I have always loved history. One of my favourite forms of relaxation is to curl up with a book that can teach me something about a time or place that is unfamiliar to me.
With that in mind, it would seem to be a natural extension to assume that I enjoy visiting museums. Because they’re all about history, right? The truth is a little more complicated, because it all depends on whether or not I’m able to experience the museum using senses other than sight.
Let me give you two examples from my recent visit to Europe, from museums in Vienna.
The first is the House of Music. It was a lot of fun, as I got to engage with some of the exhibits. The first thing we did at the museum was to find the wonderful Piano Stairs, which you’ll see, and hear, in the video. I had such fun running up and down the stairs making music. Admittedly, as you’ll see from the video, I couldn’t find a way to play a recognisable tune, nor could I get the notes to harmonise, which is what I was trying to do with my white cane in the video. It may not have been tuneful, but it was so much fun!
There were other interactive installations that I could engage with. My favourites were the opportunity to conduct a full orchestra – virtual, of course – with a choice of several pieces of classical music. It was as much fun listening to other people exploring how different arm movements affected the music as it was to try it out for yourself.
Another set of experiential exhibits were a set of simulations about the experience of listening to sound. In one simulation various sounds were played showing how different breeds of animal would hear them. Another showed how an unborn baby would experience a range of sounds, including laughter, thunder and church bells. And the chance to explore how differently shaped waves create different types of musical notes.
I also got to experience sound showers for the first time and was fascinated as the sound of rain cascaded down from above, then moved two steps and the sound changed to that of birdcalls, then voices from a stage in a large open space, and then on to industrial sounds. The range of sounds was fascinating. As was the fact that so little sound bled across – each sound was almost entirely distinct.
In contrast to the House of Music was a military museum we visited. I’m sure the exhibitions were fascinating to someone with eyesight, but they were almost all behind glass or other types of barriers. So, even though my fingers were itching to explore the cutaway of an Austrian battleship, or to feel the sabers, swords and cutlasses that were displayed, no matter how desperately I wanted to step into the simulation of a WWI trench and feel my way around it, sadly, I could do none of these things. That museum made me feel marginalised and excluded.
In my travels I have had the opportunity of going to some fantastic museums that incorporate different techniques to make heritage come alive to all their visitors. Because the truth is that none of the interactive installations at the House of Music were designed with blind and partially blind people in mind. They were designed to make the museum more immersive for everybody. And they were being enjoyed by all the visitors.
Sadly, inclusive museums are not usual in my home city of Cape Town. We tend to have only museums that hide their exhibits away behind glass. But it seems there is interest in changing that. And I hope to be part of the change.
I live in a quiet suburb of Cape Town, near a river estuary. The area is lush, green and we have lots of trees in the surrounding area. And an almost constant accompaniment of birdsong. Birds are so much a part of my everyday life that I hardly hear them when I’m concentrating. Still, every now and then I become aware of the sound around me and smile.
Which is why I was so aware of the lack of birdsong when I was in Europe. I found the smost silent skies unnerving and ominous, almost oppressive.
It’s not that the environment around me was silent. In most of the apartments where we stayed, there was a backdrop of sound from the steady flow of traffic, planes crossing the sky, the rattle of trains, trams, busses or metros, the occasional bark of a dog, and the chatter of human voices. But very little birdsong.
I first became aware of the eerie quiet in Vienna, the first city we visited on our travels. The morning after we arrived, I was startled when the silence was shattered by the start cry of a crow. When I heard it, I became aware that I could hear no other birds. That was when I actively began listening to everything that was around me. And was flummoxed to notice the same lack of birdsong in the other cities we went to.
To be fair, most of our apartments were in the centre of cities, so perhaps the environment wasn’t ideal for birds. Perhaps the birds chose to live outside the city centres. I don’t know.
And, having said that, I did hear the familiar sound of birds on two distinct occasions. First, sitting outside a pub in the centre of Bratislava in Slovakia, which we visited one evening at dusk. It was reassuring to hear birds settling into the nearby trees for the night. The second occasion was in the forest near the place we were staying in Poland, which is about 30 minutes outside Krakow. Again, it was lovely to hear birds chirping and chittering when we were there.
Even now, as I sit writing this blog, I can hear birds in the trees near our home. It is a marked contrast to what I experienced in Europe.
PS After our trip I was chatting to my friend Avril about her recent cycling trip to Greece and, totally out of the blue, she mentioned how strange she had found it to hear so few birds there. So it seems I’m not the only one who found it curious…
Have you been aware of sounds like birdsong on your travels? I’d love to know what your experiences have been like on your own travels!
I know, I know – the first blog of the month is meant to be a Fiji post. But seeing as she posted a few additional blogs while I was overseas, I think I’m justified in dognapping this spot from her, don’t you?
Besides, since I’ve just returned from an amazing, exhausting, fascinating, busy, invigorating, and challenging vacation in Central Europe, I thought it would be fun to share a few of my insights and experiences from the trip with you.
I was away for almost a month, which is the longest I’ve been away from home and dogs ever. The trip took us to four countries – six if you include South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which we flew through on our way to Europe, though we didn’t leave the airport this time around.
The countries and cities we actually stayed in were Austria (Vienna), Slovakia (Bratislava), Poland (Krakow) and Hungary (Budapest). Our trip was organised around my sister-in-law’s 40th birthday in Poland.
While we were away we obviously experienced all sorts of interesting things, and ate far too much delicious food, but that’s not going to be the focus of my articles. Okay, there may be a little of that, because it’s part of travelling to a different place. But since you can find that sort of information on almost any travel blog, I’d prefer to focus on how I experienced our travels as a totally blind woman.
What I’ll be sharing with you is how I experienced different aspects of my recent vacation through the senses other than sight, hoping that you’ll find it interesting to compare against the way you travel. Having said that, since I know that travel doesn’t interest everyone, I’ll also add in a few articles on other subjects, to keep things interesting.
I hope you enjoy learning a little about my travels, and would love to hear some of your travel stories if you feel like sharing them wherever you’re reading this.