Moussem Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch – Sacred, Mystical, Muslim, Madness

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Moussem Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch
Moussem Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch – Every year on the anniversary of the prophet Mohammed’s  birth, (‘Eid al-Mawlid) many Moroccans take part in pilgrimages to sacred places, saintly tombs, shrines and grottos, and places frequented by ‘junuun,’ those mystical beings from the Qur’an who hold a special place in Moroccan folklore and popular culture.

Thousands of pilgrims descend upon Sidi Ali to  commemorate Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch and to delve into the world of the supernatural, the trance, the aura of the junuun, to experience the ritual bath at the spring of Aïsha Ben Hamdoucha and incantations that bring spirits and humans together in remembrance of God.

During the week of the pilgrimage, tents and stalls line the streets of the small town. The smells of tea and grilled meat mix with those of live sheep awaiting slaughter and the sweet incense used in ritual offerings. Music fills the foggy mountain air as impromptu street performances take place in every corner.

Musicians playing anything from the Ahidous native to the Atlas Mountains to Sufi music in the Hamadsha or Gnawa traditions descend upon Sidi Ali, set up camp in a ground floor garage or room in an apartment for the week to perform ceremonial ‘Lillas’.

Spectators are slowly brought into the ritual – dancing, swaying and being offered breaths of incense until some fall into a trance. Participation with the mystic during the pilgrimage of Sidi Ali ben Hamdouch is very much like all mystic experiences: it requires initiation, belief and surrender.

The sweet smell of incense and the rhythmic clapping of metal castanets and chanting of the Gnawi form an experience that flows between the spiritual and the sensory – between mere curiosity and more esoteric meanderings. Hardly advertised, the pilgrimage of Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch is still known by most Moroccans. This is an opportunity to be transported deep into Moroccan tradition.

World’s Strangest Hotels

Exploring the world’s strangest hotels is certainly a fun thing to do, given the extremes hotels have gone to, just in the name of being “strange”. And strange they are, too, by the looks of them. Ask anyone who’s been to a hotel from the list below, and he’ll tell you first-hand the experience that comes in staying there. Here is a list of the top 5 strangest hotels in the world. There are lots more, but only these five have made it to this list, based largely on popularity, service, and my own personal experiences.

5. The  UFO Capsule Hotel, Tokyo  Japan
stange hotelsCertainly one of the strangest concepts ever for a hotel, The UFO Capsule Hotel is a chain of “capsule hotels” across Japan that has been around for quite some time and has gained immense popularity as well. The concept of the capsule hotel may as well have been derived from the Japanese mind, given the way it uses space so efficiently. The Capsule Hotel consists of small “capsules”, which in turn have two sections: one, a public lounge space, and the second, a private sleeping space. Less space doesn’t mean throwing away amenities: TV, adjustable lighting, radio, all are present. A must-stay for those seeking the “strange”!

4. IceHotel, Sweden

Do not get surprised: the name of this hotel is exactly what the hotel is made of: ice. strange hotelsOpen only in the winter, Ice Hotel is unique: it stands as a hotel in the winter, and melts to become a free-flowing river after the cold is gone. So that means the hotel is essentially built every year, and then it melts away after the sun comes out, only to be rebuilt the next year. Located just 200 kms north of the Arctic Circle, IceHotel is built by artists who come from all around the world, and by using only frozen water (ice) from the Torne River. Furniture made of ice is present, and beds are made of ice too, and covered in reindeer skins.

3. Hotel Fox, Denmark

strange hotels of the worldHotel Fox is one of a kind, and you certainly have not seen anything like it, that’s for sure. The hotel has 61 rooms, and each room is an exquisite piece of art. Combining the brilliance of 21 artists drawn from all over the world, and after studying close to a thousand different ideas, Hotel Fox was transformed with themes in each room as unique as possible, ranging from flowered themes to friendly monster themes to fairytale themes! The food at Hotel Fox is always being innovated, by inviting the best students from the best European cooking schools to prepare food under the supervision of experienced chefs.

 

2. StayOrange Hotel, Malaysia
strange world hotelsI know, the name sounds strange, but then this is a list of the strangest hotels in the world! StayOrange.com Hotel is located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and is inspired from the capsule hotels from Japan. The Hotel features three kinds of rooms – Double EnSuite, Single EnSuite and 2-Bed Bunk Rooms. The Hotel aims to provide functionality in terms of both facilities and prices. The pricing is very affordable, and the facilities are not compromised upon. All facilities like free Wi-Fi internet access, hot water showers, exclusive mattresses from Dreamland, LCD TVs are provided, with branded toiletries and DVD players being optional.

1. Propeller Island City Lodge in Berlin, Germanyworld's strangest hotel

This hotel makes it to the top position with ease, just with the variety of rooms it providesJust picture: flying beds, upside-down rooms, circular beds, prison-style rooms – this hotel has got them all. And more. With 35 rooms of pure artistic indulgence, . the hotel will certainly make you come back for more. Certainly one of the most creative hotels of all time, the Propeller Island City Lodge has extremely courteous staff, which takes care of the minutest details. The hotel is very clean, and is a must visit.

Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Museum

Nikola Tesla was perhaps the greatest wizard of the modern age. He invented radio at the same time as Marconi, invented alternating current which powers the world’s electric grid, and contributed to the fields of electrical engineering, physics, and power generation and transfer. His work touches the daily lives of most people on the planet.

Nikola Tesla MuseumTesla was born in Croatia, then a part of the Austrian Empire but his father was an Orthodox minister and since he was born in the former Yugoslavia and once visited Belgrade where he said “I am a Serb,” he is perhaps the proudest son of the Serbian people. He is on the 50 Serbian Dinar note and when you visit Belgrade it’s worth it to pay a visit to the Nikola Tesla Museum located in a 1929 residential villa built by Dragiša Brašovan, a distinguished Serbian architect.

