Seeing Siem Reap, Cambodia

Woman chopping raw fish - right in the center of the Siem Reap market

Woman chopping raw fish – Siem Reap market

A Traveler’s Preamble

It’s been too long since I’ve posted on my blog, but there are good reasons for it (well, I think they’re good reasons.) Back in August, I took my trip to Bangkok, Thailand … and in the midst of that trip I took a side trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

After 2 days I left Cambodia and returned to Thailand … and then flew from Thailand to Manila.

Eventually I left the Philippines and headed home, to the east coast. I had barely unpacked my suitcase before I had to fly off to Europe: Zurich and Prague.

While I bounced around the world like a ping pong ball, I didn’t post to the blog. I saw that people were looking at my postings and photos, which was nice. Thanks for reading, even while I was “away.”

And now, a glimpse into my travels in Cambodia.

Siem Reap

If you’ve never heard of Siem Reap, Cambodia, then perhaps you have heard of Angkor Wat? Siem Reap is the town located adjacent to the Angkor Wat temple complex.

Angkor Wat was a life changing experience for me; I am not yet prepared to cover it in this blog post, or probably even one blog post. It’s monumental.

One incredible carved rock face five stories tall, at the Buddhist temple within Angkor Wat.

One incredible carved rock face, five stories tall, at the Buddhist temple within Angkor Wat.

Today, I wanted to share some photos from the Siem Reap market, which is in the center of the town. It’s an authentic market, with plenty of fresh food that the locals want to buy. Just on the edge of the center-most food section of the market are the many tourist stalls selling t-shirts, dried herbal tea, sterling silver wares.

Siem Reap has its own airport. There are hundreds of tourists who arrive from around Asia, Europe and North/South America everyday. It’s not surprising that Siem Reap is geared towards catering to tourists. In fact, the economy of Siem Reap runs on U.S. dollars. That’s right – when you go to change your money in Cambodia, you’ll be changing whatever money you have (Euro’s, for example) into USD. Surprise!

A woman lights a candle to prevent insects from landing on the food. Siem Reap, Cambodia

A woman lights a candle to prevent insects from landing on the food. Siem Reap, Cambodia

And I would venture to comment that “seeing” Siem Reap is not like seeing what the rest of Cambodia is like. Being shuttled around in one of several hundred tuk-tuk’s from a comfortable hotel to a restaurant probably isn’t the normal course of events for Cambodian’s who live there.

Getting around town in a Tuk Tuk

Getting around town in a Tuk Tuk


Chickens - Siem Reap Market

Chickens – Siem Reap Market

Still, I don’t regret one second I spent in the country, seeing Angkor Wat and spending a little time in the town center.

Fruit - Siem Reap Market

Fruit on display – Siem Reap Market


Cambodian Street Food - check out the teeth on those fish in the lower right part of the photo!

Cambodian Street Food – check out the teeth on those fish in the lower right part of the photo!


The inviting entrance to a local restaurant where I had lunch...

The inviting entrance to a local restaurant where I had lunch…


A Visit to Bangkok, Part 3: Wat Pho Temple

If I had to choose the one place in Bangkok that I found most inspiring and alluring, it would have to be Wat Pho.

The head of an immense reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

The head of an immense reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

Wat Pho is a Buddhist temple complex in the same neighborhood as the Grand Palace. As a tourist, I was directed to take the SkyTrain to the pier where the tourist boats go up the river. I took the tourist boat twice.

Travel Tip 1: You can either purchase an all-day pass on the river boat for 150 baht, or if you are really heading to one destination and plan to get off the river once you arrive, ask for the one-stop ticket. Then you’ll only pay 40 baht.

Travel Tip 2: Women are not permitted into temples unless they’re covered. You can’t wear anything above the ankle. A pair of light weight slacks and a tee shirt that covers your shoulders and the top of your arm, is fine. If you aren’t wearing the right clothing, you’ll have to “rent” a wrap which you’ll tie around your waist and will cover you to your ankles.

When you get off the tourist boat, you have to walk through a make-shift bazaar building that is on the pier. There are a bunch of vendors selling a variety of souvenirs. Once you exit the bazaar, you come out into an area where there are street vendors selling food and drinks.

A young man selling freshly made pomegranate juice near Wat Pho.

A young man selling freshly made pomegranate juice near Wat Pho.


Good Good Good Papaya Salad. 40 baht is about $1 US dollar.

