Bishkek’s Kyrgyzstan State Museum of Fine Arts

bishkek fine arts museum

Bishkek’s Kyrgyzstan State Museum of Fine Arts

In an assuming building on a busy Sovietskaya, opposite the beautiful Bishkek Opera and Ballet Theatre, is one of the (actually very few) proper tourist sites in the Kyrgyz capital: the State Museum of Fine Arts.
bishkek museum of fine arts
Though the presentation is not always top class, the various exhibitions on both Kyrgyz folk and applied art and Russian/Soviet era art are well worth the small price of admission and the time it takes to visit. The museum can be frustrating at times, with staff having even ignored requests to turn on the lights in remote halls on one of my visits, but most of those frustrations can be pinned down more to the limited operating potential of the museum/building itself rather than to any deficiencies with their collections.

kyrgyzstan artwork figurines


kyrgyz handicrafts belt buckle

Of particular interest is the progression of medium and expression and ideology of the works as you wind through the museum. Starting with traditional Shyrdak carpets and intricate jewelry (all items that would have been an important part of a girl’s dowry in nomadic traditions) and progressing from there to sculpture and paintings that wander from Romantic seascapes to Socialist realism, the artwork covers a broad range of both temporal and political history. Luckily, last time we visited, there was even a volunteer docent on hand  who explained the finer points of several paintings before allowing us to wander off on our own.

kyrgyzstan state museum of fine arts

kyrgyzstan state museum exhibit permanent collection

According to another local expat (whose page, by the way, you should absolutely be reading if you’re based in Bishkek), the namesake of the museum Gapar Aitiev is known as “the first Kyrgyz painter” and several of his works hang in the State Museum of Fine Arts. He also, apparently,  has his own dedicated museum located in his former studio on Chokomrov/Tynstanov – something I’ll have to be sure to check out soon!

 Though the permanent collection is well worth visiting as a short-term tourist in Bishkek, I find myself visiting very infrequently as a resident. With a schedule of rotating temporary exhibitions, however, I do occasionally drop by to see things like the Japanese Dolls exhibit (pictured above – sponsored by the Japanese Embassy) or the exhibition on snow leopards pictured below. Information on what and when and where things are happening can be spotty sometimes, but here and here are the first places I would suggest checking if you expect to be in Bishkek for any length of time.

kyrgyzstan fine arts museum snow leopard exhibit

Essential Info

Kyrgyzstan State Museum of Fine Arts
Address: Sovietskaya 196
(North from Chuy, directly opposite the Opera and Ballet Theatre)
Admission: 100 Som/ Students 40 Som
Guided Tour: 300 Som/ Students 150 Som
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 17:00, except Friday 10:00 – 16:00

If you’re in Kyrgyzstan as a tourist, the Hostel Inn is one of the closest cheap accommodation choices to the Kyrgyzstan State Museum of Fine Arts. Check them out – they’re also one of the cheapest city center accommodation options I know of. If you’re looking more upmarket, the Hyatt is just next door. 

Also be sure to check out my guide to Exploring Bishkek on a Budget for ideas on other things to do while you’re in town. 

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    Lost in the Louvre Museum: Paris’ Most Crowded Moments.

    louvre pyramid at night

    Lost in the Louvre Museum:
    Paris’ Most Crowded Moments.

    If you’ve ever visited Paris’ Louvre Museum, perhaps you can recall a moment that looked a little like this:

    louvre crowds at the mona lisa

    My first visit to the museum, on my first trip to Paris back in 2006, was very much like that. An all-out sprint to the Mona Lisa via the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo, with perhaps a brief glance into the Salon of Apollo to see the Crown Jewels. It was great and miserable, all at the same time.

    inside the louvre museum

    More recently, then, visiting the Louvre came with two basic goals:

    1) Take the time to see what else is in this giant museum. There are almost 15 acres of exhibition space inside the Louvre, and presumably the showcase a bit more than just those 4 main pieces.

    2) Try to escape the crowds. Almost 10 million (that’s 10,000,000!) people visit the Louvre every year, making it the single most popular museum in the world.


    I ended up visiting this time as part of a tour I was taking photos for, a three-hour guided thing that skipped past the entrance queue and hit an overview of the more ‘important’ sections of the museum. In practice, our guide had a strong affinity for Greek and Roman Antiquities as well as large French paintings, and of course a couple of well-known Italian pieces.

    artwork in the louvre paris

    louvre st john the baptist

    louvre paris artwork

    We did visit all the popular favorites, of course, and it was just as wild as I remembered it being from my first trip. The average Louvre visitor stands in front of the Mona Lisa for about 15 seconds, just long enough to snap a selfie and then elbow their way to the side in order to escape the chaos. Most of the other works in the museum don’t fare much better as to time spent, but at least the act of getting close to them doesn’t require more time than a visitor will spend enjoying the work itself!

    vieled woman sculpture louvre

    The great thing, perhaps the best thing, about having a second chance to visit the Louvre is that I no longer felt like it was my touristic duty to rush around visiting all the big names. Instead, there was both time and impetus to linger among the unseen details in the rest of the museum. I don’t mean to suggest that I ‘discovered’ anything, to be sure, but I certainly saw a lot more than my first visit – in the sense that I actually had the time to pay attention instead of a cursory glance before moving on to something else.

    cupid and psyche statue louvre museum


    Given the passion of our guide for Greek and Roman sculpture, it would have been difficult not to enjoy that section of the Richelieu Wing. There were still plenty of other visitors, but as the guide spoke in depth about the history of some of his favorite works I could wander within earshot taking photos and examining details and trying to not only see but to appreciate. At the end of an already long day three hours was quite enough, but given a day to devote entire to the Louvre just imagine how much more I could find.

    crown jewels at the louvre museum

    And of course, there really is so much more. We breezed through the Medieval Louvre Fortress and Decorative Arts halls, paused briefly in the Napoleon III Apartments, and never so much as saw any African or Asian artwork.

    underground medieval louvre fortress

    Which only means, of course, that I’ll have to go back! If that first trip was a sprint through, this one was more of a brisk walk. Next time I’m in Paris, I hope to make time for more of a quiet stroll.

    inside the louvre museum pyramid

    And if I still can’t find a way to deal with the crowds? Perhaps its time for a visit to Abu Dhabi to see the newest branch of the Louvre there!

    Essential Info:

    Open Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday from 9:00am – 6:00pm.
    Open Wednesday and Friday from 9:00am – 9:45pm.

    Permanent Collection: €12.
    Hall Napoleon: €13.
    Combined Ticket: €16.
    Free the first sunday of each month from October to March, or for visitors under 18. Also free on Friday from 6:00pm to 9:45pm for all visitors under 26 years old.

    Secret Entrance
    They’re no real secret, but you should pay attention to this. The lines at the ‘Pyramid’ can be horrendous, and there is absolutely no reason to wait there. The easiest alternate entrance is just across the road at the entrance to the Place du Carrousel, to the right of the big triumphal arch (which should serve as your landmark). [See photo below.] There is another in the Passage Richelieu (just to the north of the Pyramid), but it doesn’t stay open late on Wednesday and Friday.

    louvre carrousel entrance

    I was in Paris to work as a photographer with GetYourGuide, including my visit here. You can see the official website of the Louvre for more info on their exhibits. If you just want to wander on your own, it would be a lot cheaper to buy tickets from the museum directly. If you’re looking for a guide to explain the history and art inside, though, the guide I went with was very well informed.

    Budget travelers will want to check out these hostels in Paris for cheap accommodation. Otherwise, there are countless hotels in Paris. The Louvre is incredibly central, and easy to reach from anywhere in Paris by Metro. 

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      Aquarium de Paris: the Cineaqua In Trocadero

      aquarium de paris

      L’Aquarium de Paris: The Cineaqua in Trocadero

      Some things are delightful, regardless of where they happen to be. Good coffee, fresh baked bread, or a beautiful sunset are something to be enjoyed wherever in the world you happen to stumble upon them. It was with that sense, then, that of all the ways to spend a morning in Paris I was informed that we would be going to the Cineaqua Paris aquarium given the opportunity.

      fish at the cineaqua paris

      There are two aquariums in the city (Cineaqua at Trocadero and Aquarium Tropicale at Porte Doree) and another not far from town (Aquarium Sea Life Paris at Val d’Europe), but for a tourist in town the Cineaqua is by far the most convenient. Located in the Trocadero Gardens, this is just moments away from the Eiffel Tower AND one of the most popular overlooks in the city for taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower.

