Iceland is a country like no other. Rich history. Intriguing culture. And just far enough removed from its neighbors to make others curious about this island nation.
Regular readers of The HoliDaze already know that taking a road trip around Iceland is high up on my travel bucket list. And while I still haven't had the time to do that yet, I have already been researching where to visit. Plus since this site focuses heavily on offbeat and quirky things to do around the world, it seems like a fitting time to share with you all the off the beaten path sights and activities I've found in Iceland.
It's no secret that many Icelanders believe in elves and hidden people -- people who look just like us but are invisible to most "normal" people. In fact stories abound about elf "consultants" being hired for construction projects or to help with the planning of bridges and highways. And while the numbers vary depending upon which survey you trust, it's safe to say that between 1/4 and 1/2 of the population believe in these fascinating creatures.
Since opening in 1991, the Icelandic Elf School has been the go-to source for all things historic and educational about elves (apparently there are 13 different types), as well as hidden people. Their weekly classes are held every Friday and are attended by both locals and foreigners alike -- although the founder, Magnús Skarphéðinsson, admits that the majority of his students over the last two and a half decades have been foreigners interested in learning more about Iceland's culture.
Þingvellir National Park
When people think of Iceland, their pristine glaciers and legendary hot springs are what always come to mind first. But have you ever thought about scuba diving in the Arctic Circle? Diving here is like nowhere else on earth! Why? Because of the Silfra Rift!
A rift is where two or more tectonic plates meet. Most often this occur underwater and a few are located on land, however the Silfra Rift is the only rift in the world located inside of a lake -- the Þingvallavatn Lake.
Each year these plates drift another two centimeters apart, which results in an earthquake roughly once a decade. However scuba diving in Þingvellir Lake to witness the geologic beauty of planet Earth is safe and a once-in-a-lifetime experience unlike any other. Oh and did I mention that the glacier water here is so clear that underwater visibility is some of the best in the world -- often 250 feet or more!
Scattered around the country
I've long been a fan of strange, quirky and unique museums around the world and Iceland is home to several of these. Of course all their museums dedicated to sorcery, sea monsters, fish and water seem perfectly normal when compared to the Icelandic Phallological Museum -- otherwise known as the penis museum, for those of you who have forgotten the medical term for the male reproductive organ.
The Icelandic Phallological Museum contains a pant-swelling collection of nearly 300 mammal penises and penile parts from around 100 different species. In addition to the (educationally) stimulating exhibits, the museum also strives to shine a light on how this particular organ has influenced the history of human art and literature. Oh...and there may or may not be a couple examples of the Homo Sapien penis on display -- but you'll just have to visit for yourself to find out.
Don't tire yourself out too much at the Phallological Museum, though. Skrímslasetrið, otherwise known as the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum, covers the entire history of Arctic sea monsters and sightings. They have even begun to classify these monsters as one of four basic types based on their characteristics. For all the curious souls out there, they are: "the fjörulalli (Shore Laddie), the hafmaður (Sea Man), the skeljaskrímsli (Shell Monster) and the faxaskrímsli (Combined Monster/Sea Horse).
Other notable museums include Randulf's Sea House in Eskifjorður (dedicated to fishing and fisherman, this museum is also part time capsule and part restaurant), Vatnasafn (the Museum of Water) and of course the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft, which should be fairly self-explanitory.
This is far from all the offbeat, obscure, strange and unique things to do in Iceland. Want more? Check out all the Unique Types of Alcohol Only Found In Iceland. And remember to keep traveling off the beaten path!
One of the best things about foreign travel is the knowledge that invariably comes with it. It provides the opportunity for each of us to learn more about the world and its' many diverse cultures, as well as a little bit about ourselves. Another bonus is the chance to see which technology, trends, and practices are popular in the local region.
Think back and I'm sure you can recall a few things that made you go "Why don't they sell these back home?" or "Damn, why aren't we doing this at home?" even "Look at that, how awesome!" Most often those thoughts and semi-rhetorical questions are soon enough forgotten. But for me, at least in the case of Japan, not a day goes by that I don't miss all the great things about that country.
Japan is full of innovative ideas, futuristic technology, impressive customs, and other things that make you say WOW. Don't believe me? Take a look below and feel free to add your suggestions after the post.
