10 historical hostels with unique pasts

hostel celica Former prisons, renovated brothels, converted convents; sometimes, you get more than just a cheap bed when choosing a hostel. In fact, with a little research you can find yourself relaxing in the same room a king once did, or dining in a kitchen where soldiers from WWII slept during the war. To help make your next trip a bit more historical, here are ten hostels from around the world with unique pasts.

Hostel Celica
Ljubljana, Slovenia

While Hostel Celica is currently a cultural and creative hostel that features an art gallery, debate forum, inspirational workshops, concerts, and special events, the accommodation is actually a former military prison. Its use dates back to 1882, when the jail was within the military barracks of Metelkova Street. It wasn’t until Solvenia gained independence and the barracks were no longer necessary that the space was converted into what it is today. While there are no longer prisoners of war here, guests can still spend the night in a jail cell. Moreover, symbols of peace, like prayer rooms with alters for the world’s five major religions and a “Point of Peace” meditation space, celebrate the positive transition of the building.Bluehostel Rome
Rome, Italy

The Bluehostel Rome is not only well-situated near historical sites like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, it’s also a historical site in itself. Once a 17th century convent, the basement of the hostel has been renovated from a 1st century Roman dwelling. Today, guests can still enjoy this unique past through old-world decor and the 150-year-old traditional wooden ceilings, which were recently discovered during a renovation in May of 2010.

london hostels Clink 78
London, United Kingdom

Located in central London is a trendy backpacker hostel that is actually a renovated 200-year-old courthouse. There are also seven original prison cells which guests can sleep in. Some fun facts about the hostel: The Clash once stood trial in what is now the TV lounge, and the current internet space, which was also once a courtroom, gave Charles Dickens his inspiration for “Oliver Twist.” With all of this history, it’s not surprising that Clink 78 is on the official National Heritage List for England.

Ethic étapes Cannes Jeunesse
Cannes, France

Located on a protected and nearly deserted island in the Mediterranean, this hostel is a historic fort from the 17th century. Built by architect Marquis de Vauban, well-known for advising Louis XIV on how to condense France’s borders, it was later made famous by the movie “The Man in the Iron Mask” as the place where the prisoner was held captive.

belford hostel Belford Hostel
Edinburgh, Scotland

When visiting a Gothic city like Edinburgh, it would only be right to stay in an accommodation that reflects its rich history. Belford Hostel is actually a historic church building from the 19th century that has retained its features over the decades. High ceilings, stained glass windows, details and decor from the original building help take travelers back in time and to feel as if they are living in old-world Scotland.

Historical Ryokan Hostel K’s House Ito Onsen Accommodation
Higashimatsubara-cho, Japan

This historical building is over 100 years old and is the only hostel registered as a cultural property in Japan. Because of this, guests are metaphorically taken into the past as the property has changed very little in terms of structure and decor. What guests of this property enjoy more than anything is the 100% natural age-old hot springs with relaxation and healing properties, making it one of the most historical as well as luxurious hostels in the world.

back of chapel backpacker Back of Chapel Backpacker
Melbourne, Australia

While the name of the hostel sounds happy and light, this newly renovated hostel has a bit of a seedy past. Over 100 years ago, the building was actually a brothel used by politicians and ministers, and a stay here will allow you to see firsthand the hidden escape door these men would sneak out through during police raids. You can actually read about the old brothel in the novel “My Brother Jack.” Today, this social hostel takes on a more moral air and features modern amenities to help backpackers feel comfortable and safe.

