Monday, September 30, 2013

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Rainy season is upon us. Massive storm clouds roll in from the mainland. We can see them from miles away before they reach us — a wide curtain of rain spread out across the water and obscuring everything behind it. Living on an upper floor of a high-rise tower, the mighty winds screaming past our condo send out a warning, too, of the impending downpour. It sounds like the high pitched wails of a thousand banshees trying to burst through the windows, and I occasionally find myself thinking, "Something wicked this way comes." I don't think it must sound this bad down at ground level because workmen have stopped what they're doing in the unit to comment on the noise. Sometimes, cracking open the sliding glass doors a few inches helps calm the roar, but then the wind whips through the house, sending loose papers flying and the chandelier swinging. Outside, plastic trash bags start floating through the sky, carried by an updraft higher and higher. The tropical thunder gets going with rumble after rumble rolling out ahead of the storm. Then, the rain hits us, and everything outside goes gray.

Before we moved, I wasn't quite sure of what to expect from the rainy monsoon season. I imagined torrential downpours lasting all day long that left the streets knee-deep in floodwaters, like the pictures from my parents' childhood in the Philippines. Thank goodness it's nothing like that. The rain comes down strong, but the storm blows past in an hour or so. Since Penang is a small island, the water seems to just run off into the ocean and never builds up along any of the roads I drive.

Every now and then, it will rain for hours on end. But that's atypical, and if it does, it's more of a light rain a notch or two above a drizzle. Sometimes, I can't even tell that it's raining. Living midway up the building, there's no pitter patter of raindrops hitting the roof. With no other buildings close by, it's difficult to discern if I'm just looking at a gray sky or if there's drops of rain falling in front of it. I have to peer way down to the street to see if the roadways are glistening or if I can see headlights reflected on a shiny, wet blacktop.

Once, it rather improbably rained so hard that our condo unit started flooding as did other units in our tower. No, this wasn't a storm of epic proportions (the kind where you expect to see Noah and his ark standing outside). It's just that the strong winds blew the rain horizontally under the 15 foot balcony cover and against the building so that it hit the windows, ran down them, and started seeping in under the window sills. Armed with mops, buckets and towels, we tried to soak up the rainwater as it ran into the rooms facing the storm. It was surreal.

To be honest, there's really not that much to distinguish between the wet monsoons and dry seasons.  In the dry season, there's only a 40% chance of rain each day instead of the 60% chance during the wet. Overall, the temperatures are rather constant year round with some months being only a couple degrees warmer than others.

Growing up in Houston near the Texas coast, I was quite accustomed to quick, summer afternoon thunderstorms that released the hot, humid energy that built up over the course of the day. In this way, Penang so much reminds me of home. But Central Texas where we lived for the few decades before our move to Malaysia is in the midst of a multi-year drought. The water level of Lake Travis keeps dropping, forcing some of the companies serving the recreational boaters to close. I have just arranged for a large pear tree in the front yard of my Austin home to be chopped down, another victim of the lack of rain.

So, my kids were not really used to stormy weather before we moved to Penang.

Thunderstorms are the one thing that my daughter truly hates about Malaysia. Her pathological fear of them is something that wasn't much of a problem in drought-stricken Austin, but sometimes, it brings life to a standstill here in Penang. "My dog gets like that when it thunders," is what some people have commented when they see her start to quake and cry. I learned early on that if we were out in public, on the playground or the baseball field, we'd simply have to leave and go home lest her fear become the center of attention of everyone around us. It cannot be ignored. Even her teachers for the last few years know that my girl is going to be on edge in the classroom when a storm blows through. Her classmates huddle around her to provide comfort, and the school counselor has offered up her office as a place of refuge if my daughter's reaction starts distracting the other students.

