The Church of the Dead

Ossuaries and catacombs are far from uncommon in Europe. In May 2011, we were on our way to visit one of the most unusual ossuaries in Europe, if not on the planet, which required a two-hour train ride out of Prague.

David Manley , the owner of Go Real Europe, helped us specialize our trip so we could visit the final resting place of tens of thousands of victims of the Black Plague and the Hussite Wars. This was a must-see stop for us and David arranged for a personal tour guide to lead us from our Prague hotel to the small Czech town of Kutná Hora. Once we arrived, we made a stop at the Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady and St. John the Baptist, a restored Catholic church rebuilt on the site of a Cistercian abbey.

A very short walk from the cathedral led us to the Sedlec Ossuary. The grounds contain a cemetery similar to most churches that are marked on tourist maps.  This small Roman Catholic church is modest in design compared to the gothic and baroque church next door; however, there is no secret about what is found inside once you reach the front gate.

As soon as you enter the building you are greeted by bones. Skulls and leg bones adorn the ceilings and walls throughout. Bone crests and bone chandeliers are found everywhere. Stairs lead the way down to the main hall. Above you is a balcony lined with skulls and femurs.

On the lower floor, visitors are able to see all of the creative ways bones have been arranged to decorate the chapel. Most of the bone arrangements are the work of František Rint.  Rint’s work took place around the year 1870. Some of his touches include the chandelier that contains every bone from the human body. His name can also be found on one particular wall arrangement.

 

The lower floor is much darker and can be described the way most people who have visited catacombs would describe. Here you will find the vault that contains hundreds of remains that were not incorporated into the design of the building.

The upper level has been used as a chapel and has some of the baroque characteristics common with Czech churches. What sets this chapel apart from others is the display of bones throughout.

The cemetery on the chapel grounds contain the graves of wealthy Czechs who wished to be buried where the abbot of Sedlec scattered dirt from the Holy Land upon his return from a diplomatic mission.

Rating: (5 / 5)

 

A True House of Terror

Terror Háza: a name that no longer holds secrets and translates succinctly to English.

This corner building on historic Andrássy út was much more chilling than anything my mind could conjure up, but it wouldn’t come to full realization until I had reached the end of the tour in the dank, dark basement.

There are many sites around the world where the spirit of past immense suffering is felt. I have written about several of these, including Auschwitz, Terezin and Hỏa Lò Prison. These historical places exude feelings of sadness and death. This place, in particular, is different – it reeks of evil.

In Budapest – not far from the Hungarian Parliament building, opera house and St. Stephen’s Basilica – lies the House of Terror Museum. Terror Háza boasts an unassuming grey exterior but holds horrors that most in the free world are lucky to have never encountered. The metal overhang on the top of the building projects a shadow TERROR on the building when the sun is out. We were there on a gray and gloomy day. The weather matched the atmosphere of the building.

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I learned about the site while taking the hop on, hop off bus through the city on our first day in Budapest. My family was a bit overwhelmed with the number of sites as the tour guide spoke and the bus made multiple stops. It seemed that every block had numerous places to visit. We had walked around the parliament building, seen the Hungarian State Opera House, visited Millenniumi emlékmű (Heroes Square), Dohány Street Synagogue (the Great Synagogue) and Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Although Terror Háza Museum was not an official stop on the route, it was within walking distance of the other sites and knew it wouldn’t take long to get there on foot.

We were told Terror Háza was a historical site, where Nazi and Communist officials kept and tortured prisoners during the Nazi and Soviet occupations of the city. That’s all it took to pique my interest. Count me in.

Entering the museum, you’re greeted on the ground floor by a WWII era Soviet tank and photos of prisoners who were interrogated and subjected to torture within the building. There is not much else on this floor, other than the sales counter for tickets and brochures (there is not much selection in English.)

Most of the exhibits in the museum are symbolic in nature. They portray the suffering Hungarians endured under the Nazi occupation by the Arrow Cross Party and by the Communist Soviets once the war ended. The symbolism is emblazoned on the metal overhang of the building with arrow cross and communist star cutouts.