Jailhouse Accommodation

Christchurch, New Zealand

Jailhouse Accommodation has everything a backpacker could want: comfortable beds, TV lounges, a communal kitchen, a fun game room, and prison-style accommodation. The thick concrete walls of the building held not only a jail, but also a military camp and women’s prison. Although the prison was shut down in 1999, it wasn’t until 2006 that a couple transformed the building from a gloomy jailhouse to a friendly backpacker destination. Today, you can still experience the Gothic architecture from 1874 as well as sleep in a prison cell for yourself (they even have prisoner outfits that you can wear for photos). Jailhouse Accommodation is also listed as a New Zealand Historic Places Trust Heritage Building.

old fire station backpackers Old Firestation Backpackers
Fremantle, Australia

This fun and social destination is well-known for offering an array of free amenities, such as WiFi, video games, linens, lockers, an outdoor cinema, and a game lounge. According to the Australian Heritage Database, Old Firestation Backpackers is a restored heritage building from 1908 and was originally planned to house four horse-drawn carriages including an ambulance. Another interesting tidbit is that during WWII, the firemen were evacuated so the U.S. Marines could move in. Today, guests can still experience the history of the building, as little has been changed inside, from high ceilings to a fireman’s pole.

Hostelling International- Ottawa Jail Hostel
Ottawa, Canada

Located in downtown Ottawa, this hostel was once the Carleton County Gaol (Jail), and a stay here will allow you to sleep in a prison hospital room or a renovated jail cell with barred doors and arched ceilings. You can also take a Haunted Walking Tour of the jail, which will give you a spooky look into the history of the building. If your appetite for history still isn’t satiated, you can head over to nearby sites like Parliament Hill, the Museum of Civilization, the Canadian War Museum, or the National Gallery of Canada.

A brief history of Telluride and its surrounding ghost towns

telluride ghost townsTelluride. The name alone conjures a variety of associations, from the debaucherous (Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues”) to the elite (Tom Cruise is the other inevitable mention). But this isolated little town in Southwestern Colorado’s craggy San Juan range has a truly wild past and a lot to offer. It’s not the only mining-town-turned-ski-resort in the Rockies, but I think it’s the most well-preserved, photogenic, and in touch with its history. Apparently I’m not alone, because the town core (all three blocks of it) was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1964.

Located in a remote box canyon (waterfall included) at 8,750 feet, Telluride and its “down valley” population totals just over 2,000 people. I’ve lived in Telluride off-and-on since 2005, and there’s something to be said about a place where dogs outnumber residents, and you can’t leave home without running into people you know. Longtime residents burn out on the small town thing, but I still get a kick out of it after years of city living.

Today the former brothels of “Popcorn Alley” are ski shanties, but they’re still painted eye-catching, Crayola-bright colors, and the old ice house is a much-loved French country restaurant. Early fall is a great time to visit because the weather is usually mild, the aspens are turning, and there’s the acclaimed Telluride Film Fest, brutal Imogene Pass Run (Sept. 10) and Blues & Brews Festival (Sept. 16-18) to look forward to. The summer hordes are gone, but the deathly quiet of the October/early-November off-season hasn’t begun.

According to the Telluride Historical Museum, the town was established in 1878. It was originally called Columbia, and had a reputation as a rough-and-tumble mining town following the opening of the Sheridan Mine in the mid-1870’s. The mine proved to be rich in gold, silver, zinc, lead, copper, and iron, and with the 1890 arrival of the Rio Grande Southern railroad, Telluride grew into a full-fledged boomtown of 5,000. Immigrants–primarily from Scandinavia, Italy, France, Germany, Cornwall, and China–arrived in droves to seek their fortunes. Many succumbed to disease or occupational mishaps; the tombstones in the beautiful Lone Tree Cemetery on the east end of town bear homage to lots of Svens, Lars’, and Giovannis.

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[Photo credit: Flickr user hubs]

telluride ghost townsThe mining resulted in 350 miles of tunnels that run beneath the mountains at the east end of the valley; you can see remnants of mine shafts and flumes throughout the region. If paddling is your thing, you’ll see gold dredges runnning on the San Miguel, San Juan, and Dolores Rivers.

Telluride’s wealth attracted the attention of Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch, who famously robbed the town’s San Miguel National Bank in 1889 (trivia: I used to live in an upstairs apartment in that very building). But in 1893, the silver crash burst the money bubble, and almost overnight Telluride’s population plummeted. By the end of World War II, only 600 people remained.