Good Good Good Papaya Salad. 40 baht is about $1 US dollar.


A woman looks over her choices of grilled meats at a street vendor's stall

A woman looks over her choices of grilled meats at a street vendor’s stall


But once inside the temple complex, your eye is drawn to the ornate and intricately tiled buildings that adorn the large tract of land that composes the complex.

The architecture of Wat Pho

The architecture of Wat Pho


When you are not looking at the amazing architecture, there are many wonderful places where you can stop and rest.

The man made waterfall and koi pond is delightful

The man made waterfall and koi pond is delightful


I only saw one monk while I was there, which surprised me

I only saw one monk while I was there, which surprised me


For some reason, the majority of people I saw at Wat Pho were tourists and not monks. I only saw one monk while I was there, and he walked so quickly across the courtyard I could barely snap a photo of him as he passed me.

Within one of the courtyards, I found...

Within one of the courtyards, I found…


You can take many hours to explore this wonderful site because there are so many nested courtyards, each with their own set of sculptures, or alters with flowers, or perhaps you’ll see a line of buddhas sitting and meditating. It’s all beautiful and peaceful.

A charming monk figure sits nestled in some greenery

A charming monk figure sits nestled in some greenery


Beautiful handmade flower alter

Beautiful handmade flower alter


Flower Alter detail

Flower Alter detail


My advice to anyone visiting Wat Pho:

  • bring water
  • dress appropriately
  • don’t rush
  • allow the serene nature of this place to inspire you
  • investigate courtyards and other out of the way spots
A mythological creature stands watch over one of the temples

A mythological creature stands watch over one of the temples


A moment of peaceful solitude

A moment of peaceful solitude

A Visit to Bangkok, Part Two: Peeking Into Chinatown

Red Lanterns festively displayed by a street vendor in Bangkok's Chinatown

Red Lanterns festively displayed by a street vendor in Bangkok’s Chinatown


There’s something familiar about Chinatown.

No matter what city you’re in, whether it’s New York City, San Francisco, Hong Kong, or Bangkok, the images you’d conjure up for Chinatown are roughly similar.

Street view - Bangkok's Chinatown

Street view – Bangkok’s Chinatown


Street vendors hawking their wares, a variety of foods for sale – some of which look totally unfamiliar – and lots of small Chinese grocery stores selling packages of dried fish, along with Chinese tea shops and restaurants.

Colorful rolling carts displaying fruit in Bangkok's Chinatown

Colorful rolling carts displaying fruit in Bangkok’s Chinatown


Bangkok’s Chinatown felt familiar in the way that I described, but there were unfamiliar sights too.

I WISH I could have gotten a photo of the strange machine I saw on many street corners used to roast chestnuts in what looked like circulating black gravel stones. I’ve never seen such a machine before.

But, to me, the way to see a place is by watching the people.

Woman washing pans in a food stall

Woman washing pans in a food stall


More washing going on in the alley

More washing going on in the alley


Walking along the crowded streets

Walking along the crowded streets


And, of course, tasting the food. The vegetarian fare I sampled included Mapo Tofu, Chinese green leafy stuff with mushrooms, and something new to me: Iced chrysanthemum tea with lemon and honey. It was all delicious!

Dinner was delicious

Dinner was delicious


If you’re wondering whether or not to take a stroll along the crowded streets of Bangkok’s Chinatown, stop and buy some fruit from a rolling cart and then ducking into one of the many restaurants or tea shops to eat a snack … the answer is yes, you should. But I would say that for Chinatown in any city around the world………


A Visit to Bangkok, Part One: Chatachak Weekend Market

A line of serene buddhas sit in contemplation at the Wat Pho temple in the heart of Bangkok

A line of serene buddhas sit in contemplation at the Wat Pho temple in the heart of Bangkok


I must begin with this note:

I began writing this post after I returned from my trip to Bangkok, which was BEFORE the bombings occurred in the city. I’m deeply saddened by the news that whoever bombed center city Bangkok was intending to target tourists and locals, in an attempt to damage the tourism that Thailand enjoys.

Tourism is a major point of economic support for the country. If you are thinking of taking a trip to Thailand, I think you should proceed. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Bangkok.


It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post. Just after my last posting, I took a 10 day trip from Manila to Bangkok, Thailand … with a mini-trip to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) Cambodia embedded with the main trip.

