Friday, 8 July 2016

Wintethur and the art of avoiding museums on your travels!

Winterthur
The world is divided into two kinds of travellers. I call them the 'museum people' and the 'spending an afternoon in a museum is my worst nightmare people' ('non-museum people' for short). Can you guess which one I am? It is not that non-museum people won't set foot 'ever' inside a museum (imagine coming home from Paris and announcing to your friends that you skipped the Louvre because it sounded boring!) it is just that in order to survive large museums you have to have a plan - and you have to stick to it.


A good plan involves: -
  1. researching your target museum, 
  2. determining exactly which object(s) you want to see (Just a heads up here, these will be the things people will ask you about when you get home - as in 'Did you see the Mona Lisa?' or 'Did you see Tutankhamen's mask?'), and 
  3. using the internet to scout the most direct route from the museum entrance/exit to your target object(s), 
Once inside the museum (Listen very carefully, I will only say this once - this next bit is crucial) : -
  1. head straight to the object, 
  2. snap a quick photo, probably a selfie, as proof you made it to your goal, and 
  3. leave (by the direct route which you scouted following point 3 above). 
If you do not deviate in any way from your plan you might, just maybe, survive the experience with your sanity intact.

Oh, and one other thing, try to visit about 3 a.m. Every third traveller on the planet will have exactly the same plan but they won't be smart enough to go in the middle of the night, when the museum is closed. This way you will avoid the crowds - and possibly get arrested - but they say the best travel tales are the 'when things went wrong' ones. You'll be dining out on your story of  'How I spent a week in a Paris jail' for years. With luck you might turn it into a best selling book.

Winterthur - the House and Galleries


Have you figured out yet whether I am a 'museum person' or a 'non-museum person?'

David and I are on a road and cycling adventure in north-east America, with the occasional historic house and garden tour thrown in.  We came to Winterthur, near Wilmington in Delaware, to see the gardens. Winterthur has one thousand acres of gardens. There are forests, streams, meadows, flower gardens, a reflecting pool and an enchanted wood complete with resident fairies.


The reflecting pool at Winterthur
The reflecting pool

Winterthur also has a 175 room mansion and more exhibition galleries than I cared to count containing a seemingly endless collection of American fine and decorative arts. The collection was begun by Henry Francis Du Pont (1880 - 1969) and today includes 90,000 objects including ceramics, glass, furniture, metalwork, paintings and textiles. Henry was definitely a 'museum person.'  He and his family lived surrounded by the collection until 1951 when he moved to a cottage with slightly less than 175 rooms, and turned the house over completely to its function as a museum.


Winterthur
The house at Winterthur was difficult to photograph and surprisingly plain looking from the outside.

As 'non-museum people' our Winterthur plan was to stroll the gardens, enjoy the spring flowers, and avoid the house/museum tour - but the staff were so welcoming!  Barbara, at the desk, even announced she had read our blog. They were so keen to show us their treasures we couldn't say no - and besides they promised the tour would only take 45 minutes.  What could we do! Our plan went out the window and we followed Meryl, our tour guide, straight down the rabbit hole - emerging into a world of wealth, privilege and grand rooms. From the exquisite furnishings, to the hand painted wallpaper, everything looked as if it had been selected to impress. It was hard to imagine any kind of normal family life taking place in the midst of so many expensive objects.

The 45-minute tour took more than an hour and, truth be told, at times we found ourselves wishing it was just a little bit less comprehensive and detailed - but to be fair we are definitely not 'museum people.'  We were not at all sorry at the end to escape to the gardens.

Winterthur - inside the house
 A grand entertaining room with hand-painted wallpaper.

Entertaining at Winterthur

The dining room at Winterthur

The staircase at Winterthur
Imagine having a staircase like this in your house.

Winterthur - the Gardens


'Color is the thing that really counts more than any other.' - Henry Francis du Pont. 

I couldn't agree more. Give me colour in a garden and I will love it. I may find turning your home into a museum a bit strange but when it comes to flowers, Henry was definitely a man after my own heart. He planted the garden so that from late January to November there would always be colour somewhere. Although we were armed with a map, we got lost again and again - but it didn't matter, there were surprises around every corner.