The museum is comprised of three floors and the cellar. The self-guided tour starts at the top and works its way down. The start of the self-tour begins with rooms unlovingly devoted to the Arrow Cross, a Hungarian fascist organization responsible for many atrocities during WWII (another site nearby memorializes the spot where Hungarian Jews were forced into the Danube River by party members.) Uniforms of the Arrow Cross Party are on display with full insignia in the Arrow Cross exhibition hall on this floor.

Moving from room to room, a transition slowly takes place in the museum; one from fascism to one of communism. The ‘Changing Clothes’ room depicts the transfer of power from the national socialists to the communist political police. Uniforms of two very evil regimes are displayed as two sides of the same coin – a very accurate description of the two extremes.  Behind the uniforms is a set of lockers, characterizing the transfer of authoritarian government rule.

Other rooms on this floor include The Soviet Advisors room. This room contains art and memorabilia from the era of the 1940’s and 1950’s when advisors were sent from the U.S.S.R. to oversee the work of Hungarian political elites and police. Other rooms symbolically portray resistance movements, political prisoners sent to the gulags and the Hungarian people who were stripped of their culture and traditions.

On the second floor, there are relics of the Cold War. A black 1950’s era car, like many used to kidnap political enemies of the ruling communists. There’s a room with the pictures of the leaders of the communist police. The ‘Reflective Room’ displays some of the torture devices used on political prisoners.

Two rooms on the second floor contain propaganda posters from the time period of communist rule. In one of these rooms, the walls are covered with propaganda posters that were meant to give the appearance that Hungary under communism was a happy, egalitarian society.  Another room contains items that represent economic “treasures” taken from the Hungarians under an economic agreement between the Hungarian Communists and the Soviet Union. These mining resources include silver, aluminum, titanium and uranium ore.

From the second floor, visitors take a very slow elevator to the cellar. A video plays on a monitor as the elevator creeps to the bottom. The star of the video describes the torture techniques used on political prisoners once housed there.

The windows in the basement are blocked out. Individual cells show where prisoners spent their days and nights, often tortured in the process. Hot irons and filaments sit on a table that was likely used by many of the torturers whose photographs hang on the upper floors.

Many of these prison cells give off vibes of torture and death which everyone in our small group felt. No, this isn’t a place that features B movie horror films, nor is a haunted house that is only open in October. This is a place where, sadly, political nightmares came true for many Hungarians.

Rating: (4.5 / 5)

Oskar Schindler and the Enamel Factory

Oskar Schindler left a legacy. From Krakow to Jerusalem, he is remembered for his kind, humanitarian acts during WWII. He is arguably the kindest Nazi who ever lived and I have crossed historical paths with this legendary man on two occasions.

I visited Schindler’s Grave the first time I went to Israel in 2006. His grave is easy to find at the Mount Zion Catholic Cemetery in Jerusalem and well worth visiting. Then I visited Krakow, Poland in 2013. This presented the opportunity to visit the Enamel Factory owned by Schindler during WWII.

Krakow has many local tour guides that can take you to sites around the city. These tour guides drive around in vehicles that look like a cross between a golf cart and the popemobile. Equipped with a sound system, the tour guide can let a recording narrate the history behind sites while he can stay focused on driving.

Our small group of three was able to see many sites around the city in a short amount of time at a reasonable cost. Prices were firm and most of the tour guides and drivers were not willing to negotiate on pricing.

The Schindler factory lies near the Vistula River in a commercial area of town. It is an area surrounded by natural beauty but still has some of the less appealing conditions common to urban areas.  On the drive from the area around the Main Square, I could see anti-Semitic graffiti along the sides of the road. Apparently, I am not the only one to notice this; other tourists have noted seeing this as well.

There is a certain sense of irony that a place that brings in millions of tourist dollars because of the extreme suffering that occurred there is still resentful of Jews. This wasn’t the case after WWII but it seems to be the case today, even with a very small Jewish population within the country.

