So many bad MAD jokes that I don’t even where to start. MAD Museum (also known as the Museum of Arts and Design) in New York City is a small and quirky museum located on the west side of Manhattan. After a morning spent wandering around the area, my children and I stopped by MAD to check out the Judith Leiber exhibit featuring dozens of her bejewelled evening bags and minaudieres.
An exhibit of Judith Leiber bags at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City
Judith Leiber is the name to know in celebrity evening bags. She has a colorful international history herself. Born to a wealthy Jewish Hungarian family, she studied at Kings College London, worked at a prestigious Hungarian handbag company, survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary during World War II and married an American soldier.
After the war, the couple moved to New York. Judith first worked with a New York handbag designer but then started her own company in 1963. Of course, it was only natural that MAD would highlight this hometown immigrant hero of the decorative arts with a special exhibition.
The Museum of Arts and Design
If you are in Columbus Circle, you really can’t miss the 10 story gleaming Museum of Arts and Design. The building shimmers like a vertical lake thanks to a $90 million tile and glass facelift to the modernist building that was previously at the location.
The Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle
Whats On at MAD Museum
Although the museum was founded in 1958, the MAD Museum only got its swanky new digs in 2008. The museum had acquired thousands of pieces of art, craft and design from the 1950’s onwards.
Yet, only 10% of the museum’s permanent collection is on display at any given time. The other floors are devoted to assorted things like artists’ spaces, an auditorium, and an education centre.
Bookending the building, on the bottom floor there is a very cool gift store and on the top floor, Robert the restaurant has great views of Central Park. I couldn’t visit Robert the Restaurant without thinking of Robert The Doll.
One of the many beautiful craft and design items available for purchase at the gift store.
Special Exhibits at MAD Museum
So whether you enjoy this museum really is dependent on what the special exhibitions on display happen to be at the time of your visit.
For example, the Judith Leiber exhibit showcasing her crystal-encrusted evening bags was beautiful and interesting to both my daughter and myself. My son’s eyes glassed over like he was contemplating throwing himself into Columbus Circle traffic as a more appealing alternative. Each of the floors though are small and so we were able to finish ogling over the gorgeous Leiber handbags before he got too desperate.
The MAD Museum in New York City put on an exhibit of Judith Leiber handbags.
Previous temporary exhibits have been Crochet Coral Reef (a crochet project with yarn and garbage that highlights marine life issues); Richard Estes: Painting New York City (photorealism); and fashion After Fashion (an exhibit on the end of times for the fashion industry). So, as you can tell, it’s a mixed bag catering to many different interests.
The Judith Leiber Exhibition
We went to the Judith Leiber exhibition on her evening bags which was fantastic!!! Well, for my daughter and me. My son’s reaction was less enthusiastic. He does not appreciate the beauty of jewel-like evening bags.
Judith Leiber Bags
Judith Leiber is a firm celebrity favourite for evening bags. These little bags can run into thousands of dollars and have achieved collector-status similar to Faberge eggs. There’s a lady in New Orleans who has almost 300 Lieber bags.
A Mondrian inspired Judith Leiber handbag
Leiber became a household name when she designed the handbag carried by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower at President Eisenhower’s inauguration ball. Leiber has since made evening bags for several first ladies, including a minaudière of Socks the White House Cat for Hilary Clinton.
Judith Leiber has designed thousands of bags for her celebrity clients.
If you want to read more about Judith Leiber, Jeffrey Susan has written her biography, No Mere Bagatelles.
I loved that MAD gave an introduction that explained the rise of handbags as a fashion accessory to my accessory-and-sparkle-mad daughter.
Until the 18th century, women had pockets in their outfits that they could carry stuff. Imagine all the stuff that you could stick inside one of those Elizabethan skirts. With the rise of a more streamlined silhouette for women’s clothes, women started carrying a reticule (a pouch on a cord).
Women, of course, had to carry a lot of stuff for themselves (lipstick, money etc) as well as stuff in their role as caretakers. As a mother, I often felt like a packhorse with my ginormous diaper bag with essentials for two babies.
Even now, I am the one who carries the water bottles, the band-aids, hand sanitiser and everything else the kids need. Their pockets are reserved for important junk they pick up along the way, like interesting sticks and stones.
Judith Leiber’s Creations As Decorative Art
Judith Leiber’s creations are truly a cross between art and accessory – similar to many of the items we saw at the Swarovski museum in Austria. You can see why many Leiber pieces have become collector’s items.
The designer is most famous for her minaudieres (metal evening bags encrusted with jewels and precious metals) which she started making in 1967. The minaudière started off as a way for her to repair a damaged handbag but then came into a life of their own.
