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Culture Fix: 3 unique museums from around the world

By Budget Travel
October 3, 2012
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(Copyright: Culture & Sport Glasgow—Museums

This month, we take a look at three museums that share one thing in common—their specificity. Focusing their curatorial efforts on video games, antique race cars, and Glasgow's history of transportation, respectively, these three museums outclass more general museums through their old-school attention to detail.

COMPUTER GAME MUSEUM

Berlin goes geeky with this ode to the playful side of technology.

If you think Pong was the first video game—and, more importantly, if you care about such things—Berlin’s newest (and nerdiest), the Computer Game Museum, is for you. Rebooted in January after a decade-long force-quit, this surprisingly informative history of the medium contains over 300 consoles and 14,000 games in its archives. All your favorites are here—Mario, Donkey Kong—as well as the real granddaddy of them all, the 1951 Nimrod. Guests can test tongue-in-cheek prototypes, such as a human-size Jumbo Joystick or PainStation, which ups the ante with a Pavlovian twist: It doles out heat, shock, or a tiny whip whenever you miss the ball.

Admission $11.

MUSEUM OF THE AUTOMOBILE

Turin’s titans of industry get a shiny new pantheon.

In Italy, Ferraris and Lamborghinis may not be as revered as Michelangelos and Botticellis, but the race is closer than you’d think. It’s no wonder Turin's Museum of the Automobile, which reopened in March after a major renovation, treats cars like works of high art. Nicknamed the Detroit of Italy, this Alpine city embraces its industrial heritage with a collection of over 200 vehicles from across the globe, including the first Fiat, built in 1899. Witty, conceptual pieces range from a forest of international street signs (Australia: koala crossing) to an installation that places some of the most notoriously speedy race cars (Fiat 500 Sporting Kit, Lancia Delta Integrale) behind bars.

Admission $11.

RIVERSIDE MUSEUM

An architectural master drops anchor along Glasgow’s Clyde River.

Every “starchitect” worth her blueprints needs a world-class museum to call her own. Zaha Hadid may have found her Bilbao-like moment with the June opening of Glasgow, Scotland’s Riverside Museum, a zigzag-roofed snake built along a previously dingy stretch of docklands. The collection of vintage trams, carriages, and steam locomotives isn’t roped off. Instead, it’s spread out in its natural habitat: re-created street scenes from different periods in Glasgow’s history, from the Edwardian 1890s through the gas-guzzling 1980s. Outside, the zinc-and-glass building looks onto the Clyde River and the Glenlee, a 19th-century sailing vessel that now serves as a maritime museum.

Museum free; tall-ship admission $8.

What's your favorite highly-specific museum? Let us know below!

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Greece's new Acropolis Museum opens

