Weird travel destinations

Have you been watching the HBO series Chernobyl? It makes you wonder then about the number of people who want to visit there. Are they mad? The tours are described as safe and unforgettable. Mmm yes! And of course this weird and terrifying destination has attracted all the weird and terrifying people of the world who want to be first to post this on their instagram accounts. And some of the posts … well really! Shows how much you care about the tragedy of Chernobyl. The director of the series has spoken out and has asked people to be respectful.

Why? Seriously …. Why?

So even if you don’t want to visit Chernobyl there are still a lot of really weird places out there that you can visit.

Like The Door to Hell in Turkmenistan –

Almost 50 years ago, the collapse of a natural gas field formed a 30-metre-deep crater that began leaking flammable methane. Geologists set it on fire as a way of controlling it, and it has been burning ever since.

It’s not that easy to get to either – two connections and 20 hours of flying to get to the nearest airport and that will cost you $1500 upwards for the ticket. Then it’s three and a half hours by road … on a road that looks like this –

I think I will pass on that one myself.

Then there is the ghost town of Rhyolite, in Nevada. Much closer to home.

Founded in 1904 and dead by 1916, Rhyolite was one of several short lived boom-towns from the late Gold Rush era. People were drawn to the desert on the edge of Death Valley by the promise of gold found amongst quartz in local mines, and by 1906 the town had all the promising indicators of permanence with largest population in the area.

According to the US National Park Service: “The town immediately boomed with buildings springing up everywhere. One building was 3 stories tall and cost $90,000 to build. A stock exchange and Board of Trade were formed. The red light district drew women from as far away as San Francisco. There were hotels, stores, a school for 250 children, an ice plant, two electric plants, foundries and machine shops and even a miner’s union hospital.”

It is strange that the town was abandoned and continues to exist as a ghost town but it has found another life in the film industry and also houses a very weird art collection.

And then there is the Skeleton Coast – this is the coastline of Namibia, so named because of the many shipwrecks along this barren desert area. The coastline is 700 kms long and all along the beach and in the sea you can see the evidence of ship wrecks and each one tells a story.

Although it is barren it is quite beautiful and definitely worth the trip. A visit to Namibia’s Skeleton coast can easily be combined with an incredible game viewing experience so all in all this weird place is pretty cool.

And then there is the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania.

Wiki tells us – “The Hill of Crosses (LithuanianKryžių kalnas) is a Lithuanian site of pilgrimage. It is about 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) north of Šiauliai, in northern Lithuania.

No one knows when or why people started leaving crosses on the hill. It is believed that the first crosses were put up after the 1831 Uprising. It was estimated that there were 55,000 crosses in 1990 and 100,000 in 2006.

On September 7, 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the site and declared it a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice.”

And then there is this town in Canada where everybody dresses up like cowboys (or girls) for 10 days every year …..

Don’t be such a beach!

When I want a beach holiday I want the following ….

Calm waves, warm water, no sharp stones, no side currents, no rip tides, no jelly fish, no seaweed and for goodness sake – can we do something about that sneaky sand that seems to get into every nook and cranny?

Sorry, says Mother Nature …. take me or leave me… preferably leave me because all you humans have just made a big mess anyway.

The biggest problem right now seems to be that wretched Sargassum weed. Ugh it is disgusting stuff and there is so much of it. When you live in the middle of the prairies you want to have a nice sandy beach (well more about sand shortly) for your very valuable vacation time. The authorities in Playa del Carmen are building a huge barrier to deal with this problem and there are various websites tracking the weed. It seems to be hit and miss as due to currents and other factors some hotels along the coast may be totally unaffected and the hotel round the corner is inundated. Young scientists are aready working on ways to put all this weed to good use … but in the meantime it is a pain in the butt for vacationers.

Now talking of butts… let’s talk about the sand. Growing up on the beaches of Cornwall, England, it was quite common for us kids to come home with our swimsuits full of sand. Mom would make us disrobe outside on the grass and have a hose down before we were allowed inside. This annoying habit of sand has opened the way for more inventions. You can now buy towels that will not pick up any grain of sand. Sounds amazing doesn’t it. These towels are really very pretty and seem to work quite well according to the video

Of course there are still a lot of other annoying things that beaches do. They have fish and stingers and those weird currents that we seem to be seeing a lot of these days on the internet.

If you see this stay out of the water.

As for bitey things… again the Aussies come to the party with how to deal with this. At certain times of year along the Australian coast around Queensland area there are lots of little jelly fish around locally known as stingers. You can get a nasty bite from them…. but, as they say in Australia “No worries mate. We got you covered.” When I went snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef everyone was provided with a head to toe suit to wear in the water. It wasn’t waterproof, it was stinger proof!