Judith Leiber like to use animal motifs in her work.
Judith Leiber has designed more than 3500 bags, all of them handcrafted and unique over her 35+ years designing under her own name. Judith designed her last bag, The Peacock, in 2004.
The Peacock was Judith Leiber’s last design.
Visiting MAD Museum
The Museum of Arts and Design is a small but cool museum. You’d be MAD to miss it. Sorry, couldn’t resist. It’s right near Columbus Circle, the shops at Coumbus Circle and the 57th west entrance to Central Park.
Definitely check out future exhibits at MAD before you visit to make sure that you want to see what’s on. The entrance price of $16 for adults is pretty steep if you don’t like the rotating exhibits. Luckily, children 18 years and under are free. MAD is also free for everyone on Thursday nights.
MAD is located at 2 Columbus Circle. Like many museums in New York City, MAD is closed on Mondays.
Where To Stay
We have stayed near the Mad Museum at The Hudson Hotel, a charming boutique hotel just behind Columbus Circle. The subway at Columbus Circle is a major hub so there are many transportation options available.
Nearby we have stayed at Row NYC which is closer to Times Square. It’s small but great location. The Westin New York is also closer to Times Square and has larger rooms. If you are looking for suite apartments, we can recommend the newly renovated The Benjamin which is a short walk across to the East Side.
If you chose not to eat at Robert, we recommend eating at Landmarc, a French and Italian bistro by Chef Marc Murphy at the Time Warner Center next door. My kids were thrilled that there was cotton candy as a dessert option at Landmarc. Alternatively we have also gotten freshly-made deli sandwiches at eaten in Central Park nearby.
Jean-Georges Vongrichten’s flagship restaurant Jean-Georges is across the street at 1 Central Park West. They do have a reasonable lunch menu if you would like to try a 3 star Michelin restaurant in New York. For my kids, though the decision was a no-brainer when cotton candy was involved.
Although the Flatiron Building has always been a famous landmark in New York City, the area now known as NoMad has really only been a trendy area in the last few years. With the clean up of Madison Square Park and the Flatiron district going residential, the area has become very family-friendly. Although all these things below are fun, my children absolutely adored the National Mathematics Museum, aka MoMath (much to my surprise). Younger and trendier than other more touristy areas of Manhattan, the neighbourhood is still good with kids (thanks to its gentrification over the last few years).
Things to do with kids in the NoMad neighbourhood and the Flatiron District in Manhattan
The NoMad Neighbourhood and the Flatiron District NYC
The NoMad neighbourhood and the Flatiron district are basically two neighbourhoods divided by Madison Square Park. NoMad is to the north of the park, and Flatiron to the south.
With the arrival of the trendy Ace Hotel and NoMad Hotel, real estate professionals dubbed the area north of Madison Square Park “NoMad” since 1999. In New York city, as my friend Andrew said about NoLiTa (North of Little Italy), you know a neighbourhood has arrived when property people give it a nickname. A trendy neighbourhood emerged from the gritty urban landscape of pawn shops and bodegas.
Madison Square Park
Named after the fourth US President, James Madison, Madison Square Park was established in 1847. The park is most famous though for giving its name to a sporting and concert arena, Madison Square Garden.
In the late 19th century, many wealthy New York families had mansions in the area, including the Roosevelt family and the Jerome family (a Jerome daughter was the mother of Winston Churchill).
In the 20th century, Madison Square Park had a fairly grim phase before the whole area got cleaned up at the turn of 21st century.
Flatiron District NYC
The Flatiron district is named after the Flatiron building, a triangular shaped building which was an architectural marvel built in 1902. It’s one of the most photographed buildings in the world and also appeared in numerous movies, like Spider-Man and Godzilla.
The Flatiron building is one of the most photographed buildings in the world. So, of course, I took a photo.
The Flatiron district itself was a pretty commercial area with lots of clothes and toy manufacturers alongside artists attracted by cheap rents. Now it’s known as Silicon Alley because of the number of technology companies in the area. It’s also become very residential with young professionals and families.
Places To Visit
Museum of Mathematics (11 E 26th Street) is a fabulous little museum for children. My kids are not fans of math at school but I could not get them out of this museum. Ironically, I met with some resistance when I announced we were going to a Maths Museum. A museum and math combination seemed a bridge too far as far as my kids were concerned. They were pleasantly surprised at how much fun it was though!
The MoMath museum fronts onto Madison Square Park
There are two floors which introduces maths concepts that many kids don’t even know are mathematics. For example, kids think they are playing but they are really learning about patterns, symmetry, cryptography and the like. Computer generated exhibits like the pattern paints or the dynamic wall show kids in a fun way wave phenomena or symmetry.
