Friday, 28 November 2014

Model Wonders: Part 6 (Europe Edition)

Despite the many, many requests I get, on a daily basis, from big-name magazines and academic journals, offering big money to enquire after and photograph my collection of miniature World Wonders, I always refuse. "No," I tell them, gently but firmly, "I don't want to tarnish the purity of my collection. It would be like a celebrity mother selling pictures of her baby. There are some things which should not be exploited for commercial gain. This is one."

However, for my dear reader, I am more than happy to show you the European collection of models from my recent travels. Here they are.

(please note: I would also be more than happy to exploit this for commercial gain if any big-money magazines really are interested. Likewise, a baby, should I acquire one.)

Palace of Versailles

Let's get this one out of the way - Versailles, you let yourselves down. France isn't short of a tourist or two, and is no stranger to vast souvenir emporiums. Visit Paris and you could spent the rest of your life buying small Eiffel Towers, and the rest of someone else's life gathering up Notre-Dames, Sacre-Coeurs, and Arcs des Triomphe. Therefore, it was not unreasonable of me to expect that Versailles would offer up an embarrassment of riches when it came to small models of its palace. I was wrong.

Don't be mistaken for believing this is because Versailles rises above all this tourist crap - just round the corner from the palace are a whole row of souvenir shops selling dish towels, magnets, and books that nobody would ever read. But the models weren't of the palace, they were all of the Eiffel Tower, the Notre-Dame, the Sacre-Couer, and the Arc de Triomphe! Versailles souvenir shops are dedicated to Paris! I hunted, I scoured every nook, but there was no palace. Nothing, except for the above snow globe, which features a statue of somebody or other (I really should know) with a crappy Palace of Versailles etched on the base. It is not impressive.

A couple of months later, there was an unfortunate episode in Granada, when my brother pulled my bag out of a taxi, and the snow globe slipped out, smashing instantly. I wasn't too upset. In fact, it puts the focus onto the base a little more.

Inside the actual Palace of Versailles, there was this:

It was a purpose-built display model and not for sale. It would have been too big to carry anyway. The palace gift shop did actually have a cardboard make-it-yourself book for the palace, but it was about as enormous as this model above and clearly too big for casual display at home. Who would display a colossal homemade cardboard Palace of Versailles? Even I have my limits.

Mont Saint-Michel

A classic model. I love walking into a shop and seeing these - immediately I know I'm in safe hands. There is no artistic impression, just an honest-to-God reduced-sized reproduction in colour. In a perfect world, every Wonder would have a model like this for sale, and they would all be in proportion.

Amiens Cathedral

What's up with France? Amiens, like Versailles, failed to show off their most famous landmark in model form. One of their souvenir shops had a vast replica in chocolate, but nothing as much as a simple handheld model for purchase. I had to settle for another bloody snow globe. I managed not to smash this one.

In fact, this was actually the second snow globe of Amiens Cathedral I bought. This was the first.

I bought this just-a-facade-in-a-snow globe in a state of despair after much searching. Only then, the day after, I spotted the other, superior snow globe for sale. The above photo is all I have I left of the facade version; the actual thing was left behind in a Paris hostel, on top of a wooden beam. I hope it didn't fall off and hit anyone on the head.

Thiepval Memorial

After the failures of Versailles and Amiens, I thought that there would be no chance of finding a model of the war memorial at Thiepval. Wrong. This little version was easily purchasable at the gift shop. Is it tasteless to sell miniature war memorials at war memorials? I don't know the answer to that. It's pretty humble and unshowy, and doesn't light up or anything, so it's not gaudy. And it doesn't include the headstones that are in front of the real thing - that definitely wouldn't be in good taste. Still, surprising that somebody out there considers it worthwhile to manufacture small Thiepval Memorials but doesn't consider the Palace of Versailles a viably commercial option.


Granada had several different Alhambras for sale across many, many souvenir shops, that I dragged Danielle, my brother, and his wife too many, many times. I settled for this one, after some debate both with myself and with the others ("Can we just stop visiting these damn shops!") because I felt that although not the most dramatic, it was the most accurate of the whole palace and fortress on the rock spur. The only problem with it is that the "front", which is designated by the writing, is what I'd call the back. The "back", on the bottom photo, is the side that virtually all the tourists will see. These are the kind of things that bother me and me alone.


Cordoba's mosque-cathedral is better appreciated from the inside - the outside isn't anything too fancy. Perhaps, therefore, I should have bought one of the much more widespread models of its famous striped arches, but I was so impressed - and surprised - that shops were commonly selling models of the whole building that I felt compelled to buy. I restricted myself to just a little one - much larger versions were on sale.

The City of Arts and Sciences (and some other stuff)

I felt sure that the City of Arts and Sciences would be full of gift shops selling models of its fancy show-off structures, but they were curiously restrained. Instead I had to search the shops of Valencia instead. I was faced with a choice - a snow globe with just one of the structures inside, or the above model of various Valencia landmarks crammed together in a fantasy skyline. I'm sick of snow globes, so I went for the latter.

Pont du Gard

I have a small confession to make - I broke the rules with this one. The rules on model buying (which aren't at all binding, they are just there to keep me in line) are that I can only buy a model after I've seen the Wonder. Ideally, the model should be bought at the official gift shop, but a local souvenir shop is also fine. Only if these options fail can I turn to the internet. Well, during the holiday dubbed Francefest 2012 two years ago, when in Nimes, I drank a carafe of rose wine and got a little carried away. Although the Pont du Gard isn't far from Nimes, it wasn't possible to visit it on that holiday, but drunk on being so close to a Wonder and drunk also on rose wine, I stormed into a souvenir shop and saw the above model. I think it cost €20. Yes, I thought, and bought it, along with a model of Nimes Arena (which I had seen earlier that day).