The museum is open from 10 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Friday and weekends from 10 am to 1 pm. Entrance is 150 Serbian Dinars (about 1.5 Euro)

Belgrade Tesla MuseumThe story of how the museum which contains the bulk of Tesla’s personal effects and some of his inventions came to be is a result of Tesla dying and leaving his estate to his nephew, a resident of Belgrade. Tesla himself was a U.S. citizen and died in New York City where he was working on a way to create ‘free energy’ which conspiracy theorists believe was sabotaged by the electricity companies. Furthermore, they say that his inventions along this line were seized by the U.S. government and hidden in the deepest vaults for safekeeping. Because of his eccentric personality and his seemingly unbelievable and sometimes bizarre claims about possible scientific and technological developments, Tesla was ultimately ostracized and regarded as a mad scientist by many late in his life.

Conspiracies aside, Tesla was working on a way to transmit power without wires but when the project neared completion the backing was pulled by financier JP Morgan who notoriously said that if you couldn’t put a meter on it, you couldn’t make a profit from it.

Ashes of Tesla
Nikola Tesla’s Ashes

Despite his world changing inventions, Tesla died penniless and alone. As a result of all of this, the Belgrade Nikola Tesla museum is the only one in the world that contains his notes, letters, and personal belongings. These include more than 160,000 original documents, 2000+ books and journals, 1200+ historical technical exhibits, 1000+ technical drawings and schemata, 1500+ photographs and photo plates of original, technical objects, plus many of his instruments and apparatus.

The museum is a major draw for those who are deeply involved in environmental protection projects and studies of pollution-free energy sources. It is also the last resting place of Tesla as his ashes are kept in an urn at the back of the museum. Here is a short video I took with my phone of the Tesla coil…sorry for the bad cinematography 🙂

While the historical and personal effects of Tesla are interesting, the real fun is in the working models of his inventions including a small tesla coil, a poly-phase system, a core-less Tesla transformer, and his wireless remote control. The engineering students who volunteer at the museum give a wonderful demonstration and explanation (in English, Serbian, French, Italian, or Spanish) and if you want to feel what it is like to have thousands of volts of electricity pass through your body (safely) or to witness the power of Tesla’s inventions, there is no better place to do it. Knowing that his umbrella, hat, and the ashes of his body are in the same building makes it all just that much more exhilarating.

Jazz in Paris – Paris Jazz Bars and One Swinging Town

There's no jazz like Paris JazzThe legend says jazz was born in the New Orleans at the end of the 19th century. Very fast, this new music expands to Europe, where many black American jazzmen decide to stay, because they are more recognized and accepted than in the US. Many of them stay in Paris after the war and will contribute to the success of Jazz in Paris from 1918 onwards. Music historians say that without Paris, jazz would not have known such a great success all over the world.

Asking a Frenchman what the best jazz bar in Paris is like asking him to find the best croissant in Paris: it’s impossible. Every jazz club has a certain flavor that makes it unique. Every club has its specialty and has a different characteristic. And there are so many jazz clubs in Paris that you can find every different flavor you want.

If you want to be in an little club that is not crowded with tourists and where you can discover young talents, then the Caveau des oubliettes is the place to be. It is one of the few jazz clubs in Paris to be free, and many celebrities like Keziah Jones enjoy spending the evening there, so maybe you’ll get lucky! And, if you do get lucky, it might be good if you’ve found your own jazz crashpad – there are plenty of Paris apartment rentals to choose from, so no reason to deal with the hotel scene.

 

There's no jazz like Paris JazzAnother one of my favorite bars is the Swan Bar. There, you can drink some delicious cocktails prepared by the lovely waitress Isla in the historic jazz district of Paris. The lineups are very different, there are a number of different “styles”, from great fusion jazz trios to gipsy music. The ambiance is also very friendly and the drinks are relatively cheap. A great place to finish the evening!

 

The Duc des Lombards has been one of the most popular clubs in Paris for 25 years. The atmosphere is quite intimate and many great jazz musicians come to play there, and contribute to its great success. Lots of free jazz on the lineups, it will bring you back straight to the 50’s.

 

There's no jazz like Paris JazzThe New Morning is considered to be the sanctuary of jazz in Paris. It is one of the largest jazz bars (up to 300 people can fit in) with great artists on the program all year long (Lucky Peterson Band, Pat Cohen Blues Band, Mo Rodgers, etc.). But before you go, make sure you have a ticket to avoid the queuing for hours.

 

If you are a real jazz addict and you want to come to Paris this summer, a great event is the Paris Jazz festival, which takes place in the Parc Floral. There are over 1500 seats available, but you will certainly enjoy this open air festival a lot more just sitting on the grass with some friends, a bottle of good wine and a picnic. The festival takes place every Saturday and Sunday at 3pm from mid-june until the end of July.

There's no jazz like Paris JazzThere is so much choice it becomes overwhelming and you can spend hours trying to decide which bar you want to go to and you generally end up walking all night from one bar to another.

To avoid this, you should try one of my personal favorites: the Balle Au Boat. It’s a boat/restaurant that is permanently moored alongside the “Ile Saint Louis” What better evening can you think of than listening to Jazz in Paris on a boat, sipping on a good glass of wine in good company? I can’t! However, the schedule is quite unpredictable and jazz nights are relatively rare but definitely worth it.

 

The Basilica of St. John at Selcuk – Revelations and the Anti Christ

St John Basilica, Sacred tours, Turkey, Selcuk, Ephesus
I had no idea that I would be visiting the place where the idea of the Anti-Christ was born or the book of Revelation was composed, but there I was clowning around in the baptismal pool of the church that was built on the grave of St. John, apostle of Christ and author of Revelations.