Let's get the obvious one out of the way first. Many people already know that these crappers are in a league all of their own. I wrote an entire article about fancy Japanese toilets and other bathroom innovations. Their toilets have features most Westerners have never dreamed of, including background noise to cover any sounds that the user may make, a warm cleansing spray, self-warming seat, built-in water-saving sink, and other impressive features. Be sure to read that post for more intriguing info.
These things are pretty neat, Mayu showed me how to use one. Basically you just hop off your bike and roll it onto this platform. Insert your card and the machine will automatically stow your bike in a huge underground cylinder. This keeps it safe from both thieves and natural disasters while also reducing the amount of clutter at street level. To retrieve it simply re-insert your card into the attached machine and it will spit your bike back out in around ten seconds.
In areas without the Eco Cycle storage it is not uncommon to see hundreds of bicycles crammed together as part of a makeshift bicycle lot (a trend which I hope has died out since my last trip to Japan).
I don't have any personal photos, unfortunately, but I did find this
An enlarged version of the bicycle garages, these things are amazing! They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are pretty wild to watch in action. Some are drive-thrus that slide the vehicle off to the side. Others in the basement of high-rise buildings feature a circular pad so that the vehicle can be rotated 180° and driven out in the opposite direction it was driven it.
Ramps down to these underground garages can be seen all over the big cities
Other models are individual lifts that hoist one vehicle up into the air so that a second can be driven in underneath it. Walk past people's homes in the evening and it is not uncommon to see two vehicles stacked atop each other.
In the big metropolises of Japan you are never more than two blocks from a vending machine. They are usually found in pairs but sometimes also in long banks of a dozen or more. They sell all the traditional items you would expect such as refreshing beverages (soda, water, tea, milk, juice, beer...essentially everything liquid) and cigarettes (requires scan of a Japanese ID to dispense product) to other more unconventional items including ramen, electronics, umbrellas, even underwear and ties.
This one is essentially self-explanatory, I don't know what more I can write about them. They are controlled by a button up front and swing open really fast. Oh and they are twice as great when its raining out.
These reduce the number of (and stress on) restaurant employees. Expect to see more in the future.
Anyone who has ever walked past one of these has undoubtedly heard the noise and flashing lights blaring out. They are basically like arcade halls combined with casinos, some being multiple levels and taking up entire blocks. I never played myself but did wander through a couple of them.
Japanese citizens love these things and have been know to spend hours playing in these giant parlors, like the stereotypical American Grandma glued to the Las Vegas slots. Not very popular among foreigners though due to the constant flashing lights and never-ending din of bells, chimes, tings, tongs, pings, and general noise of hundreds of people gambling.
Love hotels are plush yet discreet hotels that rent rooms either by the hour, a several-hour "short stay" period, or for the entire night. Each room has different themes with the fanciest being compared to a brief stay in paradise. These swanky rooms would undoubtedly fit right in with some of the classy hotels of Las Vegas or Dubai.
When I say the theme varies greatly between rooms, I cannot stress that enough. One could be Egyptian theme, the next dungeon-themed, another a retro-hippie love-nest, etc. I highly recommend you check out a love hotel, especially if you've met a cute little Asian girl at the club that night.
Impressive, huh? Love hotels are common in neighborhoods with lots of clubs and an active nightlife.
A variety of businesses have staff that are ready and waiting to help you at a moment's notice. For lack of an official term (that I know of) I jokingly refer to these people at the white glove crew. Whether standing next to the trash cans in McDonald's waiting to take your tray from you and dispose of it themselves or inside the elevator, eager to take you to whichever floor has what you need, these people always have a smile on their face and white cloth gloves on their hands.
The railway attendants are dressed similarly and also sport the white gloves. However, they don't always have a smile on their face -- especially not during rush hour.
It's not what you may think. Big clubs in Japan frequently stay open until sunrise. Many even have an employee on hand who's sole job is to care for the ladies that have had way too much to drink; other employees that are walking around the club will bring these women down to him. Not only does this prevent them from getting taken advantage of or robbed, but it also leaves their boyfriend free to keep partying (guilty, I'll admit it).
This employee is even armed with rubber bands and miniature black trash bags for -- you guessed it -- tying up their hair and puking. This "drunk person attendant" is located near the entrance, making it easy to retrieve your drunk person on the way home. Hope you saved money for a cab because they will not be fit to walk!
Now that is a level of service that is hard to match. Unfortunately I never thought to get a photo.