In our condo with the wind and the rain whipping around above and below us, it's as if we are in the very center of the atmospheric disturbance, raised up like an offering. Sometimes, it feels like the lightening isn't crackling way up in the heavens but just outside the window close enough to touch. This is not an experience for the faint of heart. No amount of trying to claim "it's just the angels bowling" and "God's taking a flash photo" appeases my girl.

Over the first few months living in Penang, we finally came up with a way for her to cope with the storms. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones plugged in to an iPod with dance music drowns out the cacophony. She retreats to the study, the room on the side of the condo furthest from a storm's leading edge and with the least number of windows. We draw all the blackout curtains closed, and turn on all the lights. No telltale flashes of lightening are going to squeeze into this room!

From my girl's school journal. Headphones on. iPad on. Curtains closed.

At 5 p.m., this little coping mechanism works out just fine. It's the middle of the night thunderstorms that do me in. As soon as my slumber is interrupted by a telltale rumble, I know that my girl will soon be by my bedside asking for the headphones. While I sleepily stumble into the study to set things up, she borders on being frantic, hoping that I'm done before the brunt of the storm hits. Then, I spend the next hour or so next to her on the couch to wait it out. Eventually, I drop off to sleep sitting upright with the ceiling lights glaring against my eyelids, waking every now and then to listen if I can still hear the rain. Finally, it's over, and both of us can get back into our regular beds for what remains of the night.

Frankly, it's exhausting. I'll be glad in another month or two when rainy season is over.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Singapore by Night

This week, I've checked off another Malaysian expat experience. I've come down with a tropical disease. Yuck. For the last seven days, I've been beset by fever, chills, muscle aches, joint pain, ear pressure, massive headaches, fatigue, red eyes, and after most of that all calmed down, a rash appeared. Dengue was eliminated via a blood test. For a while, the doctor thought it was Leptospirosis which is transmitted by rat urine. Revolting, to say the least. With the onset of the rash, the diagnosis has been changed to Chikugunya which, like Dengue, is transmitted via mosquito bites. Much less revolting. Anyways, things have been getting better, and I'm on the mend.

As long as I'm lying in bed, I'll fondly reminisce about my trip to Singapore almost 2 weeks ago which is the last time I felt in good health. Singapore has a vibrant night life, and we felt perfectly safe walking through the streets after the sun had set.

View from the SkyPark atop the Marina Bay Sands

Last year, we took the fast elevator to the SkyPark at the top of the Marina Bay Sands. This is the Singapore hotel that looks like a cruise ship sitting on top of three skyscrapers. The Observation Deck is only on one end of the building, so don't expect a 360 degree view of the city. Tickets are SGD20 (US$16) per adult and SGD14 (US$11.16) for children ages 2 - 12 years. Some people like to enjoy the bar and restaurant at the top, but my kids are not nearly swanky enough to pull this off.

This is the closest you can get to the infinity pool at the top of the Marina Bay Sands if you are not a hotel guest.

Gardens by the Bay has a light show set to music twice a night in the SuperTree Grove. If you're looking to save some money, this is free to the public. (You must pay admission if you want to enter one of the cooled conservatories or the elevated walkway.) There was quite a crowd enjoying the show the night we were there. The SuperTrees are 25- to 50-meter tall vertical gardens. Over 162,900 plants cover these structures.

Gardens by the Bay SuperTree Grove with the Marina Bay Sands on the left.

One of my favorite areas of Singapore after dark is Clarke Quay and Riverside Point. Both are extremely popular, so this isn't exactly an insider tip. The area is filled with restaurants and bars. Near Halloween last year, it was quite a happening place, especially with the Zombie crowd. Be sure to make reservations at Jumbo Seafood at Riverside Point for some tasty, tantalizing Chilli Crab.

Boat tours cruising in front of Riverside Point (left) and Clarke Quay (right).

The Clarke Quay complex is a group of shophouses painted in vibrant hues with a covering providing shelter over the street area. A brightly colored water fountain danced in the middle. I'm sure my kids would have run right into the middle of it on a hot day.

