We went to the National Art Gallery and the National Museum of Natural History yesterday. It was kind of a rainy day so that was perfect. I have to say once again I was pleasantly surprised by what was to be found in both collections. I am beginning not to trust the Lonely Planet guide for Bulgaria.
The Lonely Planet guide says that the National Art Gallery has a small collection of short term rotating exhibits. While this is true on the first two floors, now (or maybe once again) the gallery is displaying a wonderful collection of Bulgarian art on the third floor. And, the gallery has an amazing collection in sheer size but also variety and craft of sculptors.
The other great thing is that the the building itself is incredible. Built in the old king’s palace, the rooms are large with high ceilings and much of the original detail seems to be in tact still. However, this includes the floors as well. The hardwood design and inlay is handsome but unfortunately the floors are in bad repair. They are horribly sweeky but worse than this are the places that the hardwood floors are soft or seem to give under pressure.
This is kind of disrepair is clearly going to be a problem in the future and I can only imagine that right now the gallery doesn’t have the kind of money it needs to keep up with repairs. And in my book, that’s really a shame because it means that the history (and design) of the building is fading with the rotting floors and it suggests that if and when the repairs will be made the gallery will have to be closed for a significant amount of time and there’s some really great stuff to see here.
After the National Art Gallery, we went out back to Toba & Co and had a coffee. A girl needs a little rush of caffeine to make it through a day of museums (Oh and I was out dancing until nearly 3 am the night before. Now I know that you are all wondering did I take my MoM and Aunt with me? Sorry to say the answer’s: no. They went to bed while I went out to celebrate at a friend’s going away party).
A coffee later, we headed to the National Museum of Natural History. I can’t even say what a kick I got out of this museum. The Lonely Planet guide describes this museum as dusty and ancient (that’s not a direct quote) and it’s not really wrong in this respect. It’s just that a description like this doesn’t really get it right either. There’s so much stuff to see from rocks to birds to mammals to insects and a little bit of everything in between.
I wasn’t sure what I was getting us into but we had a great time browsing through the collection and it seems like everyone else at the museum was too. There were families with little kids checking out the large animals and the rocks. There were a couple of teenagers that we followed through the museum who seemed to be having a lot of fun reading descriptions and checking out the weird things preserved in jars. And there was a group of twenty somethings who breezed through the museum until we caught up with them on the last floor with all of the butterflies and moths (which I should add smelled horribly of moth-balls).
What really got me hooked in this museum is how big and varied the collection is. Sofia doesn’t have a vast collection of European art (for a lot of good reasons I would add) but the collection of animals and rocks really seems to rival that of even museums like the Smithsonian in the States. They’ve got an enormous collection that spans the globe. (It’s also important to note, I am an English major and as such, I am not fully qualified to make a claim like the one I just did but I am doing it anyway.) The size and scope of the collection makes you realize how big the world is and it displays enough specimen samples to give you something to compare the different birds, moths or minerals to.
Sure the displays are kind of old and some of the animals look like they’ve seen better days (and in fact, they have) but the museum is a lot of fun even if it is a dusty and many of the displays are only labeled in Bulgarian.