If you think museums are boring then you are doing it wrong.
There is this unfortunate stereotypical mindset that museums are uninspiring, dull spots; filled with dusty old pieces behind glass windows and big “don’t touch” signs. I used to think the exact same. I used to think of museums as the most boring, uninteresting tedious thing to do on earth and I lost interest in it somewhere between the age of crayons, school trips and the day I found my first grey hair.
The epiphany came with that first grey hair in my early twenties.
I realised that the importance of museums went beyond a space of just glass boxes, dust and artefacts. I understood the value of museums in terms of education, tourism, economy and research and I discovered that it played a significant role in who I am, where I came from and where I am going.
Museums are anything but boring.
International Museum Day in Nelson Mandela Bay with Avios and Avis
On the 18th of May 2016 more than 35 000 museums across the world celebrated International Museum Day and I had the opportunity to partner with Avios, the travel reward programme that allows you to turn your everyday spending into rewards like flights and accommodation through booking flights with British Airways and kulula.com, renting a car with Avis, filling up at BP and shopping at Pick ‘n Pay.
A number of museums in Nelson Mandela Bay have been on my “most wanted” list for quite some time so when the traffic light said “go”, I went.
Thanks to Avis who put me on the road, I could divide my museum visits on International Museum Day between museums in Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch; three Eastern Cape towns in close proximity that form the greater Nelson Mandela Bay.
“Museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among people.” – International Museum Day.
Port Elizabeth – South African Air Force Museum
Just a few minutes from Port Elizabeth’s airport, along a curving road lined with blue gum trees and the sight and sound of planes taking off, is the Bellman Hanger, home of Port Elizabeth’s SAAF Museum.
In the middle of the Bellman Hanger, atop one wing on a stepladder, were two enthusiasts building a Spitfire; a replica of the British single-seat fighter of World War II, a project they started about six years ago.
The SAAF Museum offers visitors a rich living history with aircrafts from the 1930s to today with exhibits and ongoing restorations of planes related to the history of the South African Air Force. A walk through the museum is like taking a step into the dreams of aviation enthusiasts as you stroll under wings and helicopter blades.
Location: Forest Hill Drive, Southdene, Port Elizabeth.
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Thursdays 08h00 – 15h00, Saturdays 09h00 – 15h00 and Sundays 10h00 – 16h00.
Uitenhage – Old Railway Station Museum
Romantic. That’s the only way to describe Uitenhage’s Old Railway Station. If you close your eyes with the ticket counter on your right and the station master’s office on your left you can hear the rhythmically soothing sound of a locomotive blowing off steam.
The Old Railway Station in Market Street in Uitenhage used to be the center of the business district back in the 1900s and it is not only Uitenhage’s first station, but today it is also one of the oldest railway stations in South Africa. Two locomotives, one built in England in 1912 and the other built in Scotland in 1897, a couch and a great selection of artifacts, old railway equipment and the residence of the old station master can be viewed at the museum while Luvuyo, the curator, passionately talks about the history and what happened here more than a hundred years ago.
With an imaginary ticket stub you can stroll around the station and go from the Waiting Room to the Tea Room, the Bar, and the Luggage Room and even to the Control Room where a photo of Jack, the signaling Baboon, is proudly displayed in century-old monochrome tones. Jack was trained by James Wide, a paraplegic signal man and he became the first baboon employed by the South African Railway.
If you close your eyes and stand on the platform of one of the oldest railway stations in the country you can hear the commotion of people getting off the train, the click-clack of horse hooves outside and the eminent romantic choo-choo howl in the distance.
Location: Market Street, Uitenhage.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Thursdays from 10h00 – 13h00 and 14h00 to 15h30.
Uitenhage – VW Autopavillion
The VW Autopavillions redefines the whole concept of museum and they are pioneers in the field of edutainment, a place where education and entertainment comes together.
Here, you don’t walk through the VW Autopavillion, you journey through a unique space and time where every important moment in the history of Volkswagen is proudly displayed on a screen, a poster, an interactive feature or an actual car. Games, green screens, general knowledge quizzes, race car games, old advertisements and laser technology of a car being cut in half is all part of the experience; an experience that quickly turns the idea of a quick stop into planning your next visit.
The journey through VW Autopavillion is a trip down memory lane with sights of the last Beetle and Citi Golf plus a few old Kombis, the symbol of the South African lifestyle from the fifties and sixties.
Volkswagen memories… we all have one, whether it was a family holiday, a first car or those red shoes of David Kramer.
Location: 103 Algoa Road, Uitenhage.
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday, 8h30 to 16h00 and every first Saturday of the month from 10h00 – 13h00.
In the middle of Despatch stands Despatch Museum which was the dream vision and initiative of the “Friends of Despatch” group.
The museum is filled with interesting tidbits, from old Despatch bricks to small chimney replicas to generous donations of collections and other memorabilia. The walls of the museums are proudly filled with photos of local heroes and talent like Danie Gerber, Rassie Erasmus, Rudi Koertzen and many more.
The museum, which may look small from the outside, has a big heart and acts as the town’s time capsule remembering and honouring the faces, places, proud moments and history of Despatch.
Location: 1a Church Street, Bothasrus.
Opening Hours: Visitors can call Fanie Pretorius at 076 150 6460 if you want to visit the museum.
If Museums are Boring…
If museums are boring then you are doing it wrong. To put one whole day aside for just museums was incredibly educational thanks to inspirational people from the Bay; Mr. Williams the 94-old old aviation enthusiast at the SAAF Museum, Luvuyo at the Old Railway Museum, Fanie at Despatch Museum and the whole of Volkswagen at the VW Autopavillion in Uitenhage.
If you are thinking of following the same route, (SAAF Museum in PE, to VW Autopavillion and the Old Railway Museum in Uitenhage and then Despatch Museum), make a lunch stop at Topiary Lane (Mosel Road), a quaint coffee shop situated in Uitenhage’s old Post Office.
And to end the day on a high note, stop at the Donkin Reserve where you can go up in the lighthouse and just enjoy the sunset and view of Algoa Bay.
More about Avios, Your Rewarding Travel Partner
Like I mentioned earlier, Avios is a travel reward programme that allows you to turn your everyday spending into rewards like flights and accommodation. They give you the chance to get to your dream destination quicker! Who will say no to that? All you have to do is to collect Avios (points) without actually doing anything different than your normal day-to-day spending.
In the beginning of 2016 the low cost courier, kulula, also partnered with Avios and they are now giving travellers the opportunity to earn while they fly. For every R10 you spend on kulula flights you will get 3 Avios points and every point is a step closer to that dream vacation.
If you would like to know more about Avios and become a member, you can sign up for free and start collecting Avios points today. Simply visit www.avios.com and stay up to date with the latest news by joining them on Facebook and Twitter.
A big thank you to Avios and Avis for making the trip on International Museum Day possible. All opinions expressed are my own.