The Beauty of a Toilet: Toilet Museum in Gmunden, Austria

“For many people, having a toilet is an afterthought, one of the easy-to-take-for-granted amenities of living in the modern world. But for 40% of the world’s population that lives without sanitation, having a toilet is a luxury, and one that can often make the difference between life and death” explains a posting by the American Red Cross. I would argue that for many Americans easy and free access to a bathroom is nearly seen as a fundamental human right, which explains the surprise of many American tourists in Europe when they figure out that public toilets often require a fee and receipts are checked consistently to ensure that really only customers use an establishment’s bathroom. And do not even think about hoping to find a bathroom in a supermarket. Bathrooms – and especially clean bathrooms – are not a certainty. This became clear for example on Mount Vesuvius, where no free bathrooms existed. The toilet I ended up paying for (I think it was one Euro) had no water to flush but was not designed to be a waterless porta potty and it had been used a LOT throughout the day. Let’s just put it that way: what cannot go down must pile up. At that point, I really wished for a lot more bushes on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius…

IMG_3539

View over the Bay from Mount Vesuvius in Italy

Considering the impact of toilets and our dependence on them, it is rather surprising that they are not more celebrated or talked about. So it was a nice surprise to find a museum dedicated to toilets in Gmunden, Austria. Sure, the museum is definitely not the main attraction of the town. Rather, the main draw are the panorama of the magnificent lake Traunsee with the tall mountains in the background, castle Orth on an island in the lake, and maybe the ceramic manufacturer established in 1492.

Lake and Boats

Lake Traunsee and Sailboats in Gmunden

 

Schloss Orth

Schloss Orth in Gmunden on a small island in the lake (Photo by Ibokel from Pixabay)

 

Saint Orth

Saint Nepomuk Statue on the Bridge to the Castle Orth near Gmunden

On my last visit to Gmunden, I finally visited the toilet museum in the center of town near the lake. The toilet museum (its official name is the sanitation museum) is one of five rather small museums housed in the so-called K-Hof. The other four museums focus on geology, salt and tourism, nativity sets and sacred art, and current art (it seems this exhibit changes throughout the year). It is a very eclectic/odd mix as one floor houses the nativity sets and the next one the toilets. The museum even includes a chapel. The toilet/sanitation museum focuses on sanitation objects from the 19th and 20th century even though the first water closet was already invented in the 16th century.

 

The museum has some interesting pieces with the majority of the exhbits from Central Europe, but it does lack an international or intercultural aspect. Would not this be the place to show and discuss the differences in toilets and the impact of the toilet on everyday life around the world? I expected the exhibit to be more informative and in-depth. But it does have some extremely beautiful toilet bowls that put the common current and very boring toilet bowls to shame. You won’t be able to find anything close to these in your local store I think. Here are some of my favorite toilet bowls (hmm  – what an odd and unexpected sentence to use):

The exhibit also includes other items associated with the bathroom such as toilet pulls and sinks and even an outhouse.

 

Outhouse

Old-fashioned Outhouse

The museum is entertaining enough but not worth a special trip; however, it is an interesting addition to a visit already planned to enjoy the panorama and the castle, which are worth a trip.

Gmunden is in Upper Austria, about an hour’s drive from Salzburg and nearly three hours from Vienna. The museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10AM till 5PM and during the summer (June-August) Tuesdays through Sundays from 10AM till 5PM. Check the museum’s website for changes in the opening hours and other details.

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Underwhelming: The Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence

Wall of Shoes

A Small Section of Wall of Ferragamo Shoes

I have a tendency to wander around without a guidebook or map or clear plan and just be surprised by what I discover. And usually Florence is a wonderful town to approach this way -especially if one has a lot of time. I have found plenty of gems that I would have mostly likely not chosen to visit if I had used a guidebook (sometimes the descriptions are less than exciting for my interests or the guidebook does not mention the items that actually ended up interesting me the most). I usually check the guidebook after I have visited a place to learn more about the details or see what the book highlights.