Although the top floor is for younger children, my children enjoyed both floors. The bottom floor has a lot of logic games which kept them captivated. In addition to the games, you also have a small cafe and even more activities such as the Tessellation Station where kids use magnets to make patterns.
Madison Square Park is a small green space located between Fifth Avenue and 6th Avenue from 23rd to 26th streets. It’s got a playground and public art spread out amongst the landscaping. My kids also like to watch the dogs in the dog run.
Little Miss-Butter-Wouldn’t-Melt gently shoving her brother off the hammock installation at Madison Square Park. Totally caught in the act on film.
Books of Wonder (18 W 18th Street (between 5th and 6th)) is the largest American children’s book store. Nora Ephron, director and writer, used the store as the inspiration for the children’s book store in the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail.
The NYC mural in the story time space at Books of Wonder
The store is always running events for kids of all ages. Frankly, it’s also a great place to hang out in air conditioned comfort in the dog days of summer or escape the bitter chill of winter. I have never been able to leave this bookstore without buying something!
Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Flatiron District NYC:
Eataly (200 Fifth Avenue) has delicious paninis and gelato either to eat in or to go.
Big Daddy’s (239 Park Ave S (btwn E 19th & 20th St.)) is a retro-style diner where you can get the usual comfort foods such as burgers, mac & cheese and milkshakes.
Shake Shack (11 Madison Ave (at E 23rd St)) is a safe bet if your kids are craving a burger.
We ate at this branch of Rosa Mexicano ((9 E 18th St (btwn 5th Ave. & Broadway)) the night before the twins were born. Not that I’m saying that this place brings on childbirth or anything but maybe that explains our kids fascination with Mexican food??
I prefer Burger & Lobster (39 W 19th St (btwn 5th & 6th Ave)) to Shake Shack. Burgers for the kids and lobster for me!
Maybe your family really can’t agree on where or what to eat (it’s been known to happen to us!). In that case, just go to Whole Foods on 4 Union Square so everyone can just pick something for themselves from the deli counters. Sushi for one person, a sandwich for another person, and life can continue without further drama.
Family-friendly things to do, where to eat and where to stay in the NoMad neighbourhood and the Flatiron District of New York City
Accommodation near NoMad
You have several good choices for staying in the area if you are looking for cool and contemporary hotels. The stuffy more traditional type hotels tend to be further uptown.
We love the Ace Hoteland hang out with the hipsters in its lobby even when we are not staying at the hotel. The downstairs Ace Hotel lobby has large tables, sofas and great WiFi. Throw in the hipper than hip coffee shop and you’ve got a perfect place to unwind after a hard day of sightseeing.
By the way, there’s an old-fashioned photo booth which throws out the coolest vintage-style photo strips. My daughter is a big fan of the photo booth!
Colorful flowers outside the Ace Hotel cafe
The NoMad Hotel attracts a slightly slicker but still young and attractive crowd. My favourite part of the NoMad Hotel is it’s library cafe where you can order a light meal in a beautiful setting. The restaurant itself was a bit too grand for my children.
I have not stayed atThe New York Edition but my occasional contributor, Dianna, has stayed at the hotel this year. It’s the usual trendiness with compact rooms. The bar is full of beautiful people and difficult to get into (even if you stay at the hotel). It reminded me of the way original Whiskey Blue bar used to be at the midtown W hotel way back in the day. I won’t even give a year because it just makes me feel old but it was definitely pre-children.
Alternatively, you can go to the original trendy hotel which rocked the neighbourhood when it opened in what seems another era (2006). The Gramercy Park Hotel is within easy walking distance of this area. My daughter loves its full on dashing red glamour as well as the fact that you can get access to Gramercy Park (the gated residents-only park). The Bar downstairs has great comfy seats and even better people-watching.
If you are wondering why I am on about the public spaces are in these hotels, its because the rooms are fairly similar for what you get — cool and quirky and small. Definitely small square footage for the amount of money you pay. You can get a double double room with children (that accommodates four) or a suite that has a separate sofa bed.
The biggest differences are in their public spaces. And, I’m a fan of their bars for meeting up with old friends. When you are travelling with kids in tow, you can set them up with an iPad on a comfy couch while you have a drink with friends nearby. If I have been hanging out in the Lego Store all afternoon, it ain’t no surprise that mama needs a stiff drink and adult conversation!