Now this isn't so much a Japanese innovation, but rather a testament to their level of perfection. Every bank note is impeccably crisp, whether receiving it from an ATM or as change from the local corner store. No bills are ever raggedy, torn, of limp, as other countries currency often is. I suspect that the banks simply rotate out worn bills at an increased rate. Whatever it is the fact remains that this simple little thing is surprisingly easy to get used to.
Image coutesy of Japan Scene
Based on the American dollar stores, Japan revamped these into stores that offer products that are not utter crap -- even fresh food -- and people are not shopping at them because they are poor.
These stores take the embarrassment out of bargain shopping
Although you can smoke inside restaurants, clubs, and a variety of other places in Japan -- basically everywhere except grocery and clothing stores -- many cities have restrictions on outdoor smoking. For example outside railway stations and airports there are sporadic smoking areas. Some are merely painted rectangles on the ground but others are actually fully enclosed cubicles with high-powered ventilation to combat the smoke, as pictured below.
Indoor smoking area at an establishment that had recently banned smoking
Given the fact that Tokyo is the most populated metropolis in the world (36.9 million people, over 10 million more than #2, Mexico City) I initially expected there to be a lot of homeless people as well. After all, I was born in NYC. I'm familiar with homeless people.
There is nothing more depressing than walking around a big city only to pass underneath a bridge and realize you are walking through someone's home. And damn, now I've got to keep smelling this God-awful smell until getting out from underneath this bridge and several paces away.
In my many months of wandering around Tokyo at all hours of the day and night, I only recall seeing a single homeless person. I'm not saying that they do not exist, just saying that thanks to the strong principles of the Japanese culture, homelessness is not near the problem there that it is in many other countries.
There is plenty more that makes Japan a fantastic country to visit, but you'll just have to experience it yourself and see what you find!
What are your thoughts? Have any additions to this list?
Do you love a swig of beer or a glass of wine? No, I'm not going to tell you to stop! In fact I'm most likely the one urging you to have another glass. Just don't drink the same thing on vacation that you would be at home -- try something new! Never heard of it? Sound strange? Just go for it!
Oh the stories I could tell of all the crazy local brews I've drank with locals around the world... ;)
Arak is the traditional beverage in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Turkey. The word ‘arak' means sweat in Arabic. Don't turn away from this alcoholic drink assuming it to be someone's sweat though. The drink is anise-flavored and diluted with water for consumption. The liquor is clear but upon dilution with water, it becomes milky. This is because anethole, the essential oil in anise, is insoluble in water. Adding ice causes the arak to form an unpleasant layer on the surface. If you order a bottle of arak, the waiter will usually serve it with several glasses as one does not drink arak in the same glass again due to the emulsification of the liquid. Arak is served with appetizers.
If you visit Greece, you must certainly try out their coffees and frappés. But don't forget to try out ouzo, the essentially Greek drink, along with a platter of olives, fries, fish and cheese. You will find it tastes of liquorice and is smoother than absinthe. Ouzo is generally flavored with anise or mint or coriander. Like arak, ouzo too becomes milky when mixed with water. For the same reason, adding ice to the drink is avoided. The Greeks use ouzo in many recipes and consider it to have healing properties due to the presence of anise.
Sake, a wine made of rice, is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage. The rice used to make sake differs from the normal rice that the Japanese eat. Sake comes in several varieties which are served at a range of temperatures. Though sake goes best with Japanese cuisine, you can enjoy the beverage with Chinese food too. Food that is flavored with herbs will also work well.
This is Brazil's national beverage. According to a survey, the country produces over a billion litres of cachaça annually but only 1% of it is exported. Fresh sugarcane juice is fermented and then distilled to make cachaça. Some types of rums are also made in the same way which is why cachaça is also referred to as Brazilian rum. The liquor may be consumed either aged or un-aged. Un-aged cachaça will come cheaper but do look for the dark and premium variety that is aged in wooden barrels. Caipirinha is a popular cocktail that includes cachaça as the main ingredient.
This Mexican distilled alcoholic beverage is much like tequila's cousin as they are both made from (different types of) agave plants. Mezcal is made from the maguey plant while tequila is made from the blue agave plant. Most of the mezcal produced by Mexico is made in a region called Oaxaca. A popular saying that you might get to hear is Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también, translated as, For everything bad, mezcal and for everything good, the same.
The drink might not seem inviting if you see larva in a bottle of mezcal, but many alcohol makers have embraced this age-old technique now. You can find mezcal without the larva too. You can relish it with sliced oranges dusted with ground chili, fried larvae and salt.
