For the past three months the Orwell Quay in Ipswich has been the berthing place of the Verhalen Ark, a floating museum replica of Noah’s Ark. Inside this museum there is, among other things, models and displays of Adam and Eve (or Eva, as the signs on board say); Cain and Abel; Moses; and, of course, Noah and his Ark. During most of its time in the marina I walked past it while doing other things but had no interest in going into it, not least because of its £16.50 admission price. But when news broke of its time in Ipswich coming to an end I, like my five-year-old niece who suddenly wants the toy she isn’t playing with the moment her sister touches it, wanted nothing more than to step inside it. Of course, after returning from my visit, I turned on the radio and, like a script that uses a well-timed change of the channel to exposit information to the characters and the audience, the owner of the museum was doing an interview where he announced his intention to extend the museum’s stay in the ‘city’ for another three months. (I would link you to an article in which that interview is transcribed, but the ‘journalist’ assigned to it makes a mockery of grammar and syntax with each poorly written sentence so I won’t give him the SEO help). [Longtime readers of this blog are well aware that any and all ‘mistakes’ that crop up in these are meta commentaries mocking the state of journalism].
There’re four levels in total, with an outdoor play area and a restaurant on the top level, a gift shop on the third level and a theatre on the bottom level. I went on a Sunday, between ten and noon and both the restaurant and theatre were closed. I had no plans on visiting either; it’s just something to note for the complete experience. A map of sorts is included with the ticket, guiding you to begin the journey of the Old Testament on the top level before making your way down to the bottom level and then back up to the third level into the gift shop and exit. On the other side of that map, which I only found out on the way home, was a list of questions. I didn’t bother reading them but I’m sure there are people who did. I won’t delve too much into the layout as to not give away the entire structure and contents: but it begins, naturally, with Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden at the top and ends with the tale of King Solomon with various other stories covering the other levels. There are some activities around the place too: one can pretend he is Samson and topple over some pillars in one part; and on another pretend he is David and topple Goliath. You topple Goliath with a trebuchet more than a sling, which seems like it is cheating.
How much time you can spend in there is up to you. I reckon I was in there about two hours all in all. I finished a cycle through in less than that but I went around a second time after it died down a bit. The first run through was filled with so many children that I think I accidentally stumbled into a Sunday School on a field trip. The little blighters kept getting in the way. Once they were out, I was able to go back up and look at some of the models in greater detail.
If there are downsides, it’s that the lighting on the lower floors isn’t the best. It’s not a case of pitch blackness or struggling to see your hand in front of your face. It is that the lack of lighting obscures parts of the models, which are the stars of the piece. They have great detail to them, but when the shrine is dimly lit, it is hard to appreciate the designs in the way they deserve. Also, the signs also have some less than stellar descriptions, owing largely to some poor wording which no doubt stems from the language barrier. The people involved in the project are Dutch, English is at best their second language, certainly their English is better than my Dutch: but still the translation issue was there. Most people probably won’t notice, less people probably won’t care as even the English have no understanding of how their language works. But I do, and I’m pedantic, so I noticed it. It is narrow, too. The signs say the Ark is wheelchair accessible, and there is a lift that runs across the floors, but the walkways are very thin and it seems like a logistical nightmare to navigate a wheelchair along past other visitors, into the various nooks and crannies in which some of the displays are situated, turn around and do the same at the other end of the Ark and then turn around again to get to the lift for the next section.
I’m not telling you to visit it; I’m not going to tell you to visit it: it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. This is no advertisement. But this line telling you to buy my book on Amazon is. For that I now have to write ‘ad’ in my tags. But if do end up visiting, wear a thick jacket, perhaps even a scarf. It is cold in the Ark, particularly on the lowest floor. A sign even acknowledges this, alluding in someway that I cannot now recall about how the cold environment relates to the most evil tales of the Old Testament. I’m not quite sure science would back up this claim. Now, I might be a fat unhealthy slob, but I have no medical or breathing or underlying issues but at the bottom of the ship it was that cold air you associate with the deepest of winters: thick air that catches your breath and stays in your lungs and hurts to inhale or exhale more. Later in the day, I was still complaining to all and sundry about how the air had sapped my energy.
You won’t die, but it is chilly. Be prepared for it.
Or maybe you will die and they’ll take your body and use it as the cast for another one of its models.
We call that natural recycling.