Friday, January 28, 2011

The Dirtiest Tourist Destinations

The following tourist destinations are renowned for their mystique and popularity but also for their bacteria. In fact, some of these could probably boast not 25 million visitors a year but 25 zillion (if we include Staphylococcus epidermidis, Streptococcus salivarius, and E. coli O157:H7). Talk about mass tourism!

In 2009, TripAdvisor listed The Blarney Stone as the dirtiest tourist attraction in the world. When I kissed it last year, I certainly hadn’t brushed my teeth in a few hours. I’m sure I left a colony of little fellows on it (all very friendly and fresh-smelling of course). But what about the three hundred people that day who went before me?

I hate Venice, so I’m going to list Piazza St. Marco as the second dirtiest tourist destination. There’s the pigeon guy who feeds these flying rats so much that they flock to the piazza in biblical-plague proportions. Piazza St. Marco in Venice is a pigeon toilet. Then when Venice floods—and it often does—the sewage washes the pigeon crap away. Thank goodness for sewage. Venice is a tourist trap to be avoided until Italy decides it’s more than a sinking toilet.

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul is a wonderful place. Entrance is free, and tourists are allowed to spend as much time there as they want. Istanbul should stop letting tourists into The Blue Mosque . . . or replace the beautiful carpet with marble or granite or some other surface that doesn’t absorb the bacteria off the tourists’ feet. I managed to stay for five minutes. It was a hot day, and quite frankly The Blue Mosque smelled like The Blue Lockerroom.
I’m including The Shoe Fence in New Zealand just because I like my picture. Some lists of the dirtiest tourist attractions include The Bra Fence, but that’s rubbish. Bras aren’t dirty. Shoes are dirty and smelly and grungy. Shoes rock when it comes to bacteria.

Have you been to the “Great” Pyramids? Then you’ll know that to get there you have to drive through a village with a drainage ditch full of trash “flowing” through it. And when you get to the pyramids, there’ll be dozens of men trying to cheat you out of your money by getting you to put on a headress and take a picture of a camel (who’s crapping all over the place). Egypt has bigger problems right now than crapping camels, but when one of the world’s greatest wonders is surrounded by such filth, who wants to go? I wouldn’t go again.

I love Brazil, so I’m making this criticism out of love. The Copacabana smells like urine. It’s the public bathrooms every hundred meters. It’s hard to keep a beach clean when that beach can host a million tourists at once. Rio de Janeiro represents Brazil to the world. Careful, Rio. You’ll be another Acapulco if you don’t clean it up.

One of the dirtiest tourist destinations is Oscar Wilde’s grave in Paris apparently. It’s so on my list! I’ll be in Paris later this spring, so I’ll be sure to kiss the headstone. I need some lipstick though.
The dirtiest place you’re likely to go this year? It’s your hotel room, and specifically the bed in your hotel room. North America is smack-dab in the middle of a bedbug pandemic. If you’re not checking every hotel before you go, you should. While the plague is not limited to run-down holes (West End Studios in NYC was my own horror story), you get what you pay for. If you’ve booked a room in New York City for $30 a night, you might think about wondering why.

TripAdvisor has just released their list of the dirtiest hotels in Europe. It’s not astounding that four of these hotels are in London, which has never been the cleanest place on earth. Four were in Amsterdam, though. I’ve never stayed in a dirty hotel in Amsterdam, so I can’t confirm this. The dirtiest hotel in Europe? The winner is Club Aqua Gumbet in Turkey, from which I’ve just returned (the country, not the hotel). My hotel was spotless. TripAdvisor is an excellent source of information. Who would book a hotel where 90% of TripAdvisor readers would not recommend the hotel?

The world is a dirty place, but the irony is WE make it that way. Here’s to a cleaner year of traveling this great planet of ours. Hand sanitizers are neat presents. Listerine. Love Listerine.

I must be off (to gargle),

PS! A friend just sent me this link. Oh the shame, the shame!
PPS! If you liked this post, you will LOVE The Ten Worst Air Passengers of 2010. I promise. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Year in Wacky Signs

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Do your friends walk 20 meters in front of you when you're taking pictures of signs? Do they whisper under their breath, "Oh God, Chris is taking another picture of a sign."? Do they make gestures--signs of their own in fact--that mean they think you're a bit wacky? Do they often say you need therapy? Well, then I feel for you. They just don't understand us. Signs are relics and artefacts of our various and beautiful cultures. Signs are important. OK, I'm wacky.