Don't forget to purchase a bottle or two as a souvenir if you really fall in love with the taste of any of these drinks. That way you will have a tale to tell your friends over a round of drinks too.
Traveling is one of the most rewarding experiences you can ever have. Unfortunately, many people allow life's stresses to get in the way. Here's why you should drop everything right now and hit the road.
Travel is all about throwing yourself into the unknown and experiencing new things. When you're faced with challenges like having to navigate foreign languages and transportation systems you learn more about yourself and what you're capable of. This is especially true if you're traveling solo, a truly empowering experience.
You're never too young or too old to build your resume. Travel helps you to enhance a variety of skills in a first-hand manner. While navigating foreign languages enhances communication skills, being able to adjust to new situations helps you become more adaptable. Additionally, bargaining in markets helps with negotiation, trip planning enhances strategizing abilities and sorting out issues along the way makes you a better problem solver.
Angry bosses. Problems at home. Daily life stresses. Get away from everyday life and immerse yourself in a new place where your worries are far behind. To really enhance the experience, leave your electronics behind and truly disconnect. Remember, the more you disconnect the more you'll truly be immersed in your destination.
Life truly is short, so you need to make the most of it. Stop making your bucket list longer and actually start knocking some of the items off. The world is a big place, with many destinations to discover and experiences to have. Do you want your last thoughts on Earth to be about all the things you wanted to do, or all the things you did do?
Traveling is a great opportunity to try something you've never done who're. Not only are you naturally in a more adventurous mindset, you're also exposed to opportunities that you don't have at home. Sample a new food, go mountain climbing, take part in a local festival or learn a cultural skill like tai chi or tango dancing. It's a fun way to enrich your life while experiencing a new destination.
When traveling, you have the opportunity to interact with locals and learn more about what life is really like for the people of the destination. Ask questions, make conversation and, if possible, hangout with locals in their favorite spots for a firsthand glimpse of community life.
Whether your travel to another country or domestically you'll have the chance to experience a new culture. Dive in and learn as much as you can through food, classes, attractions, interactions and random experiences. It's an easy way to become a more worldly, open-minded person, and can be a very eye-opening experience.
One of the best ways to experience a destination is through the local food. Travel allows you to break away from any diets restraints and sample exciting new dishes you've never tried, and maybe even never heard of. Asado in Argentina, cemitas in Mexico and pasta in Italy are just some of the mouth-watering culinary experiences to have around the world.
Travel enriches your life through all the reasons mentioned above, so why not give yourself that opportunity? Discover interesting cultures, learn something new, experience new things and become a more well-rounded, fulfilled person in general.
Stop making excuses on why you can't travel. Work will always be stressful, there will always be things to do at home and you'll never have as much money as you'd like, so stop worrying and realize these problems will be there whether you travel or not. In the meantime, you might as well see the world and leave the problems at home for awhile.azwegers
There is nothing more gratifying than a top notch toilet. And when it comes to fancy toilets it is fairly common knowledge that Japan leads the pack. Their toilets have features most Westerners have never dreamed of, including background noise to cover any sounds that the user may make, a warm cleansing spray, self-warming seat, built-in water-saving sink, and other innovative features. Their proper name are bidets, although many locals refer to them as washlets.
At first glance these washlets can be a little much for foreigners to take in. For example, in America if you sit on a warm toilet seat it means some other warm posterier just vacated that spot mere seconds before. Not the most appealing sensation, to say the least. I've even moved one stall over, just for a cold seat! (Like that one was any more sanitary.) Yet warm toilet seats are preferred in Japan, especially during the colder months. For many Westerners this definitely takes some getting used to, but they will grow on you if you spend long enough there. Trust me ;).
Of course the surprises do not stop there. Another aspect is that every model is slightly different, so there can be a bit of a learning curve. Luckily most of the important bidet functions have icons.
What, the toilets have control panels? How complicated can they be? As you can see below, some are fairly self-explanatory while others can be a bit tricky. The control panel is most often built into what Westerners would view as an armrest on the right-hand side. However some bidets, particularly in private households, have more customized models which often feature a remote control panel built into the nearby wall instead.
What, the toilets have control panels? How complicated can they be? As you can see below, some are fairly self-explanatory while others can be a bit tricky. The control panel is most often built into what Westerners would view as an armrest on the right-hand side. However some bidets, particularly in private households, have more customized models which often feature a remote control panel built into the nearby wall instead.
