Get a group of politicians together and they often skip right over the important issues and on to agenda items that leave the rest of us scratching our heads. Remember the U.S. House of Representatives and the “action” that called for French fries served in the restaurants and snack bars run by the House to be renamed freedom fries?
Another equally important proposal was recently put forth by the British Parliament: changing the name of London‘s famous clock tower — known throughout the world as Big Ben — to Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.
According to the BBC, the proposal is now fait accompli.
Our Favorite Places to Stay in London
Okay, yes, Big Ben is simply a nickname that originally referred to the bell inside the tower (though few people distinguish between bell, clock and tower these days). And yes, it was even once known as Victoria Tower and is now officially recognized as the Clock Tower. But really, billions of people the world over know the entire tower as Big Ben. Why mess with brand name recognition?
It’s simply not as sexy to snap a photo of oneself in front of the tower and tell friends, “Here’s me in front of Elizabeth Tower.” Though as one writer here said, maybe people will just call it Big Beth.
– written by Dori Saltzman
It was a hot day, and people walked for hours along a narrow, rocky path because there were no roads to where they were going. Everyone was walking together by the sea, which was very still and calm. They all seemed happy — because they were on their way to a seaweed festival!
The Fete du Goemon, or Seaweed Festival, takes place each year in the western Brittany region of France on the last Sunday in July (mark your calendar for the 29th). Drawn by a small poster in a shop window, I stopped by the festival to watch people drying seaweed in stone troughs, demonstrating how to extract iodine from it and how to use the rest in recipes or as fuel. There was also a band, long trestle tables laden with food and drink, and a stall selling such dubiously useful items as a seaweed comb and seaweed sandals.
Seaweed was once a tremendously important factor in this part of Northern France’s economy, but the money isn’t what it was and the demand for fuels has gone elsewhere. Now the old seaweed stations are mainly grassed over and draw only a yearly crop of curious people like me.
Sound strange? There are even weirder festivals out there! Below are some of the odder ones I found while planning this year’s activities. Hopefully they’ll inspire the more inquisitive among you to go and find your own unusual customs and bizarre gatherings.
Air Guitar World Championships: Oulu, Finland
Forget standing around watching a holographic Tupac flickering onstage. On the 22nd of August, you can watch some of the world’s most extroverted proponents of air guitar plugging in their imaginary instruments and taking to the stage at the 2012 Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, Finland. The city, home to mobile phone giant Nokia, has been troubling the air waves this way since 1996, with the festival becoming a huge forum for ax men and women around the world to prove their mimesmanship (actual term). Current Finnish champion Puccini Vibre will be looking to continue his current form with a win at the festival, though many eyes are on the 2011 U.S. Air Guitar Champion Nordic Thunder (real name Justin Howard), who is expected to take the crown.
One Summer Festival That’s Not Worth the Trip
Naki Sumo: Tokyo, Japan
A crying baby ought to be bad luck. Not so in Japan, where a yearly festival seeks to oust evil spirits through babies’ tears. Every year, more than 100 babies are brought by their parents to the steps of the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, where they are made to cry by huge sumo wrestlers, who hold the babies up in the air above their heads. Weirdly, the babies usually seem unperturbed by this and, to avoid the bad luck that would be brought by the babies not crying, the sumo wrestlers end up pulling hideous faces and gently shaking them, with the temple priests even doing their bit to frighten the children with masks. This festival takes place every year at the end of April. Entrance is free.
The Best Places to Stay in Tokyo
Spam Jam: Waikiki, Hawaii
Waikiki draws big crowds to take part in surfing festivals, but those in the know come to check out Spam Jam, one of the biggest street festivals dedicated to Spam in the world! According to the Spam Jam Web site, Hawaiians eat more Spam than anyone else on Earth, and the springtime event aims to celebrate this with great food, dancing and family entertainment on two stages. There are Spam plays and Spam dancers and opportunities to pick up Spam t-shirts. The whole thing is in aid of the Hawaii Food Bank, a non-profit organisation that provides food for people in need. Start thinking about your plane tickets if you’d like to get involved with Spam Jam 2013, which will begin on the 27th of April.
Our Favorite Honolulu Hotels
– written by Josh Thomas
I recently returned from a marvelous trip to Amsterdam, where I toured museums, ogled tulips, sipped jenever, ate pickled herring and explored the city’s canals and historical monuments — by myself.
I was informed early on that I’d be on my own for the trip, which was my first to the Netherlands. To put it mildly, I was terrified. I’d heard horror stories about pickpockets and districts of the red-light variety, and I’ll do just about anything to avoid dining by myself. But, as someone who has an abysmal sense of direction, I was most worried about finding my own way through the city without the help of a travel companion.
Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo
Some people cringe at the idea of traveling alone, but overall, I was relieved to discover that in Amsterdam nearly everyone speaks English, maps are plentiful and the train system is easy to use. (I only got lost twice!)
The most important takeaway for me, however, was that I was able to do the trip at my own pace. In addition to spreading myself out in my non-shared hotel room, I went to sleep when I wanted, I woke up when I wanted, I walked everywhere, and I saw/toured/tasted more than 20 of Amsterdam’s most popular landmarks/museums/foods and beverages in just four days. The freedom to go at such a break-neck pace is something I probably wouldn’t have had if I’d brought a friend.
Have you traveled alone? If not, would you consider it? If so, what are some of the fun experiences you’ve had solo? Leave your comments below.
– written by Ashley Kosciolek
What exactly are “rude” countries and “rude” cities?
I’ll tell you what they are: Places that travel Web sites and publications routinely turn to in order to get people talking (and, uh, clearly it works).
A few weeks ago, Skyscanner — a Web site that compares rates on different airlines — announced that its users had deemed France the world’s rudest country, with Russia taking the second spot. (The United States was No. 6.) By default, that apparently makes Paris the world’s rudest city. And in January, Travel + Leisure magazine announced its readers’ picks for America’s rudest cities, with New York taking the top “prize.” Slots two through through five went to Miami, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Boston.
I’ve been to all of these cities, and I’ll be darned if I can tell which one is ruder than the other. I’ve seen heroic acts of kindness in the Big Apple, and while you can’t take the French out of the French, I’ve never felt particularly ill at ease while tromping near the Arc de Triomphe. Washington D.C.? Having lived there for nearly two decades, I always considered the place ridiculously pleasant.
Rudeness is most definitely in the eyes of the beholder, and no doubt travelers have a different take on things than those who live in these bastions of ill manners. I had a former boss who insisted that the only way to avoid rudeness in places like Paris, New York and London (Skyscanner deems the British the third-rudest nationality) was to blend in with the locals, and I always thought was a terrible idea. Why? Because the natives can sniff out posers immediately, and they’ll turn on you.
12 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Place
Instead, I’ve found that being polite myself begets politeness in others. Dressing appropriately (sorry, no flip-flops in Notre Dame) and adhering to local customs goes a long way toward endearing you to the locals. Learning a bit of the native language puts others at ease and shows that you’re at least trying. And by all means, if you bumble into New York thinking that everyone is going to be rude to you … you’ll probably leave thinking they were.
– written by John Deiner
There were no drawers for my clothes and only two hangers on the quartet of pegs that substituted for a closet, the bed was pushed against the windows (allowing for maximum exposure to the drunken “singing” at 3 a.m. below), and the shower flooded the sink area of the bathroom every morning — but one simple impression remained from my five-night January stay at London‘s Z Hotel.
I’d go back in a heartbeat.
The hotel, which opened in the Soho neighborhood in fall 2011, is decidedly not for everyone. I stayed because it was “only” $220 a night including taxes, which sadly enough is considered dirt-cheap in a city known for its exorbitant costs. But ultimately it was money well spent. The neighborhood, a mass of bars, clubs, restaurants and overlap from the adjacent theater-rich West End, is a London hot spot, with easy reach to the rest of the city.
