Europe

What’s new in the Old World

 

www.RickSteves.com

In Great Britain, Italy, Germany and France, 2014 brings a surprising number of new and renovated museums as well as new sights and restoration of historic landmarks.

FRANCE

The big news in Paris is that the extensive, multi-year makeover of the Picasso Museum is nearing completion. The museum, which will reopen in June, is home to the world’s largest collection of Picasso works, representing the full range of the artist’s many styles (check www.musee-picasso.fr for the latest).

Also in Paris, the Rodin Museum will stay open, though some rooms will close from time to time while renovation continues through 2015; on the plus side, visitors can currently enjoy some rarely displayed pieces and temporary exhibits.

Paris is going green: The Left Bank expressway from near the Orsay Museum to the Pont de l’Alma has been converted to a pedestrian promenade and riverside park. Modeled on the city’s popular Vélib’ self-serve bike rentals, the Autolib’ electric car program (where users can pick up a car in one place and drop in another), is a smashing success.

In Arles, the new Fondation Van Gogh facility is the talk of the town; it will reopen April 7, 2014 at Hôtel Léautaud de Donines.with the inaugural exhibition Van Gogh Live! The restoration of the city’s Roman Arena (Amphithéâtre) is now complete, but the Arlaten Folk Museum remains closed until 2015.

France’s second city, Marseille, is still undergoing a massive 3.5 billion-euro face-lift as part of its designation as a European Capital of Culture for 2013. The pedestrian zone around the Old Port was redesigned — it’s now as wide as the Champs-Elysées — and a new tramway system is up and running.

In Nice, construction on the green parkway La Coulée Verte continues. When completed, the 30-acre parkway will extend from the sea through Place Masséna to the Museum of Modern Art, carving a people-friendly swath for biking and walking through Nice’s urban center.

At Mont St-Michel, 2014 is the last year for the causeway that tourists have used for more than 100 years — it’s slated to be demolished by 2015. Restoration of the island’s ramparts may block some island walkways.

ITALY

At Florence’s Uffizi Museum, known for Renaissance art, there’s an exciting change. A new gallery is devoted to Michelangelo, with his famous Doni Tondo painting of the Holy Family as its centerpiece. It’s the only easel painting that’s definitely known to be by the master’s hand.

The private NTV/Italo high-speed train service is up and running, serving Florence along with Venice, Naples, Milan, and Rome. (Because rail passes are not accepted, pass holders should choose Trenitalia’s equally fast Eurostar Italia or Le Frecce services instead.)

Volterra’s new Alabaster Museum, featuring workmanship in the prized local stone from Etruscan times to the present, has opened within the 15th century Pinacoteca painting gallery.

In Venice, structural renovation work on the bell tower that looms over St Mark’s Square is finally finished; a titanium girdle wrapped around the underground foundations now shores up a crack that appeared in 1939. The city’s top art gallery, the Accademia, is still undergoing a seemingly never-ending renovation, with major rooms still closed. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection has also done some rearranging, largely to accommodate the recently bequeathed Schulhof Collection, which brings the museum’s holdings up to the late 20th century with works by Rothko, Calder, de Kooning, Warhol, and many others.

Milan is preparing to host the 2015 World’s Fair. To welcome the expected 20 million visitors, the Rho-Pero district is revamping its layout with new parks, museums and American-inspired skyscrapers.

Life is pretty much back to normal in the Cinque Terre, where flooding devastated the area just a few years ago. But the beautiful coastal trail system remains at the mercy of nature, with washouts or bad weather closing popular stretches. The popular Via dell’Amore (Path of Love), which was hit by a landslide in 2013, recently reopened.

GERMANY

In Berlin, a multiyear renovation project continues at Museum Island, filled with some of the city’s most impressive museums. Beginning in the fall and continuing until 2019, the star of the Greek antiquities collection in the Pergamon Museum — the Pergamon Altar — will be closed to visitors. The museum’s north wing (formerly home to other Classical antiquities) is already closed. In the meantime, some Classical Greek artifacts can be seen at the nearby Altes Museum.

Each year it seems Berlin, the scene of so much tumult in the 20th century, has new memorials. Near the powerfully evocative Memorial to the Murdered Jews is a memorial dedicated to the homosexual victims of Hitler’s rule, and a new Roma and Sinti memorial. The latter is to remind all who mourn the slaughter of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust that Hitler aimed to exterminate Europe’s Roma and Sinti (aka Gypsy) population as well.