One of the many incredible faces carved into the sides of the Buddhist temple within the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia

One of the many incredible faces carved into the sides of the Buddhist temple within the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia

Since arriving in Manila back in June, I’d only ventured to Hong Kong for a brief weekend. So a planned 10 day trip to Bangkok was very exciting for me, since I have not seen much of Southeast Asia and Manila is “too close” to these places not to have some “local” adventures.

I had never been to Thailand, and I was anxious to go. I had heard so many wonderful things about Bangkok, but I also heard scary things too about pickpockets. It turns out that, just like any big city in any country around the world, you DO need to have your wits about you. You need to pay attention to your surroundings, and you need to go to normally reasonable lengths to protect your belongings. But if you do, I honestly don’t think the vast majority of tourists would have a problem.

I had no issues in Bangkok with safety, and I roamed around many neighborhoods in the day and evening, and I also went to densely packed locations with tourists like the Chatachak Weekend Market and loved it.

In this post, I will focus on some of my experiences at the market.

If you go on Sunday in the middle of the day, be prepared for large crowds at Chatachak Weekend Market!

If you go on Sunday in the middle of the day, be prepared for large crowds at Chatachak Weekend Market!


If it's made in Thailand, chances are you will see if for sale at the Chatachak Weekend Market.

If it’s made in Thailand, chances are you will see if for sale at the Chatachak Weekend Market.


Everybody comes out to shop.

Everybody comes out to shop.


Chatachak Weekend Market was a major highlight of my trip to Bangkok. If you are in town on a Saturday or Sunday, I strongly suggest you plan to spend a minimum of 2 hours walking the market, although you could spend much more time than that.

It’s very easy to get to… just take the SkyTrain to the Mo Chit exit, then when you walk down the stairs of the SkyTrain (follow the signs directing you towards the “Chatachak” exit) walk alongside Chatachak Park. You can follow the crowds because that’s where everyone else is going too.

This is one place where I would be more careful with your belongings because the crowds are very dense and inside the market “hallways” it’s a tight squeeze. Also, if you don’t look like a local, you automatically look like a tourist… so try not to be obvious about where you keep your money, phone and camera. If you’re snapping tons of photos with your camera and not attending to your wallet, well, that’s not a good idea.

I had no problems whatsoever both times I went to the market, and I spent hours walking around each time. I kept a small, zipped purse with a short, strong strap clamped under my arm … but my larger canvas bag with my purchases I didn’t feel concerned about since I doubted anybody who was there to pick-pocket wanted to steal the incense or t-shirts I was buying! All of the photos I took, I used my cell phone camera (that includes all my photos, I don’t have a separate camera with me on this trip) and that worked well because I could quickly snap my shot, and slip my phone back into my purse and zip it back up.

Most of the vendors were so nice! They love to haggle with customers over the prices, and if you are a good customer, you will haggle (a little bit) with the merchant. If they are asking 100 baht for something, offer them 60 baht, then they will say they’ll give it to you (special!) for 80 baht, and you can settle for 75 baht and everyone is happy. Once you have concluded your purchase, it is customary to say thank you, and bow a little bit with your hands clasped in front of you. If you do this, the merchants will truly love you, because it shows you respect the local culture.

When I haggled with this soap vendor, she was so charming! She got excited when she found out I was an American from New York City, USA, and traveling alone no less! She insisted we take our picture together. It was a terrific experience!

When I haggled with this soap vendor, she was so charming! She got excited when she found out I was an American from New York City, USA, and traveling alone no less! She insisted we take our picture together. It was a terrific experience!


I will be writing more posts about my experiences in Bangkok, but I want to emphasize how wonderful the city is and how welcoming and helpful most (not all, especially cab drivers, but most!) people are that you come in contact with in the city.

More to come soon!


A few scenes from Manila

Open market with street stalls selling hot food. Fried chicken and pork are really popular here.

Open market with street stalls selling hot food. Fried chicken and pork are really popular here.


A calamansi is a little tiny lime, about the size of a thumbnail. So calamansi soda (with honey!) is lime soda. This was the only bottle I drank, it's too sweet for me!

A calamansi is a little tiny lime, about the size of a thumbnail. So calamansi soda (with honey!) is lime soda. This was the only bottle I drank, it’s too sweet for me!


I love this sculpture. It's called "Thanksgiving" and depicts two fishermen in a canoe, pulling a net filled with fish from the sea.