Welcome to the podcast show notes and transcript for Episode 10: The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2. In this episode Rachel Heller and I speak with Jeroen van Wieringen, who is with Liberation Route Europe. This foundation promotes greater knowledge of the route the Allied troops took to take back Europe from the Nazis during World War II. Many people know about and visit the D Day beaches in Normandy France. There are, however, many more sites to visit which help tell the story of the slow but inexorable march towards Berlin (and ultimate victory) of the Allied forces.
The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2
Time Stamped Show Notes
00:36 What is Liberation Route Europe?
2:14 The Path of the Allies in WW2
3:41 Beyond the D Day Beaches
4:34 The Highlights of Liberation Route Europe
6:42 The Battle of Arnhem
8:18 The Route’s Foundation Status
10:17 Visiting the Route with Kids
11:17 Visiting the Route with the Mobility Impaired
SG: So today we’re here with Jeoron van Wieringen and he’s with the Liberation Route Europe.
JW: Liberation Route Europe, yes.
SG: And he’s going to talk to us about this organization and what they want to do. Hello, welcome.
JW: Yes, thank you, welcome.
The Liberation Route Europe traces the path of the Allies during WW2
What is Liberation Route Europe?
RH: Tell us what the Liberation Route is.
JW: Basically it is an international remembrance route that connects the main items along the path of the western allied forces. It’s a route that is based on historical events of the Second World War and it aims to keep the memory alive of the Second World War.
RH: It’s not just a route from one location to another that had something to do with the war. It’s actually the route that the Allied troops took to take Europe back.
JW: Yeah. The original route is based on the Allied advance, the western Allied Forces. Basically starting in the southern part of the UK before crossing the Channel, it continues towards Normandy and the D-Day landings. Then into Belgium, the Netherlands, West Germany.
RH: And it includes Poland as well, doesn’t it?
JW: Yes, it does include Poland although very small parts so far. It’s in the area of Dansk. We have a partner museum out there which is called The Museum of The Second World War. Earlier this year I think it was in April officially, Italy joined too. That’s the most recent development.
RH: My history is a little shaky. The Allied moved partly of course back to Germany to push the German troops back to Germany and they did the same toward Italy. Did they split?
JW: No, no. You had the Sicily landings in 1943 already. They came up from North Africa. Like I said Italy has recently only joined. Before we start implementing the country into the actual route it will take 1 or 2 years at least.
A World War 2 commemorative statue (photo credit: Liberation Route Europe)
The Path of the Allies in WW2
SG: So you said this was an international initiative. When did the initiative start?
There were 2 trainees working at a war museum. In their final conclusion they said the Netherlands had so much to offer when it comes to the heritage of the Second World War but there’s no connection at all. People go to one place but they are unaware of the fact that there are other places too.
The Director of the Regional Tourist Board in the area said we have to do something with that idea. And they started to place big stones in the landscape with information plaques telling what happened at those places in the Second World War.
So it started to create a kind of connection and he called it The Route of the Liberators. And his idea started to roll out to spread towards other Dutch provinces. A couple of years later then officially it became a European project.
RH: Now when Americans come, I think that it’s very common to go to Normandy.
SG: A lot of people go to Normandy and don’t go elsewhere.
RH: But there are a lot of them that address one little aspect of the Normandy invasion.
JW: That’s right.
RH: Then I would guess that when the Americans stop there they might go to Paris to see Paris. They might go to Brittany to see the pretty coast. They’re not continuing on the route.
Beyond the D Day Beaches
JW: And they should do because…
RH: What should they see?
JW: To give you an example maybe some of the Americans have never heard of the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest. It’s in Germany and took place at the end of 1944 in Germany. Sixty seven thousand people died including 37,000 Americans.
It was an American/German battle that took 3 months. Well, that’s one example why Americans should look beyond Normandy.
RH: Wow, and what would they see if they went there? What is there?
JW: Well in the Hurtgen Forest you still see a lot of traces from the war. Literally some tank traces are still visible in the ground.
JW: There are still some field graves to visit, remains of bunkers and so on.
RH: And these are still preserved so people can visit them.
The Highlights of Liberation Route Europe
RH: I see. Okay, I see. So if an American was coming on just a one week holiday because many Americans only get a week or maybe 2 weeks. They couldn’t do the whole route. It sounds like it’s a big route. What would you say? What are the highlights?
JW: The two highlights are Normandy obviously. The second one I would choose personally for a combination of Bastogne and the Germany Hurtgen Forest. Bastogne was the Battle of the Bulge where the American’s participated too. It’s great scenery over there. There are lots of forests so you can combine heritage with nature. The Hurtgen Forest is similar with a beautiful landscape and beautiful area. The history is really a kind of a black period.
RH: Okay, what is there to see where the Battle of the Bulge happened?
