Tag Archives: art

Pitt Rivers Museum

Yesterday was day 19 of illness in the Oxford Mommy household. Two back-to-back colds have caused us to cancel all our classes, playdates, and outings for the last couple of weeks and we were going stir-crazy. So I was racking my brains for somewhere to take the Baberoo where she wouldn’t touch things that other babies would then touch and get sick, because I would never want to inflict this cold on anyone else. All of a sudden I had an epiphany: a fun place where you don’t touch stuff? A museum, of course! So we set out for the Pitt Rivers Museum (South Parks Road, OX1 3PP, admission free) where I figured that I would get a little boost from looking at the shrunken heads and realizing that I still don’t look that bad, even after two and a half weeks of no sleep.

Pitt Rivers view from top gallery

The Pitt Rivers is a worldwide anthropological collection, with objects displayed by type rather than by culture or age. Whether you’re interested in musical instruments, boomerangs, clothing, body art, spears, or toys, or just coming to browse through the myriad objects and traditions that the museum houses, you’ll always discover something interesting and unusual. The old-style exhibition cases with their tiny handwritten labels give the museum a dark, enchanting atmosphere. But it’s not musty or boring, and during our visit there was a group of schoolchildren on a booked education session who were really enjoying vivid storytelling by a staff member.

Pitt Rivers ball games case

The Baberoo, being a little cranky because of her cold, was not terribly impressed by the collections, but I enjoyed looking at them, especially the textiles and the ‘ball games’ case. I was also pleased to note, after inspecting the ‘Treatment of the Dead’ case, that I did indeed still look better than a shrunken head. (We’ll have to see if that still applies in a week or so if we’re still not sleeping at night, though.) I do think that the Pitt Rivers collections appeal to older children rather than babies, so if you choose this museum as a destination it’ll mainly be for yourself. Once your kid gets to the age where they can ask all sorts of questions, it’ll be a great place for them too.

So how does the Pitt Rivers rate for baby-friendliness? I’m rating it on my ‘attractions’ scale of 8 points, 2 each for space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. For more about my ratings system, see my About page.

Space: The building the Pitt Rivers shares with the currently-closed Museum of Natural History (reopening in 2014) is an old-style Victorian building and has lots of stairs at the front, so there’s a special entrance at the side for prams and wheelchairs. The signage was good until I got to where I thought I was supposed to go in, and then I was stymied until a staff member helped me. Once inside, there’s a route to follow to get to a lift, which will bring you to the main floor of the Museum of Natural History, which you walk through until you get to the Pitt Rivers. The entrance to the Pitt Rivers is its gift shop, and there’s a platform lift to get to the main court area from there. There’s another (very large) lift that will take you from the court level to the two gallery levels.

Pitt Rivers lift

With all the cases in the court area, you might think there wasn’t enough room to push a baby carriage around, but actually there was plenty of space to get through, even with our very large Uppababy Vista. It was fun to go around corners and be surprised by the contents of the next case, and I never ran into any areas where I couldn’t get through.

Pitt Rivers view from court gallery

Ambiance: Staff were extremely friendly and helpful, which made up for the bad signage at the front. The museum is quite dark and pretty quiet, so it may be a good bet if you want a sleeping baby to stay asleep (unless there’s a school activity going on, in which case you can hear it throughout the space). I also personally appreciate the feeling of being surrounded by things made of natural materials that have taken time, skill, and attention to craft – it’s the kind of atmosphere that can soothe my most uneasy, illness-induced addled-brain feelings.

Facilities: There is a baby-changing area on the court gallery level. It is very pretty. But whoever designed it didn’t think about needing to bring a pushchair in with you, so it is the narrowest possible space. We certainly couldn’t navigate it with our large pushchair and I doubt even the smallest umbrella stroller could make it into the space along with a parent and still have enough room for the door to close. It’s a shame, because it’s a nice-looking room and you can tell the designer tried to maximize the space by putting the changing table directly above the sink.

Pitt Rivers baby changing

However, you are in luck because there’s another baby-changing room elsewhere in the museum, and it’s huge. You need to go back out via the same route you came in, through the Museum of Natural History and down in the lift to the corridor leading to the wheelchair/pram exit. In that corridor there is a massive disabled/baby change toilet which has all the space you need.

Piitt Rivers disabled and baby changing toilet

Feeding: I didn’t feed the Baberoo while we were at the museum, and of course actual food and drink wouldn’t be permitted inside the museum building. As for breastfeeding, I’ve been happy to do so in many other museums, although there aren’t too many seats available at the Pitt Rivers. The only ones I saw were within the court gallery, right amongst the display cases. I don’t think there were any in the non-gallery areas (ie, the corridors, near the lifts, etc), but I did see someone sitting on a bench in the area outside the Pitt Rivers entrance (in the under-construction Museum of Natural History). Your choices are limited for sure, and I would probably go elsewhere for a feed.