I love this sculpture. It’s called “Thanksgiving” and depicts two fishermen in a canoe, pulling a net filled with fish from the sea.


Just sharing a few images to give a glimpse into what life is like in my neighborhood.

It’s been quite an adventure so far! More to come soon…

Around the World

I’ve decided to go to the other side of the world. Yes, I will be leaving the United States and going to Asia for the first time in my life. Another first, for me, I will be away from home for several months. Talk about embracing ambiguity… this trip will be a huge life change, as I become immersed in a totally different culture. I’ll be posting more about this journey as I get settled into my new surroundings. But before I can get settled in, I will have to take a 20+ hour plane flight to get to the other side of the world. There are so many questions racing through my mind and I don’t have answers for any of them. Many of my friends have been saying what I’m doing “takes guts.” Maybe that’s true. I started out by feeling extremely anxious about this change, but now I am excited and anticipating this trip as a huge adventure. So stay tuned for more shortly…

I Slipped (Off My High Horse)

I guess it was inevitable that after months of forward progress, that I’d experience a set-back in my plan. And I guess it was inevitable that a set-back would occur while I was traveling…

Last week I was on the road for work. For days last week I was in a conference center, and the food choices for a vegan were not good. (And by not good I mean horrible.)

In the mornings, I had the choice of muffins, bagels, or stuff I couldn’t eat (scrambled whole eggs in tortillas with cheese and ham). Yes, there was fresh fruit, but when you’re going to be locked in a conference room for half a day until lunch, eating a few bites of melon is not optional unless you want to start gnawing on the chairs soon thereafter.

For lunch, I was offered hamburger sliders, mac and cheese, a ham carving station… (I wound up eating white rice and pinto beans with guacamole one day.)

The worst was an evening social and of course the event was catered. There was a sushi station, a roast beef carving station, an empenada station (pork, goat cheese and other gross stuff), and on the main buffet even the salad had big chunks of cheese in it.

The only thing I could eat that night was cooked carrots and mashed potatoes. I’m convinced the mashed potatoes were laced with butter and cream.

And while I suppose I could have made a fuss and said “Hey, I’m vegan, I can’t eat any of this…” It’s just not the thing to do at a company event when the catering menu has already been set. I just sucked it up and suffered.

All of this lead to a series of frustrating choices. Yes to muffins in the morning with melon. Yes to a plateful of mashed potatoes. Yes to rice and beans. Yes to a “vegan sandwich” with potato chips (one of the most disgusting things I ate last week.)

Carbs, carbs, carbs, carbs.

I was terribly protein deficient, which leads to being much more hungry. Eating carbs leads to wanting to eat more carbs.

I was so frustrated by the disastrous eating last week that on the plane ride home, when faced with the choice of a paltry hummus and chips for a six hour flight or a roast beef and cheese sandwich, I broke down and ate the sandwich. I was completely disgusted with myself, my choice, and my hunger.

The scale showed me just how horrific a week like that can be to my waist line. I gained three pounds in one week! THREE POUNDS!!!

With the plan I’m on, I’ve been lucky to lose about a half a pound per week. Gaining three pounds in one week is devastating. It will take me over a month (potentially) to lose it again just to get back to where I started before I hit the road.

I can’t let this happen again, but I’m not sure what to do. Maybe I need to “go vegetarian” the weeks I’m traveling so that I can at least find foods that are “okay” and not “horrible.”

Maybe I need to do something else… but what??



Mark Bittman on Gluttony in the NY Times

My friend Jess sent me a link to a Mark Bittman Op-Ed in the NY Times entitled Dietary Advice for the Gluttony Season, which is an excellent read. (Thanks Jess!)

Bittman espouses plain common sense: “eat more vegetables and fruits” and eat a variety of foods in moderation. When we have good variety, we’re ensuring our daily nutritional needs are being met. It all makes perfect sense.

Bittman got me thinking about “how I’m doing” with the big changes I’ve made to my eating habits over the past few months.

I’ve got excellent news: I’ve continued to live without caffeine, meat/chicken/fish, and dairy for several months now. The changes I hoped to make, I’ve made. My one compromise food is egg whites. For me eating egg whites makes a huge difference on meeting daily protein intakes.

I probably sound like a broken record, but it’s worth repeating. I’ve got higher energy levels, regulated sleep cycles, regulated digestion and a slow but steady weight loss (because I want to lose weight).

I’m on track.