Yes everyone looks like a smurf on this trip!

So once you have dealt with the tides, the sand, the stingers and the seaweed the only challenge left is getting changed on the beach…. but there is more than one way to skin a cat…

No shirt, no shoes, no nothing

Imagine you are visiting London and you decide to try a pint of the local brew but you want to take your shoes off, and your shirt and in fact you want to take all your clothes off! No problem. Just make your way to the Coach and Horses on Greek Street in London and you can bare it all in London’s first nudist pub.

Now I don’t know about you but I am a bit puzzled by this move. Why? I can understand wanting to “go natural” on a beach or in the mountains but in a pub? It just doesn’t seem right somehow.

Nudism has been around for ages and there are many clubs and resorts that support this – even close to home here in Calgary. It’s a life choice and I get that but I am still wondering about the need to sit inside a traditional English pub in the nude.

Now wiki tells me I should call it Naturism and not Nudism but whichever way you look at it (?) the clothing optional movement is growing. Some North Americans are taken by surprise for example on the beaches of Southern France as going topless is quite common and along the promenade of Barcelona’s famous beach it is quite common to see people stripping off completely to use the beach showers.

Many resorts have sprung up in the Caribbean that are well known for its clothing optional beaches and somewhat risque culture – each to his own I say.

Temptation Resort Cancun

It seems however there is a very good reason way the pub got its special licence. The pub which is located in a hippy style neighbourhood was in danger of being bought up by one of the large licensing houses so a petition was started and now they have their licence and can go bare naked whenever they like. But it won’t be everyday and only by special arrangement so if you are in the area on a regular day you can pop in for a pint without having to strip off! Plus you can take home a souvenir for a good cause. The landlord is supporting St Mungo’s a charity for homeless people by selling a calendar featuring his regulars in the buff! He calls it the Beauty and Beasts of Soho calendar! Even the piano man gets a look in.

I need some help with the caption here …. any suggestions?

The George Street cat

I have just returned from my first visit to Newfoundland and spent a fantastic week exploring St John’s and the surrounding area. One of the most interesting locals I met was the George Street cat.

We met at the bar – in fact it was the bar at O’Reilly’s to be exact. The lovely little barmaid stooped down behind her and picked up a quite large cat who lay docilely in her arms while she carried him to the front door of the pub and told him to go home. No one was perturbed about this. You see the cat is called Sid and is quite the roamer along George Street. He likes hanging out in bars and seems to extremely sociable. He even has his own facebook page called The Adventures of Sid the Cat.

Sid is given treats where ever he goes – in fact he gets a little too much milk. Not good for him at all. He freely roams George St all hours of the day and night. This is his facebook page profile picture – I wonder who did this lovely painting?

Just search on facebook at this address @sid709 and you can read all about his adventures.

Newfoundlanders are just wonderful people so it is no surprise to me to know that Sid is well taken care of in this lovely little town. Doing a tour is a must. Our tour guides were multi-talented. They were historians, geologists, stand up comedians and fantastic singers.

While there I was taught to sing local songs (they did give me a book), I was taught Irish dancing (I kept forgetting to keep my arms down*) and I was screeched in and kissed the cod.

*The Irish dance with their arms down as opposed to the Scottish who dance with their arms up. There are many theories about why this might be. Some say it was the Catholic Church wanting to keep the dance more sedate, others say it was defiance of the English Queen as the dancers would not raise their arms to salute here. Read more about this here

I have lived in Canada for 24 years and this was my first visit to Newfoundland. It won’t be my last. Have you been yet? Go now … the cod is waiting to be kissed.

Seaweed and no more Cuba

What a week it has been. Let’s talk about the seaweed first. That horrible stinky sargassum seaweed that is ruining people’s beach vacations all over the Caribbean.

But even worse than a ruined vacation – Poor hotels, poor local tour companies, poor local people who depend on tourism for their livelihoods. Hotels are doing their best to send crews out digging the stuff up and removing it but Mother Nature is relentless and sends it all back in again on the next tide.

It has now reached Florida and those who love boating in the Florida Keys are saying “Thanks, but no thanks” – they would rather swim in the pool at home.


What makes it worse is that once it has been sitting out on the beach for a while it starts to smell like rotten eggs. Gets better and better doesn’t it? Apparently sargassum is an important seaweed – but why is it so out of hand at the moment. This interesting article on explains some of it.

Sargassum weed however has nothing to do with the turmoil in the cruise industry caused by the US Gov’s decision to stop travel to Cuba. My goodness. Cruise itineraries are being re-organised, notifications being sent to passengers and travel agents, alternative options being offered. This must be costing the cruise business millions of dollars. I wonder what is being said behind closed doors in the boardrooms of cruise companies in Florida and California. I would love to be a fly on the wall.