We were at Winterthur in late May. The rhododendrons were in flower as were the dogwood trees. A few late blooming azaleas splashed crimson across the landscape and the primroses in the quarry garden were in full bloom. The flowering shrubs at Sycamore Hill were stunning although I have no idea what they were. The great thing about beautiful gardens is you don't need to know anything at all about plants to enjoy them. Even if you aren't a 'museum person' the gardens at Winterthur are well worth visiting just on their own.

Azaleas at Winterthur
Late blooming azaleas
Rhododendrons at Winterthur
Rhododendron
A woodland path at Winterthur
A woodland path

Dogwood at Winterthur
Dogwood 

Enchanted wood at Winterthur
The fairy garden

Sundial garden at Winterthur
The sundial garden
The quarry garden at Winterthur
The quarry garden

Tips and Tricks and things to know: -


Where is Winterthur and when is it open?
  • Winterthur is 25 minutes by car north-west of Wilmington, Delaware.
  • Its street address is 5105 Kennet Pike (Route 52) Winterthur, DE 19735. According to the website, Google Maps is unreliable for directions to Winterthur's front entrance. Make sure you use the actual street address rather than just using the word 'Winterthur'. We had no trouble finding it but then I was using an old-fashioned paper map - remember them, they were quite useful before the GPS was invented.
  • Winterthur is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm all year except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. For up to date information on opening hours and directions click - here

How much does it cost to visit?
  • General admission costs US$20 (adult) and US$5 (child 2-11). Children under 2 are free and seniors (62 and over) and students (with a valid ID) are US$18.
  • General admission tickets are valid for two consecutive days. They include admission to the garden, the galleries and special exhibitions as well as a garden tram tour and an introductory house tour.
  • Winterthur offers one and two hour reserved tours as well as customised private tours for an additional cost. 
  • For the full range of prices click - here

My tips!
  • Allow yourself plenty of time - Winterthur is huge. If you can, take advantage of the second day included in your entrance ticket. David and I got this wrong big time. We spent half a day at Winterthur and it wasn't nearly enough.
  • Plan ahead - Winterthur has a number of specialty tours as well as its general introductory house tours. Click here for those currently on offer.
  • Click here for a list of what is in bloom or ask the ticket office when you arrive. 
  • Take the garden tram tour (included in the admission price) when you first arrive to get a sense of where things are, or grab a map and just wander as we did. There are white arrows to guide you as you walk around but we gave up trying to follow them.

arrows at Winterthur
Good luck trying to follow these!
  • Winterthur's collections include almost 90,000 objects ranging from antique furniture to the world's largest collection of soup tureens. You can't possibly see everything in a day or two but you can try - and you'll have a much better chance if you plan ahead! Click here for descriptions of the collections.
  • Oh, and did I say, plan ahead!

I will publish a new post every Thursday/Friday (depending on your time zone). If you want to follow our travels check back each week or enter your email address in the 'Follow this blog by email' box in the right hand sidebar just below my profile picture.

For all the posts so far on our north-east USA road and cycling adventure click - here

Note: David and I received complimentary entry to Winterthur.


36 comments:

  1. I would be classified as a non museum person. While I do enjoy visiting them, I do not want to spend hours and hours examining every nook and cranny. In saying that this one looks like it would be quite interesting.

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    1. I try to avoid museums as much as possible but when you travel as much as we do you can't avoid every museum. David finds it amusing that we have reversed the gender roles here. He quite likes museums. When we went to the Louvre many years ago he though it was odd that all I wanted to see was the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo but when we got there there were signs directing the public to three exhibits - the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory. It turned out that he was the odd one out - haha!

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  2. I think 2 days would not be enough to even see the grounds, let alone the 90,000 items in the collection. A fascinating place that I never new existed in Delaware.

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    1. If I lived nearby I think I would go for the membership/yearly ticket option - if, of course, I was a museum person, which I am not.

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    2. I guess I'm not really a museum person but I live nearby and had a membership to Winterthur. I never even went in the museum in the first five years. I did go 1-3 times a month to walk the gardens. I did enjoy the changing colors.