Danielle has very mixed feelings about my compulsions to buy models of all my Wonders - "they are an essential part of the Wonder experience!" I tell her, but she's not convinced. Upon sobering up, I realised that she might not be too happy that I'd bought a model of a place I hadn't even seen - it opens up all kinds of worrying possibilities. So I hid it from her. For over two years. Only a month ago, when we moved into this new flat and began getting our life back into gear did I come clean and tell her. She took it in very good grace. And that, in my opinion, is because this is a truly excellent model of the Pont du Gard that would look good in any home and so she was secretly delighted. Is that right, Danielle...?

Tower of Pisa

There are over one billion models of the Tower of Pisa in Pisa. A bit like the mythical hydra, every time you buy one, two more appear.

Florence Cathedral

Not much to say about this one. It's a model of Florence Cathedral and I'm very happy with it.

Siena Cathedral and the Piazza del Campo

I wasn't intending buying models of Siena Cathedral and especially not of the Piazza del Campo, but a small newsagents happened to be selling these in the window. Seemingly not sold anywhere else in Siena, they appear to be hand-painted and locally made, and not mass produced like the usual souvenirs. The cathedral is a standard, albeit pretty, little model, but the Piazza del Campo is more unusual - I've never seen a model of an entire city square before. I think they're both rather sweet little things

Milan Cathedral

This is a disappointing model because it makes Milan Cathedral look very like a generic cathedral, which is exactly what the real Gothic hedghehog isn't. Perhaps it would be better served by a larger model, but as it's not an official Wonder, I just got a smaller, cheaper one.

Verona Arena

It's difficult to imagine anybody ever getting excited about the Verona Arena model. It's not offensively bad or hilarious, but neither is it terribly good. Why would anyone but me buy such a thing? It doesn't have the fame of the Tower of Pisa as a selling point, so who else would want to display it? It's a mystery, but there must be a market, because there were plenty on sale. Mine came in plastic wrapping - probably its highlight.

The Colosseum

A much better effort by the Colosseum, although I must say it took some searching. You won't be surprised to hear that models of the Colosseum are sold everywhere in Rome. Stalls line the streets with small colosseums pouring out. But the majority are unspeakable rubbish, a bit like the Verona Arena model but even more mass produced, if you can imagine that. Fortunately, I found a little shop that sold slightly nicer-than-average souvenirs, and  got this definitely nicer-than-average Colosseum.

St Peter's

The same shop sold this St Peter's model. It's more focussed on St Peter's Square than the basilica itself, but it's brightly coloured and a solid addition to the collection. Looking at these now, I wonder if they are from the same producer as the Siena models. There's a definite similarity in style.

Sagrada Familia

A great model. I actually bought this a few years ago, before all the Wonder travels started, when on holiday with Danielle. Ah, more innocent times, before models infested our home and Danielle didn't regard them with scorn. I got this from the official Sagrada Familia gift shop and if I recall it wasn't cheap - €30 or more. I have no regrets though, as this is a splendid model of how the Sagrada Familia will look in 20 or 30 years, perhaps my the only model I own that is a futuristic projection. If the builders lose all theirs plans (it's happened before during the Spanish Civil War), they are welcome to contact me to rent this. €1 a day for a minimum of 30 days should do the trick.

Other European (esque) models bought years ago

In my defence, although it is a meagre one, buying these kind of things never used to be normal behaviour for me. Wonder changed all this. Before commencing the Wonder travels, the notion occurred that it would be nice to buy small replicas of them all, and somehow this then extended into buying models of other notable buildings. I was more leisurely back then, perhaps perusing a couple of souvenir shops very casually but not feeling the compulsive urges I get now.

The Reichstag

I got this on a trip to Berlin in 2009. Like the model of Mont Saint-Michel above, it's simple and perfect. The only thing I disagree with is the crude writing on the front. This is hardly particular to the Reichstag, but it's a strange and unnecessary thing to do. If you're buying the model, you clearly know what it's of. If you're worried you might one day forget, then put the writing on the underside or something. Having the name emblazoned on the front is like putting name tags on your children.

The Brandenburg Gate

I guess the Germans know the score when it comes to models. I got this one the same trip, and it's just as simple and perfect. If only all my Wonders were in Germany, life would be so much easier. Better still, it has the confidence not to have its name written on it.

Maiden Tower

Bet you haven't heard of this one. It's a 12th Century tower in Baku, Azerbaijian. I was there for work during early-to-mid 2009, and I 'm wondering if it was the first ever model I bought. I was surprised to find it last month, at the bottom of a box, and I can't remember anything about buying it. Most probably I was drunk. I spent most of my time onshore in Baku being drunk, I believe it's the only way to enjoy the city.

York Minster

If Danielle could travel back in time, would she still smile when she bought this model with me, during our first ever holiday, in York in 2010? Or would she scream and jump in front of the cashier, preventing the purchase? If York Minster hadn't been bought, perhaps the rest would never have followed. But then, the paradox of time travel would be opened, and Danielle Mk II wouldn't travel back in time to stop me buying this, and so I would have bought it and all the rest, so then she would travel back in time, and so on ad infinitum. It is thought that this kind of time travel paradox could end the universe, so we can conclude that my model buying has saved the universe. A noble pursuit indeed.

If you've battled this far, you might like to see all my models together, jostling for space. Well, here they are.

Better than a baby any day.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Niall, -very impressive! Just one missing - the one you sent me a picture of on Wednesday!
    Not sure if everyone would agree with the baby comment however.....


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