Fountains at Clarke Quay

For the most part, Singapore has banned street food. One of the remaining hold outs is Ice Cream Carts. I noticed a line at this cart and decided to try this treat for the first time. A man cut slabs of ice cream from a larger block and then literally made an Ice Cream Sandwich by folding a slice of pastel green and pink swirled bread around it.

Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwich

To be honest, I wasn't bowled over by this. The bread, while colorful, tasted like regular ole white bread. The ice cream itself was merely "meh." But if they had used higher quality ice cream and a rich slice of brioche, I may be singing a different tune. Have you tried this treat?

Well, it's back to bed for me for more convalescence. Please remember to wear mosquito repellent when you're in Southeast Asia. Also, avoid rat urine.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and "Oh the Places I've Been" on The Tablescaper. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Glowing Lanterns, Tasty Mooncakes, and the Mid-Autumn Festival

This post is dedicated to my mama. Thursday, September 19 marks this year's Mid-Autumn Festival celebrated with glowing lanterns and tasty mooncakes.

A variety of Mooncakes - Coconut, Starbucks Coffee and traditional Lotus Paste

Growing up, the Chinese custom of eating mooncakes is one of my cherished memories. At the time, Houston's Chinese population had yet to explode, and I felt like part of a secret society since, as far as I could tell, we were the only family who did this. My mother was born and raised in the Philippines. Despite never having set foot in China, this tradition is something that had been passed down from my grandparents through her, to me. I'm not sure where she procured them. Perhaps the Mooncake Supplier hung out with the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and blessed my mom with these pastries as a reward for being a good Chinese mama all year. She'd get really excited whenever someone would visit from Asia, Canada or California and brought her a box. I suppose these were a little fresher than whatever she could buy in Houston. We would just have one or two for our family of four, and she'd slice these palm-sized pastries into little wedges for us to share.

According to my mom, mooncakes are part of the Feast of the August Moon, occasionally called the Feast of the Harvest Moon. I would usually point out that it was September, sometimes early October, but never, ever August. My child brain may have chalked this up to a major time zone difference. California is two hours behind Texas, and Asia is a whole month behind. Later, I understood that it fell on the full moon of the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, not the Gregorian one I was taught in school. Even back then, I learned that just because something is different doesn't mean that it's wrong, a notion that would come up quite often in my adult, expat life.

Shortly after I arrived in Malaysia, I was amazed to discover that this "secret" tradition is wide-spread here. Pining for home a little bit, it was a shred of something familiar from my childhood.  In Malaysia and Singapore, it seems that everyone refers to it as the Mid-Autumn Festival or, less frequently, the Lantern Festival (not to be confused with China's version of the Lantern Festival which occurs during the first month of the lunar year).

Last weekend's trip to Singapore's Gardens by the Bay coincided nicely with the Mid-Autumn lantern celebrations they were holding. I have not seen anything on this grand scale anywhere in Penang.

A life-size house lantern floating on the lake

Lots of people came to Singapore's Gardens by the Bay to look at these large lanterns.

Something for the kids to enjoy

One of the winners of the lantern making contest

Mooncakes are all over the place in Penang. There's big displays at the mall, local bakeries and restaurants make them, and they're readily available at the grocery store. It was no longer a rare commodity. My Zumba instructor handed them out after Tuesday's class, and a friend had a box to share at the school playground. She said that it's traditional to exchange them with each other or bring them as a hostess gift when invited to someone's house.

I was raised on the traditional Lotus Paste with a Single Salted Egg Yolk mooncake. I brought one into my workplace in Texas once since it was staffed with adventurous foodies, and one friend described it as having a taste reminiscent of marzipan.  My hubby and kids don't really like them because, being a Chinese dessert, they only have a hint of sweetness, not the tooth-achey sugar rush you get from American pastries. Unfortunately, they are very high in calories.