JW: There’s a relatively new build called the Bastogne War Museum. It’s a great museum. It opened its doors 3 years ago and it attracts over 200,000 visitors a year. It tells the complete story of the Battle of the Bulge with all new use of new media types. Its a real modern collection.
The Bastogne War Museum (photo credit: Liberation Route Europe)
RH: And how does it work with all of these, for example, at Normandy? All of these different little museums that look at very different little pieces of it. Are they part of your initiative?
JW: Yeah, some of them are. For example, the Utah Beach Museum is an American museum that is a partner of the Liberation Route. The Juno Beach Centre focusses more on the Canadian aspect. We have some site museums there. In general, there is one big museum called Memorial de Caen which tells the entire story. That’s the main museum of Normandy and then you have all the site museums each having their own perspective.
JW: One for the Canadians, one for the Americans, the British and so on.
SG: And there’s also different graveyards for each of the nationalities.
One of the American cemeteries from World War 2 (photo credit: Liberation Route Europe)
RH: Yeah. I think we visited a British one.
JW: Coming back to your previous question, if Americans visit the Hurtgen Forest. it’s only 20 minutes drive to the Maastricht area. You have the American war cemetery of Margarten. Beautiful place to visit too.
The Battle of Arnhem
RH: Now coming back to home where I live, the Netherlands I had actually never heard of Arnhem. What was it called?
JW: [easyazon_link identifier=”B0030MTQNW” locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]A Bridge Too Far[/easyazon_link].
RH: Yeah the troopers jumping into Arnhem and the Liberation of Arnhem. That was complete news to me I’d never heard of it before. Maybe that’s showing my ignorance.
JW: You should be ashamed because Arnhem is known by a broad audience via the movie [easyazon_link identifier=”0684803305″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]A Bridge Too Far[/easyazon_link].
RH: Well that will explain it. I haven’t seen that.
JW: There you go. Arnhem in the UK is maybe even more known than in the Netherlands.
RH: And what is there now? I assume that’s on your route.
JW: It’s, well you can visit the Airborne Museum, for example. There’s a British War Cemetery in the area.
At the bridge, there was this operation called Operation Market Garden. The Allied Forces (the Paratroopers) had to take all the main bridges in the provinces so that the ground troops could go from Belgium to Germany. The operation did not succeed at Arnhem so the operation failed over there. On that bridge every year there’s now a multimedia spectacle. It’s called The Bridge To Liberation Experience.
The Route’s Foundation Status
RH: Yeah, it sounds that way. You explained that this route was put together. It sort of happened rather than actually planning.
JW: No, there was some planning. Originally it was just happening.
It was our original project but in 2012 the current chairman of the European Parliament a German guy called Martin Schlutz, heard about the Liberation Route. He said well I’m a guy from Germany I’ve seen a lot of trouble. The Second World War is part of me. I think that what you’re doing is great so I want to be your patron. So he became the patron of our foundation. That gave us the opportunity to develop more and more in Europe with him behind us.
RH: So this is a foundation. It’s not a business.
JW: It’s a foundation. It’s a non-profit organization.
RH: And are there for-profit organizations like tour companies that are taking people along the route?
JW: As foundation ourselves, we don’t organize any tours. We talk with tour operators, travel agencies and so on. We say to them if you are willing to sell the story of the Second World War under our conditions then you are able to organize tours.
For example, we have bus company that organises 12 day packages along the Liberation Route. In other countries we work together with travel agencies, tour operators and they develop packages along the route.
SG: So you would have English speaking tour operators as well?
JW: Yeah we do. Actually, we are now working on a set up of a European guide network.
JW: A Liberation Route guide network. Most of them are from the British Guild of Battlefield Guides so they work together with us. Actually all battlefield guides we have must speak English.
RH: Yeah, you would expect as much because many of the tourists would be from England or America in fact.
JW: Yeah, Canada, US, UK.
SG: So it sounds like you have EU funding as well.
JW: Yeah, but only a small part. It’s only for the development of our website and our app.
Visiting the Route with Kids
RH: Now let me run a few hypotheticals by you. If a person was traveling with children which parts of the Liberation Route would you recommend with children?
JW: I would recommend Normandy and the Netherlands.
RH: So what in the Netherlands?
JW: The area of Gelderland is the most developed area.
RH: What’s there?
JW: It’s around Arnhem. You have the museums over there and most of the museums have a special room for children.
SG: Activities to help them understand.
JW: Multi-language, yeah. They were museums that created special booklets for children. And some of them have good lower pictures for the children. And it’s very compact you don’t have to travel long distance to get from one place to another.
RH: Right, so not too much sitting in the car.
