Guyanese drivers seem to be leading the worldwide revolution in car hooter functionality. Not content with it as a vaguely obnoxious, sometimes-necessary warning tool, they have used it to develop a complex, quasi-SONAR system of urban navigation – where you hoot to let others know when you're taking off, when you're turning, when you're overtaking, and when you're approaching an intersection (really blast the thing, if you're not planning on stopping). If you ever find yourself behind the wheel on a Guyanese road, unless you want to be invisible, don't let up on your hooter.
Although somewhat of a cliché by now, Singapore's famous ban on chewing gun merits inclusion in this list, if only because of the (quite adorable) steadfastness of their position on the issue. Eighteen years of international incredulity (not to mention, significant teasing) led to a referendum on the matter in June 2010 – when government officials decided to 'stick' to their proscription of the corrupting chew, prompting wild celebrations on the part of train seats around the city.
A veritable land of 'Thou Shalt Nots', it'd probably be shorter to make a list of the things you CAN do in Mauritania... Nevertheless, topping the list must be its draconian stance against public displays of affection between men and women. Not even married couples are permitted to hold hands in public in Mauritania – which might go some way toward explaining it's relative unpopularity as a global honeymoon destination. Another oddity: in public, women can't lie on their backs, and men shouldn't lie on their stomachs.
Micronesia: Don't you rub your belly like that, I know what that means....
Hungry? Full? Feeling queasy? Need to tuck your shirt in a little more? All these good reasons to rub your belly, but in Micronesia, they're the equivalent of putting on your best fishnets and hanging out on a street corner by the docks after nightfall. That's right – in Micronesia, if you want to let someone know that you're, um, interested, the quickest way would be to give your gut a little rub in their presence. Gastronomy-themed pick-up lines are optional.
North Korea: Don't mention that gigantic skyscraper over there.
Taking the idea of an 'elephant in the room' to its absurd conclusion, North Korea's abandoned Ryugyong Hotel in downtown Pyongyang – a 105-storey, pyramid-shaped concrete affair, once called “the worst building in the history of mankind” by Esquire magazine – is curiously absent from all official photographs of the capital city. And while 'disappearing' things from photographs wasn't invented by North Korea, the public's herculean act of 'double-think' has ensured that even while in Pyongyang, it's hard (in fact, potentially hazardous) to get anyone to admit that the building actually exists.
Construction started on the Ryugyong Hotel in 1987, with builders giving themselves the optimistic target of completing it in 1989 (at which time, it would have been the tallest hotel in the world...and definitely still the ugliest). However, in 1992, pesky construction problems, such as crumbling concrete, and sagging girders, significantly stalled the project – before it was totally abandoned in 1996 due to a lack of funds, electricity shortages, and widespread famine. A national embarrassment, and a monument to the bizarre workings of the North Korean government, if you ever find yourself in Pyongyang, fight your urge to compliment the skyline.
Want to win the ultimate chocolate holiday? You could win a trip for two to Brussels that includes accommodation, flight vouchers, Museum of Chocolate admission, a city tour, and unlimited Skype calls!
The contest is open to UK residents. More info is available here.
And for other cities to enjoy chocolate in, read this.
I travel often, and when I do it tends to be long-distance. We're talking 54-hour odysseys from Cape Town to San Francisco, or Minneapolis to Oslo. I used to get a thrill out of it like any newbie, but the sheen has long since faded, and while I still love to travel, I look at the journey less as part of the fun and more as some sort of penance to pay before I can enjoy myself. Here's a few of the reasons I hate to fly:
1. Lack of sleep - There are two kinds of people: those who can sleep on planes and those who can't. I can't. Ever. There was one blissful haul from Senegal to Atlanta where an industrial-strength muscle relaxer put me into a drooly coma, But generally my brain refuses to cooperate. There are always factors that contribute to this. On a recent flight from Joburg to Paris, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a three-year-old who cried non-stop for seven hours, even when he was asleep.
2. Long layovers - On long trips, sometimes you can't avoid a layover of more than three hours. Maybe it was cheaper, or maybe the only other flight was too quick of a turn-around and you didn't want to chance missing your connection. While some airports have entertainment to keep you busy on long layovers, usually you're too tired to do anything but eat and try to find somewhere to sleep. I once sat at Charles de Gaulle airport for two hours, a twitchy zombie.
3. Airport security - You stand in queue after queue. You're tired and disoriented. You have to fill out paperwork with the threat of deportation should you forget something. People make you take off your shoes and put humiliating paper booties on. They rummage through your intimates and confiscate your snacks, then give you suspicious stares and quiz you about your travel plans. Oh, and now we all get naked pictures taken, or a good old-fashioned feel-up. Yay.