Traditional Lotus Paste and pumpkin seed filling
No salted yolk because I always pick it out.

Oh my goodness, the varieties you can get over here! Malaysia offers an endless list of flavors from Pandan to Green Tea to Cookies and Cream. Even Durian filling is available. My favorite non-traditional flavor this year is Coconut which reminds me of Filipino Bibingka but with shreds of coconut throughout and no cheese.

Mooncakes are made by wrapping the filling around a cooked, salted egg yolk representing the moon and then wrapped with the outer pastry layer. Each assembled piece is pressed into a wooden mold to create the decorative impressions and then removed before baking. The round cakes are a symbol of family unity and good health. Somehow, the Skype session between my mom and I a few weeks ago ended with us each brandishing our own mooncake molds at the web camera. I'm not quite sure how that supports family unity.

Mooncake mold

Same shapes are specifically designed to appeal to kids. Sponge Bob or Mickey Mouse, anyone?

Chocolate Mickey Mouse mooncake

Whereas Starbucks aims to deliver the same espresso drinks no matter what store you are at in the world, they do offer special items that cater to the local palate. If you ever come across an Asian Dolce Latte, try it. It's like Vietnamese coffee and so very yum. In Malaysia and Singapore, they also sell mooncakes. In fact, the Caramel Macchiato and Tiramisu fillings they offered two years ago are probably my favorite of all the nouveau flavors I've sampled since moving here. Alas, their mooncake menu has changed, and these primo fillings have not reappeared.

Notice the Starbucks logo on top of their Tiramisu mooncake.

I was also introduced to Snow Skin mooncakes. Unlike traditional ones which are baked with a pastry outer crust and served at room temperature, snow skin mooncakes are not baked and have an outer layer of glutinous rice, similar to that in Japanese mochi ice cream. These have to be kept refrigerated, are served chilled, and are perceived as a healthier alternative to traditional mooncakes.

Strawberry Snowskin mooncake

Other international chains have joined in the mooncake frenzy and offer their own interpretations of this treat. Haagen-Dazs offers one with a praline base, ice cream filling surrounding a mango sorbet "yolk" and covered with a  hard chocolate shell.

Ice cream mooncake

Godiva Chocolatier sells one that's essentially a large chocolate candy. I know that you readers are desperate to know what one tastes like, so I bought one for the sake of the blog. The Duo Lait version has a top layer of milk chocolate ganache with hints of mandarin and red cherry and a punch of cinnamon and sea salt sitting on a bottom layer of California almond praline. It also costs about US$2.50 a bite. Pricey!

Godiva mooncake

By this time next year, I'll probably be back in Texas, so I'm enjoying all the mooncake madness while I can. Have you ever tried mooncakes?

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" on The Tablescaper. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Strolling down Armenian Street

Armenian Street (Lebuh Armenia) is one of my favorite streets in Penang's heritage enclave. It's only a few blocks long, but this street seems to have something that grabs my attention almost every other house. When I add in some excellent shops, street art, and nearby restaurants, I've rounded out a couple hours of exploration. The street takes its name from the Armenians that lived in the area such as the Sarkies Brothers, developers of Singapore's famed Raffles Hotel and George Town's own Eastern & Oriental Hotel. In George Town's early days, it was called Malay Lane from the village of locals living here but was later renamed Pak Thang-ah Kay (Copper Worker's Street) by the Chinese because this is where they could buy brass- and copperwares. For the filming of Anna and the King starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat, this road stood in for a 19th-century Bangkok Street.

The most photographed place on Armenian Street is probably the Kids on Bikes Street Art by Ernest Zacharevic at the corner of Armenian and Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai). On weekends, a line stretches across the sidewalk of people waiting to take a creatively posed picture with the pair, but I always like to visit it on quiet, weekday mornings when no one is around.