The Pitt Rivers Museum gets a 5.75 out of 8 on my baby-friendliness scale. It’s a nice place to go for a quiet and extremely interesting afternoon away from the bright lights and big crowds of central Oxford – not only during this pre-Christmas rush season, but at any time of the year.

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Ashmolean Dining Room

I am a museum lover. I’ve worked in the sector for 12 years (although I’m currently on hiatus while I work as a stay-at-home mom) and I have always thought bringing children to museums is a great thing to do from even the earliest age. The Baberoo has enjoyed several visits to the Ashmolean already, and on our last visit I decided to try out the Dining Room while she napped.

The Ashmolean Dining Room (Beaumont Street, OX1 2PH) is the swankier of the two eateries at the museum; I’ll review the downstairs café separately sometime in the future. The Dining Room is on the top floor of the museum and boasts an outdoor terrace with views of Oxford’s dreaming spires. It has a menu of fresh seasonal ingredients, using local suppliers where possible. I ordered the guinea fowl with cavolo nero (black cabbage) and sauteed potatoes (£14.50) along with a Fentiman’s Lemonade (£2.95). The guinea fowl was moist and tender, as were the vegetables. Sitting on the rooftop was a thrilling experience – not necessarily for the views, which were partially obscured by potted plants, but because it’s October and it was still warm enough to sit outside and enjoy the sun.

Ashmolean Dining Room guinea fowl

For dessert I ordered the chilli and caramel roasted pineapple with sweet ginger crème anglaise (£5). While the pineapple was nice, it didn’t have the truly caramelized flavour I was hoping for, and the caramel sauce itself was too thin. The chilli, caramel, and ginger were competing rather than complementing each other. I should have gone for the salted caramel cheesecake instead. Still, I had an enjoyable meal and the Baberoo only woke up as I was finishing my dessert, so I had a little time to myself.

Ashmolean Dining Room roasted pineapple

Let me digress a little and talk about the museum in regards to babies for a moment before I get down to reviewing the baby-friendliness of the Dining Room. The Ashmolean has quite a comprehensive family programme, encompassing downloadable museum trails, free summer activities for kids, an Activity Station near the entrance to the museum, and free year-round drop-in creative sessions, as well as free entry to special exhibitions for kids under 18. More information is available on the Family Events page. There are several choices for under-5s (so it’s great if you’re bringing a toddler or pre-schooler along with your babe-in-arms), although I don’t think babies would be old enough to enjoy any of the activities. I would say the museum is mainly kid-friendly rather than baby-friendly. Still, even babies can enjoy the spectacular art and archaeology collections if you take them round the museum.

Now, how does the Ashmolean Dining Room rate on the baby-friendliness scale? In my reviews of eateries I look at five elements: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding, all of which are explained in detail on my About page.

Menu: The menu is quite small and changes regularly, so I can’t predict how many dishes will be available for you to eat with one hand while you hold a baby in the other arm – but going by the menu on the day I visited, there were a few options (charcuterie platter, fish, soup, salad) that could be eaten with one hand. The mains, however, generally require both hands to be free.

Space: The terrace is quite large and has lots of space between tables. The dining room itself has less space, although certainly you could fit a baby carriage at a table. More than one parent with a baby carriage, though, and you’re probably out of luck. This is not necessarily because of the amount of space in the restaurant, but because of the inconvenience of getting in and out. Unfortunately, only one lift in the museum goes to the fourth floor where the restaurant is located, and this lift is in constant use. I got off on the wrong floor on the way down and then had to wait – I kid you not – 10 minutes for the lift to come back again without having too many people or trolleys in it. There was a wheelchair user waiting behind me and luckily we both managed to squeeze in, otherwise she’d have been waiting even longer. The museum is accessible, but it’s not necessarily easily accessible.

Ashmolean Dining Room terrace

Ambiance: The Ashmolean Dining Room has beautiful tables and seating; it’s a very pleasant place to be, as is the rooftop terrace. The staff are friendly and offer high chairs for babies. I didn’t see any other babies or children there during my visit; I think probably parents who bring their kids to the museum choose the downstairs cafe instead because it’s cheaper and easier to get to. That said, there is a kid-friendly menu at the Dining Room.

Ashmolean Dining Room interior

Facilities: There’s a baby-changing facility in the disabled toilet right outside the entrance to the Dining Room. The room is clean and bright and the pull-down changing table is a good size. There’s no shelf to put your changing bag near the changing table, but there’s a low ledge behind you which might do for a place to set your bag down.