But many Poles have been compassionate to Jews. Schindler will likely be remembered as the most sympathetic even though there have been others like Tadeusz Pankiewicz. Thankfully, Pankiewicz’s pharmacy is also recognized on Krakow city tours.

The enamel factory itself is not much of a factory at all these days. Renovated in 2010 as a museum, it looks more like an office building than a factory – clean and plain white with symmetrical glass windows. Aside from a large, clear display case full of pots and pans, there isn’t much to see in regard to what was manufactured there or how the factory operated with Jewish labor.

The main exhibit is Krakow Under Nazi Occupation 1939 – 1945. It is not centered entirely on the Schindler’s factory and includes many exhibits of life in Krakow under Nazi rule for Jews and non-Jewish Poles alike. Most of the displays are done in a timeline fashion and are designed as a coordinated maze to get you to follow walkways that lead to connecting rooms.

DSC_0278Historical information is segmented around common themes. Most of the displays are artful in nature and include numerous photographs, historical notes, and items from the time period.

DSC_0277One display, in particular, is a room with nothing but black and white photos and swastikas on every floor tile.

Some other displays play out the occupation with paper mache dolls. There wasn’t much information about the displays – at least not in English – but it was easy to get the gist of the message.

 

The bookstore inside the museum is amazing. I love historical books and I have an extreme weakness to books with lots of photos from the era. The store is small but contains many books on the subject of the Nazi occupation of Krakow. I didn’t want to buy anything there because I thought it would be hard to pack it in my luggage. Krakow was the first stop on a two-week vacation.

I made note of titles and ISBNs with hopes of purchasing these books upon my return to the U.S. I still have not been able to find the books for purchase here. These are not common books that are found on Amazon. The museum bookstore will sell to various nationalities but unfortunately, for now, most of these books cannot be shipped by the bookstore outside of Poland.

Rating: (4.5 / 5)

Value of Frontsight Membership

Ugly Tourists

Let’s face it. Tourists are annoying. So annoying, in fact, that some parts of Europe have had enough with disorderly tourists.

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Most travelers wish the destinations and sites they visit were unoccupied by everyone but themselves. I know I do. I’m just not willing to spend the extra money required to be with groups that are smaller in size.

Although not unique to specific nationalities, Americans are often associated with irritating behaviors. Some of the most common irritations include these:

  • Complaining that things are not like America (indoor temperatures, fussy food requests, etc.)
  • Expectation for everyone to speak English
  • An assumption that U.S. dollars can be used anywhere
  • Disrespect for local cultures and customs
  • Appearance and dress of a tourist
  • Thinking the rules do not apply to them

Celebrities are also well-known for their loathsome behavior abroad. Justin Beiber is one such repeat offender. Whether he’s having his bodyguards carry him to the top of the Great Wall of China, or saying Anne Frank would be a Belieber if she were alive today, Beiber has offended many across the globe.

It is no surprise that some parts of Europe are inundated with tourists. Southern Europe has beautiful, warm beaches that are popular destinations for tourists and are frequently visited by British citizens on holiday.

DSC_0516There has been a noticeable uptick in tourism from Asia, where large crowds are much more common, but the biggest problem appears to be tourists from other regions of Europe. So much so, protests by natives against tourists are becoming increasingly common in some countries in the south.

Part of the problem may stem from ports in locations where cruise ships dock. The large influx of visitors can easily overwhelm popular destinations which are already saturated with tourists from land and air. Many do not have the infrastructure in place to handle such numbers.

Another source of problems is alcohol. Tourists like to drink, and when they drink, they tend to become quite obnoxious. Laws in Italy, Spain and Croatia have started targeting these unruly visitors by banning types of behavior in which drunk tourists tend to engage (see points 4, 5 & 6 above.) Here is a partial list of recent legislation in various European countries.

Here is a partial list of recent or proposed legislation in various European countries to crack down on disorderly visitors.

