Culture

Cats, miniatures, lard and tractors: Four of emerging Europe’s quirkiest museums

Tourism is booming across emerging Europe with more and more travelers deciding to sample its charms (or at least they were, before the coronavirus panic hit). From architecture to natural beauty and nightlife, many places across the region are being discovered by tourists and forging reputations as excellent places to spend a holiday.

But what do you do when you’ve seen all the sights and had your fill of the clubs and bars?

Well, it’s time to hit up one of the many quirky and often overlooked museums you will find in many emerging European cities. Read on to find about the weirdest and most offbeat museums the region has to offer. Ranging from those dedicated to cured meats to the humble tractor, these sites are off the beaten path and ready for adventurous visitors.

Museum of Miniatures. Photo: Nathalie Keizer
Museum of Miniatures, Prague, Czechia

Most famous art is actually quite large. The Sistine Chapel towers over its visitors and Bosch’s famous Garden of Earthly Delights spans an imposing two by four meters. And while some pieces are smaller than you’d think – such as Michelangelo’s David or Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, they can still be seen with the naked eye.

That’s not case for the works you’ll get to see in the Museum of Miniatures in Prague. This museum, which started as an exhibition in St Petersburg in 1996, is home to art of a very particular size: microscopic.

Every piece on display has to be viewed through a looking glass or a microscope, with some of them measuring only tenths of millimetres.

Everything is meticulously and painstakingly handcrafted and the works are so small that even the tiniest hand tremor can destroy them. Such precision is required that artists must learn how to work between heartbeats.

And the different mediums they use are half of the joy. Expect to see images etched into strands of human hair, grains of rice and even pinheads. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? You might just find out.

Žeravica Tractor Museum, Novo Miloševo, Serbia

Agriculture is the backbone of modern society. The food we consume has to be grown and harvested somewhere and somehow. But we tend not to think about it all too much. Especially not about tractors. What good are tractors, anyway? They are just the device that made mechanised agriculture possible, that’s all.

Celebrating the important role tractors have in human history is the Žeravica Tractor Museum. Located in the small village of Novo Miloševo in the Serbian province of Vojvodina, it’s some way from the urban centres of Novi Sad and Subotica.

But if you do take the detour, you will be greeted with what is possibly the world’s largest collection of vintage tractors, steam machines and other mechanical implements related to harvesting and keeping people fed.

It all began when Milivoje Žeravica wished to purchase a vintage 1924 Fordson tractor in the 1970s. The very same one his father used to plough his fields way back when. In the city of Kragujevac he found a bit more than he bargained for as the seller had other models from the same period. That’s when the idea was born to bring together a collection of these vintage machines.

The jewel in the museum’s collection is a 1920s Hart Parr tractor, made by the pioneering American company which is said to have, perhaps apocryphally, invented the term tractor.

Today, the museum is maintained by Milivoje’s son Čedomir and is open to visitors every day from 8am to 4pm. Worth noting is that the site also operates a repair centre for various diesel-powered machines. Just in case your own tractor breaks down on your way to the village.

Salo Museum, Lviv, Ukraine

Lard has had a tumultuous history in the western world. Once widely consumed, it fell out of favour as people began worrying about health, waist sizes, and cholesterol. And while lard is definitely coming back with many trendy restaurants around the word embracing it, there is a place where it never went out of fashion.

Ukraine is famous for it’s salo (fat, in Ukrainian) which to the untrained eye at first glace might appear to be a hard cheese. But, actually, it’s cold pig fat that has been cured in salt or brine and stored in a dark place for about a year. Once it’s ready, it is consumed with garlic, onion, and pickles and chased down in the traditional Ukrainian way. With a glass of vodka.

At the Salo Museum, tourists who come to Lviv for it’s marvellous blend of Eastern European and German architecture can take a load off and learn more about this unique dish.

There are even unique sculptures made of lard on display. It’s certainly a strange, yet very tasty medium.

The museum is also a restaurant making the trip worthwhile for all those who want to sample traditional Ukrainian cuisine – including, of course, salo.

Cats Museum, Kotor, Montenegro

From the ancient Egyptians to contemporary internet surfers, the popularity of cats has never waned. In fact, cats are more popular than ever with much of the internet’s server space reserved for cat gifs and memes.

Kotor meanwhile is a popular tourist destination in Montenegro, known for its namesake bay (Boka Kotorska) and it’s well-preserved medieval Old Town.

But once you’ve experienced the beaches and all the ancient history you may be looking for something unique and a little quirky.

And you’ll find it in Cats Museum. It’s a quaint place dedicated to ephemera featuring cats. In its collection are newspapers, postcards, lithographs, and other media collected over centuries.

Visitors will get to see some of the fist postcards bearing the image of the internet’s favourite animal, as well as books, magazines, and even invoices for cats from various parts of the world.

It’s the perfect space to enjoy something light and cute, a great counterpoint to the gravitas and stateliness of sites such as  the Saint Tryphon Cathedral.

If you are a cat lover on holiday in Montenegro, this museum will be right up your alley.