Those rooms, however, are an acquired taste. They’re tiny by just about any measure; my Z Queen was advertised at being okay for two, but five nights in 150 square feet of space might have ended in divorce if I’d brought my wife. Z Singles, some of which are window-free (think of it as a cruise ship inside cabin without the free buffet), are a mere 85 square feet. The hotel comprises 12 Georgian townhouses interconnected by cooler-than-you lounge areas and glass-railed bridges, so there’s plenty of opportunity to get some fresh air, but still …
See Our Favorite London Hotels
All in all, my tiny space was incredibly functional, even if I had to pile my clothes on the shelf behind the bed and use my laptop on my, well, laptop (there was no desk). It took me an embarrassing amount of time to discover that I had to point the clicker for the suspended 40-inch TV (awesome!) at the headboard — and not the TV itself. But the free Wi-Fi was ridiculously fast, and I dug the upscale linens, plush duvet and Thierry Mugler toiletries. The ultra-modern shower, sink and toilet occupied the same giant glass-enclosed cube, but once I figured out that I could build a dam out of a towel, I put a damper on the mess that ensued every time I washed.
With the London Olympics approaching, I wondered what the hotel is charging for the expected mad rush. I couldn’t find many nights available for the Z Queens, but those singles are still up for grabs. For Thursday, August 2, to Tuesday, August 7 — five nights during the heart of the Games — singles are running about $360 a night. Not exactly a gold-medal-winning tariff, but, man, you can’t beat that location.
5 Things You Shouldn’t Do at a Hotel
Would you stay at the Hotel Z?
– written by John Deiner
I’m from Wales and I’m used to people not knowing where we are. We’re the geographical equivalent of your car keys. They’re around somewhere — in your trouser pocket? Down the side of the sofa?
So often, I’ve heard Wales described as being that bit in between England and Ireland or — worse still — just a part of England itself.
Ireland, England and Scotland are all popular destinations for travelers and have a lot of very different things to offer. But here are some reasons I think you should consider doing something different by visiting Wales instead. It’s not just the U.K.’s smaller brother — it has a lot of unique things to show you of its own!
Culture: The National Eisteddfod
March 1st is Saint David’s Day. Not many people outside Wales know that. Saint David (or Dewi Sant in Welsh) is our patron saint, and we like to celebrate him by wearing leeks and daffodils pinned to our clothes. It is a traditional day for holding Eisteddfods (cultural festivals and talent competitions), with Welsh poetry, literature, music and arts being exhibited.
A larger, National Eisteddfod is usually held in the summer, showcasing talent from the country that brought the world Dylan Thomas, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Roald Dahl and, erm … Tom Jones.
History: The Castle Capital of the World
Wales has a rich history that’s reflected in some of the architecture that remains. Sometimes referred to as the “castle capital of the world,” Wales had, at one point, more than 400 castles. The Welsh’s reputation as a bit of a handful for occupying forces led to fortifications being put up by everybody from the Norman invaders in the 11th century to the English in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Copying this trend, Victorian businessmen commissioned their own “castles” such as the beautiful Castell Coch (the Red Castle) to impress their friends.
The World’s Coolest Castles
Wales was also home to the Romans for a time, and it has the ancient architecture to prove it — such as the 2,000-year-old amphitheaters, baths and barracks in Caerleon, South Wales.
Sports: Surfing the Severn Bore
Every year, a tidal wave sweeps up the river Severn, attracting surfers, kayakers, paddle boarders and other lunatics from all over the world, who attempt to pit themselves against the river’s tidal range (often cited as being the second largest in the world).
But if that isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of unrivaled hiking routes through the Brecon Beacon mountains or Snowdonia National Park, as well as some of the best rock climbing and abseiling in the U.K., to get visitors closer to the dramatic landscape.
Have a Welsh Cake!
And, while you’re over, have a Welsh cake. You won’t regret it! (They’re similar to scones.) And tucking into a bowl of lamb cawl (stew), a plate of lava bread (seaweed) or some fresh seafood might provide you with an excuse to tackle Mount Snowdon head on.
Scenery: Land of Contrasts
And the landscape itself? Wales offers mountains and waterfalls in the north and famous valleys in the South, carved out by thousands of years of glacial activity, with pristine beaches, forests and reservoirs in between.
12 Spots to Fall in Love with Travel
Even aside from the noted spots of outstanding natural beauty, such as the Pembrokeshire coast, Snowdonia National Park and the Lleyn Peninsula, Wales is a place where you are never too far away from something to see, do, eat or listen to.
Have you been to Wales?
– written by Josh Thomas
I think Jacques the taxi driver knew what my problem was. What my problem still is, really. I’m a big coward. Adventures are fun — I like them — but in the beginning of a trip I just want to get where I’m going, have something to eat, perhaps have a shower. After that, exploring is fine.