Telluride is a part of the 223-mile San Juan Scenic Highway, which connects to the historic towns of Durango, Ouray, and Silverton. There’s only one paved road in and out of Telluride, and that’s Hwy. 145. The only other options are two high, extremely rugged mountain passes (which require 4WD and experienced drivers). There are also a handful of ghost towns in the area. Some, like Alta (11,800 feet) make for a great, not too-strenuous hike; you’ll see the trailhead four miles south on Hwy 145. There are a number of buildings still standing, and two miles up the road lie the turquoise Alta Lakes.
telluride ghost towns
If you want to check out the ghost town of Tomboy, it’s five miles up Imogene Pass (13,114 feet). Don’t underestimate just how tough it is if you’re hiking; you’ll gain 2,650 feet in altitude; otherwise it’s an hour’s drive. The trail begins on the north end of Oak Street; hang a right onto Tomboy Road. Unless you’re physically fit and acclimated to the altitude, the best way to see these ghost towns is by 4WD tour with an outfitter like Telluride Outside. Another bit of trivia: every July, the “Lunar Cup” ski race is held on a slope up on Imogene Pass, clothing optional.

How to get there
Telluride is a six-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver, but it also boasts the world’s second highest commercial airport (9,078 feet) with daily non-stop connections from Denver and Phoenix. It’s closed in sketchy weather (if you’re flight phobic, just say “hell, no”), and it’s often easier and usually cheaper to fly into Montrose Regional Airport, 70 miles away. From there, take Telluride Express airport shuttle; you don’t need a car in town. Go to VisitTelluride.com for all trip-planning details. For more information on the region’s numerous ghost towns, click here.

When to go
Telluride is beautiful any time of year, but avoid mid-April through mid-May and October through before Thanksgiving, as those are off-season and most businesses are closed. Spring is also mud season, and that’s no fun. Late spring, summer, and early fall mean gorgeous foliage, and more temperate weather, but be aware it can snow as late as early July. August is monsoon season, so expect brief, daily thunderstorms. July and winter are the most reliably sunny times; that said, Telluride averages 300 days of sunshine a year. If you want to explore either pass, you’ll need to visit in summer.
telluride ghost towns
Telluride tips
The air is thin up there. Drink lots of water, and then drink some more. Go easy on the alcohol, too. Take aspirin if you’re suffering altitude-related symptoms like headache or insomnia, and go easy for a couple of days until you acclimate. Wear broad-spectrum, high SPF sunblock, and reapply often on any exposed skin or under t-shirts. Wear a hat and sunglasses, as well.

[Photo credits: Tomboy, Flickr user Rob Lee; Mahr building, Laurel Miller; winter, Flickr user rtadlock]

Valentine’s Day tribute: Sex museums around the world

sex museumsAh, Valentine’s Day. It’s a loaded holiday, one with high expectations. This year, though, I got into the spirit of things: I decided to rustle up a list of the world’s great sex museums. Even if you can’t pay a visit, their websites are informative and loaded with photos of exhibits. And best of all? You can indulge all by yourself, no relationship needed.

Erotic Heritage Museum, Las Vegas
The somewhat bizarre collaboration of a “Preacher and a Pornographer,” this pleasure palace houses over 17,000 square feet of artistically expressive erotica. Behold, ye Larry Flynt and “Ho-Down Mural” exhibitions.

Sex Machines Museum, Prague
Call me a perv, but how cool is this? A museum devoted entirely to the history and display of, to quote the website, “mechanical erotic appliances, the purpose of which is to bring pleasure and allow extraordinary and unusual positions during intercourse.” Okey dokey. There’s also a small theater for viewing old erotic cinema.

Museum of Sex, New York
It may not be the among the best-known of the city’s museums, but this monument to sex education, history, and cultural significance isn’t just for academics. It’s a good time, too. With rotating exhibits and virtual installations on everything from the “Sex Lives of Animals” and “Kink,” to a tribute to American pin-up photography, there’s something for everyone. Don’t forget to stop at the OralFix Aphrodisiac Cafe for an erotic elixir.