A few steps down the narrow street, you will find the entrance to the Cheah Kongsi, one of Malayisa's oldest kongsi's, a clan association where Chinese living outside of China who have the same surname could join together for support. The original temple was built in 1828 but replaced in 1858 and gradually expanded. The latest addition to the courtyard is an adorable street art mural of a Chinese Cat Procession.

The modest entrance to the Cheah Kongsi from Armenian Street

The Cheah Kongsi as seen from Beach Street

The next block of Armenian Street seems to be mostly shops. There's a little store with cute and cheap souvenirs catering to tourists. I can tell that I'm feeling quite at home in Penang because the other day, I was complaining that the area was starting to get "a little too touristy," not like it was when we first moved here two years ago. The more expensive and upscale boutiques are a few blocks down. Somehow, I never seem to pass the bespoke Nyonya Beaded Shoes Store or the Cheongsam Gallery that sells traditional one-piece Chinese gowns whenever they are open. On the corner of Lorong Soo Hong (the narrowest street in George Town) is a bike rental shop, the family-friendly Zhang Trading which has tandem bikes, kids bikes and toddler seats. Keep an eye out for more cat-themed street art across from Zhang Trading as well as a steel rod sculpture depicting a rickshaw. One store that always catches my eye is Chin Seng Leong with bikes from a few of the past decades, big clocks and some antiques.

Old and new bicycles at Chin Seng Leong

In addition to painted street murals, numerous caricature steel rod sculptures adorn the streets of George Town. These pieces not only serve as decoration, they share small details of this town's history.

Steel rod sculpture depicting the Grand Float Procession held during the 1926 Year of the Tiger
and a British tourist observing it .

A bit further down is another intriguing entrance. I haven't actually walked in through this one, yet.

Entrance to the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple built in 1845

Many trishaws for hire are located at the corner of Armenian Street and Cannon Street. Riding one is considered a classic George Town experience.

Rest your feet and ride a trishaw.

A quick detour down Cannon Street reveals the Acheen Street Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Penang and the area where Arab settlers first lived on the island. More of Zacharevic's street art is down this street as well as another example of George Town's steel rod sculptures. You'll also find the main entrance to the Khoo Kongsi, one of the grandest clan houses in Malaysia. In 1867, riots broke out between rival Chinese clans. Cannon balls were fired from the Khoo Kongsi and left pockmarks on the ground that is now aptly named Cannon Street.  

Looking down Cannon Street

Back on the corner of Armenian Street and Cannon Street, the Yap Kongsi own both the Choo Chee Keong Temple and the Yap Temple next door.  The Chinese-style temple is very ornate, and the outer alter is decorated with symbols from the Tao Teh Ching. The greenish Yap Temple was completed in 1924 and built in the Straits Eclectic style.

The Yap Kongsi

Some of my favorite boutiques are located across the street from the Yap Temple. China Joes and Bon Ton the Shop offer clothing, fashion accessories, lifestyle gifts, stationary, and coffee table books. A few doors down at No. 88, Armenian Street is a three-story shophouse with something for the upscale shopper. Fuan Wong, the gallery on the bottom level, sells colorful fused glass and stained glass. Go upstairs to find Jonathan Yun Sculptural Jewelry and gorgeous photographs at Studio Howard.

One of my favorite doors in George Town is located just a few shophouses down the street. Its gilded doors beckon me to discover what's inside. The fortunate guests at Straits Heritage Boutique Hotel are lucky enough to find out for themselves.

Straits Heritage, the prettiest shophouse on the street, has gilded wooden doors and beautiful examples of traditional tilework.

As the street curves to the left, I spy numerous pre-war shophouses. If I could pluck the cars out of this scene, I'd swear I had traveled decades backwards in time. This stretch includes Dr. Sun Yat Sen's Penang Base where he lived for six months while planning the 1910 Canton uprising and establishing one of the world's oldest Chinese language newspapers before going on to become the first president and founding father of The Republic of China.

