On the museum trail

As any parent of a nine-year-old will tell you, visiting museums while traveling can be a hit-or-miss affair. Sometimes you strike gold with a user-friendly layout, activities for children, and art with a whimsical touch. Sometimes it’s a complete bust.

Over the last month in Bulgaria we’ve been batting around .400 — not bad for a professional baseball player, but a bit tense in the child-rearing game.

Last weekend we visited the glorious State Gallery of Fine Arts in the old town section of Plovdiv. Even at 11 a.m. on a Saturday, it appeared we were the only visitors. But for an admission fee of 3 lev ($2.17US,) an attendant scurried up three flights to turn on all the gallery lights for us.

Truth be told, not all members of our party were in the mood for art. But the spacious, bright layout showed off the museum’s collection of 19th and 20th century Bulgarian paintings and sculpture to full advantage.

We were particularly taken with the folk art of Bulgarian master Zlatyu Boyadjiev, above, whose partial paralysis in 1951 prompted a switch of hands (from right to left) and a new appreciation for village life that recalls Marc Chagall. There’s some magic in the approach of artists like Hristo Hristov (left,) and the historic portraits recalling struggles long overlooked in the West.

That’s the good news. But our visit to the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia earned decidedly mixed reviews from our nine-year-old naturalist in residence.

We had been told there might be some live reptiles on display, but alas, the museum’s residents all appeared to have been living in formaldehyde since the days of Gorbachev, Kruschev, and Stalin.

“They’re not real, they’re stuffed!” our daughter announced with more than a little fire.

In fairness, the museum seems to run some interesting education events, such as the 13th European Bat Night organized by its Bat Research and Conservation Centre. And it holds some interest for history-minded adults — a sort of Slavic Noah’s Ark from the days when scientific research consisted, at least in part, of bagging a few specimens at every port of call.

But for our kid, at least, it seemed a bit more like a zoological house of horrors.

“How could they have the heart?” she asked, pulling us toward the door. “I don’t like it here.”

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