These control panels are what transforms the mere toilet into a sophisticated bidet, which is the technical term of a fixture intended for cleaning the genitalia. Using the appropriate buttons a warm sanitizing spray will gently clean all your important areas, one for the males and another for the ladies. Many inside flats and private residences include the ability to adjust the temperature of this cleansing spray. Some even feature a strategically positioned blow dryer to be used afterwards! Have no fear if not, all it takes is a single square of paper to dry off and you're set.
These things are awesome! They have a lightweight flap that overhangs the toilet paper roll and has a downward curve along its front side that features perforated teeth. Thanks to gravity and a slight upwards tug this handy little device tears off individual t.p. square for you.
But the fancy features don't stop there. Rather than have a cylindrical mount that runs through the toilet paper tube and requires 5+ seconds to reload, Japanese toilet paper holders feature one-inch plastic prongs that flip out on either side to hold the roll in place and can be changed in literally one second. (Some Westerners will recognize these as being very similar to the paper towel holders which some people have in their kitchen.)
To remove an empty roll you simply flip up the overhanging flap and lift the old tube straight up. New rolls are loaded from the bottom, it's pure genius! It is simple yet effective innovations like that which make visiting Japan an unforgettable experience. Ask anyone who has ever visited.
HoliDaze Tip These one-of-a-kind toilet paper holders can be purchased individually at department stores throughout Japan. They make amazing gifts for friends back home because they are 1) useful on a daily basis; 2) unquestionably unique; and 3) great conversation starters.
We've all been there, whether a culprit or the audience. Admit it. After all, sounds have a tendency to be audible to those in the adjoining room thanks to thin walls and doors without insulation. But many of these Japanese bidets combat this by featuring a type of audio masking that is designed to cover any sounds generated by the user. Some are triggered by a button or hand-operated motion sensor, others simply by exerting pressure on the toilet seat, but they all sound exactly the same: like flushing water.
After making a comment about this to Mayu I learned that apparently this feature is referred to as Otohime, the Sound Princess. Custom models even have the ability to play bowel-relaxing music instead of the flushing water sound, to help you "loosen up" -- if you so desire. When it comes to Japanese toilets the only limitation is your imagination!
This varies greatly between models. Often it is a button without an icon. Other times it is a push-button built into the basin itself. Sometimes it is even a traditional Western-style one-directional knob -- although the vast majority of the time the knob rotates both directions, one for small flushes (小) and another for larger passes (大).
At the entrance of every residence there is a front landing that is used for removing shoes, as well as any outwear or umbrellas. However inside each bathroom there is a separate set of toilet slippers that never leaves the confines of that space. Bathroom visitors slip them on as they enter the room and remove them on their way out. These keep everyone's feet and socks clean.
When traveling around Japan you will notice that many of the washlets in flats and private residences have the sink built into the wash basin. The logic behind this is fairly simple: after each flush the washbin has to refill with water to prepare for the next flush, so why not first use that water to wash your hands. Besides the obvious water-saving factor, another upside is that you are filling up the washbin with water which has a slight soapy residue to it. This helps to keep the toilet clean.
The water runs for about twenty seconds, a perfect length of time for washing your hands. Plus there is no need for hot or cold knobs as the water is already the perfect temperature.
Back when I had a home (in my pre-nomad days) I tried so hard to have one of those fancy Japanese toilets installed. I don't care about the bidet functions but I really do like the built-in sinks. Of course that has not been an easy task. They just don't sell them in the States. The only current option is to buy a bidet toilet seat and swap out the seats on your Western toilet.
However not all Japanese toilets have this built-in sink. Many look like the one below and feature a separate, traditional sink. These are common in public, high traffic areas such as airports, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.
No article on Japanese toilets would be complete without mentioning squat toilets. Although these are not a Japanese invention, they can be found throughout Japan. As such it is best to familiarize yourself with them.
The first experience can be a little strange but some people argue that this method is actually healthier and more efficient. To read more on that debate, I was recently surprised to find that Wikipedia even has a page on Human Defecation Postures.
Beautiful natural scenery and sights, fun water-based activities, top-notch shopping, addictive nightlife, amazing food, and so much more: Just because you only have a short time in New Zealand's most impressive city doesn't mean that you should miss out on some of the best things the city has to offer.
Auckland is home to a whopping four dozen volcanoes! That means no matter where in town you are staying, there is a nearby volcano that you can hike up and enjoy the breathtaking 360-degree view. Don't expect lava flows though -- these volcanoes have erupted only once in history and are now dormant. In fact, most are lush green parks.
