the most successful newspapers during his time. The exhibit contains some of the tools that are needed for printing. Following is “Motivated to Improve”. This exhibit highlights various inventions and ideas that came about because of Franklin, such as bifocals, the “Franklin Stove”, universities, lending libraries and home deliveries by the postal system.

Most people have heard the story of Franklin flying a kite with a key during a thunderstorm, thereby discovering electricity. “Curious and Full of Wonder” focuses  on his other experiments with electricity and science, in general. The last exhibit is “Strategic and Persuasive”, which showcases Franklin’s time as a diplomat. Included in the exhibit is the “Join or Die” cartoon used to encourage the American colonies to unite against British rule. The museum ends with a small segment on Franklin’s efforts to write an autobiography that he never finished.

My travel buddy and I spent about 45 minutes at the museum, but the timing will vary from person to person. Admission to the museum is reasonable for the amount of material that is on display. Adults and children will both enjoy a visit as there is enough information to keep the adults busy and equally as much for children to touch and interact with, thus it’s a good place to bring the whole family for a visit. If you’re visiting Philadelphia, it is only appropriate to take some time to learn about Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and “The First American”, and a great place to start is at the Benjamin Franklin Museum.

Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation

 Life’s been a bit hectic lately, so I’ve been busy attending to it, and neglecting this a bit, but now I’m back… Considering that I’ve lived in NYC all my life, and that Philadelphia is only 2 hours away, it’s a pity that I’ve never been there until last summer when I took a spontaneous trip to Philadelphia. Philly has so many things that I want to see, but on the top of my list is one that is less well-known…

Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

img_6660

The Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm; on the first Friday of the month, from March to December, the museum is open from 10am to 8pm. (I think they’ve changed the hours since I went as I distinctly remember them not being on open on the weekend, which is why I went on a Friday.) Admission to the museum is free, but they  have a suggested donation of $5. The museum is accessible by both car and public transportation. Should you decide to drive, which you may have to if you’re coming from out of state, note that the museum doesn’t have onsite parking, but there are plenty of parking garages within a mile. Public transportation to the museum is pretty simple if you are already in Philly: take the SEPTA Market-Frankford Subway, the blue line, to the 2nd Street station and then walk a few blocks to reach the museum. There are plenty of other things to do around the area, such as the Benjamin Franklin Museum, which is right by the museum, and if you walk a little further, you’ll be at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

img_6594img_6595img_6596 img_6597img_6598img_6600 img_6603img_6604img_6605

The Chemical Heritage Foundation is an institution that promotes and preserves the understanding of the history of science; it consists of a library, museum, archive, research center and conference center. The Museum at CHF is a rather small museum within the Foundation, but is comprised of 4 exhibits, 3 of which are permanent and 1 is a rotating exhibit. The main exhibit “Making Modernity” provides an overview of how chemistry is part of everyday life. “Making Modernity” is broken into 11 different sections that focus on different aspects of chemistry. The first section is  about the origins of chemistry and what people considered as chemistry. The next section is “Materials for the Masses”, which shows the contributions chemistry has made to society, such as synthetic fibers and plastics. “Tools for the Task” focuses on the tools used in chemistry, such as beakers, balances and other specialized glassware.

img_6609img_6607img_6610 img_6612img_6614img_6615 img_6617img_6618img_6619 img_6620img_6621img_6622

The largest section is “Empowering Technologies”, which focuses on how chemistry helped overcome the limits of time, space and speed through the developments of batteries, light bulbs and computer chips, respectively. There are 4 smaller sections in the middle of the room that highlight the more sophisticated tools, such as microscopes, spectrometers and various types of chemical detectors. Also in the middle of the room is a video column that has an interactive panel and a video on the periodic table.

On the second floor are the last two sections of the exhibit, “Becoming a Chemist” and “Chemists and the Wider World”. “Becoming a Chemist” contains a variety of notes and books related to the field. The section also contains some games and lab kits that were available to children. “Chemists and the Wider World” focuses on how chemistry is portrayed in the arts, how chemistry became a more unified field with the introduction of chemical symbols so that all scientists know that C stands for carbon or O for oxygen, how chemistry has impacted the world-both the good and the bad, and how chemistry continues to evolve.

The rotating exhibit that was on display when I visited was “Science at Play”, which was on view from October 2015 to September 2016. The exhibit highlighted the various toys and kits that came about to encourage kids to explore science. Chemistry kits and miniature laboratories came about in the early 1900s and became mass produced consumer goods. Early kits predominantly featured boys on the covers, but as more females became involved in the sciences, girls started appearing on the covers, too. The exhibit also contains other toys that came about due to science, such as the View-Master (I had one way back when, I adored the thing.)

The museum has two other exhibits,  “Transmutation: Alchemy in Art” and “The Whole of Nature and the Mirror of Art”. Unfortunately, I missed these two exhibits as they aren’t directly connected to the main exhibit, so I didn’t even know there is more to see. (If you decide to visit, remember to look out for these two, they are elusive.)

My travel buddy and I spent about an hour at the museum, but as always others can spend more or less time depending on their interest levels. (My buddy took about half the time that I did, so the time allotted is just an estimate.) Admission to the museum is free, so it’s a great place to drop by, take a look and learn a little chemistry. The museum is more suitable for adults and older children as there is plenty of reading involved, and the museum isn’t really interactive so it may not keep younger kids interested for long. When people think of chemistry, they think of a laboratory with flames and boiling liquid, but that’s not all it is,  just visit the Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation and find out how chemistry is actually a part of the everyday.