View from the Palazzo

View towards the Arno from the Museum in the Palazzo Spini Feroni

So I was ready for another pleasant museum visit when I decided to pop into the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence on a recent walk. The museum was mentioned as one of four museums connected to fashion in a recent fashion and design lecture I attended. I was hoping for plenty of great shoes, explanations on design and/or shoe making, overview of the history of the brand with plenty of examples, and much more, but the museum was rather underwhelming. A good coffeetable book about the brand or a glance at the brand’s website provides more of all that than the museum.

Close-Up Shoes

Close-Up of Shoes in the Ferragamo Museum

A lot of space of the museum is currently (till April 3) dedicated to the history of the building itself, the  Palazzo Spini Feroni, which actually could be pretty interesting but does not contain much to look at and more to read about the building.The 13th-century palazzo was owned by a succession of several wealthy families, also was a luxury hotel, served  as seat for the Municipality, and was bought by Salvatore Ferragamo in the 20th century. The most memorable part is that the scientist Girolamo Segato had a lab in the palazzo in which he practiced to “petrify” human cadavers (it is not clear how exactly he did that). I actually had more fun browsing the museum’s website, which is very detailed and has photos of all the pieces that stood out to me.

Silk Scarf

Silk Ferragamo Scarf Showing the Palazzo Spini Feroni

I did enjoy the displayed photos showing Ferragamo at work, fashion shoots from the 50s, or Florence being rebuilt after WWII, but there were not enough of them.

Model

Photo from 1958

Ferragamo

Salvatore Ferragamo and One of His Designs in 1956

Destruction of Bridges

Photo Showing the Rebuilding Florence after WWII – Of All the Bridges, Only the Ponte Vecchio Survived the Bombing

Maybe I have become spoilt by the many outstanding museums in Florence hat I have unrealistic expectations because surprisingly the museum has received 4 out of 5 stars on Tripadvisor. And I really like fashion museums and have enjoyed two of them in Florence (see a previous and another previous post). It seems that a lot of the pieces shown in this museum change based on the theme of the temporary exhibition and currently, the focus is not on the shoes but on the building. But I am still wondering whether I have maybe overlooked a whole section of the museum.

Shoe Forms

Shoe Forms in the Ferragamo Museum for Celebrities

Shoe Form

Shoe Forms for Making Shoes for Michael Jordan

If you are interested in visiting, the museum is on Piazza Santa Trinita 5/R, 50123 Florence and a full-price ticket was 6 Euro. The museum is open from 10 am to 7:30 pm everyday;
except 1 January, 1 May, 15 August and 25 December. For more details, see the excellent website.

Have you been to the museum and do you feel there is something I am overlooking?

Underrated Museum in Florence: The Bargello

When the words “museum” and “Florence” are combined, most think of the Uffizi and/or the Academia. But very few seem to think of the Bargello, also called the Museo Nazionale del Bargello – just a few minutes north-east of the Uffizi and much cheaper and much less crowded. It has quickly become one of my favorite museums in Florence and the only one I have visited twice since I have been here.

Window

Window of the Bargello from the Outside – Facing the Piazza San Firenze

It seems to be a little underrated by tourists (based on lack of crowds in March even when there are lines for the Uffizi) and more popular with Italian school classes. But it has much to offer. The building is from 1255, when it was the city’s town hall, and thus the oldest seat of government surviving in present-day Florence. The look is very similar to the Palazzo Vecchio on the outside, but smaller. The building was also used as the residence for the chief of police and a prison. In 1865, it became one of the first national museums of Italy. The building itself with its courtyard and painted ceilings is worth a quick visit but the sculptures are the reason to linger and appreciate it as museum.

Courtyard

Courtyard of the Bargello

Sculpture and Ceiling in the Courtyard of the Bargello

Sculpture and Ceiling in the Courtyard of the Bargello

The Bargello houses the sculpture entitled “Bacchus” by Michelangelo (from 1497 and thus his first major work). Sure, his “David” is amazing, but this sculpture also has incredible details and with the lack of crowds, it is possible to actually get close, sit down and spend some time observing the details. I was especially fascinated by the small details of the skin folds on the heel of the sculpture and the seemingly rougher callouses on the bottom of the heel.