It was an impressive ruin. If it were still standing it would still be the 7th largest Christian church in the world, but it’s not standing. It’s crumbling. Amazingly as we walked through, I saw something blue on the ground and reached down to see what it was and realized I was walking over an unprotected fresco that no one had bothered to uncover. It wasn’t a recognizable scene, but I spent the next few minutes uncovering it so that others might notice it and maybe someone would even put some sort of barrier around it.
Christian tradition says John lived to an old age and to have died a natural death at Ephesus about A. D. 100. He was the last survivor of the apostolic group. The Gospel was probably written later than the three Synoptic Gospels, about A. D. 85-90.
Basilica of St. John, Selcuk
Apparently after Christ was crucified, John and Jesus’s mom came along and settled in this area. John preached and wrote. John was the best writer of the ancient world. Just look at the way he uses words. Here are some of my favorite bits attributed to him:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1
John answered them, “I baptize in water, but among you stands one whom you don’t know
John 1:26
baptized at Basilica of St. John
Jesus, having found a young donkey, sat on it
John 12:14
I will write upon him my new name.
Revelation, 3. 12
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death.
Revelation, 6. 8
Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
Revelation, 13. 18
Basilica of St. John, turkey, Christian Holy Sites
And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
Revelation, 17. 5
And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.
Revelation, 18. 21

For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
Revelation, 22. 15

Good stuff. The Basilica was built by the Emperor Justinian in the 4th century AD on the spot where John was said to have been buried. Not far away in the hills is the house of the Virgin Mary. We didn’t make it there this time, nor did we make it to the cave of the seven sleepers which is supposed to be a place where seven young men fell asleep for a few centuries and woke preaching about God.

John was the first science fiction writer. It was he who put those crazy ideas about Jesus being the son of God into all those crazy Christian heads and he also provided the creepy lyrics for that great Iron Maiden song, The Number of the Beast.

Trees of Mystery – A Northern California Coast Roadside Attraction featuring Giant Testicles

I’ve never been one to pass by a roadside attraction – many of them disappoint – but not Trees of Mystery in Klamath, California.

I remember visiting it as a child when my family went camping in the Redwoods – the giant fifty-foot statues of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe made an impression that never went away…so when I got the chance to take my family there – of course I did not demure, even though an ox is generally castrated and Babe has the largest pair of testicles in North America (I’m guessing). There is a control room inside Bunyan that allows an operator to move the head and arm and interact with guests…rumor has it that there is a sign inside that forbids asking women for their phone numbers – probably something that would be a huge temptation for a teenager working a summer job.
Trees of Mystery
Founded in 1931, this historic redwood landmark about 35 miles south of the Oregon border was first conceived as a natural history park, but the addition of the two giant statues turned it firmly into a roadside attraction.The first Paul Bunyan statue was made in Long Beach California and melted in the rain after only a season. and the The second, at a mere 24 feet tall was designed and built by the park’s owner, Ray Thompson and lasted until 1962. It wasn’t until 1951 that Babe the Blue Ox joined Paul and the current 49 foot statue of Bunyan came on the scene in 1962. The statues get you to stop, but there is more to Trees of Mystery.
trees of mystery
Inside the gigantic gift shop, your admission ticket will also get you into their gigantic collection of Native American artifacts. It is one of the largest private ethnographic collections of Native American dress, tools, and art in California. For me, the museum collection was worth the price of admission and the actual attraction itself, the winding trail through the Trees of Mystery (aka impressive very old Redwoods) was a bonus. The last part of the trail has recordings and carvings which recount the many tall tales of America’s most famous lumberjack (Paul Bunyan, in case you don’t know) and his many exploits. Bunyan was a sort of Maui demigod who harnessed forces of nature.
trees of mystery
Finally, don’t pass the Gondola ride through the trees to a glorious view of the Pacific – it’s worth the cost, because seriously, when are you going to do it again? Finally…is Trees of Mystery a tourist trap? Absolutely…and you shouldn’t miss it – at least once in your life…and by the way…the fudge in the gift shop is pretty good too.

Sheet Music & Toilet Seat Art – 13 of Bologna’s Offbeat Museums

A visit to Bologna, Italy is usually characterized by great food, exploring the wonderful architecture, perhaps doing the Portico walks, checking out the tall towers, and perhaps enjoying music, art, or cinema at Bologna’s many festivals.

Offbeat Art in BolognaHidden in the midst of all of that, are several wonderful offbeat museums that are definitely worth your time.  First of all, near the train station and slightly away from the center is a museum filled with works that just about no one thinks of when they go to Bologna – Modern Art.

The Museum of Art Moderne Bologna or MAMBO is bursting with treasures both inside and outside. The Museum covers Italian Art from World War II to the present.

The Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Bologna opened in 1975 in the spaces specially designed by artist and architect Leone Pancaldi; it was born in the atmosphere of intellectual fervor that pervaded the city at the beginning of the Sixties. Before GAM’s opening, more than a decade of events, exhibitions and competitions had taken place in hope of its construction, culminating in the opening activities joint under the title “A museum today.”

Inside you’ll find a wide array of rotating exhibits and a wonderful permanent collection that ranges through such an eclectic mix as tribute to New York break dancing videos to Toilet Seat art (which, by the way, the security seems a little uptight about – when I began lifting the lids to see the symbols painted under them, a very upset guard began yelling at me in Italian and then followed me the rest of the way through the museum – my contention is that there was art under the seats, so obviously the artist intended it to be seen!) Due to the close scrutiny, I was unable to take a photo of this wonderful toilet seat display.  Shit!!

Mambo museum in Bologna
A shot of the wonderful Marcel Boadthaers at MAMbo in Bologna, Italy

When I visited there was an immensely interesting  Marcel Broodthaers  temporary exhibit which highlighted his artistic path and how it developed over the course of an extraordinary career that lasted just 12 years, from 1964 to 1976. Titled, Marcel Broodthaers. L’espace de l’écriture, the exhibition was extraordinary.

