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Domino SparrowI have a weird sense of humor. I admit it. So I was intrigued to discover that the Museum of Natural History in Rotterdam, Netherlands, is home to an exhibit entitled “Dead Animals with a Story.”

Sure, there are dead animals in natural history museums all the time, but these had stories that involved things like dominos and McFlurry cups. I had to see this exhibit for myself.

So while everyone else from my river cruise went to see yet more Dutch artistry, I found my way to Rotterdam’s Museum of Natural History. It took three sets of directions before I found the small building tucked into the corner of Museum Square. That was just fine with me; all the wandering added to my sense of adventure. I was on a quest to find these storied animals.

For such a small museum, it also took me a while to find the exhibit that had so caught my attention. For starters, neither the map nor the museum’s signage was in English. So I headed up the stairs and into every room I could find. Nothing, just your usual stuffed animals on display.

Could I be mistaken? Had I found my way to the wrong museum? Had they scrapped the exhibit?

The World’s Weirdest Museums

Back down the stairs.

I was exiting yet another exhibit room, disappointed at my failure, when I spied the stuffed remains of a hedgehog with his head inserted into a McFlurry cup in a display case right at the entrance to the museum. I’d passed right by it!

The low, long, narrow display case was placed unobtrusively along the wall immediately inside of the entryway. The stuffed animals in the case were small and easy to miss — a house mouse, a tiny bat, a sparrow, the unfortunate hedgehog, numbered among the maybe 10 animals displayed.

But what made these poor critters different from the hundreds of other animals in the museum?

Well, the house mouse, for instance, wasn’t killed in just any old house. He (or she) was one of several hundred killed in 2012 when the Second Chamber (part of the country’s House of Representatives) experienced a mouse infestation. When the curator at the museum saw the news of the problem, it occurred to him that his collection did not have a house mouse in it. So he sent a request to the government asking if they would send one of their dead mice to him. His request was soundly refused. The government, he was told, does not give away its trash — of any kind. And yet, a few days later, a package in the official envelope of the Second Chamber showed up, no return addressee listed, with a dead mouse still in the trap enclosed.

Then there is the “domino sparrow.” This unfortunate bird had the dubious honor of garnering international attention when he was shot and killed after knocking down some 23,000 dominos (of nearly 4 million!) at the annual Domino Day event in Leeuwarden just four days before the event. The shooting outraged animal rights groups around the country, and they took the shooter and the organizers of Domino Day to court. Prosecutors opened an investigation and issued a 200 euro fine to the man who killed the bird.

In Your Face: 9 Up-Close Animal Encounters

And then there’s the hedgehog. His is a tale of environmental caution for everyone. Once quite large, the Netherlands’ hedgehog population has almost halved in the past 20 years. Though the main cause of death is cars, a significant number die after inserting their heads into ice cream cups (the kind with triangular openings for spoons) and then being unable to get back out because of the structure of their neck and spine. These poor critters either starve to death or run around blindly until they fall into a canal and drown. The specimen in the Rotterdam museum is one such unlucky hedgehog. The good news is that an animal lovers’ group in England lobbied McDonald’s to replace the McFlurry covers with those that have smaller holes, thereby protecting hedgehogs from this sad fate.

One caveat about the museum exhibit: all the signage is in Dutch. I had to turn to a Dutch guide on my river cruise for translations (based on photographs I’d taken of the exhibit). Therefore, most of my enjoyment of the displays came after the fact.

What’s the strangest exhibit you’ve ever come across in your travels?

– written by Dori Saltzman

This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five words that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter. For examples, check out this blog post.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s this week’s challenge:

countries in africa


Enter your list of cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 5, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Katie, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

countries in africa


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– created by Dori Saltzman

This week’s travel puzzle is a “guess the flag” challenge. Can you identify which nation the following flag belongs to?


Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 21, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Richard Kadash, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Peru. Richard has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five words that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter. For examples, check out this blog post.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s this week’s challenge:

cities in france


Enter your list of cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 14, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Ryan Price, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

cities in france


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– created by Dori Saltzman

Today’s puzzle was submitted by IndependentTraveler.com reader Caprice Kutz! Here’s her description of how it works:

Within each sentence is hidden the name of a U.S. state capital. After you figure out No. 1, the second answer will be the capital of another state that is near the one in the prior answer.

In the example below, the answer is the city of Reno (not a capital).

Example: We aRE NO longer living there.

Ready to give it a try? Find the U.S. state capitals hidden in the following six sentences, and post your answers in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 7, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll reveal the answers and choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Betty, who correctly identified all six cities. (See the answers in the puzzle below.) Betty has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

1. Beers, ale, malt — all are found in breweries. (Answer: Salem)

2. The Lena sisters were looking forward to their trip to Ireland. (Answer: Helena)

3. The young couple took a walk on the pier, regardless of the fact that it was closed. (Answer: Pierre)

4. President Lincoln gladly signed the Emancipation Proclamation. (Answer: Lincoln)

5. Because the monkey had hidden very well, the zoo visitors did not get to see him that day. (Answer: Denver)

6. Santa fell down the chimney and broke his leg. (Answer: Santa Fe)

–written by Caprice Kutz

This week, we’re introducing a new type of travel brainteaser: a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five words that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Here’s an example:

cities in italy


To solve this puzzle, you would fill in five Italian cities that start with the given letters. Here’s one possible solution:

cities in italy


Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter; you could have filled in Siena instead of Salerno or Parma instead of Pisa. As long as your response fits into the given category, we’ll count it.

Ready to try it yourself? Here’s this week’s challenge:

caribbean capitals


Enter your list of cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 17, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Jeannette, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Check out her winning entry below.

caribbean capitals


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– written and created by Sarah Schlichter and Dori Saltzman

Here’s something fun to kick off your weekend. It’s a travel-themed picture puzzle. You just have to tie the photos together to make words. For example, a photo of an eye, combined with a photo of a full glass of water would be eye + full = Eiffel. Get it? (For another example, check out last week’s puzzle.)

This week’s puzzle is two words and represents a vast natural attraction in North America.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, March 10, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Ronda Bergman, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Yellowstone Caldera.” Ronda has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

Here’s something fun to kick off your weekend. It’s a travel-themed picture puzzle. You just have to tie the photos together to make words. For example, a photo of an eye, combined with a photo of a full glass of water would be eye + full = Eiffel. Get it? (For another example, check out last week’s puzzle.)

This week’s puzzle is two words and represents a important natural attraction in Europe.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, March 3, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Caprice Kutz, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Danube Delta.” Caprice has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

Here’s something fun to kick off your weekend. It’s a travel-themed picture puzzle. You just have to tie the photos together to make words. For example, a photo of an eye, combined with a photo of a full glass of water would be eye + full = Eiffel. Get it? (For another example, check out last week’s puzzle.)

This week’s puzzle is two words and represents a bucket list destination for many travelers.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, February 24, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Janette Lawler, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Galapagos Islands.” Janette has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Sarah Schlichter

Here’s something fun to kick off your weekend. It’s a travel-themed picture puzzle. You just have to tie the photos together to make words. For example, a photo of an eye, combined with a photo of a full glass of water would be eye + full = Eiffel. Get it? (For another example, check out last week’s puzzle.)

This week’s puzzle is two words and represents an off-the-beaten path destination in the Southern Hemisphere.

Need even more of a hint? Check out this slideshow.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, February 18, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is John H, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Coober Pedy.” John has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman