Saturday, 30 January 2016

Three Museums in San Jose

After reading about the lack of architectural interest in San Jose, I was pleasantly surprised to find the three main museums in the city housed in inspiring buildings. The other wonderful thing about these museums is that they are all within walking distance of each other.

Our first destination was the Jade Museum, a stunning modern building which evoked the design and texture of jade itself.  Architect Daniel Van der Laat used a ceramic material, reminiscent of natural stone to cover the outside of the building with a glass atrium cutting through the centre like a vein of jade. The museum itself has 7000 pieces of artifacts from 500 B.C. to 1500 on over 75,000 sq. ft of floor space, spread over 5 floors on either side of the atrium.  I love the setup which makes it easier for the visitor to look at a confined area of exhibits, come out to the atrium for a break and cross to the other side to see more exhibits - the visitor doesn't have to deal with large chunks of exhibit at one time as often happens with museum galleries that stretch on for miles and miles without a break.

Jade Museum

Vein of jade shown in uncarved rock

Exquisite jade carvings of monkeys and turtles

A "yoda" face?

Interesting Iguana vessel

The Precolumbian Gold Museum was even more of a hidden gem as it was all underground.  Built as an inverted pyramid under the Plaza de la Cultura,  the museum houses 1600 artifacts dating from 500 B.C. - I love the gold replicas of local Costa Rica wildlife.  The Plaza de la Cultura where the museum is located, is itself an impressive piece of urban design when I read up on the background of its multiple incarnations.  Envisioned as a meeting place and centre for music, large gatherings of the population and boasting "the longest sightline available for watching women walk in the city", it seems to be very successful as a  meeting place and a people watching place.  We took a long break in between museums and enjoyed ourselves sitting in the busy Plaza, equally bustling at all hours of the day and night.  

Stunning staircase going down the inverted pyramid to the gold exhibits

Gold frogs!
I love this mother and child sculpture in the museum.

We visited the National Museum on our last day in San Jose.  It was small as a National museum but it was in an unusual setting in a former fortress.  Visitors walk through a rain forested ramp up to the upper level where the separate buildings reminded me of a hacienda.  The main collection of interest was the stone spheres and the precolumbian stone tables (metates).

The National Museum housed in a fortress with bullet holes from the 1948 civil war

Exquisitely carved stone tables (metates)

Mysterious stone spheres found in Costa Rica, commonly attributed to the extinct Diquis race

 Intriguing stone spheres displayed in the courtyard of the National Museum, ranging in size from several inches to over six feet in diameter

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

People watching on the Avenida Central in San Jose, Costa Rica

We had a full day in San Jose before our tour of the countryside started.  It was great fun strolling the pedestrian only mall, populated by both locals and tourists.   Street musicians were in abundance, as were artists and hawkers of a multitudinous variety of goods and foods.  Hawking is serious business in San Jose - there were hawkers even on the main roads at strategic stop lights, merchandising down the length of traffic, in between rows of cars stopped at the stoplight, risking loss of life and limb.

In the main pedestrian mall (Avenida Central) in downtown San Jose, it's a bit more lighthearted. There was live music, older musicians in the morning replaced by younger ones as the day turned into night.  The atmosphere was relaxed and relaxing, even the policemen were enjoying their ice cream or on their smart phones, reassuring tourists by their very presence that all is well.

The wonderful thing for tourists is that the major landmarks, museums are all on or just off this main drag - the Central Market, the National Theatre, the Gold Museum, the Jade Museum and the National Museum.  You can't get lost!

Jamming in the morning on the Avenida Central - by the time we returned to the same spot at noon, they were replaced by another group.

And the police had special perch for people-watching - a raised platform in the middle of the street to observe comings and goings...
It's not easy to escape the temptation of buying dreams - lottery ticket sellers guard every entrance!

Central Market entrance
The Central Market was fascinating, with a maze of alleys and shops selling everything from dry goods to wet ones, raw fish right beside cooked meat.

Ice cream is popular...

Pretending it's a gun?

Artists at work

This had to be the coolest hawker on the strip...wonder what else he was selling...
This one the most charming...

I think she was selling these flags

Very enthusiastic drummer, replacing the group of mellow old crooners that were here in the morning

People meeting people

The clock on the edge of the Plaza de la Cultura was at the centre of things - to the west, the Central Market; to the east, the museums; to the south, the National Theatre
The same Plaza transformed at night - salsa on the street

The same Plaza where the Gold Museum is located, across from all the fast food joints
The same Plaza where all the action is at night, with the National Theatre just on the southern edge
Another two blocks east is the 100 year old house which is now a restaurant - we ate here our first night in San Jose

And I can't help but post this candid capture - Love among the tropical fruits...

What a great people place!