Another Bologna Museum that I found to be well worth my time was the Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca Della Musica (International Museum and Library of Music). While this was a small museum, for music lovers it is a must see.  Tucked away inside the 16th century Palazzo Sanguinetti, this museum was designed to hold the musical objects of the city of Bologna, but quickly grew to become an international library for sheet music! With wonderful murals, a delightful old curator, and plenty of old instruments – you won’t be sorry if you pay a visit.

Offbeat Art in BolognaThe frescoes alone are worth the price of admission as they are meticulously restored 18th century examples of Neo-Classical and Napoleanic art that are unlike just about anything else in the city.

Here is a blurb from the museum’s website:

The first and most important intent was to bring awareness to the greater public of the rich variety of musical heritage that the Comune di Bologna owns and has kept for a long time. Until now, much of this heritage remained confined in warehouses for various reasons – the first and foremost being the lack of adequate space – and was only brought out occasionally for temporary expositions.

The museum’s core musical collections were created by Franciscan Father, Giovanni Battista Martini in the 1700’s who was not only a great scholar and collector but also the teacher of Johann Christian Bach and Wolfgang Amadé Mozart. In addition to enriching his library day after day, gathering manuscripts and musical works of various kinds, Padre Martini collected portraits of musicians.

Offbeat Art in BolognaFor me, the most fun was to see the instruments: lutes, flutes by Manfredo Settala from 1650, the pochette, various little violin, the ghironde, the serpentoni, the extraordinary series of horns and cornets from the 16th and 17th centuries, and finally, the tiorba, which is in the shape of a khitára.

So, as you can see – Bologna offers much more than just food and architecture. Here are a few more museums you may want to explore while you are in the heart of good living.

1) The Tapestry Museum in Villa Spada
2) The Leccaro Collection of Modern Art
3) The Herb Museum
4) Missionary Museum of Chinese Art
5) Civic Medieval Museum
6) Museum of Comparative Anatomy
7) The Toy Soldier Museum
8) Resistance Movement Museum
9) Industrial Heritage Museum
10) The Communications Museum
11) The Museum of Bee Keeping

If those thirteen museums aren’t enough for you, there are about fifty more within the center of Bologna and that ought to keep you busy!

 

Eating Horse Flesh in Chiasso Switzerland

Ah yes, Switzerland. A day of banking, Swiss cheese, chocolate, yogurt, smoked meat, and a bit of yodeling. I did it all in Chiasso. Cliche, yes – but oddly enjoyable.

My first pic of SwitzerlandThe day trip from Bergamo to Lake Como had cost me just a few hours and 6.25 Euro so I decided to splurge and take a trip across the border to Chiasso, Switzerland.

The train fare was 1.30 Euro and the trip took less than ten minutes as we slowly went under a mountain. I’m told that the Swiss love to make tunnels every bit as much as Koreans like digging. Anyway, it was a nice tunnel and then we were in Switzerland!

I set off on a whirlwind tour. I visited a shop that sold Swiss Army Knives and Swiss Watches but didn’t buy one because I don’t wear a watch and I only carry a carry on bag and so a knife would have been confiscated. After that I walked through the streets breathing the fresh Swiss air.

Swiss International Air Lines
Since I was in Switzerland, it seemed appropriate that I do some banking so I visited the ATM and got 50 Swiss Francs which I wasn’t entirely sure was enough to buy anything but wondered if it was a lousy conversion rate…didn’t know. But, I did some Swiss banking.

Chiasso Shopping CenterNext stop was the grocery store, because even though there were restaurants, I wanted to eat real Swiss products for lunch and I needed to see how much the beautiful Swiss currency would buy…so, I grabbed a Swiss shopping basket and walked through the Swiss aisles getting Swiss products – and by the way, I was hungry – but managed to control myself.

I bought some Swiss yogurt, some smoked Swiss horse meat, a big block of Swiss cheese, and three bars of Swiss chocolate (but no Swiss Miss).

I walked through the streets which were filled with now mostly closed shops since (and I never knew this) apparently the Siesta is a big deal in Switzerland. I decided not to visit the big International Duty Free Shopping Center but instead sat in a very green and clean little park eating my yogurt, cheese, horsemeat, and a bit of the chocolate.

Discover the joys of smoked horse!

Park in Chiasso, SwitzerlandI have to admit, I’d never eaten horse before but this particular cheval fume seche coupe was incredibly delicious. The Swiss yogurt may have been the best I’ve ever eaten. The Swiss cheese was ever so good and then the chocolate – my goodness. I was so overwhelmed with the very Swiss-ness of the situation that I did a little bit of yodeling (after looking to see that there was no one else in the park).

Finally, I decided to end the day in Switzerland in a spectacular fashion by walking to Italy. No border check, no nada nothing. I was afraid my Swiss Chocolate and Cheese would be confiscated, but all was well. By the way, the price for my groceries was 8.75 Swiss Franks which ended up being about 6 Euro – amazingly affordable!

If you would rather spend more time in Switzerland, here is a list of Chiasso Hotels or you can take the train a bit further to Lugano.

The walk back to Lake Como took a bit longer than I expected (since I had to go over the mountain the train had gone under) but I still had time to enjoy the beautiful place while munching on a bit of horseflesh before I had to catch the train back to Bergamo.

5 adventurous destinations around the world

Adventurous destinations are the stuff of travel dreams.There is plenty to imagine, work for, and dream of with these five adventure trips from around the world.

Everest Base Camp, Nepal
Mount Everest is known by all as the highest peak in the world, it is known by climbers and adventurers however as an immense challenge that is best left to the professionals. A classic Himalayan trek with incredible views and rewards that can be enjoyed by all adventure enthusiasts is a trek to Everest Base Camp. Trek takes you through an exciting forest and over mountains giving you stunning views of the surrounding peaks whilst the dramatic landscape around you changes as you continue to climb higher and higher up the Khumbu Valley.