Visiting the Route with the Mobility Impaired
RH: Let’s see if person was disabled what would you recommend of the route?
SG: Is there anything that’s not good for the mobility impaired?
JW: Yeah, well the problem is a lot of points of interest are in the landscape. If you go to the Normandy bunkers getting around in a wheelchair will be difficult. Similarly for the Hurtgen Forest going through the forest could be a problem.
RH: Aah, okay so not Normandy and not the Hurtgen Forest. Where would they be able to go?
JW: Yeah, you can go to Normandy but you cannot…
SG: Some things you can’t do.
JW: I mean you can go to a museum. You can visit cemeteries. There is no problem at all.
The Liberation Route In Berlin
RH: Okay. If you were a foodie like Shobha and didn’t want to do only the Liberation Route which section would you suggest?
SG: My husband loves history, I like food. What would be a good compromise where we have both history and great food?
JW: At Karlshorst. Karlshorst is in Berlin but outside the centre. The Allied Museum is partnering with us. We offer tours through the city of Berlin which leads you along the memorials and all that stuff.
RH: Okay, he’s handed us a piece of paper called Liberation Route Europe Opens American Friends Fund. Foundation unveils the stories of American soldiers during World War II. Can you explain this?
Remembering the Americans on Omaha Beach (photo credit: Liberation Route Europe)
JW: We have recently started a campaign in the US for two reasons.
One, to create more awareness in the US for the existence of the Liberation Route and what happened in Europe.
And second one, we want to use the campaign for some extra funding.
We have a special donation page over there and part of the campaign is we are hoping to get some funding because we think it’s really necessary to tell the American story within the Liberation Route.
The important thing is to create more awareness. One of the reasons why we try to reach the American press over there.
SG: I can see that because Normandy is such a huge part of the trip and that’s what a lot of Americans know. They don’t necessarily know about the parts at the end. Luxembourg, I saw Poland, Netherlands, France.
RH: Yeah, they know about Normandy. Everybody knows about Normandy.
Follow the path of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II
SG: And it kind of stops there. And the next thing you know is Berlin is occupied and that’s it. Everything in the middle is kind of fuzzy.
JW: Yeah, that’s about it, yeah.
RH: This is an interesting way of opening up the bridge between one and the other.
RH: I see. Now it says the stories of American soldiers. Are you actually recording stories?
JW: We are focusing to tell personal stories from people. We’re not a historical organization like division this and regiment that. No, it’s the personal stories.
One of our audio spots for example, in the Netherlands tells the story of a girl, 6 year old at that time. She’s walking around outside and she sees the paratroopers coming down. She’s running inside, she tells her mother Mum. Mum, God is throwing people out of heaven. And then her mother says, don’t worry it’s only confetti. Those stories make history more tangible.
SG: It’s a more powerful way to describe things.
JW: Yeah. And also stories of American veterans. Their story will be part of the website, biographies, story…
You think you have seen all the major Catalan modernist sites in Barcelona? Think again. Chances are you have only seen all of the major works by Gaudi. Catalan Modernism was so much more than Gaudi sort of like Impressionism was so much more than Monet. The Hospital de Sant Pau is an example of art nouveau Barcelona architecture beyond the usual Gaudi stuff.
Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi
The Hospital de Sant Pau
The Hospital de la Santa Creu and Sant Pau was opened in 1930 on the site of an older hospital dating back to the Middle Ages created by the Counts of Barcelona. In order for this medieval hospital to maintain itself, the Spanish kings allowed the Hospital the right to money from theatrical performances in Barcelona.
When Catalan banker Pau Gil died in Paris in 1896 he wanted to do something special for his homeland. He ordered his bank dissolved and the proceeds used to construct a new hospital in Barcelona, the Hospital of Sant Pau. He had envisioned that the entire building complex would be funded through his generosity. The original plan called for 48 buildings in this hospital complex. Of course, there were cost overruns so a revised plan called for 27 buildings.
Some of the flamboyant Catalan Modernisme style.
Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture In Practice
The architect, Lluis Domenech i Montaner, was hired to build a hospital complex which was effectively a city within a city. The hospital would have different buildings for each medical speciality and landscaped grounds. The buildings were connected to each by a kilometre of underground tunnels.
The underground tunnels which were used to shuttle the patients around. The walls were tiled for easy cleaning.
Of course, building in a Catalan modernist style is labor and work intensive with all of its extra decorative flourishes. The original money ran out after the first 10 buildings of the complex. Montaner (and his son who took over the project from him) was able to cobble together enough funding for another 6 buildings. So only 16 of the buildings on the site are in the Catalan Modernism style.