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    3. I can understand why you went to the gardens. They are lovely. Even though I am not a museum person I would have liked to have seen the soup tureen collection if only for its novelty value. Sadly, we ran out of time. I envy you living in such a beautiful corner of the planet.

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  3. Lyn I laughed and laughed at your strategy. I'm one of those the best stories come from things gone bad but getting arrested may put a damper on the writing. I agree that I am not much of a museum goer. We arrived at the Vatican just before it closed. A great time crowd wise but be prepared to dash about like a maniac to hit the prime spots.

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    1. Haha - we did more or less the same thing. We saw the Vatican okay but when we went to see the Sistine Chapel we joined the wrong queue and ended up seeing the Cupula instead. It was lovely - one of those mistakes which turned out well but it did mean we had very little time for the actual Sistine Chapel so we had to walk straight past the Vatican Museum without seeing a single exhibit.

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  4. You are funny! As a kid, I hated museums, but have come to appreciate them now. But I do agree for big museums a strategy is key. I can't take more than a few hours at one.

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    1. My problem is that David wants to read everything and so he goes really slowly. If I could just wander through without reading every word of every caption I might like them a bit more - lol!

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    2. My husband Richard is the same with reading every single thing yet he never remembers anything! He's now started taking photos of the plaques, signs etc so he can go back to it. Kills me. I love art galleries, photography events but only can take a few hours at a time...And yet, I can spend DAYS in a garden, camera in one hand, as always.

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    3. Maybe you and I should go to a garden together and ditch the hubbies at the nearest museum - lol!

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  5. Haha, I loved your tongue-in-cheek introduction! I'm definitely a museum person myself, so the museum tour sounds positively thrilling to me! I also love (legally) exploring big old grand houses just to see how people used to live. The gardens look amazing too. It's so true that you don't need to know a lot about plants to be able to enjoy gardens! The sundial looks especially intriguing :)

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    1. The sundial was amazing. I probably wouldn't have known what it was if it hadn't been for the map we had. I think David and I have just done one big old house too many to appreciate them but we used to love them too. Nowadays I just want to be able to get a quick glance and then explore the gardens.

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  6. The gardens at Winterthur look just gorgeous. I'd love to visit. I'm very much a museum person so my goal now is to make museums fun and accessible to my children. I would never turn up in a museum, especially a big one, and just wander around from beginning to end. We find a fun angle like going on a dragon hunt or if it's a massive one, like the Louvre or the Musée d'Orsay in Paris we'll work out what bits we want to see and just see and enjoy those. You can't overdo it with kids! #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. David and I took our boys on endless holidays when they were young and we learned that museums and children can work provided there is something a bit off-beat the kids might be interested it. Dinosaurs are always a drawcard and Egyption mummies but art and fine arts are a definite mistake.

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  7. Lyn, would you believe we have been to Paris twice and not yet made it inside the Louvre? In fact most of the cities in Europe we have visited have not been to a museum. Each to their own, we usually include something musical and a garden/park as that better suits our interests. Like you, we are happy to have our own travel style. Thank you for linking with #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. Yesterday David showed me a photo he saw on the internet of the Mona Lisa surrounded by so many tourists you could barely see it. D and I went to the Louvre 30 years ago and were able to just stand in front of it and admire it (although frankly I think it is pretty overrated). Honestly, if you didn't make it to the Louvre by the end of last century I think you've missed the boat and you are wise to stick to gardens.

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  8. We went into an art museum lately but again, we didn't get it! Why had we paid an entrance fee for THIS, was our thought. So yes, we try sometimes but mostly, we don't like it either.

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    1. Haha - I will go to museums/art galleries to see things like the Mona Lisa or the Blackwatch but mainly because my mother always had an annoying habit of asking when I got home whether I had seen things she had either seen herself or heard about. She did it in such a way that I felt a failure if I couldn't say yes - lol. She died many years ago but I still have this guilty voice in my head which says if everyone else wants to see something I should too.

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  9. Lol, I normally reserve museums for cold weather, thunderstorms with hail and tornados, but of course who among us doesn't want a tornado photo. However, the fairy and sundial gardens are superb. You are so right about planing, maps and allowing plenty of time. I even do this for things like Irishfest and always get looks from my sister.