Grand Canyon, Colorado
For adventurers, the most exciting way to appreciate the Grand Canyon’s natural capacity and power is to raft through it; the Colorado River through canyon is one of the wildest stretches of white water in the United States. 5 travel adventuresThe full journey through the canyon (from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead) is 275 miles in length and makes for a challenging, fun adventure with some staggering scenery, white-water thrills, and magical hikes.

Masai Mara Safari, Kenya
For a safari with real-life, thrilling adventure try a Masai Mara Safari. The Masai Mara reserve is one of the best destinations in the world for viewing wildlife in its natural habitat and offers plenty to see. During the winter months, it’s easy to assume that all will be quiet on the reserve however you couldn’t be more wrong. Many tourists aim to target their trip to coincide with the migration season but there is life to be seen throughout the year. Between August and November, you can spot the two million wildebeest charge across the green-land as they migrate from the Serengeti in search of water, or in spring, experience the first sightings of new-born life. For frightening thrills, predators such as lions, cheetahs and leopards can be spotted prowling the terrain whilst graceful giraffes can be found flaunting their astonishing stature.

Inca Trail, Peru
Being the best-known and most popular hike on the South-American continent, the Inca Trail is an exhilarating, challenging and unforgettable experience. The journey starts in the village of Qorihuayrachina and takes three or four days of strenuous walking to complete. The trail is surrounded by breathtaking scenery, crossing the Andes mountain range and sections of the Peruvian jungle and rain forest  Ending at the old citadel of Machu Picchu provides a rewarding finale and time to discover the ancient citadel. Together, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu make up one of the wonders of the world.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef, covering over 350,000 square kilometers of the sea and is the only living collection of organisms that are visible from Earth’s orbit. Most of the Reef’s diversity occurs in the top 4 meters of water and the best way to experience this is by snorkeling  The reef is believed to be the densest assemblage of living organisms to be found in any comparable area in the world thus the thousands of beautiful coral gardens and abundant marine life will leave you mesmerized.

World Travel Diarrhea – An Ugly Topic – Some Simple Cures

Montezuma’s revenge, Delhi belly, Hong Kong dog, Tiki trots, Casablanca crud, Katmandu quickstep. But travelers from Mexico, India, Nepal, Morocco, and other places might call it the ‘Lincoln’s Loose Logs’ or ‘Shock and Awe’, because they can get it when they visit the United States too.

One of the likely challenges a traveler may face as he embarks on either business or leisure travel pertains to his health. A major occurrence is diarrhea. Traveler diarrheaThis is the passage of semi-formed or watery stool. Most times, it calls for urgency and the affected person may not be able to hold it for sometime as may be done for a normal pooping. At times it happens amidst vomiting, flatulence and abdominal pain which may last for 3 to 4 days. Hence, it is necessary for travelers to ensure that this ugly experience does not occur during traveling.

Bacteria are the most common microbe that cause diarrhea. However, it may also be caused by other parasites and viruses.

The destination actually is also a major factor on which contracting the runs depends. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over 30 to 50% of travelers will contract diarrhea during a stay of 1 to 2 weeks in some areas of high risk. The risk also varies from time to time in temperate climates.

Places of low risk

Truly, there are some countries of the world with very low prevalence of diarrhea. The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and countries in northern and western Europe fall under this category.This doesn’t mean people don’t poop their pants in these countries though.

Places of intermediate risk

Some of the places where risk of diarrhea is average are places like Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the Caribbean Islands. Chances are that you will just have average amounts of flatulence in these places too.

Places of high risk

Areas in the world with high risk of diarrhea are Africa, Asia, Middle East, also Central and South America. This isn’t because of the people in these countries it’s because the rich countries of the world have generally treated these countries like shit thus leading to the current loose stools in these places.

Causes of the runs:

The chief cause of diarrhea is intake of contaminated food and this is because of the presence of bacteria. Some of the bacteria that may cause this ailment are:

Enterotoxigenic E.coli (ETEC) requires large inoculum to get the disease. This is common in developing countries due to low sanitation efforts. It is characterized by frequent stooling, abdominal pain and low-grade fever.

Another bacterium is the Entroaggregative E.coli (EAEC) which is rated as the cause of over 25 per cent of diarrhea experienced by travelers.

Its symptoms are similar to that of Enterotoxigenic E. coli. Campylobacter jejuni, a causative microrganism common in developed countries, though risk of contacting it is more prevalent in the developing world. The diarrhea caused by this bacterium is characterized by blood stools.

Salmonella spp is associated with food borne epidemics in developed countries. Shigella spp is also a cause of traveler’s diarrhea which may also be bloody and accompanied by cramps in the abdomen and fever.
As for Vibrio spp, it is linked with intake of partially cooked seafood. Also, Giardia lamblia is an intestinal flagellate that is associated with intake of polluted surface water in poor sanitary environments.

The list of pathogens continues. Therefore, travelers, in order to have poopie-pants-free vacations must endeavor to take necessary health measures and exercise some caution.

How to Avoid the trots:

* Avoid uncooked vegetables, especially salads, fruits you can’t peel, undercooked meat, raw shellfish, ice cubes, and drinks made from impure water.
* Try to make sure the dishes and silverware you use have been cleaned in purified water.
* Drink only water that has been carbonated and sealed in bottles or cans. Clean the part of the container that touches your mouth and purified water. Boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes purifies it, as does iodine liquid or tablets.
* Drink acidic drinks like colas and orange juice when possible. They help keep down the E. coli count, the bacteria most responsible for digestive distress.
* Drink acidophilus milk or eat yogurt before your trip. The bacterial colonies established in your digestive system before your trip and maintained during it, reduce the chance of a loose stools catching you by surprise.

Cures on the road:

Here are two possible ‘cocktails’ that might help reduce your diarrhea once you have it.