And when I had to fly to California recently for work, I stayed true to my eating plan about 95% of the time. When I was served cream of mushroom soup at a company luncheon, I didn’t say no. What’s funny is that I used to love cream of mushroom soup – but this time it tasted fatty so I didn’t finish it. My tastes have changed.

Other than that, I noticed I ran a protein deficit while I was traveling because the stuff I eat at home for protein (quinoa, black beans, nutritional yeast) either isn’t always available, or isn’t being served. And no, I’m not going to travel around with nutritional yeast to sprinkle on my food!

Moderation is the key. I’m not going to go crazy about eating one bowl of cream of mushroom soup, or under-consuming protein for a few days on the road. When I got home I went back to my routine and adjusted accordingly.

Since we’re in the midst of holiday season, it may be tough to say no to cookies, sweets, cocktails and similar fare. Remember, eating one cookie at a social function is fine … balanced with the rest of what you’re having.

Carrots, right? 😉



Ice Cube Trays

Earlier this year, I assumed sometime over the summer, perhaps June or so, my refrigerator broke and I needed to buy a new one. Before writing this post, I decided to look at the receipt to see whether it was June or later.

Consider me shocked.

The refrigerator was delivered at the end of April.

I’ve been on the road for so many weeks this year, I’ve totally lost track of time. And now, after getting home from five consecutive weeks away, I’m trying to restore some semblance of order in my life, but it hasn’t been easy.

There are a bazillion little things that I need to do and have not been doing because I wasn’t home to do them. Of course there are the obvious tasks like sifting through weeks worth of mail delivered while I was away (barely started), or getting some groceries (got a few things), or less tangible tasks like re-adjusting once more to this time zone (not going well).

And then there are other tasks, insidious tasks, that lead to a lack of comfort in my life. And until I take care of them, they don’t get done and I live without.

Thus, the lack of ice in my home.

You see, I bought a refrigerator that needed to be a certain size to fit up the stairs of the 100+ year old building where I live. And the model I got has an automatic ice maker. That would be lovely, if I could hook the refrigerator up to a water source to produce the ice – but I can’t – because I live in a 100+ year old building that wasn’t constructed to provide a water source to a refrigerator 100 years in the future. And so, when I bought the refrigerator it did not come with “old fashioned” ice cube trays.

And it is very easy to buy ice cube trays. You just go to the store and buy them. But when you are home for 48 hours, have to do laundry, pack a suitcase and run to the airport again, there is no time to dedicate to the frivolity of ice cube trays. The lack of ice at home is inconsequential in those circumstances.

You may laugh when you see how shocked I am that I have not had ice in my house since April, but to me, it is a serious matter. It means that in so many ways, my life is frayed at the seams and I must expend significant energy to get my home life back on track.

So it was, last night, that I decided I wanted to find the most decadent ice cube trays I could find for my empty freezer. I toddled over to my neighborhood Bits, Bytes and Beautification and found a regular set of ice cube trays (sadly, I only had to pay $2.99) and another set of tiny half-inch cubette ice cube trays for another $2.99. When I got them home, I filled each tray with bottled spring water and slid them onto the shelves.

It was a miracle to have ice in my water today. I haven’t had ice in my drinks at home in six months.

Now you’ll have to please excuse me, I have some mail to read, laundry to wash, and a suitcase to put on the shelf… for now.

Carolfornia – a ramble about life on the road

I have been on the road for five consecutive weeks now, and I’m ready to go home. And I will go home pretty soon, later this week, for a few days anyway and then go back out on the road again in week six.

This is the most consecutive weeks I’ve spent on the road all year, and it wasn’t something I planned, it was a variety of stuff that came together, serendipitously, that caused me to have this much travel at once.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I enjoyed some of the travel a lot. I’ve stayed in decent digs, been to lovely cities, had some great weather, and pretty amazing food at times. But, I am weary.

I’ve made a promise to myself, which I hope I can keep, that after six weeks of consecutive travel that I will be able to get off the road for at least two consecutive weeks.

Do I seem obsessed?

I think I am getting a little obsessed … with the idea of sleeping in my own bed.

I know I’m getting obsessed with the idea of cooking for myself. I have elaborate fantasies of re-stocking my empty refrigerator, instead of just having a jar of lime juice and a bottle of water on the door, and a plastic container of sesame seeds on one of the shelves. I want to buy blueberry yogurt, and cucumbers and green olives. I want to luxuriate in the idea that if I don’t eat these things within 48 hours that I won’t either have to give them to the neighbors or throw them away, because I will be in my apartment more than 48 hours.