In the meantime Canadians can continue to visit Cuba as often as they like. Cuba is one of those destinations that Canadians really love. It is safe, clean and reasonable inexpensive. Varadero beach has to be one of the most beautiful I have been on. And so far so good – the sargassum is not there according to this handy tracking tool.

And there is one other thing ….. I have heard many Canadians say to me in the past that what they like about Cuba is that it is so “European” in the sense that the majority of visitors are from Europe. – Not from the States. Don’t shoot the messenger – just sayin’

Venice is not Disneyland – yet!

Venice has been in the news lately – locals complain about day trippers ruining the island and have been demonstrating for years to cut down on the size and number of cruise ships coming up the Guidecca Canal. It must have been sadly satisfying for those protesters to witness the destruction of the Uniworld Countess river cruise by an out of control MSC cruise ship. I also heard one local complaining that a tourist had asked him when Venice closed for the day. He said it was as if Venice was a Disney resort. What a shame!

But there is still a chance to see Venice properly. You can enjoy a coffee at a stand up bar along with the gondoliers and it won’t cost you a fortune. Of course you have to see St Marks – but what a joy – I got to go there after hours and it was totally worth it having the Basilica just for our small group.

Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world – a miracle really of primitive but effective engineering linking together numerous islands by bridges and canals and erecting beautiful buildings on stilts in the silty marshes. And it is like a maze – a real one! That’s what is such fun about Venice – getting lost. Only a local really knows their way around the winding alley ways and tiny bridges. But by getting lost you can discover so much more. Find out where the locals hang out and spend more than a day there. Hotels are generally more expensive on the island but the bonus is that when the cruise ships have gone and the day trippers have returned to the mainland you will have the place to yourself (well almost!).

Spend more days there too and venture away from the main sightseeing spots so you can find cafes that the locals would use. Take your most comfortable walking shoes – go find the Ponte de Chiodo – one of only two bridges in Venice without a parapet

No handrail here! Be careful!

So spend longer in Venice. Sleep in, start late – stay out till past midnight and see Venice by night. It’s beautiful and less crowded.

St Marks Square on a rainy evening

On being polite

Being polite. We expect people to be polite. As Canadians we pride ourselves on being polite to the point of being silly (“I’m sorry … you first. No really … go ahead!”)

My recent trip to Japan made me stop and stare sometimes at the incredible lengths Japanese go to be polite … all without really realising it. Our tour guide in Tokyo laughingly explained that bowing to each other is so ingrained that you may often see a business man on his cell phone having a discussion and bowing at the same time – even though the person on the other side cannot see him. It’s a bit like how the Italians speak on the phone with all the gestures just to emphasise the point.

Spend a couple of weeks in Japan and you find yourself bowing to all and sundry – which can become quite a habit. It’s a great idea actually – in these days of colds and flu – much better to bow than shake hands! But some habits I observed in Japan were quite astonishing and I must confess made me stare all the more (not very polite of me I am sure you will agree).

We caught the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. As on any long distance train you have the little trolley with snacks and drinks that comes through the carriages. By the time the young lady attendant reached the end of the carriage and was about to depart the carriage for the next one she stopped, turned and faced all the passengers and gave a deep bow – before carrying on with her job. Wow!

While on the train I also noticed the Japanese have great respect for others around them and show this by not talking too loudly (if at all). And my goodness, every single man on the train had freshly polished shoes … I couldn’t help but notice.

Even the cleaning crew who have only 7 minutes to clean the bullet trains are super polite. Before and after they job they bow to the train and to the waiting passengers.

But the saga continues ….. when checking in for a domestic flight at one of the airports we were sitting at the designated gate. I noticed the flight crew and check in staff arriving at the gate. Before they even started their jobs they lined in in front of the check in desk, facing the waiting passengers, and all gave a deep bow. It was all I could do not to applaud them all!

I started to notice other differences – such as the immaculate taxi cabs with lacy seat covers or the fact that every small (cheap) purchase was meticulously wrapped by the shop assistant – as Lee Tulloch in an article for The Traveller noted –

“The concept of omotenashi, or selfless hospitality, is a cornerstone of Japanese culture. It’s a privilege for a host to welcome guests and make sure all their needs are seen to. This applies in every aspect of life, in shops, restaurants and even helping strangers in the street.”

However the Japanese don’t think they are polite at all which is why in 2016 they launched an initiative called the Good Manners Project and they have opened a special venue for this education project in Tokyo called the Good Museum. Wow – I think they are doing a pretty good job as it is.