Croatia

This nation appeared on the radar of tourists after the collapse of Yugoslavia in the late 1990s and has been experiencing a tourism growth spurt ever since. According to Bloomberg, tourism makes up over 20 percent of the economy, and because it is a coastal nation, it is a common destination for cruise ships.

In Dubrovnik, the local government plans to reduce the number of docked ships from six to two per day. This will lower the number of visitors by 8,000.

Hvar has also passed new local ordinances targeting tourists and will institute fines up to €650 for wearing swimsuits to the town centre. Other fines include €700 for public eating and drinking.

Spain

Spain is looking to limit new hotel construction and putting a suspension on licenses for tourist rentals to address overcrowding caused by tourism. Barcelona has threatened to fine holiday rental companies such as Airbnb and HomeAway for doing business in the city. Other cities, like Madrid, have strict DUI/DWI laws and consider a BAC of 0.05 to be legally drunk. The country also has many of the same bans Croatia has recently instituted for wearing beachwear in town squares and for public intoxication.

Italy

Tourism has had a strong effect on the local economy in Venice. Rent prices have been on the rise and there has been an upsurge of sea and air pollution. Most measures address overcrowding issues, public modesty and intoxication.

I’ll be looking into dates to see when Brits are most likely on holiday. I’m guessing this would be a good time to visit the U.K. and Australia, while their natives swarm the beaches of southern Europe.

 

 

 

 

Crossing the Border in Jerusalem

Crossing the Border in Jerusalem

Crossing border checkpoints in Israel can be nerve-racking. Doing so with a taxi driver you have never met makes it even more so.

This was the first time I had traveled outside of the United States. I chose Israel and I knew this was not the first country of choice for American travelers. This was the first of two trips I made there in a two year period. On this trip, I had come alone.

I had been asked by many friends and coworkers why I was going there out of all the places I could visit. The assumption being it is dangerous and anyone who goes there is at risk of being blown up at a bus stop.

I was going as part of a group organized by a talk radio host who was sponsoring the tour and I knew we would be getting special access to sites that regular run-of-the-mill tour groups do not.

As a single traveler, my hotel room was booked with another man from the group. He was from Los Angeles and was really into photography. I had just purchased a Nikon D70 and this was going to be my first opportunity to use it. My roommate also used Nikon, albeit a much nicer model.

Because our arrival was so late at night, there was little time for much other than the dinner provided by the host. It was the beginning of Shabbat and the city was quiet. The elevators in the hotel were on a Shabbat schedule, meaning they stopped automatically on every floor as they went up and down. Passengers jumped on and off as needed to get where they needed to be. This was a slow process but it allowed time to talk to hotel guests and meet new people.

Since the next day was Saturday and it was still the middle of Shabbat, we had a free day scheduled to do as we please. My roommate wanted to go outside and walk around taking pictures and I thought I would tag along.

There was a short line of taxis in front of the hotel. We briefly walked a block or two and wandered back to the front of the hotel. There was an Arab driver standing there and he offered to take us to any sites in or around the city. Knowing we would be visiting a lot of famous places on the tour, I didn’t want him to take me to any of the same sites I would be visiting in coming days. But not knowing the area, I really didn’t know where to go or what to see.

The driver was an Arab Israeli and knew the bible well. Well, he at least knew it better than I do, which might not be saying much. The first stops on his whirlwind tour were a few places around the Mount of Olives.

Schindler's GraveI saw some of the historic cemeteries, including the cemetery where Oskar Schindler is buried. Although it made sense, I didn’t know that Schindler was buried in Israel and was something I was glad the driver had mentioned. This was quite amazing to me considering Schindler was a member of the Nazi Party. His grave is in a Christian cemetery and is clearly marked for visitors to find; his tombstone marked with rocks rather than flowers, as it is customary with Jews.

My taxi driver waited patiently at each stop and was ready to take me on a journey once I was done at Schindler’s grave. He was very interested in showing me some parts around the city of Jerusalem.

