Where You Should Go: Long Weekends in Europe (part 1)

My friends over at Adventuring Pandas recently asked me where they should go in 2017. The answer is wherever they can get themselves to, but even after I’d narrowed it down from there, I realized the answer required more than just a Facebook reply—and besides, many of my readers are probably also planning their 2017 adventures.

What follows is the first half of a collection of places I’ve visited in Europe that would make a decent long weekend, with at least one reason why I loved it! The second half of the list will follow in a few days.

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Rethinking Titles and Loving Van Gogh at the Barnes Museum, Philadelphia

Me: It was so good getting lunch with you!
Cousin: I loved catching up! I’d better make the blog!

True praise, indeed! Whenever I’m in Philadelphia, I try to see several friends even if I’m there only a short time, and one of the great benefits of taking the train is that I can always fit in an early lunch at 30th Street Station before the westbound Pennsylvanian pulls out. So even though I spent most of my weekend with Til, an old friend from college, I was able to wrap up the trip sharing a lunch and conversation with my cousin*, who’s a big fan of my blog. (Girl, why didn’t we get a picture of us together before you went back to work??) May this be just the first of many meet-ups with faithful readers on my travels.

Whenever I visit Til, our weekends tend to include some combination of old movies, needlework, and nachos. This weekend was no exception, but before succumbing to our sophomore-year habits, we had a yard sale at her new house and visited the Barnes Collection downtown.

Know how you always whisper for some reason in an art gallery? This weekend we knew the reason: Til had lost her voice. Ten years ago, I lost my voice when she visited me in Germany, so now we’re even. Well, not quite. I wasn’t relying on her as interpreter in this case, even if Philadelphians do say “water” differently than the rest of the world.

Dr. Barnes was a scientific, methodical man who devoted his mind and self-made fortune to acquiring and understanding art. The cashier at the gift shop pointed out the symmetry in the galleries: he’d arranged his art like the periodic table. Top to bottom, side to side. The result is a wall of art, all feeding off of and informing one another, quite unlike a typical gallery that leaves each piece on its own.

Additionally, he didn’t want to label the art with little plaques all over the place, so instead, there’s a booklet in each gallery that tells you the name, artist, and year for each piece. Let me tell you why I love this idea. In Gallery 1, a painting captured me and stirred my emotions. A very ill person lay, apparently dying, on a sickbed, while someone (their child? a doctor?) leaned over them holding their hand. How poignant, I thought. How moving.

Curious, I opened the booklet to see who painted it and learned that it’s called The Hypochondriac, by Honoré Daumier. What a turn! I had to look at it with all new eyes and a greater appreciation for the power of titles in visual art as much as written. I never would have had that experience if a plaque had left out all the mystery.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the museum, so I’ve found my favorites on their website to share here. (All images are theirs and theirs alone. Please visit their collection website to learn more about each one and see the rest!) By the end of the museum, I had developed an eye for Renoir and noticed I’m drawn to images of Montmarte. I want to be as good at titles as Glackens, and I want to pet Van Gogh’s canvasses with their distinct brushstrokes. I walked away from the gift shop with a birthday gift for my nephew and a postcard of a Toulouse-Lautrec for myself. I hope you enjoy the collection.

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