1) In a glass, put 8 ounces of fruit juice; 1/2 teaspoon of honey, corn syrup, or sugar; and a pinch of salt. In another glass, put 8 ounces of purified water and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Drink a couple of swallows alternately from each glass until finished.

2) Here’s the second formula: glucose, 20 grams; salt, 3.5 grams; baking soda, 2.5 grams; and potassium chloride, 20 grams. Just add to a quart or liter of purified water and drink.

Other options? What if you are stuck and you don’t have any of the above? Easy. Just eat clay or ashes. Or you could eat blueberries, plantains, blackberry roots, or Acorns. All of these have properties that will cause your diarrhea to disappear.

Thankfully, we don’t have to talk about it anymore.

Bulgaria – Interesting and Surprising

Travel around the world and you certainly find some surprises. While my round the world trip is a slow motion adventure, I have to admit that Bulgaria is one of my favorite surprises.

Before I start talking about my own adventures, it’s more than worthwhile to introduce you to some of the great resources that exist here. Spend a little time reading these articles and you will see why Bulgaria is far more interesting than you might have imagined.Bulgarian map

This article on Eccentric Bulgaria perhaps isn’t fair to all of the people of this country, but certainly it paints a picture of what part of the national psyche is like. This is a country that likes to pickle and display the hearts of it’s national heroes, even when they have bullet holes in them.

In Haskovo during this past Orthodox Easter, thousands of citizens spent the holiday in tents. Some even slept in their cars. The reason was not some weird local custom, but people’s belief in the predictions of astrologist Emil Leshtanski. Shortly before the holiday, he foretold an earthquake as devastating as the one in L’Aquila. When the promised cataclysm did not happen, Haskovo’s citizens threatened to take legal action against Leshtanski.

Bulgarian poet's heartsBut it’s not just the oddness of Bulgaria that has enchanted me. The warmth and beauty of the people and landscape (even though it is in fact very cold at the moment) has really made me happy to be here.

Have a look at Great Places in Bulgaria and you will see that this is a country of mountains, waterfalls, monasteries, beaches, nature, and beautiful ancient cities.

And then there is Bulgarian folk music. I’m an instant fan. Like Turkish Art House music, it touches my soul in ways that I would never expect.

As a funny side note. I want to tell you all that I never know what the hell is going to happen in this life. I don’t know what I will do, but I trust that if I pay attention, the right decision will become obvious. In this case, after I made the decision to come to Bulgaria (and I had really no idea why I made that decision, it just felt right) I requested a couch in Sofia. I got no reply so I posted in Last Minute Couch Requests and a nice guy offered to host me. When I looked at his website, what was it called Vagabond.bg! Later, sitting in a restaurant with friends before my train from Istanbul to Sofia left, a Mexican song came on just as I was telling the story of the Bulgarian vagabond hosting me. The lyrics of the song …Vagabond, Vagabond, Vagabond. I’ve no idea what the song was, but there it was. And since arriving in Bulgaria, I’m in the flow and I’m certain that it’s where I am meant to be at this moment.

And just in case you want more information, here is the Sofia Travel Guide, history of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, and a great free resource for learning Bulgarian language.

North Korean Expats and Pig Blood Sundaes – Sokcho Part 1

I knew that I wanted to see more of South Korea than Seoul and following a random tip from a random American expat I met on the metro, I decided to head to Sokcho. I had asked the girl, who was teaching English in Seoul, where she recommended I go for a day trip. Not only did she recommend going to Sokcho, but she told me it was her favorite place in South Korea and recommended the very cool hostel/hotel I ended up staying in.

the mountains in Sokcho South KoreaSokcho isn’t a big place. It’s a couple of hours from Seoul by bus and when the bus is coming in you will be astounded by the gorgeous mountain scenery of the place and then if you are clueless as to what to expect (as I was) you will be very surprised to descend quickly to the Sea of Japan. Sokcho is located in Gangwon province and has a population of about 84,000. Despite this relatively small size, however, the city sprawls out for a fair distance in seemingly all directions. In the summer months it is a favorite holiday destination for people from Seoul, but in the winter it is a blissfully empty place.

In addition to the Sea of Japan and the very nice beaches in Sokcho, there are a couple of other draws that bring people. One is Seoraksan National Park and the other is the extreme proximity of Sokcho to the DMZ between North Korea and South Korea.

Sokcho BeachArriving in Sokcho, I had no idea where the The House Hostel was located in relation to the bus station and since the weather was nice, I decided to walk. Not knowing at this point the sprawling size of Sokcho, I got extremely lucky and picked the right direction to head. I walked along the beach enjoying the snow on the sands and the many odd fish sculptures along the sea shore. It turns out that Sokcho is quite well known as a place for fresh fish.

Sculptures on the Beach in South KoreaLeaving the beach, I walked towards a large iron bridge and noted the thousands of fish drying on the roofs of nearly every house I passed. When I see a big bridge like that, I know that I should walk across it. So, that’s what I did and I found myself in the most interesting little warren of streets and fish shops I had yet seen in South Korea. There was something very different about this place but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Later, I was to find out that the island village I’d come to is called Abai and that it is populated almost exclusively by expats from North Korea who had escaped from Kim Jong Il’s insane country. Abai was the setting for a popular Korean TV drama called “Autumn in My Heart.”

While I was happy to be seeing this very interesting place and still wondering why it was different, I wanted to find The House Hostel and realized it was not on this little odd island. After about an hour of wondering around (thankfully I travel with just my satchel and it isn’t very heavy), I found that there were three ways to leave Abai 1) take a boat to somewhere 2) walk back across the bridge (I hate backtracking) or 3) take the very cool hand drawn ferry boat back to the mainland. You can easily guess which option I chose.

hand ferry in South Korea, Sokcho, AbaiThe ferry man used a metal hook and a cable to pull the boat across and as I stood watching he motioned for me to grab a hook and help him out. I was more than happy to work side by side with this North Korean ferry man to reach my destination. The cost of the ferry was 500 won, about half a Euro.

sokcho seafoodOne other note about Abai is that it is famous for something called the Abai Sundae. Don’t expect ice cream though, it’s made of squid intestines, pig blood, kimchi and other things I chose not to eat, but the girl who recommended Sokcho told me it was one of the most delicious things in South Korea. In this case, I chose to avoid not take her advice.