Here are 20 of my favorite signs of 2010 (but of course they're still there if you want to go and take your own picture--it'll last longer).

Let's start with this sign at the servants' entrance to Chatsworth House in the Peak District (England). I know what it means, but "hoot"? This is what an owl does, right? Or I suppose one good give (or not give) a hoot about something. One could be a hoot as well. And "dead" slow is hardly possible. Come on.

The "Wish Column" is wonderful: it sounds like a place you'd go to make wishes come true. A mecca of sorts for desperate people with all sorts of ailments. The special thing about this column in the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul is, however, that it exudes a rusty (I think, but I hardly research this stuff) fluid from the place worn down by all the desperate people making their wishes. I wish the people who named this column had chosen some other exuding word besides "Sweating". The Weeping Column sounds fantastic to me. 

This sign at the airport in Edinburgh is ridiculous. How can you keep a door closed at all times? The purpose of a door is to permit entrance to, and exit from, a room. Opening and shutting is pretty much all a door is good for. A door kept shut "at all times" is called a wall. Come on. 

Apparently, on Malta they have a problem with horse bathing--or I suppose the appropriate place to bathe your horse. The problem with this sign is that the only people who'd consider bathing a horse on Malta would be old fellows who are more familiar with the rules than anyone. Why would they have to be told? And then of course the sign is funny. Do horses really bathe? How do they hold the soap?

"No dog bathing!" What do people have against clean animals? OK, there is a trough next to this sign with running water, but who in his right mind would dip his hand into a murky trough of water in the mountains of South Tryol and take a big swig? If you drink anything from this, you'd drink from the water running into the trough--not from the trough itself. (THIS JUST IN! One of my German readers has just told me the story behind this sign. It seems that dog poop causes a disease in the cows who drink from the troughs. So this sign gets an A+ after all.)

Staying with German for a moment. This sign is a bit hard to read (especially if you don't speak German). My German readers will see why this sign has probably been vandalized many times. The word "urgemütlich" means quaint and cozy in a rustic and old-fashioned way. It's a less common word than "ungemütlich," which means cold and sterile and uncomfortable. Most Germans would read the sign wrong, and my friends who got to the sign before I did (because I was taking pictures, not because I was less fit), were already calling it a hoot.

Back to the UK for the next sign. In spring 2010 I was in London every other weekend. I had lots of time to take walks from Canary Wharf into the city. I love walking. The Thames Path is a great way to discover London. With a few exceptions, the entire bank on both sides of the Thames should be accessible. Due to construction, however, occasionally you'll have to veer off the beaten path and dip into the ugly reality of modern London. Towering above the architecture of centuries past, there are the ill-conceived buildings of the '60s and the controversial eye-sores of the present.
On one of my detours, I discovered Hopton's Almshouses, right in the middle of an area being ruined with modern apartment buidings. It's comforting to know that these places are maintained, that someone is trying to keep London from becoming a jungle of highrise, glass buildings. That someone cares. Thanks to The Right Reverend, the Bishop of Woolrich. I guess you're a pretty swell guy. If you read this, kudos to you.

And I guess we should be glad that someone cares enough to start a Poo Project in the Cairngorm mountains in the Scottish Highlands. When you look at this sign, what is your first reaction? You want to go down those steps and see what the "Poo Disposal Point" looks like, don't you? You're a curious person, and you have to go anyway. Well, it's not that sort of disposal point. This is where you bring your poo after you've been camping in the mountains for a week. Yep, for your information, this is the place to bring it after you've carried it around with you all week.

The Asians are known for their conviviality and their politeness; unfortunately they are also known for their grammatically humorous signs. Inserting the word "We" would have made this sign correct. As is, the makers of the sign at the Bangkok airport are telling the readers of the sign, with the imperative "APOLOGIZE," to apologize. Before you go to the trouble to make a sign, shouldn't you ask a native speaker if your wording is right? The maker of the sign might have meant "APOLOGIES".

Let's take a look a couple more Asian signs . . .

Here's one from Bangkok. It's the saddest sign of the bunch. This confession is hardly appropriate in a restaurant. It's too intimate. You might admit this to a friend, but telling the world that "we" (whoever this is) are never close? Nah. Again, you pay for a neon sign to be made, you pay for it to be hung in a central place in your restaurant, but you don't ask a native speaker if the words are correct? I'm pretty sure the makers of this sign meant to say "We're never closed."