The surgical ward at the Hospital. You can see the ramps from which the sick would be wheeled up.
Catalan modernist was very intricate – you had decorative detail in reliefs, sculptures, ceramics, mosaic, wood, marble, glass, metal and iron. The buildings were all made from brick. The little domes on top of the roofs were the water towers. Along with the landscaped grounds, each patient would have a significant amount of space to themselves which far surpassed the best hospitals in Europe at the time.
An old photo showing the hospital in use.
There was a liberal use of ceramics throughout the site. Not only could you make ceramics look pretty but they were hygienic and easy to wash down. You had large windows, lots of color, landscaped grounds – when you think about how terrible early 20th century hospitals were – this Barcelona Hospital was really ahead of its time.
The decorative pillar hides the water tank for the building.
The Administrative Pavilion is the biggest building on site. It was built between 1905 and 1910 and was meant to be the main entrance to the hospital complex. The highly decorative ceiling is filled with ornamentation, for example, referring to Saint Jordi (George) the patron saint of Catalonia, and the seal of Banca Gil (Pau Gil’s bank). If Pau Gil wanted immortality – he definitely got it. His initials are everywhere on this site. In a time when banks come and go, get merged etc, Pau Gil’s legacy is more than any simple regional bank could have been.
The decorative details were on the inside and the outside of the buildings.
UNESCO World Heritage Designation
The hospital was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. It was reopened after a refurbishment in 2014 to be a centre for global knowledge. Whatever that means. When we wandered around the site, you could tell there had been extensive refurbishment and the buildings were gorgeous. It was like a ghost town, however. There were a handful of tourists but it didn’t look like there were many people who actually worked there.
Good To Know
You really can’t miss the Hospital of Sant Pau if you are near the Sagrada Familia.
The Hospital of Sant Pau is located on Sant Antoni M. Claret, 167. When the Sagrada Familia gets overrun with visitors in the summer weekends, the Hospital de Sant Pau will not be crowded. I would strongly encourage you to check out this beautiful little oasis which will give you an example of art nouveau Barcelona architecture that hasn’t been done by Gaudi . You can get there on the Metro (L5 Sant Pau) or on the bus.
Where To Stay
We stayed by the seaside Barcelona at the 5 star Hotel Arts. This famous hotel is justifiably lauded – the service is great, the location convenient and the views fantastic. On previous trips we have stayed at the 4 star Hotel Royal Ramblas located conveniently on the Ramblas. My children really enjoyed the lounge with its huge windows where you can watch all the action on Las Ramblas. We have also stayed at the Grand Hotel Central, a 5 star hotel, with an incredibly convenient location. The hotel is a 5 minute walk from the Cathedral, sandwiched between the Gothic Quarter and the trendy Born District and an easy walk to the beach.
Context Travel Tour
I discovered this Hospital on a Sagrada Family in Context Travel. I’ve been to Barcelona several times and never knew about this beautiful hospital! It’s so worth it to take a good tour. I paid full price for my Context Tour which I was happy to do so because I think they are worth it.
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Would you live with construction workers in your house for 24 hours/7 days a week for 38 years? It would be enough to drive anyone mad. Supposedly that is what Sarah Winchester did when she built the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California at the turn of the 20th century. No one knows why she built this strange rambling house with random staircases that lead to dead ends, doors that opened onto a 2 floor drop and pillars placed upside-down. In addition, there was a tragic backstory, a reclusive woman and details that were lost in the mists of time. After Sarah Winchester’s death, it was pretty easy to sell the house as a tourist attraction because the whole thing really was just odd.
When we left San Francisco, on our road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, we thought we would do a quick detour and see the famed Winchester Mystery House. Although the house did not disappoint, neither did it provide thrills and chills.
The Winchester Mystery House is most mysterious for holding close the secrets of its former owner, Sarah Winchester.
Sarah Winchester, Eccentric Heiress
Sarah Winchester, the architect of the Winchester Mystery House, was a remarkable woman. Born in New Haven as Sarah Pardee she was noted for her beauty and her intelligence. She spoke 5 languages and was an accomplished musician and classicist. She married William Wirt Winchester who was the son of the man who invented the Winchester rifle.
Some of the models of the Winchester rifles.
The Winchester Repeating Arms Company was the most successful gun company in the 19th century. The Winchester rifle could fire 15 shots in just over 10 seconds. It became known as the ‘gun that won the West’ and was an American success story.
Advertisements for the Winchester Rifles which played a major part in US history.
The couple were happy, young socialites living a charmed life in New England. Unfortunately, they lost an infant daughter to a rare disease in 1886. When William died in 1881 at the age of 43, Sarah was devastated. She traveled the world for 3 years and then eventually settled in California where she had relatives from the Pardee side of her family.