Bacchus

Bacchus by Michelangelo

Bacchus Foot

Close-up of Foot of Michelnagelo’s Bacchus and the Satyr

The same room also houses several more works by Michelangelo as well as the bronze “Mercury” by Giambologna from 1564. The courtyard includes several sculptures such as a reconstructed large fountain that was designed for the Room of 500 in the Palazzo Vecchio but was never installed there.

Other highlights of the museum include the bronze “David” by Donatello from 1450, the first nude statue by a Western artist since Classical times. It is a very different portrayal of David compared to Michelangelo’s. Just as there are several sculptures of David, there ar also several portrayals of Bacchus, the god of wine, and it is fascinating to see how the portrayal of the same character changes based on artist and time but also what elements or traits seem to be more permanently associated with this character.

DAVID

David – Famous Bronze by Donatello

In addition to sculptures, the museum includes the competition panel by Brunelleschi for the Baptistry as well as arms, porcelain, religious items, and much more on three floors.

One of the reasons the museum might be overlooked by some is because of its opening hours: 8:15 AM – 1:50 PM daily but closed on some Sundays and some Mondays as well. Some websites mention that the museum is open till 4 or 5, but that is not true it seems. The Bargello has one of the cheapest entrance fees with 4 Euro (2 Euro reduced) and is thus cheaper than many museums and churches that house much less important work but also seem to be more crowded. For more information, see the museum’s website. I still have not come close to seeing everything in Florence, but I am still tempted to come back to the Bargello before I return to the Uffizi.

First Floor

The Donatello Room on the First Floor of the Museum

Gucci Museo in Florence

In 1921, Guccio Gucci (love the name) founded the Gucci company in Florence, so it makes sense for the city to have its own Gucci Museum. The museum is housed in the Palazzo della Mercanzia overlooking the famous Piazza della Signoria with its Neptune Fountain and copy of Michelangelo’s David and close to the much more famous Uffizi Gallery. The museum also includes a very popular cafe on that square.

View from Museum

View from the Gucci Museo over Piazza dell Signoria

The collection is an interesting overview of the brand’s items from luggage to car to clothes and handbags. Unfortunately, it does not include any jewelry and watches and could also use more examples of scarves.

At the beginning, the company specialized in travelware and accessories, so it makes sense that the collection includes a lot of suitcases and and travel sets, many in exotic leathers such as crocodile or ostrich and of course, the famous logo.

I was surprised to see that Gucci worked with Cadillac in the 70s to create a Gucci model, also on display in the museum.

Gucci Car

The Gucci Model of Cadillac

Most of the evening dresses on display are not behind glass, so it is possible to take a very close look at the craftsmanship of the amazing gowns adorned with feathers, crystals, and more. The dark rooms with black walls and floors let the gowns shine in the spotlights:

Gucci Evening Dresses

Gucci Evening Dresses

One room highlights the Flora print, first created for Princess Grace of Monaco; another room focuses on bags with the famous curved bamboo handle. And of course, a whole room is devoted to fashion showcasing the brand’s famous double-G logo.

Gucci

GG Monogram Fashion

I was the only visitor on a late weekday afternoon at the beginning of February, which is quite different to a lot of other museums in Florence that are busy even now in winter. The museum is rather small (1,715 square meters of exhibition space) and is definitely limited in its offering.  I was more impressed by the design of the display space to showcase the items than the items themselves actually. If the entrance fee were cheaper (it is usually 7 Euro but only 5 Euro on Fridays after 8PM), I could recommend it more wholeheartedly. But the museum has exceptional opening hours (Fridays till 11PM and on other days till 8PM) that it is a great choice if you still feel like seeing another museum but most other museums in Florence are already closed.

For more information, see the museum’s website.