I'd like to think this sign is a clever play on words based on the idea of respect: if you're going to throw rubbish at something, don't throw it at our beach. If we throw the rubbish "at" the dust bin, though, the rubbish will ultimately fall onto the beach, won't it? To be fair to the authorities at Kuta Beach on Bali, a few of these signs were actually correct: "in" dust bin.

I'm giving this sign to you from the Crich Tramway Village Museum in the Peak District (England) to encourage you to always ring your gong. Such a positive message.

But if you're a menstruating woman, you need to stay out of the temples on Bali. First of all, "strictly"! How hard is it to look up that word? You're putting it on a really funny sign, a picture of which wacky folks like me will send around the world. Come on. Secondly, how would they know? I'd be willing to bet that most women roll their eyes at this. Terimakasih to you too.

My first instinct when I see a misspelled word on a sign is to fix it. It's rare, though, that I have paint or a large red marker in my backpack. The Germans are more resourceful. They love to alter their signs to make them dirty.

The original sign says Careful Danger of Falling! Please do not climb onto the railing! The net is only to keep birds out.

The attempted revision/vandalism: Careful Danger of Falling! Please don't climb onto the breasts. (star of David)! The net is only to keep people from screwing! The vandalism is neither complete nor successful, but we understand the intention of the revisionist.

Autumn 2010 was a time of protest in London. The sheer number of signs in this wild protest march was impressive. After I led the FREE BURMA march down the wrong road, we cut across St. James's Park and followed this one to Westminster. Groups of protesters would stand still for a couple of minutes, letting the group in front of them get about a hundred meters further, then they'd all run as fast as they could--shouting and whistling--to catch up. I don't know what this was supposed to mean, but it was exciting to watch.

OK, this is definitely the least exciting sign: the name of a town along the Mosel. I've included it because it brings back memories of when I first started waiting tables in Nashville. Piesport is where Piesporter Reisling comes from. Way back when, we called it Piss Poor Reisling. Thanks for the memories, Piesport! Oh, and sorry (but you really weren't very good)!

In case any of you are having problems with a stalker, I know where he lives. Send me an email, and I'll let you know. No one should have to put up with this type of harassment. It affects every aspect of your life. I'll do what I can to help you.

I take pictures of interesting McDonalds signs in places like Salzburg and Innsbruck--obvious attempts on the part of the corporate devil to fit in and not ruin the Urgemütlichkeit of the city. It's more realistic, however, to think that the local government required the corporate devil to fit in. Here's a picture of the Starbucks sign in Ubud, Bali (Indonesia). I wonder why Starbucks couldn't use their trademark green?

Signs, signs, everywhere signs. I love them, can't get enough of them. There were so many more in 2010, but showing them would make me look obsessed. Which I'm not. I'm really not. I promise.

Hey, pretty IMBO reader, if you liked this post, you will LOVE The Ten Worst Air Passengers of 2010! I promise. 

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. His fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared in numerous places both online and in print, from the dark tones of A-Minor Magazine to the inspirational pages of the best-selling non-fiction series Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

All-Inclusive Turkish Riviera

Many tourists who swarm to the Turkish Riviera each year—around 25 million—end up holed up in an all-inclusive 5-star hotel. There are lots of reasons for this, the first being that very few foreign tourists speak Turkish, so they’re wary of heading off the beaten path where they can’t read the menu.

And what’s wrong with an all-inclusive 5-star hotel anyway? The short answer is this: plenty. The long answer is that most tourists get all they need from these hotels (sun, food, alcohol, activities for the children), so they serve their purpose (to make me 2 kilos fatter). So why criticize a successful billion-lira industry?

“All-inclusive” means that all your food—breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night snack—and all your drinks are included. But what do you actually get?

If you take a drive along the Turkish Riviera from Antalya to Alanya, you’ll see a million orange trees. There’ll be men in trucks along the motorway selling oranges. There’ll be monuments to the Great Orange. I’m sure half the villages on the Turkish Riviera are named after the orange. But will you get real orange juice for breakfast at your all-inclusive hotel? I hope you do, but we didn’t. We got orange sugar water. For REAL orange juice we would have had to pay 4 lira a glass.

I love coffee. Maybe you read my post about the Starbucks in Ubud, Bali (Indonesia). I’m a “bit” particular about my coffee in the morning. I grind my beans. Heat my cup. Let the coffee steep (steeping is so important). I use a French Press made in Denmark. It’s ceramic and will someday break (my heart). The smell of freshly ground Arabica coffee beans soothes and wakes at the same time.