This is just a ramble post. I don’t have any deep insights about life on the road, or balancing my life (my life is clearly not balanced these days) … so let’s call this an expression of my desire to keep the same ground under my feet for enough days for me to feel ‘settled’ for a bit, into what most people would see as a boring routine, but what I choose to see as a re-initiation into my home life.


The Tate Modern – Rothko’s Seagrams Murals

I went to the Tate Modern over the weekend. From the outside, the building is a hulking concrete former power station on the south bank of the Thames.

Me watching tourists watching the north bank of the Thames from the Tate Modern cafe

Me watching tourists watching the north bank of the Thames from the Tate Modern cafe

Inside, the Tate Modern “reads” like the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City architecturally. Each floor is a series of plain white box galleries each leading to the other with some open communal space in the center of the museum for the escalators.

That’s where the similarity between the two institutions ends.

Inside the Tate Modern galleries, the walls are jumbled with a mix of paintings and works arranged all over the wall and floor (for sculpture). Many pieces are not at eye level, they are well above the heads of the viewers, and the glare from the lighting makes viewing a challenge. Moreover, the pieces are not arranged chronologically, or by artist or even in what seems to be a logical grouping of artists. Instead, each of the gallery areas are arranged by theme on each floor.

I didn’t like this way of viewing works. I found the gallery experience random and while the curators of these themes must have felt the pieces went together well, for many of the floors I didn’t find the pieces inter-related in a way that made me feel cohesion or integration in the viewing experience.


And then, there’s Rothko.


Rothko Seagram Mural (1 of 7) - black box on red background

Rothko Seagram Mural (1 of 7) – black box on red background

I’m sure I must be stealing lines from my favorite art series, Simon Schama’s Power of Art, on Rothko (Click Here for the episode:,) when I say that the experience of seeing these seven Rothko Seagram’s murals was intense.

Rothko’s works are shown together in one gallery, barely large enough to contain these huge canvases. And the effect is overpowering. The lighting in the room is dim, mausoleum-like. It’s a crypt.

Rothko Seagram Murals - purple background and black boxes

Rothko Seagram Murals – purple background and black boxes

There is one large wooden bench in the center of the room, from which you can contemplate the enormity of death crushing down on you from these works. And while I may be prone to exaggeration, I’m not exaggerating here.

Rothko detail

Rothko detail

The hazy transitions within the paint, the way you have to squint your eyes to view the canvases… And the questions – should you get close, or further away for viewing? It’s all a kind of torment to comprehend what’s being shown.

But Rothko wouldn’t have wanted you to process these works with your logical mind anyway. He would have wanted you to stand before these monuments to his genius (I say that full knowing Rothko’s hubris, and anti-hubris) and just feel them.

Rothko Seagrams Mural - Red Box Purple Background

Rothko Seagrams Mural – Red Box Purple Background


Maybe because I saw Picasso’s Guernica on this trip at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, which is the logical home of that piece of historically significant Spanish art in a Spanish art institution…

I could not help but think that Seagrams, a company with a landmark building located in New York City, commissioned Mark Rothko, a New York City based artist, to produce works to adorn the walls of the Four Seasons, a landmark New York City restaurant, meant that these iconically important New York City elements of the story of these paintings should mean that they should be on view and permanently exhibited at MoMA. Let’s face it – that’s where they belong.

Before Franco left power as the head of Spain, Guernica found a home for 30 some odd years at MoMA. So the irony of my comments is not lost on me. But I cannot understand how the Tate Modern, a British institution, gets to own these pieces.

Is it simply about who has the money to purchase them and a mad-dash to acquire important pieces, or should important works of art also be about the contextual relevance of their own history and therefore, where it is logical for certain works to be shown?

I’m sure arguments can be made on both sides (see my previous posts about the Cubist works of Picasso scattered to the winds across many different museums globally, and in general the repetition of certain artists works in many museums, securing their place in art history.)

But there is only ONE Guernica by Picasso. There is only ONE set of Seagram’s Murals by Mark Rothko. There is only ONE Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch.

And it’s entirely possible I have reached my limit of “art first’s” on this particular journey to Europe.

In fact, the day after I visited the Tate Modern, I tried to go to the Saatchi Gallery – which would have taken me from a view of Modern Art in Britain to a view of what is happening in Contemporary Art.

