Sunday, May 16, 2010

Not all museums are created equal

One of the pleasures of the Netherlands is its museums.
Almost every small town seems to have a good museum or two, usually staffed by knowledgeable and pleasant volunteers, and sometimes with a very arcane focus. Well worth seeking out when you take a break from cycling. And the large towns have great museums!

And I'm in my element in a museum, the more obscure the better. Show me a definitive collection of 16th century cannonballs, I'm in heaven. A collection of cracked ceramic wall tiles, salvaged during the demolition of an old neighborhood? I'll spend an hour with no regrets.

Just two days ago, Katie and I spent an afternoon in Den Helder at a museum dedicated, basically, to lifeboats. And it was GREAT! They even had a wind-tunnel that you could stand in, while they ran the wind up the Beaufort scale to simulate different storm levels. (Incidentally, we discovered in the process that wind conditions during the Texel Icy Death Ride were approximately a Force 6 on the Beaufort scale.)

And on Texel, the museum of junk that washed up on shore is terrific! Ranges from the comic (sculpture of working man, executed in trash) to the tragic (burnt life saver from sunken ship).

But on the ride south from Den Helder to Alkmaar, while riding along the North Sea dike, we found a museum that even I have mixed feelings about. I won't name the museum, it wouldn't really serve any purpose, and there is a lot to praise: it was free, it was warm, the people were nice. But it sunk in slowly that this museum really had limited potential to fascinate. In essence, it was the museum of the local municipal water and sewage board. We watched a very professional video, with great graphics and Mission Impossible style score -- but production values couldn't disguise the fact that the topic was primarily use of small mussels as an indicator of water quality. Then we played with the single interactive display -- a kind of fish-tank thing that illustrated concept of wave action, I think. Can't be certain, as some of the controls didn't operate. But the capstone was the museum collection itself, which was very selective (eg, small). It included for example, a pair of rubber waders. But the single best item, in my opinion, is shown above: a rock, labeled "Norse Steen", which translates to "Rock from Norway".

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