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        Hiking Kyrgyzstan’s Chon-Kaindy Valley

        hiking kyrgyzstan's chon kaindy valley

        Hiking Kyrgyzstan’s Chon-Kaindy Valley

        No matter the route, no matter the preparation, the simple truth is that not every hike will go as planned. Add into this a rarely-traveled route with a guide who has only visited once before, and its bound to be an adventure.

        hiking into chon kaindy

        Such was the case on a TUK trip to the Chon-Kaindy Valley.  Gathering into another minivan with yet another one-day ‘family’ of hikers, we met at 7:30 in the morning to leave for Kara-Balta in the west of the Chuy Valley (nearly to the border with Kazakhstan). Despite a call the night before to pack extra socks for a couple of river crossings, I’m unsure any of us knew quite what we were in for!

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          Beylerbeyi Palace: The Boshphorus’ Forgotten Ottoman Residence

          Beylerbeyi Palace: the Bosphorus’ Forgotten Ottoman Residence

          Quick, name three palaces in Istanbul! There’s Topkapi and Dolmabahce and… and….

          beylerbeyi palace istanbul

          Beylerbeyi, for one. Constructed in 1865, Beylerbeyi Palace was used as a Summer Residence by the Ottoman Sultans and final residence/prison of the last autocratic ruler of the Ottoman Empire after he was deposed by the Young Turk movement. It has beauty, it has history, it has a sweet little teahouse inside the Bosphorus-front gardens. The only thing it doesn’t really have is tourists.

          beylerbeyi palace from bosphorus

          Compared to places like the Topkapi and Dolmabahce Palaces, Beylerbeyi may as well be located in the wilds of eastern Turkey. It certainly isn’t hard to visit, but on the Asian side of Istanbul by the foot of the Bosphorus Bridge it certainly isn’t located such that you’re going to accidentally stumble across it. If anything, most tourists will see it in passing from a Bosphorus cruise and then promptly forget about it as soon as they leave the boat.

          beylerbeyi palace tunnel

          As a matter of fact, even if you did stumble across it from the tourist entrance you probably wouldn’t think twice. Rather than the Bosphorus reserved entrance for Sultans and Otto-men, the modern visitor must approach from the coastal road on the back side. Past a large wall, through a long tunnel, and then suddenly you emerge into a peaceful garden that even the Bosphorus bridge looming just overhead can’t break the calm of.

          beylerbeyi palace and bosphorus bridge

          Entrance is only with a guide (included in the cost of admission) and photos are not allowed inside, but the interior is as lavish and impressive and comfortable as an Ottoman Summer Palace should be. This was built before the days of air conditioning and widespread refrigeration, remember, so the entire building was designed with comfort and cooling in mind. The main hall, all marble and nautical themes, includes a large fountain that served as both a calming distraction and a cooling element. The floors throughout are covered with reed mats imported from Egypt. If those touches inside aren’t enough, the shaded gardens that surround the palace serve as a further retreat from summer’s heat.

          beylerbeyi palace with boat

          Aside from a Sultan running around, the only thing really missing is the tourists. If you happen to be on the Asian side of Istanbul looking for a nice quiet palace, this isn’t a bad place to aim for!

          Essential Info

          Hours: Open daily 9:30 – 17:00, closed Monday/Thursday
          Admission: 20 TL (which includes the mandatory guided tour)
          Photography: Totally not allowed inside.

          Getting there: Ferry from Eminonu or Kabatas to Uskudar.
          From Uskudar, Bus 15 (any of them: 15A, 15H, 15ETC) goes to
          the Cayirbasi stop just nearby.

          I visited the Beylerbeyi Palace while working as a photographer with GetYourGuide’s Bosphorus and Asia tour. Though expensive, it does make the process of getting to Beylerbeyi and the Camlica Hill a lot faster. However, with some patience and spare time you can visit both independently as well. Alternately, if you happen to be doing one of the Big Bus Tours this is one of the stops on the Asian side. 

          Are you traveling through Istanbul soon? When I’m in town I generally stay at the Agora Guesthouse in the Sultanahmet area, but there are plenty of hotels in Istanbul to choose from.

