Stumped For A Gift? Visit a Museum

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are one or two months away and if you are lucky enough to still have your mother and/or father around now is as good a time as any to think about what to get them. Rather than just picking up something at the last minute from the local drugstore you might want to try to find something a little more creative and relevant for your loved ones. I am reminded of this after visiting the Gift Shop at Leu Gardens last weekend.  The place is jammed packed (literally – it’s hard to move around too quickly in there) with all kinds of “gifty” things for your favorite gardener. From accessories to books the variety of items on offer was quite diverse and the store offers gift certificates if you can’t make a decision.

Of course, I bring this up because I love museum stores and I’ve recently visited a few interesting ones. Sometimes the merchandise can be pretty pricey but many have a wide range of items that are truly unique to the region or focused on a particular interest. I’ve purchased coasters from the Dali Museum in St Petersburg, Florida, a decorative ceramic tile from the Museum of Fine Arts store in Boston and jewelry from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

In New Orleans, we visited the Museum Store at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) and I was sorely tempted to buy a new scarf. I decided against it because I already have quite a collection of scarves. However, my friend did find some beautiful garden tags to label her herb garden. The brightly lit store has a significant children’s section with books, games and toys.

Many of these stores offer discounts to members which can be a reason to join if you love the merchandise enough to buy a significant amount of items over time. And, in some cases you don’t have to go into the Museum itself (either via the online store or via a separate entrance to the store on site) to visit the store, thus eliminating the admission to some places. 

So what follows is a list of some of my favorite museum stores.

The Dali Museum, St Petersburg, Florida. Huge store with Dali prints and Dali images reconstituted into all kinds of merchandise.

The Harry P. Leu Garden and Museum Store, Orlando, Florida. Small store crammed with decorative garden items and books.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Unique jewelry items. Art prints including limited editions, books, toys, clothing and accessories.

The Morse Museum, Winter Park, Florida. Tiffany Lamp reproductions and stained glass items. Stationery, apparel and accessories.

The Art Institute of Chicago. Beautiful prints and books. Unique jewelry items as well.

The Smithsonian, all the museums of this institution have a store but these, located in Washington DC stand out in my opinion.

World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta, Georgia. Okay this place is a living commercial for Coca-Cola products but I’m a Diet Coke fiend so if you love Coke memorabilia this is the place to go crazy.

Shanghai Museum of Art.  You won’t necessarily find any bargains here but what you find is genuine merchandise without the typical haggling and harassment you will find as a tourist in Shanghai.  A peaceful place to shop for quality items.

This is just a small sampling of what’s out there. Do you have a favorite Museum Store?

Priscilla Emery, one half of the Travel2some


The Other Orlando: Harry P. Leu Garden

Every now and then we like to highlight an area of the Orlando, Florida region that is not related to the amusements and attractions area, such as Disney and Universal. We have many friends that have been there and done that and are looking for a different vibe. The Harry P. Leu Gardens are a great place to not only look at foliage indigenous to the central Florida area but the Leu House provides a window into early Florida life. We finally visited this place yesterday after driving past it for the past 10 years and always saying, “we should visit this place one day.” With ideal spring weather we finally took the time to check this place out and we both agree that it is a gem.

The gardens are nicely laid out and provide a nice variety of focus areas for particular interests. I found the Vegetable Garden and Herb Garden to be particularly interesting since I’ve had some challenges with successfully growing anything edible in this hot Florida climate. I didn’t see tomatoes but I did see pole beans, cabbage, peppers and sugar cane. The herb garden had basil, culantro, cilantro, rosemary, lavender, and several varieties of mint. These weren’t farm size areas but the kind of size plot one would put together in a larger backyard. And if you are new to Florida and need a sense of what “works” and what doesn’t in this climate, this is a great place to get some ideas.

The Butterfly Garden wasn’t loaded with butterflies when we visited but was nicely laid out and was a nice place to sit while taking in the colorful early blooms of Spring. The White Garden seemed a little wilted in areas but the overall effect was nice. The Citrus Grove gave us a chance to see a variety of limes, lemons, grapefruits and oranges up close and it was good to see that the ripened fruit is donated to local food banks. If you like camellias this is the place to visit since it has the largest collection of camellias in the southeast. Leu Garden is also a popular location for weddings and we observed members of wedding parties wandering the park looking for the wedding party preparation area.