Traditional shophouses

After all this walking around, I usually get rather peckish and start looking for something to eat. Edelweiss Cafe at No. 38, Armenian Street serves Swiss and German food along with some local dishes. Sharing a wall with the Kids on Bikes mural but with an entrance facing Beach Street is Cozy in the Rocket Italian Cucina. My favorite place in Penang for desserts, the most important course of any meal, is China House located at No. 153, Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai) across from the Cheah Kongsi.

Woudn't you like to take a stroll down Armenian Street and see this all for yourself?

Related Posts:
The Street of Religious Harmony
Ramadan and Penang's Kapitan Keling Mosque
Penang's Vanishing Heritage Trades

Download this Travel Article on the GPSmyCity mobile app

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and "Oh, the Places I've Been" on The Tablescaper. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Kids and Nintendos at The Louvre

The Louvre (You probably figured this out on your own.)

"Mom, we're going too fast," my son said as he hung back with his eyes lingering on the painting before him.

I couldn't believe my ears. Had some art-loving, fairy changeling switched places with my kids? All three of them? How else could I explain the vast difference at the Louvre versus the other art museums we'd visited in Paris? At the other places, they seemed oblivious to the masterpieces on the walls and more interested in playing the annoying game, "Squash a Sibling." In the Louvre, they stood quietly engrossed in the works of art surrounding them and were reluctant to move on to the next room.

"Honey," I said gently, "Remember the guide book said it would take nine months to look at everything at the Louvre? We don't have nine months." And I tugged him into the next gallery.

So, what was the magical element that caused this transformation? A Nintendo 3DS XL. Yes, I let my kids stroll through one of the greatest art museums in the world with a Nintendo DS firmly gripped in their hands. But it wasn't just any ordinary Nintendo. This one doesn't play MarioKart, Minecraft or any other games. It's loaded with commentaries on approximately 700 pieces in the Louvre and acts as the official audio/videoguide for the museum. Costing just  €3 (US$3.95) for people under 18 years old, it was cheap enough for me to rent one for each kid and completely worth the price

Learning about the Winged Victory

The Nintendo hangs from a handy neckstrap, so they did not need to worry about dropping it. In fact, the attendant was quite insistent that the kids keep the strap on at all times. The headset fit comfortably over their ears, and we were ready to go.

The guide offers a choice of doing the Masterpieces Tour, roaming the museum, or asking it to take you directly to one of the popular pieces at the Louvre.  An "Egypt for All the Family" tour with multimedia games is being developed that aims to be both humorous and informative.

The Nintendo has a built-in GPS. This enormous set of buildings is exactly the type of place where one could easily get lost wandering through all three wings and four levels. Knowing exactly where we were was wonderful. Beacons are posted around the museum's interior; hence, we did not need to worry about poor satellite reception inside the stone walls. The device also gave us the locations of food outlets in the Louvre and their hours of operation.

As we'd enter each room, the Nintendo would highlight a few key pieces on the map, drawing the kids towards artwork they may have not otherwise noticed. If you're on the Masterpieces Tour, it shows you the route and doesn't start playing the commentary until you reach the right area, even if you wander off for a bit. It also operates like a traditional electronic guide where you can type in the ID number on the work's plaque in order to find the particular commentary of a piece that catches your eye. Keep in mind, though, that with a collection of over 35,000 items, not every single piece has an accompanying explanation. This was a bit of a disappointment for the kids, but as I pointed out, we only had a few hours. As it stands, it would take over 35 hours to listen to what's already been recorded.

No blog post about taking kids to the Louvre would be complete without a photo in front of the Mona Lisa.