Jacques knew this because we’d chosen to get into his taxi instead of using the Metro like the other one billion people in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport. That would have cost us about seven euros, taken 20 minutes and been way too easy.
Jacques knew that the only reason we got into his taxi was that we thought it was going to be easier.
Our Favorite Paris Hotels
His was the first taxi in line outside the airport. He looked just like Lou Reed, so we decided that we could probably trust him. He leaped out from behind the wheel and helped us with our bags.
After driving for about 10 minutes, joining a busy flyover of traffic, it occurred to me to tell him where we were actually going. “Sure!” he said, winding down his window to indicate with his hand. “We’ll go there now.”
We got to talking. This was a good thing.
“All this on the left,” he said, pointing out of the window, “is the old town. This motorway is like a big wall. Everything inside it is old Paris, historical Paris, and everything outside it is new. Most of the people live outside the motorway. That’s how it is.”
He pointed out of the other side of the car at a formation of shiny skyscrapers. They looked as if they were in need of a clean. “See those?” he said. “The rock climber Alain Robert climbed up those in the 90′s. He did it with his bare hands and no ropes or anything.”
I looked at the buildings. They were outside the motorway.
“And when he finished,” the taxi driver grumbled, “they took him down off the roof and drove him straight to court.” He shook his head.
Paris Travel Guide
Farther into town, Jacques (as we’d learned was his name) decided to drive around the Arc de Triomphe five times to show us how easily he could do it. “I don’t understand why people are so afraid!” he shouted over his shoulder as the tires squealed and the meter clicked up a couple of digits.
We passed a swish-looking hotel on the Place de la Concorde. It had balconies and footmen and little potted plants. Jacques took a moment to tell us that this was where the President of France had spent his first night after being elected.
“With,” he growled accusingly, turning around in his seat to look at us, “a woman that was not his wife…”
After unnecessarily prolonging our route even further so that he could shout at the Eiffel Tower — “Go on! Try it! It’s good luck! In Paris, we call her the fat lady!” — we arrived at our hotel. The fare was enormous — the price of a nice meal for two.
“That’s what it is,” Jacques shrugged when I expressed my surprise. He looked even more like Lou Reed than he had at the airport.
Have you ever argued with a Lou Reed look-alike taxi driver over a colossal fare obviously inflated by a ridiculously lengthened route that included backtracking, deviations, extra tangents and oddly recurring streets, not to mention five times round the Arc de Triomphe?
Neither have I. Jacques had me down from the start. I am a coward.
It was a great way to see the city, no doubt. I actually enjoyed it far more than I would have enjoyed the Metro. But, I realized after shelling out nearly all of the notes in my wallet, it was definitely one of the more expensive guided tours I’ve ever been on.
Have you ever been taken for a ride while traveling?
– written by Josh Thomas
An hour is a long time in politics. It can also be an interminable unit of time on a train or when cooped up in a meeting.
But hurrying, lost, through Venice‘s maze-like streets, coming up against dead ends, blocked off by opaque green canals with a less-than-helpful map and a heavy bag, with under an hour before you’re due on a cruise ship or at the airport … well, then an hour can seem very, very short indeed.
With its bustling cruise port — Europe’s fourth busiest, in fact — and glorious history, Venice is a tourist magnet. Which may explain why getting away from it can be difficult.
As soon as I arrived in Venice, I took a short vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal to the Piazza San Marco. It’s from there that I realized that it’s definitely still a working town. I saw boatloads of fruit and vegetables being unloaded into supermarkets, while police, taxis and firefighters rushed about in specially equipped boats. Amid the crowds of tourists, everyday people went about their everyday business.
Still, I couldn’t help but wish that I had the place to myself.
So I decided to put my map back in my rucksack and walk. Venice isn’t a big city, right? Though I’d never be able to see it all in such a short space of time, I was certain I’d be able to find my way back to the central station in time for my train to the airport.
Our Favorite Places to Stay in Venice
I quickly lost the tourist crowds and, before long, was walking alongside the wide-open lagoon, watching the afternoon sun lighting the tips of gentle waves and looking at the far-off islands where Venetians have traditionally buried their dead.