He pulled off the side of the road and encouraged me to take photos of neighborhoods that were fenced to separate the Arab neighborhoods from the Jewish neighborhoods. This was at the time Israel had built the permanent security wall throughout the city.

As we continued to drive, he shared stories of violence along the border. He pointed out concrete barriers along the road that are used to block sniper bullets fired at drivers on the highway. He also pointed out a particular house on a hill overlooking a checkpoint. Here is where gunfire is exchanged with soldiers, he stated nonchalantly.

checkpointBefore it registered in my mind, we were approaching a checkpoint and headed to the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. We were quickly waved through by the soldiers before we even came to a complete stop.

The other side of the border checkpoint felt different. There were cars parked along the street and a bus waiting for passengers to arrive back from the Israeli side. We stopped and some happy Palestinian kids sold us strong Turkish coffee on the side of the road.

palestinian farmerThe expedition to this side was brief but it gave a glimpse of life on the other side of the wall. A regional farmer rode his donkey up the street as if cars did not travel on this particular road. People carried personal possessions in plastic bags, rather than duffel bags or backpacks.

israeli checkpointHeading back to the Israeli side of the border, we were stopped by the guards. The taxi driver asked me if I wanted photos with them. I shrugged, not thinking it would be possible. He told the soldiers I was a U.S. Marine and I wanted a photo with them. They were quick to oblige his request as the driver snapped a shot with my camera.

This visit in 2006 was not only safe, it was memorable, thanks to my personal guide. As it turned out, my roommate wasted the day in the hotel. I spent $100 on my personal tour and I felt like it was worth every penny I had spent that day. On my third visit to Israel, I hope to venture deeper into the West Bank and visit more of the landmarks that lie on the other side of the border fence.

The Strange Marketing Behavior of Front Sight Resort

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de·cep·tive
dəˈseptiv/
adjective
 
  1. giving an appearance or impression different from the true one; misleading.
     

I wrote a blog about Front Sight Resort four years ago concerning the marketing tactics practiced by its owner, Ignatius Piazza. Since then, I have gotten comments from FS members, both positive and negative, as well as from an employee of the company. I openly post these comments for all to read with exception to the comment received from their employee.

This blog is dedicated to travel experiences and I don’t want to get bogged down discussing business practices of companies unless it can serve as a warning to others. Anyone familiar with Front Sight likely has a good understanding of their marketing tactics. These include inundating you with spam trying to convince you to upgrade your membership level, much like the Church of Scientology does with “The Bridge.”

Curiously, I have discovered Front Sight goes to great lengths to convince people they are not getting ripped off. Two websites have been created to give the allusion they were created by an objective third party. The supposedly independent reviewer is unidentified, which doesn’t lend itself much credibility. Perhaps this is because these websites were created by Ignatius Piazza himself.

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Ignatius Piazza is obviously concerned about the reputation of himself and his organization. So much so that he even pays for Google ads to lead you to these websites where he answers his own questions about being a scam and a fraud. It should go without saying that honest and ethical companies do not need to create fake “independent” websites and spend money to run ads to them.

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Sitelinks take you to Front Sight’s corporate website, frontsight.com. This indicates FS owns this domain.

 

I Almost Got Naked in Iceland

 

Iceland is cold in March. There was snow and ice everywhere and it was just starting to get light when my airplane landed at Keflavik International Airport, 50 miles from Reykjavik.  Outside it looked like a cold winter day in a medium-size American city.

A major storm had just hit Boston and I had just stayed a day there on my way to Reykjavik. It was bitter cold but it was sunny. I bounced from Boston to NYC, which wasn’t much better.

When I left home in Utah it was a pleasant 70 degrees outside. Most people wouldn’t want to go on a vacation that would take them back into winter, but I am accustomed to vacationing during the month of March and it has worked out well for me most places I have visited.