The present Leu House and Museum located on the grounds was built in 1888 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours of the house are given every half hour and they end at 3:30pm (the gardens close at 5) and they get more crowded as the day progresses. The museum tour is included in the price of the $10 admission to the Garden. The house is generally staged to look like it did in the 1920s with some of the original furnishings and photos included in the mix. Overall it was a nice way to break up our walk through the Garden.

We ended with a walk to the Wyckoff Overlook , a deck overlooking Lake Rowena. It was nice to observe turtles chasing each other in the water. I suppose that at times there are alligators in the area but there weren’t any at this time. May is alligator mating season so they should be more visible at that time. I’m looking forward to our next visit at another time of the year when different flowers and roses will be in bloom but I think I’ll avoid the alligators.

Priscilla, one half of the Travel2some


Butterfly Garden


Leu House


Vegetable Garden

China Trip Day Five: Suzhou

We arrived to a very rainy Shanghai late in the evening and were met by a research assistant that works with Art’s sister. “Alice” welcomed us with a great beautiful smile and extra umbrellas. Having her meet us at the airport was a godsend since she knew exactly where we would be staying and could tell the driver where to go. Unfortunately, they did get into an argument at the end of the trip because she felt he took us the long way to get there. It took us a while to figure out what they were arguing about but it all got resolved in the end. We would be staying for the next 8 days of the trip at graduate student housing on the campus of East China University of Science and Technology. I will describe the accommodations in another post but staying there was an adventure itself.

Art and I arrived exhausted, wet and knowing that we had to get up early the next morning to take a day trip to Suzhou, known as the Venice of the East. So we quickly unpacked and went to bed. We are not normally early risers so we knew just waking up refreshed would be a challenge.

We set out early in the morning to meet our “guide” for the day. “Walter” is a professor of History at another university in Shanghai and the husband of one of the senior administrators at the University we were staying at for the week. He volunteered to take us around Suzhou for the day (us being Art, myself, Susan – Art’s sister and Larry, her husband). Walter was a gracious and patient host and met us down the block from where we were staying. It was rush hour on a Monday in Shanghai and the area was buzzing with traffic and people setting about their workday. Because there were too many of us to fit in a cab we were each given a Shanghai transportation system SmartCard (these turned out to be extremely useful for the rest of the stay in Shanghai) so we could easily board the local bus to the train station. The bus was packed and we got off with just about everyone else to go to the train (or really subway). We then rode the relatively new subway system to our final destination, one of the Shanghai railway stations located in different parts of the city. We realized that the station you use depends largely on where you are going and the type of train you are using. We would be taking a fairly “mature” train to Suzhou, which would be about a 45-minute ride away.

Our small group arrived to a rainy Suzhou and were beset by many people offering tours and taxis. Walter did an excellent job of fending off a lot of people and honing in on someone who could meet our needs for the day at the right price. We ended up with a van driver who shuttled the five of us around to the different sites that were planned for the day. But first we all really needed to stop and eat breakfast – shrimp noodle soup. Not the typical breakfast fare from our standpoint but it did the trick and was delicious.

Entrance to Bao'en Temple

Suzhou was considered one of Marco Polo’s favorite stops in his travels through China and the silk markets here are famous for their quality and variety. We saw plenty of shops offering silk items as we were driving around the city but today we would be focused more on the historical aspects of the city rather than shopping.

Our first stop was Beisi Pagoda located at Bao’en Temple. We were greeted by a huge Buddha and even though it was raining we could observe the majesty of the 9-story Pagoda before us. The current design of the pagoda structure was made between the years 1131 and 1162, during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). We spent about an hour walking in and around the pagoda and then moved on our next stop.

Beisi Pagoda

We piled into the van and headed to the main canal or river. Given this was a rainy day, we didn’t have too much competition for getting a boat to take us around. We were sheltered from the rain from within the cabin but got to view the back alleys and architecture of Suzhou from the canal. It was a fairly short ride about a half hour but it was worth seeing some of the old buildings and neighborhoods from a different vantage point.

View from canal

After the canal boat ride it was time for lunch. We, unfortunately, did not get the name of the place that we stopped but it turned out to be an excellent pick on Walter’s part. We shared quite a few dishes including rice, fish and pigeon. It was all delicious.

After piling into the van again fully stuffed from lunch (could be one of the reasons I gained 5 pounds on this trip) we headed to the Hanshan Temple or literally “Cold Mountain Temple.” Walter explained that this site was considered a must see on a Chinese person’s itinerary. He didn’t really elaborate on this but according to Wikipedia, Hanshan Temple is famous because of the poem “A Night Mooring by Maple Bridge” by Tang Dynasty poet, Zhang Ji. The poem describes the melancholy scene of a dejected traveller, moored at night at Fengqiao, hearing the bells of Hanshan Temple. This place was filled with many different people and beautiful statues. The smell of incense burning was strong in the damp air and this place was far more lush and colorful than our first stop.

Hanshan Temple

Offerings at Hanshan Temple

This splendid stop was followed by the piece de resistance of the trip. The Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuozheng Yuan) is listed in the book, “1000 Places to See Before You Die,” is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and it was definitely worth the trip. Photos could not do the place justice. The winding pathways all provided unique and beautiful views of flowers, pools of water and sculpture that were all meant to please the eye. The rain started to subside at that point as well so we could walk around without the need of an umbrella for an unimpeded view of the place.

Humble Administrator's Garden

This was our last, and best, stop for the day and we headed back via train to a different train station in Shanghai – one located closer to where we were staying.
We ended the day with another unique experience. Walter treated us to a wonderful buffet at a vegetarian restaurant – Jen Dow Vegetarian. This was not your typical buffet venue. The place was decorated very elegantly and had lots of variety and creativity – even for a non-vegetarian like myself. But, the general consensus was that the ersatz sushi was decidedly too chewy and tough. Everything else was great and most especially the desserts.
Walter had provided us with a wonderful introduction to a different side of China, where we got to see temples, gardens and restaurants we may not have been able to easily see on our own or through the lens of a rehearsed tour guide.
Now back to our accommodations, which would be our home away from home for the rest of the week.

China Trip Day Three – The Forbidden City

My knee was still smarting from the previous night’s fall (in fact it continued to hurt for several weeks after) but we were here to explore China so as long as we had Advil and I could still stand up we got up early to seek out the Forbidden City.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site (the third we would visit in two days) was within walking distance and since it was a beautiful, clear sunny day we had plenty of company.  The sidewalks were wide yet quite crowded. This was also a Saturday so the area was filled with both foreign and Chinese tourists.

On our walk we were “joined” by a young man professing to be an art student who could take us to an art studio where we could buy original art.  We had heard about this scam so we politely said, “No thanks.”  He persisted at which point we just ignored him and kept walking and he moved on.

We could see Tiananmen Square across the street from the entrance to the Forbidden City but we decided to forego visiting the Square. The line to pay our entrance fee was long and it took us about a half hour to get our tickets.  There were lots of tour groups representing many nationalities queued up to enter the gateway to the City.

We were impressed with this walled city within a city and there seemed to be an unending series of gates to palaces and rooms.

One of the many views within the Forbidden City

  Getting the opportunity to see the inside of these buildings could be a challenge. Chinese don’t queue – they crowd. You have to push your way to the front of the crowd to get a glimpse of thrones and opulent seating areas – a pickpocket’s dream location from what I could see.

We purchased a map to navigate the site and even with that in hand it was sometimes confusing to figure out exactly where we were located.  This was a huge complex with beautiful artifacts that once housed the emperor and his wives, concubines and children.  The complex also housed gifts that were given to the Emperor by foreign kings and political powers, obviously to gain favor with the Emperor.  Some of these were housed in separate exhibits.  One of the exhibits is the Clock and Watch exhibit.  A separate admission is charged for this area but it was well worth the price which was relatively cheap.  The huge and ornate clocks were impressive even if the way they are presented is less so.  Lots of fingerprints on glass cases that don’t look like they have been cleaned in quite a while.  Dimly lit displays are explainable because the artifacts may be sensitive to light but the overall rooms are drab and dark.

Hall of Clocks

You can eat a small lunch within the Forbidden City where there are snacks shops and a small cafe.  We shared an outside table with a British  couple who now live in France.  They were touring on their own as well and had started their journey from the other side of the City making their way to the area we had just covered.  It was nice to share our experiences with other people and rest our feet (and my knee) at the same time.  The Beef Noodle dish I ate was formidable and very tasty.  Lots of cilantro – one of my favorite herbs. 