 

 

The Vatican Museums – Three Paintings Out of Hundreds Not to Miss

Hand of GodThe three pictures in this post are some of my favorites though I took  hundreds. These pictures from top to bottom are more interesting though – read on to find out why.

When you are in Rome, whether it’s for a day or a week, one thing you have to do is visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. If the ticket price of 15 Euros sounds a little high, let me assure you, it’s not. What you will see inside is worth every penny and more.

I’d like to introduce you to some of the wonders that I came across as I wandered through this incredible collection of the world’s most wonderful art.

As in much classical art, there was an abundance of angry dudes and sexy nudes – and there was a bunch of art too.

 

1) Despite the angry security guards saying ‘No Picture, No Video’, nearly everyone was taking photos in the Sistine Chapel. That included me. When I showed this picture to my wife she was disgusted “Aggghhh, how obscene to think you could depict God in a painting. You can be sure that painter is in hell.” Not exactly what I was thinking as I looked at one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces.

Coming in, you find a staircase and as you wind your way up it, you will notice that there are more than a few canoes and canoe paddles from the many places that Catholic missionaries have landed, converted, and conquered. For some reason these struck me in a bad way…although it was a magnificent collection of canoes. Moving on…

 

2) Vatican paintingsWhen I first saw these saints painted in the niches, I thought they were real people. A photo can’t capture just how three-dimensional some off these paintings are…astounding.

If you are only going to visit one museum in Rome, certainly it should be the Vatican Museum. Add in a trip to the Colosseum, and a stop in Vatican City and you’ve followed the Vagobond itinerary to see Rome in a day. It wasn’t built in a day, but I feel like these three stops and the transport between them give you a good chance to get a feel for the what was once the capital of the Roman Empire and is still a masterpiece of a city.

The price of the Vatican museums might seem kind of steep at 15 Euros but when you consider that it includes some of the most famous art the world has ever produced and the celebrated Cistine Chapel, suddenly it starts to seem more reasonable. Museo Vaticani is a must see.

 

 

3) I’m not a religious man and I’m nowhere near Catholic, but this painting spoke to my soul. Note the hanging bodies, the monk, pleading and the people in the background seemingly just having a chat…this was real life. It lives on.

Powerful and amazing.

Vatican paintings

7 Architectural Wonders of Florence, Italy that are not to be missed

Florence. Perhaps no other city in the world evokes as many cultural, artistic, and architectural visions as the capital of Tuscany in Italy.  Home of the Renaissance, this city filled with museums, palaces, and churches holds a huge number of the world’s cultural treasures. Perhaps, the most important of  Florence’s sites are the Baptistery, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Cathedral, but the San Lorenzo library is certainly the finest example of Michelangelo’s architectural gift and should not be missed.

Those who are on last minute holidays or seeking the Italian Renaissance, need only look upon the palaces, buildings and squares of Florence for each of them are masterpieces.  Many of them built by the most admired artists of all time. In Florence, when you want to see the work of Michelangelo or Brunelleschi – there is no need to go indoors to a museum.

1) Piazza della Signoria is an L shaped plaza in the heart of Florence that serves as the historical and cultural center of the city. While unremarkable in terms of design itself, it is the surroundings and the history of this piazza that make it a must visit location.  Surrounding the piazza you will find The Uffizi Gallery, the Palazzao Vecchio, the replica of Michelangelo’s David, statues by Donatello, Cellini and others and as if that isn’t enough, the Piazza marks the place where both  return of the Medici family was and the famous Bonfire of the Vanities took place. The radical priest, Girolamo Savonarola who burned the books and treasures of the Florentine elite was later himself burned in the square – the exact spot is marked.

2) Palazzo Vecchio which literally means “Old Palace” is still the focus of the piazza. It was built in 1302 asthe seat of Florentine government and is still used for the same purpose. As such, only portions of it are open to the public. This was the original palace of the Medici family. The clasic blocky castle-like architecture is not centered on the tower for a reason, it was actually built around a tower which is far older and served as the substructure of the current tower.  This is a Romanesque building with many Gothic elements.  Inside is a treasure trove of courtyards, salons, and more than a few priceless artistic works.

3)Ponte Vecchio is a wonderful closed spandrel bridge which crosses the Arno at its narrowest point and is believed to have been first built in Roman times but is first mentioned in the year 996. The bridge still has shops along side it and a hidden walkway along the top so that the Medici didn’t have to expose themselves to the public when crossing. It was originally constructed in wood but wasdestroyed by a flood in 1333 and rebuilt of stone in 1345. Culturally interesting is that right on the bridge is the place where the concept of bankruptcy was born. The statue of Cellini in the center is surrounded by a small fence festooned with padlocks. Lovers will lock the padlocks and throw the key in the river to bind them together forever. A sign surrounded by locks forbids the practice. Urban legend says that the tradition was started by a padlock shop owner on one side of the bridge. Smart move.

4) Torre della Pagliazza is also called the Byzantine Tower and the Straw tower. This is regarded as the oldest building in Florence (7th century) though there are several other candidates that might fit that description better, but none of them quite so wonderful as Pagliazza Tower. The tower today has been incorporated into the very nice Hotel Brunellesci but was once accommodation of a different sort – a female prison. This is the origin of the name “Straw tower” – female prisoners were given a bit of straw, a luxury denied to male prisoners.