Read More Free Things To Do In Auckland
Water plays an important part in the weekly life and fun of Auckland residents thanks to the Auckland Bay. Hop a ferry and explore some of the nearby islands. Get your adrenaline pumping with activities like surfing, kayaking, jet-boating, diving, and windsurfing. Or if relaxation is the name of your game, enjoy some peaceful morning fishing or soak up the sun on a beach.
Insider tip: Nestled in the countryside west of Auckland is Karekare Beach, overlooked by most tourists and much more refreshing than the crowded beaches at the heart of town.
Unlike anything else I have ever experienced, the Odyssey Sensory Maze is exactly what the name suggests: an invigorating journey that will stimulate all of your senses and leave you wanting more. Each section features unique obstacles, lighting, music, and yes, even smells. There is a jungle zone, a cave zone, a space zone, and...well...you'll just have to discover the rest for yourself.
Photo courtesy of Peter Mackey
The Polynesian settlers who originally settled in New Zealand became known as the Māori. Their rich cultural history shaped and still plays a part in New Zealand culture, despite making up only 15% of the country's population. Learn more about the Māori by visiting one of Auckland's many museums, art galleries, or cultural attractions.
Certain things always tend to be better in big metropolises, primarily shopping, nightlife, and food. Thankfully, Auckland excels at all three. If it's shopping you crave, there are numerous hotspots around town, such as Queen Street, Ponsonby, Newmarket, the Britomart Precinct, and of course Takapuna up on the North Shore.
When it comes to nightlife, many of the same areas known for spectacular shopping are always home to the city's best bars and clubs. Britomart is a popular favorite with both locals and foreigners, but Ponsonby and Parnell are where the stars shine. However, there are also other offbeat after dark Auckland areas, such as K Road and High Street.
As far as great food, that can be found throughout the city. Just ask a local!
I flew halfway around the world and was greeted by this...
Right now the 3-day celebration that is the pinnacle of the Mongolian tourist season is in full swing. It is a festival of merriment and machismo. A celebration of what it means to be a man. Athleticism and physical prowess is revered. And men get hot and sweaty. Dressed in naught but tiny vests and woollen underwear. Pink woollen underwear (usually).
It can only be the spectacle that is Naadam (in Ulaanbaatar it is celebrated 11-13 of August every year). Inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO in 2010, Naadam is an old Mongolian tradition that has seen revival along with the rise of Mongolian nationalism, at the start of the last century, and now celebrates Mongolian independence in 1921. Naadam is the festival of the "three manly sports" – archery, (long distance) horse riding and of course Mongolian wrestling.
Chinggis Khaan (Ghengis Khan) -
There are differences to each of the sports to what you would be familiar with. Archery is not aiming at a bull’s-eye, but shooting an arrow in a parabolic path into what is essentially a tiny cylindrical target on the ground (similar in size to a hole on a golf course). Men and women compete separately, at difference target distances. While the competitor's task seems impossible to me, they have been using a bow from a very early age. The bow are incredibly strong – speaking to a Swiss-Armenian archer on the flight out, he was saying his young son's bow from Mongolia is equivalent to the strength of an adult’s Olympic bow, and so has to buy archery equipment on his trips to Mongolia. It's a serious sport – so serious that even the president and prime minister compete (it's true – I was literally spitting distance away from them at the time!).
Horse riding is not like what you would see at Ascot or the other races of that sort. It is like the marathon of horse races; long distance, somewhere on the outskirts of the city. The riders are children (again, a skill that many Mongolians learn from an early age – as young as two years old!), as the aim of the race is to test the skill of the horse, not the rider. After the races (there are races for different ages of horse) the winners are celebrated by a song declaring their equine brilliance. And the loser in the youngest age group is honoured with what I guess is the the Mongolian equivalent of a limerick.
Finally, there is the wrestling. 3 days of wrestling. It's a hard sport to break into – the previous year's champion chooses his opponent (usually the weediest boy there), followed by the second winner etc. It results in an initial stage of David & Goliath bouts running simultaneously before the opponents become more evenly matched. This makes it very difficult to break into the sport of Mongolian wrestling. After each individual fight the winner does the traditional victory eagle dance – a somehow graceful movement after the tussling a few moments before. The winners are also awarded rank titles according to what stage of the competition they get to – there is a whole lot of tradition and ceremony attached to the whole event.