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            Hoge Veluwe National Park: Netherlands au Naturel

            hoge veluwe national park

            Hoge Veluwe National Park: Netherlands au Naturel

            The biggest little park in the Netherlands, Hoge Veluwe is one of those places that you probably haven’t heard of but certainly ought to visit. I’d wager that if you’re familiar with any part of the park, it would be the outstanding Kröller-Müller museum that lies therein. Perhaps the single most impressive part of the park, the interior is stacked with the amazing collection of Helene Kröller-Müller (who incidentally was one of the first people to recognize the value of Van Gogh’s works).

            museum at hoge veluwe national park

            Well apart from the museums, however, is the expansive Hoge Veluwe National Park itself. When I think of the Netherlands I don’t tend to first think of images of open green spaces, so to my surprise (and delight!) this privately-owned National Park is largely natural space: forest and grassland and even a little arid area that calls to mind the velds that any Boer would be familiar with. And indeed there are even memories of such old-school Dutch history, notably a lonesome statue of Christiaan de Wet perched just off from one of the bike trails that circle through the park.

            de witt statue at hoge veluwe national park(Photo credit: Sabrina Iovino)

            Biking in the Netherlands is one of the highlights of the country no matter which part you’re visiting, but this is especially true at Hoge Veluwe. With lots of open spaces and well built bike paths, you could cruise through here for hours without having to re-ride the same tracts. If you ever do get bored, a stop at the historic hunting lodge or to try and spot the wildlife that roams the park isn’t a bad way to spend time either. With around 1700 free-for-the-taking White Bikes around Hoge Veluwe, it should never be too hard to find another when you finish your break.

            white bikes in hoge veluwe national park

            deer at hoge veluwe


            Headed to the Netherlands and want to get somewhere a touch less touristy than Amsterdam? Coming for museums and need more Van Gogh than Museumplein can provide? Or are you just aching for a bit of natural space as a reprieve from the citified atmosphere of the Benelux? Check out Hoge-Veluwe, and you may be well impressed.


            From Amsterdam, a train to Apeldoorn (the nearest station) is about €15 each way. From there, public busses are available to get to the park. Alternatively, the national park is accessible by bike from Arnhem. 

            Hoge Veluwe is open throughout the year, from 9:00 – 18:00 in the low season and 8:00 at the busiest times. Admission to just the park is €8.70 per adult, or €17.40 including the Kroller-Muller museum. You can ride your own bicycle to the park or borrow one of the ubiquitous white bikes for free, but car parking costs extra. For more information, visit the official website

            The Hoge Veluwe National Park is fairly large (and the Kroller Muller Museum worth quite a bit of time on its own), so rather than making a daytip from Amsterdam you would do better to stay in the area. There are hostels in Arnhem and Apeldoorn, the two closest towns to the park itself. There are also a bunch of proper hotels in Arnhem, if you prefer.  If you’re really not comfortable getting all the way out to Hoge-Veluwe and back on your own and have too much money, you can also check out the Amsterdam Daytrip to Hoge-Veluwe.

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              Hiking in Kyrgyzstan: Chunkurchak Valley

              hiking in Kyrgyzstan's Chunkurchak

              Hiking in Kyrgyzstan:
              Chunkurchak Valley


              There are moments when I want to hike for days on end, climbing a new mountain pass every morning and exploring a new valley each afternoon. There are also moments when I want to get out of the city for a day and take a leisurely walk somewhere beautiful. Perhaps one of the best things about living in Kyrgyzstan is that there is, in fact, an endless number of places to do either!

              wildflowers in kyrgyzstan
              On another recent trip with the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan, this time to the Chunkurchak Valley in the mountains near the Tatyr Ski Base, I was reminded not only how many options there are for hiking even just near Bishkek but also how beautiful the country can be and how much it changes visually throughout the year.

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                Life in a Medieval City: A Day in Provins, France.

                provins france

                Life in a Medieval City: A Day in Provins, France

                Sometimes you just don’t get it till you get there. No matter how much you hear about a place, how many adjectives are used to describe its appeal and beauty, you just can’t picture it without actually having seen it. life in a medieval cityfortifications of provins france Some things, like the idea that a certain city has kept shape and smell and sound since medieval times, just seem like too much to accept. Perhaps this is just my American-ness showing through, with its inherent divorce from the idea of living antiquity. Perhaps just the side of me that enjoys photography ,thinking the whole ride “Surely it can’t be THAT special!” But then I get there, and it is. Read more »

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                  Categories: France, Travel Words | Tags: , | 2 Comments