One feature Iceland is well-known for is hot springs. Homes and businesses are heated with geothermal energy. Hot springs also play a big part in tourism. The best known public geothermal hot spring is the Blue Lagoon. This site is promoted everywhere in Iceland, especially the airport.

My hotel in Reykjavik was the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel. Because I had missed booking day trips before I got to Iceland, I decided to swing by the ITA desk in the hotel. Taking the advice of the agent about what a first-timer to Iceland should visit, I booked trips to the South Shore and Golden Circle.

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Icelandic lifeguard on duty at the Secret Lagoon.

Included with the Golden Circle trip was a stop at the Secret Lagoon. I was instructed to bring a swimsuit with me the morning of the tour. This didn’t seem like a big deal since the only other items I was planning to take were my coat and camera equipment.

I was picked up for the tour at the hotel by a full-size tour bus. Other tourists had been picked up earlier from various hotels and we were going to make a few more hotel stops to pick up more.

The tour guide was a school teacher by profession and was interested in knowing where everyone was from. There were people from Korea, Europe and United States, among others. The man sitting next to me was from Australia.

Visiting the Secret Lagoon was slated for the end of the day. We first visited many of the popular Golden Circle sites including Gullfoss, Thingvellir National Park and Haukadalur.

The last stop before returning to Reykjavik was the Secret Lagoon. On the drive there we were instructed about the process. The lagoon would provide the towels. We were to go to the changing rooms and store our personal items on the shelf space. We were also instructed to shower before entering the geothermal pool. 1930’s world history popped into my mind. Am I really supposed to fall for this?

As we entered the building, we were offered a towel and directed to a changing room to our left. As I turned the corner I noticed everyone was going into the same room.  The room opened up and was quite large in size. I saw the shelves along the wall. There were no lockers, just shelves.

This is when I noticed men and women in various stages of undress. I quickly decided this was an experience I would feel more comfortable passing on. I left the dressing room (more of an undressing room at that moment) and went back to the main room. I turned my unused towel in to staff who had puzzled looks on their faces.

Icelanders like to drink. So do all other Europeans. Asians and Australians too. Okay, pretty much the whole world. They sell booze at the Secret Lagoon and they don’t care if you take it into the hot springs with you.

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I’ve mentioned before that Iceland is expensive. Beer is no exception. Now was not the time for me to object to cost. I selected one of the unfamiliar brands simply based on the can design.

Tuborg Gold it was. I’m not here to critique beer but it was a mediocre. The only other thing worth noting about the drink is European beer is strong. The rest of the time at the site was spent staring out the large window and watching all the nationalities mingle. I could be wrong, but it did appear a couple in the corner of the hot springs were getting a little too comfortable and were getting quite frisky with one another (see couple along the edge in the lifeguard photo.) I guess it was the alcohol.

I started a conversation with the Australian next to me as we returned to town. I asked what he thought of the experience and he didn’t have much feedback. I continued to press him. But the changing room, was that weird?

“Nah. I’ll get naked in front of anyone.”

Good to know. I guess I should have been asking the girls instead.

Peru Made Me Sick

It Wasn’t Just The Elevation

I was at the entrance gate at Machu Picchu. That’s when it hit me.

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If you have ever booked a trip to Peru through a travel agency you were likely warned about what can make you sick. Don’t drink the water. Don’t eat uncooked fruits and vegetables. Don’t touch any animals (After seeing this dog in Lima, I knew exactly the reason why.) Yeah, yeah. Not exactly new advice to anyone who has traveled.

People who are not used to living in higher elevations are often the victim of altitude sickness. It happened to someone I was traveling with. The good news is it doesn’t tend to last too long. Eventually, your body adjusts and you’ll be feeling better in a day or two.

As for me, I felt great. We had been to Lima and the Sacred Valley. Now we were on the train headed to Machu Picchu. I watched as the landscape changed from mountain desert to green vegetation, though it was still a bit drier than I would have expected by the time we reached the station at the bottom of the mountain. Images I had seen of Machu Picchu gave the impression it was a lush, tropical landscape surrounding the ruins. At least that was what I had in mind.