Have you ever smelled Nescafé? I’ve been to their site, so yeah yeah yeah I know it’s real coffee, but it certainly doesn’t smell like real coffee. And it’s gluten-free supposedly, so I could have drunk it. I could have drunk the water out of the toilet too. All things are possible. I'm sure there are lots of Nescafé fans out there, and I don't mean to offend you. Ha.

The Turkish would marry Nescafé if they could (or maybe they’re just in love with the profit they make from drowning tourists in instant coffee). If you hate instant coffee, ask politely for coffee from the machine at the bar. There will certainly be one. I went with the waiter to the other end of the hotel and showed him the machine (with the coffee beans in the top). The next morning there was a new waiter, so I took him all the way to the other end of the hotel and showed him what I meant when I said I wanted “coffee.” And so on. I went through the same procedure every morning.

The food? I won’t dare complain about the food. The food was terrific. I love Turkish salads. Lamb: yum. Fresh fruit (you can eat all the oranges you want, but they won’t make you juice). Incidentally, if you take excursions to one of the beautiful towns along the coast, you can get a glass of freshly squeezed orange or pomegranite juice for around 1 euro ($1.35), a fourth of the price they charged at the hotel.

But complaining is much more fun. The wine? Wow, so bad. Much worse than bad. The white wine tasted like medicine; the red wine smacked of cherry juice. But you know what they say, the first sip is the worst. I managed to struggle through a few glasses each night. What? It was included.

If you’re booking an all-inclusive holiday in an enormous hotel, know what you’re getting yourself into. The hotel will cut corners. You’re in a herd, so expect to be fed accordingly. If you really want to enjoy the Turkish Riviera, rent a car and head to the stunning Taurus mountains, but of course be back at your hotel for dinner. You won't want to miss that tasty wine.

I must be off,

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Turkish Riviera: A Geology Lesson

The Mediterranean Coastline
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Turkey is a geological mishmash created by a bunch of tectonic plates crashing into one another, and it’s all held together by pretty, yet quite crumbly looking, sedimentary rocks. But wait. That’s not the end of my exhaustive geology lesson. A lot of these rocks along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts seem to have been spit out by volcanoes (I think). I checked. The word ‘volcano’ came up a lot. Of all the rocks that were listed—serpentinite, basalt, dolerite, chalk, sandstone and chert—chert seems to be the prettiest and the most plentiful along the coast.

But I could be wrong. Be honest: you don’t really care, do you? You came here for the pretty pictures. I have lots of rock pictures, so if you happen to be a geologist, I hope you’ll bring clarity to this subject.

In the Köprülü Canyon

The Turkish Riviera—a coastline roughly from Alanya (close to its easternmost point) to Çeşme (northwesternmost point)—can certainly compete with the most spectacular coastlines in the world. It’s also one of the most crowded tourist destinations. As you drive along the coast, you’ll notice, however, that large stretches are undeveloped. I think—but again I could use a geologist to help me think—this is due to the crumbliness of the rock. If anyone has any, um, chert at home, let me know how crumbly it is. Could you build a hotel on it? I’ve Googled that question, but it’s one of those questions that hasn’t been answered yet.
Alanya from the sea

Don’t miss the old city and harbor of Alanya. It’s worth the drive. One of the best ways to see and appreciate the beauty of Alanya is to take one of the sightseeing cruises. They don’t cost very much, and—at least on our boat—the guide tells stories.

The harbour of Alanya

The best way to experience the Turkish Riviera is by renting a car. If you don’t, you’ll be stuck in your all-inclusive hotel, stuffing your belly and drinking yourself into a coma. Rent that car and head to the Taurus Mountains. The road gets more and more dangerous the higher you go. No guardrails. Lots of 100-metre drops. Great fun.

Which ones are Man Stones?
The geology—yes that’s today’s theme—of the Köprülü Canyon National Park is striking. The ‘fairy chimneys’ are called ‘Man Stones’ and ‘Devil Stones’ by the locals. When we reached the top of the mountain, a light rain was falling, so I didn’t take so many pictures. I did, however, brave the weather to give you this adorable goat.

More about the Turkish Riviera (and less geology) next time, but for now . . .