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Inspiration

Q&A: How to travel the world without paying a penny

Meet the man who swears almost anyone can travel all over the world "on the other guy's dime." G. Michael Schneider has taught computer science at the university level for more than 30 years. Through the years he has also figured out ways to take more than a dozen extended vacations at no personal cost in places such as Bhutan, Mongolia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Turkey. How does Schneider do it? By arranging temporary overseas work assignments, in which the employer picks up the tab at least for housing and transportation. Schneider calls these gigs "working vacations," and often, they're more rewarding and eye-opening than a standard vacation. Schneider also says that there's often no need to have a Ph.D. or expertise in finance or engineering to arrange a great working vacation. In the Q&A; below, and in his new book On the Other Guy's Dime: A Professional's Guide to Traveling Without Paying, Schneider describes his many overseas adventures and offers plenty of advice for travelers seeking similar working vacations. Do you have some helpful hints for someone planning his or her first working vacation? Schneider: Open your mind (and your atlas) to some less well-known places where your skills will still be in demand but the competition will be far less intense. It is a mistake to apply only to popular tourist spots such as England, France, or Italy. Positions there can be hard to obtain and when an opportunity does open up you will compete for it against a large number of world-class scholars and experts. The end result is often disappointment and the assumption that a working vacation is out of your reach. My last three working vacations were to Bhutan, Mongolia and Nepal, and all three experiences were immensely rewarding. Plus, the primary reason for a working vacation is to have a transformative social, cultural, and professional experience. While you would certainly have fun in London or Paris, a working vacation there will probably not change your life. Six months in the Buddhist nation of Bhutan, three months on the steppes of Mongolia, or a summer in the mountains of Nepal will open your eyes and mind to new societies, cultures and religions. What are some professions that are surprisingly in-demand overseas? Schneider: The biggest surprise is the enormous range of professions in great demand. I think it would be easier to produce a list of those not needed. Many people think you must be a computer jockey, physician, engineer, or finance expert to work overseas. That is absolutely not true. For example, in Bhutan I spent time with a professional golf course designer from Kansas designing and building their first 18-hole layout. In Mongolia I met a radio/TV broadcaster from New York helping to establish a national news network. In Kuala Lumpur I met a musician training the Malaysia Symphony Orchestra and nurturing young conductors to lead the group in the future. In Mauritius my wife was hired to write a report evaluating the current state of the country’s pre-school programs. Don't let your field of interest deter you from considering a short-term posting. If you are good at what you do, there is almost certainly an overseas institution that will need your skills and be willing to pay you to work with them. Beyond work/career issues, what are the most common difficulties inherent in going abroad for a prolonged period of time? Schneider: Without a doubt the single biggest difficulty is overcoming your fears and worries about leaving home and moving, even temporarily, to a strange new locale. I had serious and nagging doubts when I received my first offer of a short-term teaching job. I conjured up dozens of reasons why this foolish idea could never work. What about the house? The kids? My bowling team? Fortunately, my wife, who is far more adventuresome than me, had a comeback for each of these illogical fears and convinced me to give it a try. I haven't looked back since. Overcoming these doubts is the main reason why I wrote my book. I wanted to demonstrate to prospective working vacationers that with just a little it of helpful information and guidance, a short-term post is not difficult to plan and pull ff. It's something you will never regret. For you personally, what's the most annoying or frustrating part of leaving home for a while? Schneider: This may sound silly, but it is our garden! My wife loves to plant large tracts of corn, tomatoes, peppers and other succulent eatables even when she knows we might be going away. My working vacations often take place during our summer break in June, July and August. That's exactly when many of these crops are harvested. I can't begin to tell you how many times we have received email from our renters thanking us for the delicious sweet corn or snap peas they just had for dinner. When you consider that this minor irritation is the most frustrating part of leaving home, you begin to realize how easy it is to take a working vacation. In all your years of traveling abroad, what are a few of the expenses that were unexpectedly covered by your employers? Schneider: The first expense my employers have been quite willing to provide is an air ticket that included an extra stopover, either on the way there or back, even if it added a small amount to the cost. I have done this quite often since it is an excellent way to convert a free ticket from home to destination into a free "two-fer." For example, on the way to Zimbabwe we added three days in Lisbon and six days in Cape Town at no extra cost. When we traveled to Mauritius we stopped in Kenya on the way there and India on the return. On the way to Australia we spent five days lazing on the beaches of Fiji. Our trip to Mongolia included an 11-day vacation in China. All these stopovers were included in the free ticket provided to me as part of my job. Another pleasant surprise was the excellent housing provided by my hosts. In Turkey we lived in a beautiful two-story colonial home on five acres. In Nepal we lived in a four-bedroom home with four servants. In Bhutan we were provided with a lovely two-bedroom apartment with spectacular mountain views. While not all accommodations were that nice, most were quite luxurious and either fully or partially subsidized by the school as part of my teaching contract. What was your favorite working vacation, and why? Schneider: This is the most common question I get and I often give the “cop out” response that I’ve loved them all. But I’ll fill you in on the secret now. My favorite working vacation was my three-month teaching post at Royal Thimphu College in Thimphu, Bhutan. Of all my working vacations this one came closest to fulfilling every single reason why my wife and I love to live and work overseas and experience new places, new ideas, and new cultures. Bhutan is the most non-Western country we have lived in and we have been in some truly off the beaten path places including Borneo, Mongolia, Mauritius and Zimbabwe. Bhutan was closed to westerners until the mid-1970s, and today it is still a place that reveres its historical Buddhist past while trying to bring itself into the 21st century. It is a fascinating and strange mix of old and new. For example, people wearing the ancient garb of gho and kira while enjoying a latte at one of the many downtown coffee shops. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Bhutan and the many friends I made. If you'd been paying your own way, what would have been your most expensive trip overseas? Schneider: Bhutan, since the country charges tourists $250 per day to visit. As an employee I was exempt from that charge. Since I lived there for 90 days, by working rather than touring I saved at least $22,500 not even counting airfare. I want to add that while traveling "on the other guy's dime" is a wonderful side effect of a working vacation, it is certainly not the only reason to consider one. There are two other reasons of equal importance. The first is intellectual renewal. I don't care how much you love your work. When you do the same things day in, day out, year after year, a sense of repetitiveness and staleness can set in. A working vacation where you use your skills in new and different ways (not to mention wildly new and different places) can refresh your soul and bring a renewed sense of pleasure to your workplace. It is an adventure that adds excitement to what may not be a very exciting life right now. The second reason is cultural immersion. When you live in a community for a few months you have time to make friends, meet neighbors, attend social, cultural and religious events, and participate in local activities. You learn about a culture not by observing it from a distance but by becoming part of it. For many of us, that is a far more exciting way to travel than baking on a beach or visiting yet another impressionist museum. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Q&A;: Elisabeth Eaves, a writer who puts the lust in 'Wanderlust' Take My Word: Best-Selling Writers on Travel The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel

Inspiration

Passing through security with shoes on, imagine that!

Imagine a world in which you could go through airport security without the delays of waiting for passengers to untie and retie their laces, unstrap and restrap their sandals. A world in which we could just walk straight through the body scanners with (deep breath) shoes on. Well, that world is definitely not here yet, but it might not necessarily be too far off either, according to a recent interview with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. "We are moving towards an intelligence and risk-based approach to how we screen," Napolitano said during a Politico Playbook breakfast earlier this week. "I think one of the first things you will see over time is the ability to keep your shoes on. One of the last things you will [see] is the reduction or limitation on liquids." Okay, so we shouldn't stop stockpiling travel sized toiletries and containers just yet. Napolitano explained that "the solution to many if not all of these inconveniences is better and better technology," adding that progress is being made on the shoe front that would ultimately make it so that passengers could keep their footwear on while passing through airport security scanners and checkpoints. If you recall, the shoe rule was created after a man tried to detonate a bomb in his shoe aboard a flight in December 2001. And since then, having to take off our shoes and put them through the x-ray machines has become yet another layer of the time-consuming process passing through airport security has become. Can anyone even remember what it was like when we didn't have to think about lace-up sneakers versus slip-ons? Or about having to walk (gasp!) barefoot through the body scanners because we decided to travel in sandals. I’ve seen people pack socks in their handbags specifically to avoid this horror. Not to mention, a time when there wasn’t a backlog of travelers first removing and then having to sit down to replace their footwear. What about you? How inconvenient or not do you feel that having to take your shoes off is? What have you done to adjust or make the experience easier? Let us know by commenting below. More from Budget Travel: New shoelaces ready for airport security Report: Allow one free checked bag, stop treating everyone like terrorists Maybe if we could get through security faster, we'd travel more