4. Airplane climate - The conditions on planes are terrible. They cool them to nearly the point of freezing, and now charge you for flimsy blankets. The recirculated air is bone-dry, leaving your skin crying for the moisteriser you weren't allowed to carry on. You're parched, but the sugar in the orange juice is just dehydrating you further and the flight attendant is giving you the evil eye for asking for a fifth glass of water.
5. Class wars - One of the worst parts of flying is knowing that you could be so much more comfortable if you had more money. If you'd paid for an upgrade you could be snoozing in a flat bed, or drinking champagne and having your steak done how you like it; instead of craning your neck to see the (either blue or red-tinted) tv screen twenty feet away and trying to choke down the breakfast sausage. It's the same in airports, when you didn't quite shell out enough to pay for the fancy lounge with the comfortable seats and showers.
American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train, and spend one night in Vienna simply walking around and discussing everything from existentialism to sex. It's an oddly intimate view of the city minus the tourist trappings, and many hidden corners are explored between dusk and dawn.
I'd hate to give away the ending, but it definitely stays true to the romantic notions of idealistic and philosophical 19-year-olds.
A man flying from San Francisco to Paris found he had an entire row to himself, and took advantage of this by setting up his camera to take photos out the window every two minutes. The result can be found here in a beautiful time-lapse video of the flight.
Be sure to watch around 1:00 when the Northern Lights appear somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean!
If there's one thing that Southern California has in abundance, it's theme parks. Taking advantage of year-round sunshine, the top-notch parks are playgrounds for both young and old, catering to every taste. Here's our list of the top 5 theme parks in California, to add to your to-do list:
Universal Studios Hollywood - If you love movies, this is a great place to spend a day. Rides and attractions dedicated to blockbusters like Terminator, Indiana Jones and Shrek are a lot of fun, and you can't miss the famous ride that takes you through King Kong and Jaws! When you're done, stroll through Universal CityWalk for dinner and (of course!) a movie.
SeaWorld - One of the most famous waterparks in the world, SeaWorld has waterslides but is better known for its fantastic animal shows. Home to veteran performer Shamu, the park is dedicated to marine conservation and has great walk-through marine environments. Go on a hot day, because you're bound to get wet!
Six Flags Magic Mountain - This park has arguably the greatest collection of rollercoasters in the world. They have 18 rollercoasters in all with varied levels of thrill and g-force. The park is themed to Looney Tunes and DC superheroes, so where else can you meet both Bugs Bunny and Batman?
Disneyland - The mother ship. No one goes to Southern California and skips Disneyland. The 'Happiest Place on Earth' has all the famous rides and attractions you've heard of, from Pirates of the Caribbean to the Spinning Teacups to Space Mountain. Attached is California Adventure, a park with fewer cartoons and a pleasant lakeside midway.
Knott's Berry Farm - While it doesn't have the supercoasters of Magic Mountain or the beloved cartoon characters of Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm is the best place in Southern California to be for one month of the year. Each October the park gets a total makeover to become the Halloween-themed Knott's Scary Farm. Open late each night, it's a great place to get spooked!
Some travel movies are hard to imagine as the kind that entice you to visit the country, and Brokedown Palace is one of those.
The film tells the story of Alice (Claire Danes) and Darlene (Kate Beckinsale), two American teenagers who take a spur-of-the-moment trip to Thailand, only to become unwitting drug mules for a handsome con man. They are arrested and lost within the harsh Thai legal system, which has no tolerance for drug smuggling.
While the movie may not give you the travel itch, it serves as a stern warning to tourists who think they can get away with misbehaviour in foreign countries. The idea that 'it doesn't count on vacation' is not only disrespectful, but dangerous, and could potentially have disastrous consequences like those shown in the movie.
Verdict: Download it (and show it to any teenagers about to take a solo trip!)
Many 20-somethings head off to cruise ships in search of adventure, romance, and a little cash. What they get is not often what they expect, though. Life working on a cruise ship is far from glamorous, and there is much that gets hidden from passengers' view.
Here's a taste of the truth from someone who worked as a musician on cruise ships for 11 years, letting you know what cruise ship employees want you to know:
What are your living conditions like?
Living conditions are... bearable. You are on a ship, so space is at a premium. Most of the crew live below decks, sometimes four to a small cabin, and occasionally with a shared bathroom. The officer and guest entertainer cabins are fairly spacious—usually featuring a porthole and a double bed. Generally, for staff (musicians, casino workers, cruise staff, boutique workers, etc.) it's two to an inside (i.e. no porthole) cabin. The cabin is functional—bunk beds, desk, and a bathroom. On some cruise lines, the staff have "deck privileges" (i.e., they're free to be in passenger areas when off-duty), which means they're not obliged to return to their cabin or crew areas after work. On other lines, not.