Who's adorable
I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. His award-winning fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared in numerous places both online and in print. More HERE.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My Year in Photos

This picture was actually taken in 2009 at a Christmas market in Alsace, France--one of my favorite places on earth. Every little village in Alsace is more Hänsel-und-Gretel than the one before it. If you're planning a trip to Alsace, don't miss Eguisheim, the birthplace of Pope Leo IX. Winetasting is great fun in Alsace, and it's free. 
Read about how to do a proper winetasting here.

Prague is beautiful any time of the year. I've been in Prague when it was -20 degrees. It was icy and romantic, but my dog hated it. Prague in spring is stunning, and you'll get there before the masses who flood the city in the summer. Learn how to get around with the public transport. The taxi drivers will try to cheat you if you don't know where you're going.

Croatia is a fairly long drive from Munich. The beaches are rocky (no sand), and the towns are overrun with Europeans seeking a cheap holiday. Our hotel was bursting with children (Easter holidays). Still, Croatia is old-world pretty . . . and smoky. The Croatians can still smoke in public buildings, and they all do.

Camden Market is one of the busiest places in London. I usually avoid it, but I had a GREAT time there last spring. I also found a Spanish food stall that made gluten-free bread. When I told them I had CD, the woman gave me a piece of the bread free. I love Camden Market now.

Malta (or The Island I probably would never go back to). Malta is lame. And dirty. And boring. I suppose if I were interested in learning more about the Apostle Paul and the early Church, Malta might keep my boat floating. But nah. I found almost everything about Malta off-putting. So there, Malta. Sorry.

The Mosel is a river and a wine-growing region in Germany and France. Don't bother asking for anything other than Reisling. That's pretty much all they grow. But they do it well. It wouldn't hurt you to drink a little Reisling. I drank at least seven buckets of it while I was there, and I'm still here. Well almost.

After all that winetasting, a little hiking was needed. I was so excited by the new hiking season. Getting back to the woods. Back to nature. Like a real man. Here's a picture of the pretty flowers I took while I was being a real man.

Istanbul is ENORMOUS. It's so ENORMOUS that it's on two continents. It's so ENORMOUS that the taxi drivers don't normally know where your hotel is. Ours asked for directions 20-something times. I'll be back, Istanbul, because you got me with your food, your friendliness, and your music. But next time I'll take a map to my hotel to show the taxi driver.

No year would be complete without a few trips to South Tyrol, which is only a three-hour drive from my home in Munich. This year we stayed in Meranzen, a tiny village nestled in the mountains. South Tyrol is known for its cuisine and its white wines--and it should be. Of course I'll be back next year. 

This tree in the Scottish Highlands near the Cairngorm mountains is smiling just like I was smiling the entire trip with my father in August. We had an absolutely wonderful time. I'm so grateful that we were able to do this. A road trip to remember. The Road knows.

Me kissing the Blarney Stone, like I needed to kiss it. Actually, since the smooch I have noticed that I tend to flatter people more. (You're looking younger, by the way.) Anyway, that bright green spot you see just to the left of me is the ground about fifty feet down. I'm actually one of the few people who can kiss the stone. Find out why.

A favorite picture. There were so many butterflies on my walk around Radnor Lake in early September. I hope they came to the lake to bring a bright future to Nashville's Gem

A rainy weekend in The Peak District. What did we expect? Well, it didn't rain the entire time (just almost the entire time). We ended up having to seek shelter in pubs, and then we ended up having to drink a lot of cider. All in all, it was an excellent weekend.

I love Oktoberfest. What's not to love? Traffic and trash. Six million drunk tourists from all over the world, vomiting all over the sidewalks and getting into fights. Oktoberfest, for those of you unfamiliar with the event, is in September.

Another favorite photo. We were about to catch the train at Charing Cross when I decided I wanted to hear what all the commotion was on Trafalgar Square. It was a protest march to free Burma of course. Read how I led the parade.

There are only a few cities where I immediately say, "I could live here." Singapore is one of them. It's bombastic. And quaint. It's a mix of everything and everyone. It has a beautiful botanic garden and a puking lion as its symbol.

OK, I just like this photo of the jelly fish at the aquarium in Singapore. I took a dozen pictures. They wouldn't float just right for me. Small brains, I reckon. The aquarium was great fun. I felt like a kid again.

Mother and child at the monkey forest in Ubud, Bali. Read why you shouldn't support this tourist trap.

I celebrated New Year's Eve at home this year. I set off fireworks on the street outside my house with the neighbors upstairs. I was amazed by the city-wide fireworks display at midnight.

Here's to 2011 being as colorful and eventful -- and as photogenic -- as 2010!

I must be off,