As is the case with port cities all over Europe, Germany’s leading port — in Hamburg — saw its docklands abandoned as freighters needed to be accommodated in a more modern setting outside of town. The run-down (yet central) real estate of Hamburg’s old harbor has been given new life with a massive renewal project — HafenCity. Its shining glory is the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall, which looks like a glass palace resting on top of an old warehouse. However, the concert hall has hit major snags — it’s about $370 million over budget and won’t be opening until 2017 — about seven years late.

In Frankfurt, the new European Central Bank building, with its glistening twin towers topping out at 607 feet, is scheduled to open this year. The “New Frankfurt Old Town” construction project, stretching from the cathedral to the city hall, is also underway. It will include up to 35 new buildings, several of which will be reproductions of historic structures destroyed during WWII air raids.

In Nürnberg, the Imperial Castle (Kaiserburg) has reopened after a restoration. Visits to the castle’s “Deep Well.” Wittenberg’s Town Church of St. Mary’s — which was Martin Luther’s home church for many years — is being renovated. From early 2014 to early 2015, the nave of the church will be closed, and no organ concerts will be held.

By the way, Germany’s many Luther sites — especially in the Luther cities of Wittenberg, Erfurt and Eisenacht — are gearing up for the 500th anniversary of Luther kicking off the Protestant Reformation in 1517.

GREAT BRITAIN

London continues to grow and thrive post-Olympics. Free Wi-Fi is everywhere, bus transportation is more efficient than ever and the city’s freshly scrubbed monuments have never looked so good. Some of the biggest changes are in East London, where backhoes and bulldozers buzz around busily turning the 2012 Olympics site into what is now Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (great for Londoners, but a bit far from the center for most tourists).

The Shard, a shimmering glass pyramid that soars 1,020 feet above the Thames in central London, started welcoming visitors to its observation decks last year. Perched in the building’s pinnacle, the decks offer great views of the Tower of London (directly across the river), St. Paul’s, and the South Bank. But a visit to the top costs a jaw-dropping £25 (for advance tickets) — not worth it for most visitors.

An extensive renovation at the Tate Britain has wrapped up, which means even better gallery spaces in the oldest parts of the building. Now the Tate Modern is adding a new wing (currently under construction yet opening bit by bit), allowing the museum to expand beyond its current European and North American focus with exhibits on Latin American, African and Asian art. A new space called the Tanks (formerly underground oil tanks) is already open and hosts live performances, film screenings, and installations.

Greenwich’s famous Cutty Sark, the last and fastest of the great tea clippers, was gorgeously restored in 2012 after a devastating fire. It’s now suspended within a glass building, allowing visitors to walk on its decks, through its hold, and below its gleaming golden hull. Multimedia and hands-on exhibits bring the ship’s record-breaking history to life.

Finally, after nearly 5,000 years, Stonehenge has a decent visitors center. The new center features artifacts found at the site and a 360-degree virtual view of what the stone circle looked like back then. The highway that once ran adjacent to the iconic edifice has been closed. Instead, people start at the visitors center — more than a mile west of the stones — then take a shuttle or walk to the stone circle. Advance reservations are required, and tickets feature a timed entry window (though a few walk-up tickets are available each day).

In Portsmouth, the Mary Rose Museum opened last May. The $60 million facility, shaped like an oval jewel box, preserves the hull of Henry VIII’s favorite warship, which sank in 1545. You can view the hull (through protective glass, for now), but the highlight is the collection of Tudor-era items that were found inside the wreck, such as clothes, dishes, weapons, a backgammon board and an oboe-like instrument. There’s even the skeleton of Hatch, the ship’s dog.

In 2014, Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Games July 23-Aug. 3, with 6,000 athletes expected to compete.

The Battle of Bannockburn — Scotland’s most significant military victory over the English — will mark its 700th anniversary in 2014. In honor of the occasion, the Bannockburn Heritage Centre in Stirling is being spiffed up with an interactive 3-D battle simulation and 360-degree film. A three-day festival called Bannockburn Live will take place June 28-30. Activities include music, highland games, re-enactments of the battle and themed Scottish villages.

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