Outside view of the Saatchi Gallery - King's Road - London

Outside view of the Saatchi Gallery – King’s Road – London

And perhaps this is a larger comment on all of my art experiences and ponderings over the last several posts… the Saatchi Gallery, a private art institution, was closed to the public on the one day I had to see it because they were hosting runway shows for London’s Fashion Week.

Yes, the best known contemporary art space in London was closed to host the fashion elite. So I was a poor pauper left gawking at the entrance, but turned away at the door.

Pondering Museum Visits – and Guernica

In a previous posting, I mentioned how moved I was by the tremendous trove of art at the Prado in Madrid. And indeed, the Prado is a location of global art treasure, just like the Metropolitan in NYC, The National Gallery in the UK, and the Hermitage in Russia, among other seriously notable museums.

However, as a tourist with limited time to see museums it’s important to spend time wisely when choosing which museums to visit when you land in your destination of choice.

And it’s not just about time, either. It’s about the human eye and brain getting overloaded with images. I’ve visited enough museums to recognize there is such a thing as over-stimulation and museum fatigue. After about 2-3 hours, I usually need a break, or possibly need to stop wandering through galleries to “process and absorb” the things I’ve seen.

With this in mind, I want to mention the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, which houses Guernica.

Guernica is housed deep within this relatively small museum of contemporary art, in a bunker-like gallery designed to display only this towering painting. And although the room is reasonably large, it still somehow isn’t large enough to contain the painting. I can’t describe it adequately, and unfortunately in keeping with the museum’s policy, photography is not allowed in this particular gallery.

And once you’ve seen Guernica, for your $8 euro ticket price, you can essentially leave the museum. I know I’m being harsh in my commentary, and it’s not that I don’t like seeing cubist paintings by Picasso and Braque, or seeing the many Miro on display in Spanish museums, but I must call the Museo Reina Sofia out on this – there is NOTHING in that museum that can come close to the experience of seeing Guernica. There is not even one other piece on display that had an impact that could even touch what it’s like to see Guernica in person. (

Don’t get me wrong – I walked the entire museum. I saw the permanent Richard Serra installation on the first floor. I looked at the giant Calder sculpture in the courtyard. I walked by many Picasso, Braque, DuBuffet, Miro and other works on display. But… I’m sorry to say this because I sound like a total art brat and snob to make such a comment (apologies in advance) but I have seen these works before many times.

This brings me to the core of what I’m getting at with the museums we choose to visit and why.

At the Prado, I can see totally unique works by Bosch, Goya and many others that I cannot see anywhere else in the world. I got a bit of an “art high” walking around the Prado – an experience I remember having when first viewing The Temple of Dendur at the Met so many years ago. It’s just a brain-freezing, arresting, overwhelming moment when you see something that is a towering human achievement.

And Guernica delivers this experience, no doubt. I had seen reproductions of Guernica over the years, but nothing could compare to seeing it in person.

But, I’m sorry to say, if I want to see those brown and black cubist paintings that Picasso and Braques did side-by-side for a few years and that look very similar to one another… there are a lot of them, and I see them everywhere. After a while, I don’t even really bother looking at them because my mind “knows” the image.

And once you have seen two dozen paintings by Miro, which I have in a variety of museums, I’m sorry, but I “get it” and I know the style and I can even enjoy the image but it’s something similar happening over and over.

Perhaps this is one reason Guernica has such impact. It’s a combination of cubist style and figuration – plus the historic content which is essential in understanding that scene of war horror.

But I digress.

Museums often have a “mission” to display art history, and present some chronological view of art through the ages. And in that world tour, Cubism is in there, and so yes, you will be shown those brown and black Picassos because he created that new style and it was an important moment in Art History. Yes, I agree.

Unfortunately, since many/most museums have this same mission, you wind up seeing many of the same painters over and over, and you see paintings of the same style, and in the Museo Reine Sofia I just found that I’d “seen it before” when it came to anything other than Guernica.

Am I saying don’t go to the museum? NO. I am saying if you have the chance to see Guernica, just the experience of seeing that one work is completely worth it – in my opinion. It is like Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado, a one of a kind and not replicated in any other painting globally. The painting – unto itself is a piece of Art History.

But consider what I’ve said when it comes to visiting museums. What is it you hope to “experience” at these institutions, and then make your choices accordingly.