Monthly Archives: January 2016

The World’s Weirdest Museums


I love lists.   A couple of days ago I reported on the world’s worst places to live based on an on-line list.  Today I got to wondering if there’s a list out there about the world’s weirdest museums, which are the kinds of places I search for as I travel.  Not only were there several, the #1 list was from respected TIME, the time-honored news people.   Headlined NEWSFEED WORLD here are some of Time’s Weirdest World Museums.

But first, a thought.  Weird might be the wrong word to be using.  What’s weird for some is special interest for others.  ABC News, after all, published an on-line report called “The World’s 12 Kinkiest Sex Museums”.  Perhaps unusual would be a more correct word to use than weird.

So, Time’s list of the 10 most unusual museums in the world included only 3 that I was familiar with–Iceland’s Phallological, India’s Sulabh, and Kansas’ Barbed Wire.  Sulabh, by the way, is officially the International Museum of Toilets.  I’m not kidding.  The ones on TIME‘s list that are now on MY list to seek out are:  The Museum of Bad Art, the Cryptozoology Museum, and the Museum of Broken Relationships.  The one on the list that I question because it sounds normal to me is the Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka, Japan.   Truly weird is the Avanos Hair Museum in Turkey.

Of course, I started thinking about the most unusual museums I’ve been in, and there are far more than 10.  Here are some of them, including the museum that, without a doubt, gets the most consistent hits on my blog.  On November 15, 2011, I wrote about the Pauls Stradins Museum of the History of Medicine under the title “Riga’s Take-Your-Medicine Museum”.  Yes, the most interest-stirring museum I’ve found is in Latvia.  The #2 most unusual was right down the road from Latvia in Kaunas, Lithuania–the Devil Museum.   Using the title “A Hoot in Houston”, I gave info about the very unusual National Museum of Funeral History.  There’s a criminology museum in Rome, Italy, that I found fascinating.  A so-called police museum, it was more about human torture. Oh, those Italians!   I loved the fado museum in Lisbon, the, well, unusual Mutter in Philadelphia, the Hunterian in London, Fort Worth’s Leonard’s Department Store Museum, the Museu del Perfum in Barcelona, and the amber museum in Vilnius.  Oh, those Lithuanians!  My most recent find was a museum devoted to rattlesnakes in Albuquerque.

Happy Hunterianing!   And send me the name and location if you know about an unusual, or really weird, museum.


London’s National Gallery



One of the biggest fires in history occurred in London in 1666.   It destroyed 13,000 buildings, but this city was and is indomitable and 34 years later it was the largest one in Europe.

London has some of the world’s best tourist attractions.  Certainly one of them is its National Gallery at Trafalgar Square.  The 2,300 works of art on display inside include some of the most famous paintings in the world, and it truly offers a complete education in art history in about 60 rooms. As an incredible bonus, it’s free, except for special exhibitions in the attached Sainsbury Gallery. To my knowledge, the National Gallery is the only place in the world except for Italy where visitors can see 3 of Caravaggio’s 79 paintings still in existence in one building.  The National Gallery justifiably brags, “From Leonardo da Vinci to Vincent van Gogh”.

Germany-born banker/collector John Julius Angerstein died in 1823 at the age of 88.  The next year the government acquired his collection to get the National Gallery started.  Another gentleman promised his collected works if a suitable place to display them could be arranged.  What the government had amassed thus far was moved to Trafalgar Square in 1838 with no formal collection policy, which led to criticism.  J.M.W. Turner, one of England’s most famous artists, left a number of his paintings to the National Gallery in his will with instructions about how to display 2 of them.  Some of Turner’s cousins contested the will and, ironically, this led to a much larger gift of Turner’s works to the nation.

There’s almost always an outstanding temporary show in the Sainsbury Wing. Upcoming is “Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art”.  If you’re visiting London between February 17 and May 22, 2016, this will be the hot show to see. Turner did some pre-impressionistic paintings that included fires, storms, and a new technology–the train, but Eugène Delacroix, basically a romantic painter in the French Grand Style, influenced the Impressionists too.  A highly admired artist who claimed that a painting should be “a feast for the eye”, Delacroix died about ten years before Claude Monet turned to Impressionism. Perhaps Delacroix’s most famous painting is “Liberty Leading the People,” a graphic image of the 1830 revolution.  Adults will pay up to £16 to see Delacroix’s passionate works and will have no regrets.





Avoid Papua and Dhaka


I agree with writer/globetrotter Daisy McClane, who often contributes to National Geographic Traveler.  After visiting 5 Compass Iguazu Falls, she went to Paraguay’s 0 Compass Ciudad del Este, which she called one of the world’s most notorious smuggling hubs.   Later, when she told others about her trip, she decided, the story would begin with Ciudad del Este.  She concluded, “The best travel happens when you open yourself to all human experience and activity, not just the beautiful. Sometimes the lowbrow end of the spectrum is where your best travel memories are waiting.”

I thought about Daisy, and myself, this past week when I finished reading the Atlas of Cursed Paces.  Olivier Le Carrer’s book about destinations that no one in their right mind would travel to noted that he had been to 30 of them. Somewhere along the way, of course, he decided to write a book about these places, but initially he must have been lured to them because of their bad reputations. This book sent me googling.  I began at with the world’s worst places to live    There were no surprises.  In descending order, of course, were North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and 4 other desperately troubled spots.