Pagoda in Jingshan Park

We continued on and paid for a few more special exhibits and ended our tour of about 6 hours with a beautiful view of a pagoda from Jingshan Park.  The sight was impressive.  Of course, once outside the walls of the Forbidden City we were besieged by crowds of merchants and beggars.  We had to laugh when one pair of panhandlers tried to have us take pity on what was supposed to be one of the pair’s handicapped leg.  We walked faster and picked up the pace and it got to the point where they were literally running faster than we could walk.  I was in worse shape than they were.  It is obvious these kinds of people gravitate to the entrances and exits of tourist areas because the rest of our walk back to the hotel on the back streets of the area was much quieter. 
We passed interesting shops and local restaurants and watched a lot of less than safe road traffic whiz by us.  Children standing up while riding in front of mothers on motor scooters.  Bicycles with LOTS of merchandise strapped to the back.   We really enjoyed the walk back to our hotel on this warm and pleasant day.
But the day was not over and we were going to do a lot more walking as the evening ended.  But that’s a subject for the next post.

Orange County Regional History Museum – well worth the trip.

Ted Bundy's Name carved into Defendant's Table

The Orange County Regional History Center is a fascinating museum right in the heart of downtown Orlando.  A trip up the elevator to the 4th floor brings one back to the very early days of Florida. Tattooed, pierced and adorned with shells the Timucuan Indians were the first the Europeans  came in contact with.  Today one can find Floridians who are tattooed, pierced and adorned with shells. Sometimes it seems as much as things change they stay the same. 

 The 4th floor has interesting exhibits on the First Peoples, the European First Contact, Florida Seminoles, Pioneers, and Citrus and Cattle industries.  I learned some interesting facts. That no spot in Florida is more than 60 miles from the Gulf of  Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. That many of Florida’s 7,800 lakes are water filled sinkholes such as Lake Eola, Lake Apopka and Lake Conway. And to reduce the mosquito population, hang a dry hallowed gourd to attract mosquito eating Purple Martin birds. Who knew that late 19th century Kissimmee had the Country’s first “Ride-Up” drive through saloon where thirsty cowmen didn’t even have to dismount their horses to buy a drink.

The third floor includes Orange County’s old courtroom (the museum is housed in what was the old court-house).  It was educational to see the old style courthouse and see Ted Bundy’s name scratched into the defense table.  On this floor there is a transportation section with old train and steamboat exhibits, tourism before Disney, Central Florida through the wars, then Aviation and finally Disney: The Day We Changed. 

The second floor had a Road To Modern Orlando Timeline, an extensive African-American Heritage section, and houses the special exhibits gallery and changing exhibits gallery. There were “old school” video games. Pinball machines, Pac -Man and others that were enjoyed by all.  Exhibits on Jack Kerouac the famous writer and poet, Orlando Magic, Military, Disney and Tourism.

The museum is easy to reach, right off the I-4 highway, and parking is available in a public parking garage a block away and across the street from the Orlando Public Library. The museum is open Monday – Saturday, 10am -5 pm. and Sunday, noon to 5pm. Admission is $9.00 , seniors (60+), AAA, military and students $7.00, $6.00 for ages 5-12, and free ages 4 and under.  It is well worth the trip and all ages will enjoy it.

Art (one half of Travel2some)

Museum of Seminole County History

Lunch time at jury duty found me visiting the  Seminole County Museum that was close by to the Seminole County Courthouse.  I entered with low expectations and was pleased to see that the museum was very interesting. Packed in this small museum are  historical photos, artifacts, maps, documents and exhibits of early Central Florida. The St John’s River was the gateway to Central Florida from the Atlantic Ocean.  Included were exhibits on Native American artifacts, railroads, steamships, early settlements, agriculture and other industries and decorative arts.
The museum is at 300 Bush Blvd Sanford FL ( US 17-92 ) and is open   Tuesday – Friday  from 1pm-5pm  and Saturday  from 9am – 1pm.
Admission is only $3.00 and $1.00 for children 4-18 and students.
Art ( one half of  Travel2some)