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

China Trip Day Six: Shanghai and the Bund

It was a Tuesday and the plan was to visit the Bund area of Shanghai. There would be 5 of us on this outing, myself, Art, Art’s sister and brother-in-law, Susan and Larry and Susan’s assistant, Alice, a student at the college. Alice, was the person who met us at the airport a couple of days before and she would be helping us navigate the Shanghai public transportation system into the heart of Shanghai’s bustling shopping and tourist areas. This is no small feat since she isn’t originally from Shanghai. It’s like asking someone who just moved from a small town in Virginia to guide people through the New York City subway system. What she did have was the ability to read and write Chinese and at least ask for directions easily and her help proved to be invaluable to us.

But first, we would all stop for breakfast at the college cafeteria. We really needed Alice’s help here since all the cooking stations listed offerings in Chinese. There were eggs in several different varieties but I’m not really an egg eater so my choices were a little limited. I also stayed away from congee (a sort of porridge) mainly because I don’t like creamy cereals either. I ended up with meat dumplings. Not the normal breakfast fare from my standpoint but very tasty and satisfying.

Then it was off to The Bund via bus and then the subway leaving from the South Shanghai Railway Station. We emerged at East Nanking Road in what is a very busy pedestrian shopping area. This is where you will be beset upon by everyone who thinks you want to buy a knockoff Rolex or other “designer” item.  Designer isn’t really in my vocabulary from a shopping standpoint so it’s really easy for me to ignore this stuff. And, as I’ve mentioned before, when responding in Spanish most hawkers turn the other way.

We met up with another friend, “Tina,” who happened to be back in China visiting her parents. We had met Tina over the previous Christmas holidays while she was visiting Florida with another Chinese student and already had a dinner invitation from her parents for later in the week. It was wonderful to see a familiar face. We all walked the 2 blocks to the Huangpu River and knew this was the place to be on a beautiful sunny day.

Art and myself on the Bund

The Huangpu River cuts through Shanghai and we were on the Bund, the older historic side of the river with old stately buildings and a wide riverside promenade for admiring the new modern high rise buildings across the river. After walking up and down the promenade and using our Frommer’s Guide book to help us identify the buildings on the Bund we stopped at a local restaurant.

This place was definitely geared to tourists but the place was inviting and the food was quite good. The group then split up and it was just Tina, Art and myself who set out via subway to find Yuyuan Gardens in the old section of downtown Shanghai. We got a little turned around when we got off the subway and so it took us a lot more time than we expected to get to our destination. Since the line was long and the area was very crowded we decided to try to see the gardens another time and instead again followed our Frommer’s guide to take a walking tour of old City Shanghai.

Shanghai Pudong District at Night

The walking tour in the book helped to guide us through the very busy Yuyuan Bazaar  market area and then on to some interesting local streets. We ended our personal tour at the old city wall near a temple. Even Tina was impressed by how detailed and accurate the tour book was and even though she’s from the area we went through places she had never been to before.

By this time we were all tired and hungry so we took a quick cab ride back to East Nanking Road and walked to a restaurant in the area that Tina was familiar with.  I can’t remember the name of the place but it was located across the street from the Nanking Hotel on Shanxi South Road and you had to step down to get to the entrance.  This turned out to be at real find. We had a wonderful dinner of fish, shrimp, and different vegetable dishes.  Art fell in love with the unique tea that was served and the service was excellent in a relatively casual atmosphere.

Then we walked back to the waterfront to see the Bund at night. The Shanghainese’ creative use of new lighting techniques to make all their buildings attractive at night was breathtaking. Lots of people on the Promenade made this the place to hang out and not just take in the vibrant light show but the people watching is just great.  We found it amusing that many of the young women literally pose for pictures.  Candid shots were not the order of the day for many young women. 

Our overall first impression of Shanghai was that it is a more cosmopolitan city then the more rigid Beijing (being a more government-oriented city versus Shanghai’s business emphasis) and it was reflected in the dress styles of the local young people – more hip and edgy than in Beijing.  We ended the evening by seeing Tina off to the subway (she insisted she would be safe) and us taking a cab back to our dorm (with instructions for the cab driver written by Alice earlier in the day).  We had a great day touring Shanghai but, alas, we had to get to bed early because we were heading for another out-of-town trip early the next morning.

Priscilla

China Trip: Accomodations in Shanghai

Staying in Shanghai provided us with the opportunity to stay in relatively cheap International student housing at the East China University of Science and Technology. This had both good points and not so great consequences but I think the experience was well worth some of the inconvenience.

We stayed at the Chenyuan International Students Building located in the Xuhui district of the city. We picked this place because Art’s sister was teaching at the University during that time and it would make it easier for all of us to get together to tour the city. And, the price was right. We paid about $172 USD for a stay of 8 nights. Of course, this wasn’t a standard hotel accommodation and a far cry from the Beijing Hilton but we were prepared for that.

First, the beds. We ended up with 2 twin-sized beds (Art’s sister had a unit right above us with a full-sized bed) and the bed was extremely hard. Most Chinese are used to sleeping on hard beds but I was not. No amount of adjustment could get me comfortable on the bed, so after 2 nights of rough sleep I moved out to the living area and slept on the leather sofa. After that I was fine.

We had plenty of closet space and we had a separate living area with leather seating. The room had a small refrigerator which came in handy for storing Diet Cokes and waters. It also had a small TV with one English-speaking channel. The place was definitely need of some repair. There was a serious hole in one of the hall closets and the bathroom definitely was a little grungy. We came prepared with our own towels since the towels supplied are more like dish towels than bath towels and bottled water is used for toothbrushing since drinking tap water anywhere in China is not recommended.

We had two full-sized desks in the bedroom and Internet access so that was convenient. The building had no air conditioning and though it was a little warm on a few nights the open windows helped. However, this place is located in an active neighborhood and people are up early so the noise would wake up us early. Which leads us to the upside. We may not have been right around the corner from the tourist attractions but we did get to see a more typical Shanghai neighborhood, with its food stores, restaurants and other activities. It was near public transportation so we were never stranded and taxis were available to hail about 2 blocks away.

Doing our laundry is a separate story in itself but in doing that we got to meet some international students from France and the Ukraine. All very interesting.

Staying at this location may not have been a deluxe experience but it was well worth it from our standpoint. It made our China experience richer and more authentic than the typical tourist and put us in the middle of a neighborhood we never would have seen had we stayed at a tourist hotel.