Next, I googled the world’s 10 worst cities to live in.  The source was the very respected Economist.  Its global livability study included these losers–Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Douala, Cameroon, Tripoli, Libya, Tehran, Iran, and Lagos, Nigeria.  6 of the 10 were in Africa.  I recently read about a man who moved to Lagos and reported that every time he left his living quarters he was robbed. Every time!  I know a man who was born in Cameroon and managed to get out and do well.  Alan decided to help his people by sending boxes of used clothing to be distributed among the poor.  All of them disappeared before reaching their destination.

With a shudder and to avoid nightmares about Harare, I googled Escapehere to read its list of the 10 worst U.S. cities to visit, and this is when I entered Daisy territory.  I have been to most of them in the past couple of years.  In fact, #2 is my hometown, St. Louis, where most of my family still lives.   Predictably, #1 is Detroit.  Ruth and I went to #3 Reno last year and had a great time.  A much-loved cousin just recently moved back to Cleveland, #4. A city that I have been to more than 100 times, Chicago, is #5.  And so on. The only city on the list that I’m not familiar with is Stockton, CA.

This year I’m on my way to Tbilisi, Mexico City, and, perhaps, Ciudad del Este.


Ohrid: City of Light



If your travels ever take you to Macedonia, don’t miss the town of Ohrid, this country’s prime destination. Lonely Planet calls it and its attractions sublime. This adjective is correct.  Ohrid is one of those places somewhat untouched by time, until recently.  Sitting elegantly on the northeast shore of Lake Ohrid, it has a large medieval section that extends up a steep hill topped by a castle/fortress.  Ohrid, which now has a population of about 42,000, is one of Europe’s oldest towns and has always been a crossroads-capital kind of place.  I wrote about Lake Ohrid on May 30, 2015, if you want details about this 3 million year old pristine, incredibly deep body of water.

Ohrid began existence as the Greek town of Lychnidos, which means city of light.  At times it has also been called the Jerusalem of The Balkans.  During the Roman Empire it was on the Via Egnatia, the ancient superhighway that connected Constantinople and the capital even after Constantinople became THE capital.  When it was a Roman Province, Macedonia was visited by St. Paul probably 3 times and ended up repeatedly in the New Testament.  This was the first European region to accept Christianity, and a local told me that going to church was popular again.  In the 14th century Ohrid became part of the Ottoman Empire.  More than 5,000 years old, Ohrid was the site of Europe’s 1st hospital.  The 1st Slavic university was started here in the 9th century.

The castle atop the hill was Tsar Samuil’s.  In the 10th century, this powerful man who was either Bulgarian or Macedonian ruled here with his brothers. The castle was somewhat restored in 2003, and visitors can climb up to its ramparts and walk around for spectacular views of the town below and Lake Ohrid in the distance.  Samuil participated in the Battle of Kleidion in 1014 after which up to 14,000 prisoners were blinded.  One man in each group of 99 was allowed to keep one eye to lead the others home, which is probably why ceramic glass eyes have been found in Ohrid’s excavations.

Below the castle are several important churches from various cultures and eras like St Clement’s, built in 893 AD, and the 11th century St. Sofia Cathedral. Clement was buried in his church in a tomb he himself built.  In this very ancient part of Ohrid Ruth and I saw important, well preserved mosaic floors, lots of frescoes, and ongoing archaeological work.  In 2007 more than 2,000 Venetian coins were found during an excavation, proving that Ohrid was commercially linked to Venice.  This is such a significant historical find that a luxury hotel is under construction adjacent to all these sites that represent literally thousand of years of cross-cultural development.


See Ohrid before the crowds get even worse.



Cursed Places


I literally couldn’t put down the Atlas of Cursed Places and finished it in 2 readings, but now I don’t want to go to the Maldives.  Subtitled “A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations” this book by Olivier Le Carrer was 1st published in France and made it to the United States in 2015.

Le Carrer is well qualified to handle his creepy subjects.  A sailor and expert in maps, he has been to 30 of the 40 places he writes about in the Atlas of Cursed Places, which is also a treat for lovers of old maps like me.  Totally without humor and with a focus on gory but fascinating details, Le Carrer told me why I don’t want to go anywhere near the places he writes about, like the Maldives.

The Maldives, 26 atolls in the Indian Ocean that have been raved about as Eden-like for the last 50 years, are threatened by Thilafushi, what Le Carrer calls “The Toxic Lagoon”.   Over a million people either live in the Maldives or visit each year, and they all create waste.  By 1992 the authorities needed a dump and designated the island of Thilafushi as the place for garbage, 21 pounds of it each day from just one resident and one visitor.  Thilafushi quickly became a mountain of leaking, smelly stuff and noxious waste like spent batteries.  Rafts tied to this island sometimes break free and drift around. Yuk.

The scariest, most hair-raising (I hope) story in this book reminded me that the Curse of Aten didn’t just affect King Tut.  The child of an incestuous relationship, Tut was never healthy.  He became Pharoah at the age of 9 and married his half-sister shortly thereafter.  They had 2 stillborn children before he died from a malaria-like infection in 1327 BCE, according to Le Carrer, while still a teenager.  After his tomb was opened in the 1920s and before his elaborate mask started touring the globe, 27 suspicious deaths related to his tomb’s excavation and the handling of his stuff were recorded.  For example, Lord Carnarvon, the man who backed the project, died from a single mosquito bite 4 months after the tomb was opened.

The stories in this book come from all over the world.  There’s a haunted graveyard in Kansas described, an eerie suicide forest in the shadow of Mount Fuji in Japan depicted that claims far more victims annually than the Golden Gate Bridge, etc.  Come to think of it, I probably want to cancel that trip to Venice too.