Ashmolean Dining Room baby-changing facilities

Feeding: I didn’t do any feeding on this occasion because the Baberoo was napping for most of it. I would have felt more comfortable on an indoor seat than an outdoor one if I’d been breastfeeding, but if I had been using a high chair for her it wouldn’t have mattered whether it was inside or outside. There are regular chairs and bench seating (and a few comfy chairs right at the entrance to the restaurant) so there are different choices for breastfeeding in comfort.

In my book the Ashmolean Dining Room gets a 7.25 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. It’s not necessarily easy to get to, and it’s not inexpensive, but if you’re feeling like treating yourself to something fancy you’ll enjoy yourself here.

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Crisis Skylight Cafe

This week the Baberoo and I, both fighting jet lag, got pretty tired all of a sudden during an excursion to the city centre. This was all very well for her, since she could sleep in her carriage. I, on the other hand, having no one to push me around town while I snoozed in my own personal perambulating bed, needed to find somewhere to eat and recharge myself, pronto. I had been meaning to visit the very welcoming-looking Crisis Skylight Café (at the Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, OX1 2AQ), so I headed over and managed to make it there without actually collapsing.

The café is run by Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, and it trains people on-the-job in order to provide the experience needed for employment. It’s a great social enterprise, and the café offers good, inexpensive meals and snacks. They’re housed within the Old Fire Station, an arts centre that works with Crisis by providing opportunities for Skylight members to create and show work as well as to volunteer at the arts centre. (I’ll have to review the Old Fire Station itself in a future post, as their current exhibition, RAJ, wasn’t open yet when I visited.)

I chose the Spanish tortilla with two side salads and a green salad (£4.95 for the whole thing, an amazing deal), plus a lemonade (£1.85). The potato in the tortilla was cooked perfectly, and the tortilla was full of other roasted vegetables. It was pleasantly, if unexpectedly, curried. The side salads I chose were the rice with asparagus, olives, and egg (a combination I’ve never seen before, but which worked well), and tomato and green bean. The meal revitalized me and my seat at the open French doors gave me a great people-watching vantage point onto busy George Street.

Tortilla and salads

So, how did the Crisis Skylight Café measure up against my five criteria for baby-friendliness? The criteria are menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding, all of which are explained in more detail on my About page.

Menu: The usual café-style fare is served here, so if you are up for eating a jacket potato or a sandwich with one hand while you hold a baby in the other arm, go for it. But for those with less dexterity, there are the daily specials, which are a hot entree plus salads of your choice – all pretty easy to eat one-handed. They also have a good selection of breakfast items, as well as pastries and cakes.

Space: It’s a bit tight at the café for a baby carriage if it’s busy. There was room for me to wheel the Baberoo all the way through to the window seat, but that was because we were past the main lunchtime hour and several tables were vacant. If they had been full we’d have been hard pressed to find a way through the café, and because many of the tables have wooden benches instead of individual seats it would also have been hard for patrons to move their seats to let us through. However, there are some smaller tables against the walls that would be the best place for parking a baby carriage. (Sorry for the not-great picture below; I told you I was jet-lagged!)

Tables

Ambiance: This is a very light, homey, friendly café and the diners I saw were happy to be relaxing and taking their time over their meals. The opening hours run from 8:30 am to mid-afternoon (check the website for times) so it’s great if you need somewhere to go early in the day; these are very baby-friendly hours. The fact that the French doors were open was even nicer and made it feel airy and fresh. The art on the walls is for sale.

Facilities: The bathroom with the baby-changing facility is located in the Old Fire Station, a half-level up, and is accessible via the lift. I was a bit nervous about the lift because it’s the kind where you have to hold down the button until you reach the floor you want, and you open the door yourself. There’s one like it at my husband’s work and I always get stuck in it! Luckily, I didn’t get stuck this time since this lift is in good nick. The changing room is fine, with a pull-down table and enough space to move around with the baby carriage. The hallway leading to the changing facility is a bit narrow if two prams are trying to pass each other, though.

Changing table

Feeding: I didn’t feed the Baberoo during this visit, but if I had wanted to, I’d have probably been more comfortable at a table with individual chairs rather than a long bench, since I can move a chair much more easily to the position I need. I don’t think I’d have had any trouble feeding her there, though, and it’s the kind of space that feels welcoming to anyone who would want to feed their baby.

In total, the Crisis Skylight Café rates a 7.25 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. I will be back because I like to support a good cause, but also because of the nice ambiance and the fact that it’s probably the cheapest lunch on George Street!

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