5) The Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St John) is also said to be the oldest building in Florence though it was built in the 10th century and so is not. Still, it is old and the stories of it being the oldest are based on the fact that it sits atop earlier structures – one even rumoured to have been a Roman temple to Mars. It is particularly famed for its three sets of wondrous bronze doors which have only recently been put back in place after extensive restoration and preservation work was done on them. The three sets were made by Pisano, Ghiberti including the famed East doors called by Michelangelo “The Gates of Paradise”. The Bapistery is built in a Florentine Romanesque style that served as inspiration for the later Renaissance styles to emerge in Florence.

6)The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore also simply called the Duomo of Florence was built from 1296 when the first stone was laid.The dome created by Brunelleschi with its exquisite facing of polychrome marble panels and the cathedral itself designed by Arnolfo di Cambio (who also designed Palazzo Vecchio). The dome is the largest brick dome ever constructed (completed in 1496) and the cathedral remains one of the largest in the world. The competition between Ghiberti and Brunelleschi was fierce to see who would get the commission for the dome – when it was awarded to both jointly, Brunelleschi feigned sickness until Ghiberti bowed out thus leaving full credit to Brunelleschi. The drama between the two is the stuff of great film and literature. The dome itself is made of more than 4 million bricks and pre-saged the mathematics that were later used to define it. Brunelleschi’s innovations served as inspiration to a young apprentice who worked on the dome’s lanern – Leonardo Davinci.

7) The Basilica of San Lorenzo Library is in the center of Florence’s straw market district and is where most of the Medici family are buried. This building is also claimed to be the oldest in Florence and has a pretty good claim since the church was consecrated in the year 393. The building was designed by Brunelleschi and contains Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library. The entire complex serves as an important bridge between the old architecture (pre-renaissance) and the new architecture which followed it.

The Fully Integrated Backpacker Treehouse Resort – Kadir’s Treehouses

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposThe most surprising thing about Olympos is the huge volume of choice when it comes to places to stay. Since Thailand, I haven’t seen this many bungalows, backpackers, or pancake stands – perhaps the hardest part of coming to Olympos is picking where to stay.

Since we wanted to come here for four days, we opted to split our time between two of the most famous tree house resorts. The first, Bayram’s tree houses, I should point out that this is the off season, so it was pretty calm and quiet, but even so there were some serious drinking sessions around the nightly campfire.

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposAfter two very fun days there, we moved up the road to Kadir’s Treehouses.  While there are tree houses and bungalows here – it would be more appropriate to call it Kadir’s fully integrated backpacker tree house resort and bungalow complex and village – but that might be too much of a mouthful. We had plenty of opportunity to meet with Kadir himself and to explore the property –

Kadir came here 25 years ago when there was nothing in Olympos but farmhouses and shepherd camps. He left a career in economics in Ankara behind to tune in, turn on and drop out – well after the hippies of the 60’s but well before the hippies of the now. His parents and friends told him he was crazy but he bought a piece of land next to a stream in Olympos, built a tree house, and carried what he needed from up the mountain or bought it from the nearby farms.

At this point, a few backpackers started coming to see the ruins at Olympos and a couple of them asked if they could rent his tree house for the night. Then it happened again. And again. So he built a second tree house – but more backpackers came. So he built more. And within a couple of years he had tree houses, bungalows, and even a couple of bars to satisfy the thirst of the the backpackers.

Turkey Treehouse HostelThe nearby farms saw his success and they copied the model. Now, while I didn’t hear anyone say this overtly, there seems to be some bad blood between the farmers and Kadir these days – on the one hand, Kadir is the stranger in a valley filled with family – and on the other, people stole his business model and then – according to one source – when his property caught on fire while he was away – just let it burn and didn’t notify anyone until it was too late. Kadir says that when he arrived his tree houses, bungalows, bars, and even the trees were completely gone. I’m assuming that no one was here when it happened since Kadir said that nothing was saved.

So Kadir built again. Today, his sprawling complex still has a few tree houses – including one built on a huge 750 year old cedar stump that Kadir bought from the government and then trucked down here! It’s his log-o now.

During peak times, Kadir hosts as many as 350 backpackers! His complex has a nightclub (The Bull Bar), a Pizza House, The Hanger Bar, an activity center, a volleyball court, a huge fire pit, and the downstairs restaurant/bar where dinner and breakfast are served which feels like it could have been imported directly from Alaska. This is even including the bartender Simon who wears a red plaid lumberjack shirt and even though his English is very good always replies “Thank you very much!” even when it doesn’t fit. (As in Alaska – the odds are good but the goods are odd)

Kadir is usually playing backgammon, snapping photos on his Galaxy Note, or wandering around. The bungalows and treehouses are colorfully painted and built in a haphazard, Tom Sawyer treehouse way which includes half bent rusty nails and railings that feel as if they might break under your hand. If there is a downside to Kadir’s – it is that the size and numbers create a sort of junkyard feel to parts of the complex with disused furniture being piled in unused corners and piles of broken plumbing or wood scraps tumbled around devil may care – but then, that adds to the overall feel of the place. Sanford and Son meets Tom Sawyer. Kadir’s is about a 20 minute walk from the beach but the stream and mountain views make that a pleasant journey.

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposWe stayed in a deluxe bungalow facing a gorgeous rock face and the beautiful clear water stream. It was big, clean, had AC and heat, hot water and was comfortable. We found the included breakfast and dinner to be tasty and filling. All of this for about 25 Euro per night, is a steal and one of the best deals going in Turkey, if you ask me. If you want to go even cheaper – you can rough it in the treehouses or sleep in the dorms, but honestly – the lack of comfort and privacy wouldn’t be worth it for me. Still, the backpackers we spoke with who were doing that, loved it.

What’s next for Kadir? He told me he has found a new location where no one goes yet and this time he is going to open an eco-resort. It will be his fourth property – he now has a family resort, Kadir’s Garden, Kadir’s treehouses and then Kadir’s Eco-Resort – the moral of the story? Sometimes it pays to drop out and go live in a treehouse!

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