What’s staff members’ biggest gripe about passengers?
I suppose the biggest gripe of any crew member would be the occasional passenger's attitude. By and large, passengers are very sweet, and are polite and considerate.
Unfortunately, you also get the ones with the attitude "I paid for this cruise, and this is now my ship!" These passengers can be very abrasive, arrogant, and rude, but they are more the exception than the rule.
I wouldn't say we 'make fun' of passengers, but it's hard not to laugh at a lot of passenger "bon mots." Such as:
"What time does the midnight buffet start?"
"Does this elevator go to the front of the ship?"
"Do these stairs go up or down?"
In Greece: "Why did they build so many ruins?"
Also in Greece: "Nobody here spoke English!"
In Turkey: "They don't take American money here!"
"I love France. That's in Spain, isn't it?"
What piece of advice would you give someone taking a cruise for the first time?
Make sure you choose a cruise line appropriate to your demographic. Sometimes young passengers are uncomfortable with the activities and entertainment of a line that caters to an older crowd, and vice versa. And do say "please" and "thank you" to the crew. They work very hard for you!
It's not Friday, but here's a quick competition to get your week started right: by winning two tickets to the destination of your choice from Qatar Airways! They're giving away 100 pairs on April 18th!
Step right up folks! We've got questions, and we've got answers! Do you have the answers to our questions, or do your questions match our answers? Only one way to find out! Here's what's burning up our forum message boards this week:
There are a lot of food festivals around the world, but some focus less on enjoying a good meal and more on playing with their food! Here are our top 5 strangest food festivals around the world:
Night of the Radishes (Noche de Rábanos) - There's a large radish found in Mexico that can grow up to 6.6 pounds (3kg) and 20 inches (50cm) long. The people of Oaxaca do something interesting with these radishes each December, carving them into people, animals, and anything else they can think of. The carvings are judged, and the winner gets their picture in the paper.
Sea Worm Festival (Bau Nyale) - Each year the people of Indonesia rush into the ocean to collect as many sea worms as possible, and then they cook them and eat them. Although there's nothing pretty about sea worms, there's a romantic legend associated with this festival. Long ago, a beautiful princess had so many determined suitors that she threw herself into the ocean to prevent their going to war over her. When she died, her hair turned into sea worms, now the symbol of the Sasak people.
La Tomatina - One of the world's biggest food fights, La Tomatina takes place in Spain each August. The festival starts with participants trying to knock a ham off the top of a greased pole. Once that happens, people throw tomatoes at each other until the streets of Valencia run red. No one knows quite how it got started, but people like it so it continues to happen each year.
Gloucester Cheese Roll and Wake - A tradition in Gloucester for hundreds of years, this popular event in the Cotswolds involves competitors rolling a large, round Double Gloucester Cheese down a steep hill and attempting to catch it. The first person over the finish line wins the cheese. Unfortunately, this event was cancelled in 2010 and it is uncertain if it will return.
Lopburi Monkey Buffet - This annual feast in Thailand is unusual, simply because no one who attends gets to eat anything. Well, no people get to eat anything. The guests of honour are the local Macaque monkeys, who chow down on fruits and vegetables, and even get to enjoy a soft drink or two. The monkeys live in the ruins of local temples, and are huge tourist attractions. The Buffet is the village's way of thanking them!
Sometimes your trip just isn't as great as you expect. When visiting a country with a big language and cultural difference to your own, there is an opportunity to feel isolated - especially if you're alone.
The 2003 movie Lost in Translation captures this feeling perfectly. Neglected honeymooner Charlotte (Scarlett Johanneson) and bored movie star Bob (Bill Murray) have trouble connecting in an unfamiliar place as they meet in a Japanese hotel. The muted backdrop of Tokyo is both exotic and unwelcoming as they struggle to break through the loneliness.
Everyone has seen the pre-flight safety video a hundred times, so no one really pays attention unless they're a first-time flyer. In an effort to make it more interesting for veteran passengers, Air New Zealand got mad fitness guru Richard Simmons to star in theirs. The video has now gone viral, with nearly two million hits in three days.
You can watch it here. Don't miss the cameos by Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan at 1:20 and New Zealand tv presenter Paul Henry at 2:30!
Our travel forum is always busy with people planning holidays, and is a great resource for anyone with questions about their next destination. Visit the forum to find answers to your own travel questions!