Going inside the museum bubble.
PRAGUE, Czech Republic- Museums were once the great refuge of the traveler. If it the weather was raining, too cold, too hot, or if you just had nothing better to do, you could duck inside a museum and hang out for a few hours carousing through displays showing a cherry-picked version of a country’s history. Museums — especially the national ones — were once cheap, and ticket price was rarely a deciding factor as to whether you would go or not.
This isn’t the case anymore. The secret is out: travelers like museums … travelers have money … let’s see how much money we can get out of them.
I first became aware of the rampant commercialization of museums while staying in Penang a couple of years ago. One day it occurred to me that private “museums” were everywhere…and they had next to nothing in them… and they were expensive.
It Prague it is even worse: there is a
A sex machines museum, a tram museum, a nostalgia museum, a bunch of upside down selfie museums, a museum of the senses, which I paid $20 to discover that it was really just a selfie museum, a museum of small things, a communism museum, a technical museum, a Kafka museum, a film making museum, a museum of bricks, a chocolate museum, an Apple computer museum, a comics museum, the standard slate of history, art, and music museums, not one but two Lego museums, and more beer museums than I care to count. The average cost of admission ranges from $10 to $20 per person. Many have a mass of reviews that all say about the same thing: tourist trap, not worth the price.
These museums remind me of the side show tents at old traveling carnivals: they lure you in with the expectation of seeing something crazy, you spend your quarter, you come out feeling ripped off. That grizzly old mound of gunk probably wasn’t really Geronimo’s skull.
My kids were excited to go to the National Museum in Prague. This is a real museum — not one of the “pay a bunch of money to take a picture of yourself in front of something funny” museums. It was closed for renovations during our previous stops in the city, and we were looking forward to its reopening. It eventually happened, so my girls and I figured we would go.
We arrived around ten minutes before opening time and there was a short line out the door. We took our spot in the queue and figured that we would get in pretty quickly once they opened.
That didn’t happen.
A lone grumpy old women sat in the ticket booth making sure she took the time to snarl at each person in line before grumpily reaching out taking their money, depositing it in the till, and handing over their tickets. I watched as she would pause at each customer, looking at them as if saying, “what the f’ck do you want?” When they asked for a ticket to the museum she would move as slowly as humanly possible, as the line stretched ever longer out the door. It took a half hour for her to sell tickets to the 15 people — maybe five groups — that were ahead of us. She didn’t give a shit how long the line got or how much time people were waiting.
But there was something rather charmingly communistic about this — something from another era materializing right in front of me. That’s why we go to museums, right? To see old shit?
It was eventually our turn. We got rudely told to wait as the lady let someone cut in front of us. Around five more minutes passed. When she turned to me I requested three general admission tickets. The price was clearly printed on a sign right next to the counter, but she demanded twice the price shown. I said that I wanted to pay the general admission price, and pointed to it. She told me that that price was only for half the museum, and if I wanted to see the entire museum I would have to pay the more expensive rate. Not only that, but the general admission price to see half the museum didn’t even include the entire half, as there were premium areas that you had to pay more to enter.
F’ck that. I pulled my girls out of line and we walked out.
Museums have become one of the biggest rip-offs of travel.