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    1. I think planning is really important but I rarely actually do it - lol!

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  10. Well, at least David and you are both "non-museum" people. In my case, I am a museum person and my husband is a non-museum person. That means that I do not have the opportunity to visit museums when we visit places (the visit is going to end in some sort of fight). We only visit museums in cases extreme cases (it is raining, other attractions are closed). It is so funny that you feel compelled to take the house tour. I wonder if the staff is going to read this blog post entry.

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    1. I think the staff may read the blog entry. I sent it to them. When they do, I trust they will take my comments in the way they were intended - a lighthearted attempt to be humorous. They were lovely people and I would not want to offend them.
      David used to be a museum person - but I think I have cured him.

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  11. i find that with houses like this the gardens are often even better than the house. And certainly less crowded! The personal histories of the homeowners are often enlightening, too, though I feel like I never remember much afterward!

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    1. I really enjoy learning about the inhabitants of houses. D and I did the Servant Life Tour at The Elms (Newport RI) while we were in the US and loved it. Winterthur however is mostly about the collection which is not my cup of tea. The gardens are fabulous though.

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  12. Confession: I am a museum person. Not only that, but I'm the worst nightmare of everyone with whom I go to a museum because I like to read e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g---sometimes even if it's not in English as long as it's in a Romance language. I live in Philly and we consider Winterthur a place to go for a day trip outside the city. Unfortunately, my only visit to Winterthur was for a Christmas tour (picture all those rooms decorated for Christmas), so I missed out on the gardens. I have become very fond of gardens and now try to go to them whenever possible, so a return trip to Winterthur is in order. Speaking of gardens, did you get to Longwood Gardens, right up the road from Winterthur and a must see for flora loving travelers.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, Do you want to borrow David for a while. He has been known to struggle through descriptions in French even though his French is pretty basic. You should go to Winterthur when things are in bloom. You can check their bloom calendar on the website. Yes we went to Longwood. I am writing my Longwood post as we speak. The flowers were gorgeous. p.s we went to Philadelphia many years ago with our boys and saw a baseball match. The locals were so welcoming when they realised we had no idea what the rules were. They explained the game to us as it was played and even got us up for the 7th innings stretch. I have never forgotten how lovely they were.

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  13. Ha-Ha. Now who wouldn't want to see the world's largest collection of soup tureens? Actually, I love museums of all kinds and, the quirkier the better! I'm more like Suzanne in that I'll read all the cards and even ask questions on tours, too. It's hard to imagine living in a home of 175 rooms surrounded by so much grandeur but living museums like Winterthur are so much fun to wander through. I love the handpainted wallpaper and it's not hard to imagine the delight of children (and adults) roaming through the beautifully landscaped grounds and finding the sundial and fairy gardens!

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    1. The fairy garden was lots of fun. You might mock the soup tureens but it was about the only part of the collection I was sorry to miss - probably because it is such a quirky thing to collect. There are so great quirky museums in the world. Maybe I should do a collab post on them. I am sure other bloggers would have plenty of stories to tell.

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  14. I'm not really a museum person - my idea of a good museum visit is to spend a lot of time looking at the building the museum is in, and just to read or look at a few things that actually interest me. Wintethur sounds like my sort of museum, with a lovely house and beautiful gardens.

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    1. I think that is part of the reason you need a plan so you can concentrate on the things you might be interested in.

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  15. I am a museum person, but I do admit that many get out of hand. There truly can be too much of a good thing, or too much that's not quite as good as the main thing. In the Du Pont's case - that family likes to collect things, don't they? They seem less like museum people and more like hoarders. ;)

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    1. Haha - hoarders was my thought exactly. My mother was a hoarder so I recognize the type. I didn't like to use the word because I did not want to offend the lovely people who manage Winterthur but since you brought it up - yes, definitely more like hoarders!

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  16. I don't consider myself a non-museum or museum person. I have enjoyed some museums but others have almost put me to sleep. The Wintethur seems like something I'd enjoy, I love the gardens and the sun dial!

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    1. Maybe I just enjoy categorizing the world. Next post I have divided the world into 'gardening' and 'non-gardening' people.

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