But as darkness came, my curiosity went out the window. This had been fun, I thought, but I needed to get back. Now. But the streets got narrower and darker. The shadows stuck together behind me like cobwebs. No one else was around and I was getting worried.
I wandered urgently through narrow alleyways, crossing bridges over water that looked as though it had been used to clean someone’s paint brushes. The crowds of tourists I’d passed before were long gone. Getting lost in a foreign city is an excellent way to step away from the obvious and have a unique and memorable experience. In a city like Venice, you are almost guaranteed to bump into something new and astonishing around every corner.
But there is also something to be said for knowing where you’re going and being able to find your way out again.
11 Best Italy Experiences
By chance, I made it to the only part of Venice that had cars and managed to catch a taxi to the airport. I was lucky, but I was also stupid. I was so keen not to be a typical tourist that I ended up being even more of one by taking the place for granted. I presumed that once I’d had enough, the way out would be plainly signposted and easy to see.
And chasing after a taxi while sweating under a heavy bag, map flapping like a sail, is, I suppose, probably not the best way to see a city either.
– written by Josh Thomas
Here’s the answer to last week’s “How Much Is This Hotel?” quiz. Play along with future hotel quizzes by subscribing to our blog.
We have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is 125 euros per night. Nancy, who gave the first correct answer, has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.
The room pictured was one of two deluxe rooms at Kapital Inn Boutique B&B on the Pest side of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary. The four-room boutique inn is on the penthouse floor of a 19th-century building, in the heart of the city next to Andrassy Avenue, in Budapest’s District VI. Daily breakfast is included in the rates, with a fully stocked complimentary snack stash for post-sightseeing noshing.
To check rates and read about other properties in Hungary’s capital city, see our favorite Budapest Hotels.
– written by Jodi Thompson
It doesn’t exactly have the “ooh” factor of a Lucille Ball caricature hanging on Sardi’s wall. It does, however, inch toward the “eww” factor of, say, a faded 34C underwire tacked up on the ceiling of a dive bar. What is it? Just a wee crumb of a toastie eaten by the Libertines co-frontman Pete Doherty.
That’s right. There’s a museum where you can view the dried-out crust of a British pop star’s cheese, tomato and pesto panini that he ate at a cafe in a Cornish seaside village. Owners Michael and Francesca Bennett wanted to commemorate the visit of celebrities to their seafront cafe, the Old Boatstore. When photographer David Bailey visited, the couple told the BBC, they were so excited they decided to keep a bit of the sandwich he’d consumed. The Museum of Celebrity Leftovers grew from there.
Now, when you visit Kingsand in the U.K., you can view about 20 “artifacts” sealed under tiny glass domes and kept on a bright blue shelf hanging on the cafe wall — the museum’s entire collection. Ogle actress Mia Wasikowska’s wedge of zucchini. Examine the end of comedian Hugh Dennis’ ice cream cone. Ruminate over retired BBC weatherman Craig Rich’s pasty crust.
No preservatives have been added to the remains, and Michael Bennett assured the BBC that none of the exhibits seem to be getting moldy, just dried and shriveled.
The Bennetts have owned the cafe for nine years and serve mainly vegetarian fare with locally sourced seafood when available. So don’t expect to see a bite of Prince Harry’s burger anytime soon. However, Charles and Camilla have paid a visit. The Museum of Celebrity Leftovers has a tiny silver crown adorning the glass dome protecting Charles’ relic: a teensy crust of bread pudding.
It’s unlikely that the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall came just to see the odd exhibit, as the display of food waste is more kitschy than captivating. It may, however, have some competition for the world’s most underwhelming excuse for a museum. Consider the Asphalt Museum with its chunks of tar at Sacramento State College in California. Or the Barbed Wire Museum in LaCrosse, Kansas. And you might just get “sucked in” — their pun — at the Vacuum Museum along Route 66 in Missouri. (For more, see our list of the world’s weirdest museums.)
No reason to cross the Hermitage or Smithsonian off your must-see list just yet. En route between the two, you might want to stop in the Old Boatstore for a bite to eat. Who knows who may be seated next to you.
What’s the stupidest museum you’ve ever visited?
– written by Jodi Thompson