Sadly I never saw the action up close...
I experienced Naadam in Ulaanbaatar at the National Sports Stadium (smaller Naadam celebrations can be seen outside UB a few days before). Like with the Olympics, the opening ceremony is actually the bit most people watch – a huge, choreographed re-enactment of a traditional story, along with a parade featuring Mongolia's musical all stars (one of whom was on my return flight – no idea what his name is though!) as well as various members of the armed forces. Finally there is the singing of the national anthem – musically pretty good, not too pedestrian at all, melodious, lyrically inspirational (and with hints of propaganda in the style of the Communist era). Conveniently song sheets were distributed – all in the Cyrillic alphabet (which I fortunately knew after a failed attempt to teach myself Russian) – and I think I gave it a fair bash at singing along.
Aside from the opening ceremony, seeing a few rounds of wrestling, wandering over to the archery range, wandering around the festival grounds (mobbed by Americans touroids decked out in traditional Mongolian clothing they must have been shafted paying for), trying some khuushuur (greasy, fried mutton dumplings – perfect festival food), perhaps taking a taxi out to the horse race and then coming back for "Ode to a Horse", there isn't really all that much else to do, aside from watching endless rounds of wrestling at a distance (if you want to see it up close, maybe go to one of the wrestling rings that can be found in most big towns, or start an ad-hoc game after a few vodkas). There's a lot of sitting around between brief moments of excitement (like many major sporting event such as the Olympics or big motor races). There are also fireworks in Suukhbataar square – the first night of Ulaanbaatar's celebrations if I remember correctly.
Aspiring (and failing) to be a
proud Mongolian horseman
Naadam is an interesting introduction to Mongolian culture, although it will be hard to gain a good understanding without a Mongolian to explain it to you – it certainly won't feel as authentic. Aside from Naadam itself, UB is pretty cosmopolitan. There are a few interesting museums (like the Natural History Museum which has some really interesting dinosaur fossils, and also the National Museum of Mongolian history for further introduction to Mongolian culture), but once you've seen them, UB has nothing more to offer than international bars and an equally international crowd of people (even more so since Mongolia's recent mining boom).
Like a freshly frothed cup of its famously robust coffee, Turkey packs a flavourful punch for the traveller seeking something more exciting than a just-add-water getaway. Here, east and west collide, resulting in a unique mosaic of cultural influences which have impacted on its history, cuisine and architecture. Not to mention the landscape: from the rugged mountains of the east across rolling highlands and plains to the coastline of Aegean Sea. For a reasonable snapshot of Turkey you need to visit a range of its regions to realise the diversity of this incredible land. Here are a few suggested places to start.
Located on the Aegean coastline to the southwest of Turkey, this seaside town and port boasts one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the city of Halikarnassus. While the city has long since been razed, a number of historic sites in Bodrum still remain. Visit the the Castle of St Peter, built in the 15th century it now houses the Museum of Underwater Archeology. Once suitably glutted on history, the beach awaits visitors to the area, with safe swimming water, a proliferation of water sports and a glittering party atmosphere.
Consistently described as ‘the gateway to the Turkish Riviera’, this city, perched on Turkey’s azure Mediterranean coastline, has a perfect geographical combination of beach and mountain. Ascend from one to the other by cable car and reach the top of Mount Tahtali for a panoramic view of the surrounding area. Wander the mosques, towers and archways of Kaleiçi, Antalya’s old quarter then venture beyond the city to cool off in the nearby Duden falls, or slather on some sunscreen and explore the Perge ruins.
Within a stone’s throw of some of Turkey’s most important ruins lies the port of Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city. Its wide boulevards and palm fringed buildings reach from the Izmir Gulf skyward, towards the Foca Hills, and this stratified city can be traversed by its very own vertical elevator. Have a time check at the glorious old clock tower in Konak Square and examine the treasures on display in the city’s Archaeology Museum. Get your senses entangled with the many sights and smells of Kemeralti Bazaar, and don’t neglect to venture beyond city limits to the ancient city of Ephesus, the largest collection of Roman ruins to be found in the eastern Med.
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"Ntchuva" is a game for male adults. Two teams are formed with one or more players. The game can be carried out on the floor, digging up four rows of small pits. Each queue can have 4, 8, 16 or 32 pits. You can also play in a board made of wood or cement.
The teams squat down, facing each other. At each pit are placed two stones and each team match two rows of pits. The goal is to eliminate the opponent's stones.
To make a move, the player chooses a pit of departure. Grab these pit stones and place them one by one following the pits counter-clockwise. When the last stone is dropped into a pit that still has stones, the player restarts the process, i.e., remove the stones of the pit and place them one by one following the pits until the last stone is dropped in an empty grave. If this grave is located on the 1st row (which is closer to the player) the play ends and the turn passes to the opponent. If the pit in question is located on the second row (closer to the opponent) the player checks if the next pit (corresponding to the secondnd row of the adversary) has stones, which gives you the right to remove the stones of that pit as well from the pit immediately behind and a third pit (chosen by the player, according to a criterion of game strategy, or will seek to reduce the chances of the opponent, a next move, you also remove stones).
Next is the turn of the adversary, who will play in the manner already described, continuing the game with players alternating between the two teams. Players are required (as long as possible) to start the game by more than a pit with a stone, always ending when they leave one stone on a grave. Only when they leave there graves over a stone, the player can start the game from a pit with one stone, walking in this case only one pit, unless you just have to follow a stone so he can continue.
Ntchuva may be known as "Warri" in many other countries in Africa. And the rules may differ from place to place, but the strategy is always similar.
According to "Moçambicanismos," from Lopes, Sitoe and Nhamuende, the term "Nchuva/Nxuva" comes from the Swazi term "intjuba." Ntchuva can be compared to the type of board games called "Mancala" (wiki).
Located on a four-mile long sand peninsula, Puntarenas is a coastal fishing town that also supports a lot of tourism. While there we happened to stumble upon this magnificent mansion turned hostel on the northern shore, the Perla del Pacifico, my most highly recommended lodging option in all of Costa Rica. This place will shock and amaze you, instantly transporting you to a tranquil environment far from Central America -- you have to see it to believe it, there is no other way to put it.
As Puntarenas is lacking in both hostels and hotels, Perla del Pacifico is the only one you will find without having to taxi it back 30 minutes further deep into the mainland. Even more conveniently, it is located on the same block as the Calypso Cruises office and dock. Right after we came back from Tortuga Island we were able to walk 60 feet and be at our new home.
Walking through the front doors you are greeted by a beautiful marble staircase that leads you either to the main level with the jacuzzi and outside courtyard, amongst other things, or upstairs to the kitchen and dining room, two guest rooms, and wrap-around balcony.
As if the house itself was not exquisite enough, it is stocked full of artwork and collectibles from all corners of the globe. This is undoubtedly due to the the owners, Michael and Elisabeth, connoisseurs of the world. Be it canvases of Audrey Hepburn, old Asian artwork, rare drawings, original pictures of Salvador Dali and his wife, or any one of a thousand other exquisite -- yet perfectly placed -- collectible pieces of artwork and sculpture, everything seems like it is in just the right spot.
Sound good? Well, it gets better. How do you become world connoisseurs? By traveling the world. And that is exactly what Michael and Elisabeth have done. From the minute we walked in the door the conversation just flowed endlessly! Michael has some of the most fantastic stories to tell, Jared and I frequently got lost in the most random yet intricate conversations with him and his wife. Regardless of whether you are a first-time traveler or cultural enthusiast, travel blogger or gap year adventurer, you will feel instantly at home here, I guarantee it. Make sure to view the many pictures below.
From the owners, Michael and Elizabeth
We - French/German artist couple - just finished restoring a historical mansion - national patrimony - that has been build in 1920 and graciously combines Venetian & Caribbean architecture. To support the project, we rent two exquisitely furnished bed rooms, each containing a modern bath room. You are going to have free use of our kitchen, dining room, salon, jacuzzi, a lovely garden with grill-pavilion and petanque-court and many other amenities of our palace.
Noteworthy I cannot stress enough how highly we recommend this place. If you are a fellow world traveler and you should find yourself in Costa Rica, I urge you to make a stop by Puntarenas, even if solely to swing by Perla del Pacifico and meet Michael and Elizabeth. The conversations alone are worth swinging out of your way to Puntarenas, we promise. You will not regret it, I assure you. I stake my name and reputation on it. Tell them Derek @ the HoliDaze sent you and you may even get a li'l extra loving ;)
Also, if you are going to be in the neighborhood, read about our trip to Tortuga Island with Calypso Cruises. Their dock is located one building down from Pearla del Pacifico and its a great way to kill two birds with one stone.