Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A visit to the Cinquantenaire Museum (a.k.a. the Mummy museum)

Ah, Autumn holidays! It's only one month since classes started and already we have a week of school holidays! Hurray!

It's a tricky holiday, as it's only 1 week (not even, just 4 days this year), too close to Christmas holidays and weather can only be relied upon being thoroughly unpredictable. Most working parents either pack up their kids to grandparents or inscribe them into a stage and hope for the best, or resign themselves and take some days off.

We were a bit late this year to sign Bibu up for a stage, so it meant I had to provide all the entertainment. Thankfully, baby Pingu's creche is open, so it meant I could organise something really focused on a 5-year old.

I wanted to go to a museum (being out of the cold rainy weather and all that) so we finally decided to pay a visit to the Cinquantenaire Museum (History and Art Museum) at the Place de Cinquantenaire.

We took public transport to get there (walking distance from both Merode and Schuman metro stations) but there is also parking space available closer to the "Autoworld" entrance. The entrance to the Cinquantenaire Museum itself is on the side (the left side of the park if you're coming from Merode station) at the top of some stairs. The entrance fee for adults is 5 EUR and free for kids under 6 years old (4 EUR for kids until 12 years old)

The building in itself is huge and beautiful. It's a big, welcome surprise, as you don't really expect it from outside. The permanent exhibitions are mainly divided in two. Once you are in the entrance hall, on your left are all the non-European collections (American, Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Chinese antiquity) and on your right the European part.

We checked our coats in the free cloakroom and we headed immediately to the Egypt part, where the mummies were. Now, I have to say that after having visited the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London, which are much bigger museums, the mummies exhibited in the Cinquantenaire Museum are of the highest quality. They might not be the ones of Tutankamon, but they are incredibly preserved and they do provide that spooky feeling that 5-year old boys love (but hopefully won't dream about). Bibu was properly cautious around them, asking lots of questions about who they where, why they were so small, etc.

The rest of the museum, we did in a bit of a hurry. Bibu was hungry, so we headed straight into the museum restaurant. A word to the wise: if you can, avoid it. To start with, it's a proper restaurant, as in they do not serve snack food or let you pic-nic. They serve proper restaurant food, which I have to say it's not bad, but the service is less than charming and the prices are quite steep (kid meal for 10 EUR). Bibu and I arrived at 12 sharp and managed to get a table without much hassle, but people coming just 10 minutes later did not have the same luck and were dispatched by a "no-friends" looking waitress. Also, there is no space really for a stroller and they don't have high chairs. So if you're with really small kids, this is not the place to go for a relaxing lunch.

On the subject of baby-friendly facilities, there is a baby diaper changing station inside the women's loo on the groundfloor. Otherwise, there are lots of stairs, so I guess going around with a stroller is not very advisable.

I think in general that the Cinquantenaire Museum is a surprising little gem of a museum. Interesting to kids and adults alike. It still has that somewhat neglected look most museums in Belgium have, some dark rooms, some empty rooms, dingy loos, a thoroughly uninteresting museum shop, etc. but the quality of the pieces in exhibition is great.

For a few months now, they are also offering an organised activity called "Fly with the dragons" for kids 6-2 years old where your kid gets a dragon-shaped backpack (which has to be returned to the information desk when you leave) full of hints of things kids need to find in the museum. You need to pay an extra 3 EUR to do the activity, and be lucky enough so that there are enough backpacks available for your kids when you arrive. We did not try it as they had run out of backpacks, but if anyone has tried it, it would be great to hear some feedback.

So, all in all, the Cinquantenaire Museum is a good idea for a bad weather day, just avoid the restaurant if you are in a hurry/ have a tight budget or want to see some happy faces. :-)

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