Once the train ride was over, we transferred to a bus that took us up the mountain on a less than smooth road. All of the bouncing around on the seat was actually the kind of experience I expected I would have in South America. I had my Nikon camera on my lap and I was ready to go!

I walked up the steps to the main entrance. Our group from Gate 1 Travel was following our travel guide, Edgar, as he found a good spot on the grass to sit down. Just in time for me.

Although the temperature was cool that day with an overcast sky, I was overheated and feverish. Obviously, this was not exactly the best time to get sick. machuI knew I was going to have to push myself hard and make the most of the limited time I had there to take it all in. I wasn’t going to just sit there and wait to vomit in front of hundreds of tourists.

In the end, I did make the most of my time there. I took some great pictures and learned a bit about the discovery of the ruins by Hiram Bingham in 1911.

Every bump on the bus aggravated me on the way back down the mountain. I had a fever, tiredness, nausea, stomach pain and a loss of appetite. On the bus ride back to the hotel, our driver stopped at a pharmacy to buy me antibiotics.

After all of this, I spent the next several days trudging through the streets and sites of Cusco. I couldn’t eat even though I was hungry. Passing on the llama steak and pisco sours in front of me was frustrating. Maybe I had hepatitis A. Maybe it was Typhoid. Either way, the antibiotics were not working.

I barely made it to Puno from Cusco. I was trapped in my hotel room before I took advantage of the travel insurance I had purchased. This experience taught me the value of having it and I highly recommend having it for certain destinations. As everyone went to see the man-made islands of the Uros on Lake Titicaca, I had a doctor come to my hotel room to treat me. I ultimately received a shot of something amazing and felt much better within hours.

I’d like to think it was something derived from coca leaves but it was likely just a healthy dose of penicillin.

Lake Titicaca
Enjoying the view of Lake Titicaca

 

 

 

 

There Are No Cobwebs in Turkey

Rüstem Pasha Mosque

It’s not just ostrich feathers that are effective against spider webs. As it turns out, ostrich eggs do the trick too.

Structures in Ottoman Turkey are old. But this doesn’t mean the country’s centuries-old buildings are covered in dust and cobwebs. The Turks have a trick that it seems few people know about.

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Hippodrome & Rüstem Pasha Mosque

 

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Rüstem Pasha Mosque exterior view

 

Sitting just across from the Hippodrome & Grand Bazaar the Rüstem Pasha Mosque rises from the banks of the nearby Bosphorus River. The mosque does not seem to stand out from its surroundings like the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The exterior is an ordinary gray but the structure is easily recognizable as a mosque with its dome and minarets.

Although Rüstem Pasha was built many centuries after the Dome of the Rock, it features interior tiles similar to those found on the exterior of the Jerusalem landmark.

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Iznik tiles

This is not too surprising considering the external tiles were added by tile-makers sent from Istanbul by Sultan Suleiman around the same time period that Rüstem Pasha Mosque was built.

 

On my visit to the mosque, my tour guide Salih from Gate 1 Travel commented on the lack of cobwebs among the large archways and high chandeliers. He muttered this as if he was marveling about it for the first time. He was bringing it up, I suppose, so he could talk about a secret way to keep spiders out of buildings. It’s quite simple he explained. The mosques place ostrich eggs around the chandeliers and it naturally repels the spiders, therefore, you won’t find cobwebs around the lights.

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Rüstem Pasha Mosque interior view

 

Salih provided few details about how this works. Where are the eggs kept? I assume the inside of the eggs have been cleaned, right? Where can I find more information about this?

As someone who hates the mess spiders leave in your home, I was anxious to learn more about this natural spider repellent. I couldn’t seem to find much information on the internet about this at the time.

Today there are several references that seem to confirm the effectiveness of this natural spider repellent. I can’t dust around a window or clear spider webs from the walls and ceilings without thinking of this story. I plan to order some eggs soon and put them to the test.