Upon William’s death, Sarah inherited $20 million dollars in cash and shares in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. She had about a $1000 a day to spend as she wished. She choose to spend it on her house. Even in today’s money, Sarah’s inheritance would be considered a nice chunk of change but back in the late 19th century, it made her an enormously wealthy woman.
Is the Winchester Mystery House Haunted?
According to the legend, when Sarah was living on the East Coast, she consulted a famous medium who told her that she was a victim of the blood money of her inheritance. All those Native Americans, civil war soldiers, outlaws, sheriffs etc who had been killed using the Winchester rifles did not go gently into that good night. No, they were out to get her.
Walk through this door at your peril.
The only way for her to to appease the spirits that haunted her was to undertake living in a never-ending construction site. Clearly these ghosts were pretty spiteful. Having lived through a house undergoing refurbishment, it is not a fate I would wish on anyone.
The construction foreman had a house on-site.
I wondered why Sarah Winchester would not have just given away her inheritance to charity. Without the money, the spirits had no reason to haunt her. She neither got rid of her shares in the evil Winchester money nor the money that came from it. The Pardee side of the family were wealthy in their own right so it wasn’t like she was going to be poor if she got rid of the Winchester money.
In any event, Sarah Winchester died in 1922 at the ripe old age of 82. Clearly she had done a good job of outrunning malevolent spirits. She left all the furniture in the house to her niece who put it up for auction. Without a 160 room mansion, the furniture contained within those 160 rooms would be a little hard to store!
In 1923, the house itself was sold at auction and eventually wound up in the hands of a John Brown who saw the possibilities in opening it up as a tourist attraction. John Brown had a history of working in carnivals and he knew how to sell a good story.
You can visit 110 of the 160 rooms in the house.
The Mystery House designation was given to the house in a newspaper article after a visit by famed illusionist, Harry Houdini.
If you want to read an alternative theory about Sarah Winchester, the book Captive of the Labyrinth by historian Mary Ignoffo puts forth the theory that Sarah just wanted to be a visionary architect. She was fascinated with the English Renaissance philosopher, Francis Bacon, Freemasonic concepts of encryption and mathematics. She wanted to build a house that was a puzzle similar to Rosslyn Chapel which figured so heavily in Freemason thought (according to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code). Unfortunately, Sarah was born a woman in a time when women weren’t allowed to be architects and so everyone just thought she was a little crazy.
So, there you have it… a choice between a haunted house or a Masonic conspiracy.
The Winchester Mystery House Tour
Unfortunately no photographs were allowed of the inside of the house. Here are some random facts about the Winchester Mystery House that are interesting.
When Mrs. Winchester bought the house it was an 8 room farmhouse set on 161 acres. There have been so many addition and changes to the farmhouse that its now hard to know where the original house rooms would have stood.
The house has 10,000 window panes, 467 doorways, 160 rooms, 52 skylights, 47 fireplaces, 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 17 chimneys, 6 kitchens, 3 elevators, 13 bathrooms, 2 mirrors and 1 shower.
It is said that only 2 people have passed through this elegant front door – Sarah Winchester and the man who installed it.
By 1906, the mansion was spread out over 7 floors. After the earthquake collapsed the top 3 floors, Mrs. Winchester kept it as a 4 floor house.
Mrs. Winchester slept in a different bedroom every night supposedly so the spirits couldn’t find her. Well, unfortunately, after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the servants couldn’t find her either.
The elaborate facade with windows … and a 2nd floor door.
Mrs. Winchester was a generous woman to her staff. Many stayed with her for years. She employed 18 house servants, 13 carpenters 8-10 gardeners and 2 chauffeurs.
A Winchester Mystery House Photo Gallery
The house is a mishmash of architectural styles but mostly Victorian. Having been constructed over 38 years, architectural styles and fashion would have changed.
The house is surrounded by gardens which would have been more extensive in Sarah Winchester’s day.
On the plus side, she kept a lot of people employed.
turrets and clashing windows … why not?
She liked daisies because they have 13 petals. The number 13 is important to Freemason and occult mythology.
The gardens were really special. More attractive than the inside of the house which was pretty dark even on a clear summer day,
Visiting the Winchester Mystery House
There are regular tours that take you through the Winchester Mystery House. Our tour group had about 20 people of which 5 were children. There is nothing particularly scary in the house. The kids thought it was more wacky and fun than scary. Like a giant fun house at a fun fair but without the plastic ghosts jumping out at you. So, I guess in that respect the Browns were right on the money.
The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose is a major tourist attraction in the area.