Inspiration

On safari, learning the wisdom of paying less

African safaris don't come cheap. But if you think paying more guarantees a more enjoyable trip, think again. In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks reflects on a safari he went on with his family in Kenya and Tanzania. Throughout the trip, the family stayed in seven different camps. Some of the camps were fairly primitive, without even running water or electricity. Others were on the ritzy side, with pools and working showers and many eager-to-please staffers. Guess which camps Brooks preferred? The cheaper, more basic camps. Why? The atmosphere was warmer and friendlier, and that made all the difference. At these camps, guests interacted and got to know each other -- and the camp staffers -- in ways that a luxury travel experience rarely allows for. Brooks and his family played soccer, had impromptu spear-throwing competitions, and went on mock hunts to stalk imaginary prey with the staffers at the primitive camps. They had a blast. The ritzier camps, by contrast, were more impressive on the surface, but ultimately were less comfortable, less welcoming, less fun, and less memorable. Brooks writes: The more elegant camps felt colder. At one, each family had its own dinner table, so we didn't get to know the other guests. The tents were spread farther apart. We also didn't get to know the staff, who served us mostly as waiters, the way they would at a nice hotel. The moral: Sometimes with travel, you can pay less for an experience you'd prefer more. Also: Almost always with travel, the best experiences are most memorable because of the people you're with as much as where you are. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Trip Coach: Expert Advice for Safaris Dream Trips: Take an Affordable Safari Just Back From… a Safari in Kenya and Tanzania

Inspiration

Heading to Europe? Have a Blue Lagoon layover

Some of the cheapest flights to Europe from New York City, Chicago, and Washington, DC., right now are on Icelandair and Iceland Express. For example, the lowest priced ticket for flights in mid-September between Dulles Airport and London Heathrow was recently on Icelandair. The catch with these cheap flights is that they all make stops in Iceland, which lengthens the overall trip. Planes typically land around 6 or 6:30 in the morning, and then depart again around 7:45 or 8. These layovers raise a question: Is there a way to take advantage of the time on the ground—say, until 4 p.m., or 7 p.m.—and enjoy Iceland a little bit before continuing your flight? Some travelers have found the answer is yes. They even deliberately pick a later departure out of the 34-year old Keflavik Airport to maximize their layover and have enough time to look around. The most popular attraction to see is only a half-hour away: the milky Blue Lagoon. We recently wrote about the Blue Lagoon in our story on affordable and picturesque public pools worldwide. Here's what we had to say: The aptly named Blue Lagoon in Grindavik, Iceland, outside of Reykjavik, draws more than 400,000 visitors a year to its 1.6 million gallons of approximately 100-degree seawater. Steam rises from these sky blue hot springs across a surreal landscape of black lava mounds, and bathers slather themselves with silica mud, precipitated from the springwater and known for its relaxing (and purported healing) properties. Formed in the 1970s as a by-product of the neighboring geothermal plant (after the plant used the hot water, it was led back to the lava field and formed the lagoon), the Blue Lagoon spawned a wellness center in 1999. With a restaurant, a spa, a dry sauna, and steam baths, the facility draws visitors from around the globe. Accessibility: Year-round. Affordability: Day pass $42. Hours: Sept. 1–May 31, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; June 1–Aug. 31, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. 240 Grindavik, 011-354/4-208-800; bluelagoon.com So what do you need to know—practically speaking—to add a Blue Lagoon visit to your next overseas vacation? Hopping a taxi is the easiest but also the most prohibitively expensive option, at up to $50 each way per couple. Hopping a shuttle bus is easier and it only take 15 minutes to get from the airport to the spa. Bus lines leave daily from the main bus station close to the airport for a fare of ISK850 ($7.50) one-way per person. But Excursion buses stopping at the Blue Lagoon don't start until at 9:30 in the morning Sept 1 - May 31, so expect to have time to pass through passport control and enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the spacious and recently redesigned food court. (In the summer, there are more frequent, earlier departures, too.) Returns are frequent as well, with the bus line Excursions running a 2:15 p.m. bus that arrives 15 minutes later at the airport every day all year round, with additional afternoon trips during summer months. Rival bus companies to Excursions may have better schedules, so check NetBus and Gray Line for more info. Remember to pack your bathing suit and flip flops in your carry on, as your checked luggage will be left at the airport. A layover of about seven hours between flights is enough to get to the Blue Lagoon, relax, and then get back, without feeling rushed or panicked. But the capital city is a bit farther away to get to, and the downtown is a bit of a walk from the main bus station, so you are best advised to only explore the city if you're staying over for the night. Would you include a stop at the Blue Lagoon on your next trip to Europe? SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Would You Pay Extra to Sit in the Front of a Plane? Top Viral Airline Video of All Time Road Killers: Rating Buses for Safety

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