The kids could visually explore the artwork on-screen, too. Sometimes, the Nintendo displayed related or influential pieces in regards to one we were viewing. They could see Winged Victory of Samothrace in 3D, no special glasses needed, from the back without a pesky wall getting in the way. My boys also liked zooming in on sections of the high definition images, especially ones that were hard to see from our vantage point of standing on the floor. "Look mom," said my 10-year-old, "even the frame has pictures painted on it," while showing me an area he had focused in on way at the top of an immense work. They could zoom up on the details of the mountains gracing the background of the Mona Lisa, unhampered by the crowd around it, the railing or the bulletproof glass protecting it. It was like practically touching the painting with their noses.The one downside is that I had to keep reminding the kids to actually look at the real piece in front of them, not just the image on their screen. Otherwise, they may as well be sitting at a computer in some place much, much cheaper than Paris.

My mom forgot to take a photo of me in front of the real Mona Lisa, so I had to settle for posing in front of a sign.

Our time at the Louvre exceeded my wildest expectations. After earlier museum visits during our week in Paris, I had set the bar rather low by this point, merely praying that we'd be able to escape without, for example, accidentally causing the Venus de Milo  to be headless in addition to armless.

The moments when my kids would come over to me to quietly share some new insight were a dream come true.

"Mom, this room was painted by the same guy who did the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles," whispered my girl, instructing me to take a picture of the Galerie d'Apollon. Then, my younger son came over and said the same thing.

Studying how the  Louvre's Galerie d'Apollon  resembles the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

My heart loved hearing this. I smiled hearing it again weeks later as my girl showed her grandmother our vacation photos and whenever she tells people about our visit to the Louvre.

Isn't that what we hope for both ourselves and our kids when we visit some place? That something captures our senses and makes an indelible mark on our minds that we long to share with others.

After we'd seen all the Masterpieces, my younger boy wanted to take a look at The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds. He'd heard his dad talking about it and seen it on the iPhone app we'd downloaded. He entered the title into the Nintendo, and a map came up showing him how to lead the family there. Good thing because I seriously think that we'd been completely lost if it'd been up to me to find it!  Also, my analysis of the painting would have been, "I think that guy with the Ace of Diamonds is cheating." I am clever that way. The Nintendo, on the other hand, went into much more detail.

Listening to commentary on The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds

The device may look like a toy, but it's an upper level textbook in disguise. The audioguides are actually intended for adults. The excellent commentaries are by the Louvre's curators, lecturers and other experts. It's full of concepts that kids may not comprehend, but they still walked away learning so much more about art appreciation than I had expected.

By the time we were deep into the museum, I wished I had rented a Nintendo for myself. Even though our Rick Steves guidebook had tons of info on the artwork, I didn't really like having to glance back and forth between the book and piece. Listening to an audio commentary while looking at the art would have been better. When I got them for the kids, I was simply hoping to buy myself some extra time before they started asking to leave. Now, I felt like they were getting more out of the museum visit than I was.

I highly recommend the Nintendo guides for both adults and children. If you want to learn more about the Nintendo 3DS at the Louvre, watch this video by Nintendo Life (and marvel at how uncrowded the galleries are) or take a look at the Louvre's audioguide information page.

Details on the Nintendo 3DS XL guide:
  • These customized Nintendos do not take game cartridges  and cannot be used outside of the Louvre. There is no worry that your kids are surreptitiously playing a game with it.
  • First, pay for the guide at one of the ticket counters, ticket machines, or at the entrance to each of the 3 wings. Get a coupon from the machine.
  • Exchange the coupon for a Nintendo at the Audioguide counters located at The Group Reception area, under the pyramid or at the top of one of the escalators leading to the 3 wings.
  • You must leave a form of ID (passport, drivers license, etc.) as a deposit to guarantee return of the Nintendo.
  • You must rent the entire device. You cannot use your own personal Nintendo for the tours.
  • Available languages are French, English, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese and Korean.
  • Full Price €5; Under 18 years €3

Bonus: Read about a restored copy of the Mona Lisa that was supposedly painted by an artist sitting next to da Vinci as he created the original. The interactive feature reveals what the masterpiece looks like centuries ago.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.
Web Analytics