Sexmuseum Amsterdam
The Dutch are known for their rather laid-back attitude toward things the rest of the world tends to frown upon, which is one reason they’re so much fun. The famed “Venustempel” in Amsterdam is focused on “the theme of sensual love.” And hey–the four euro entry fee is a lot cheaper than the Red Light District.

Museu de l’erotica, Barcelona
Dedicated to the exploration of erotica in all its various forms: anthropological, archaeological, sociological, artistic, literary, and something called “plastic arts.” Hm. Located in Barcelona’s architecturally stunning La Rambla neighborhood.

[Photo credit: Flickr user SWANclothing]

sex museumsThe Icelandic Phallological Museum, Husavik (northern island)
This collection of over “two hundred and nine penises and penile parts” represents nearly all of the land and marine animals native to Iceland. Not as creepy as it sounds, the museum provides a base for modern research on the study of phallology. If that offends you, please consider the multi-billion-dollar male sexual enhancement/aid industry.
[Photo credit: Elín Eydís Friðriksdóttir]

World Erotic Art Museum, Miami
WEAM is home to the largest collection of erotic art in the United States, including sculpture and art objects. Rest assured it’s a lot more tasteful than what you’ll see parading on Ocean Drive.

Musee de l’Erotisme, Paris
Paris. Sex. Art. Need I say more?

China Sex Museum, Tongli
Located 50 miles outside of Shanghai in a former fishing village, this museum is dedicated to “over 9,000 years of Chinese sexual history,” with over 1,500 exhibits and artifacts. I am most definitely curious about the “Women and marriage” exhibit. Does it have a headache?

Condom Museum, Nonthaburi (approximately one hour from…hee…Bangkok)
The Ministry of Public Health opened this little museum, located in the Department of Medical Sciences building, in 2010. Its purpose is to develop awareness about HIV/AIDS and eliminate negative public perception about condom use (ironic, given that Thailand is the world’s largest producer of condoms).

If all that condomizing leaves you famished, perhaps you’d like to grab dinner at Cabbages & Condoms in Bangkok? Founder Mechai Viravaidya is a sexual awareness activist who has promoted condom use for the last 30 years. Partial proceeds go toward projects for the Population and Community Development Association (PDA). Watch Mechai give a restaurant tour and explain his mission in the below clip. Have a “safe” Valentine’s Day!


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The seedy side of Istanbul


Turkey isn’t all mosques and markets or comfy long-distance buses. It may come as a surprise that prostitution is legal in this predominantly Muslim country and drugs, while illegal, are a brisk business. Like any big city, there are nice neighborhoods and sketchy ones in Istanbul, and most tourists will rarely stumble into the areas with bad reputations, but some are within stumbling distance of Istanbul’s hot spots. I stumbled into several of the most notorious areas recently and was surprised at what I saw.

Tarlabaşı Bulvarı stretches southwest of Taksim Square (Istanbul’s answer to Times Square), just above the busy pedestrian shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi, and forms the border of the largely immigrant neighborhood of Tarlabaşı. Look in any guidebook or ask a local and they’ll warn you about petty crime, transsexual prostitutes, and drug dealing, particularly at night. By day, the neighborhood is full of crumbling buildings, hanging laundry, and children playing in the street. At best, you could call it atmospheric “real Istanbul” and at worst, a rundown and poor area. One Friday night I found myself in a lively bar with a few friends just behind Tarlabaşı’s main drag, where the beer was cheap, atmosphere friendly, and the women were actually men. A street vendor outside was so amused to see an actual woman that he gave me a free sample of çiğ köfte, a sort of Turkish street version of steak tartare. It felt oddly appropriate to snack on raw meat while chatting with Moldovian pre-op lady boys.

On the other side of the Golden Horn, Aksaray isn’t a popular area for sightseeing, but the tram line runs right through it, connecting with the Metro line to the airport. For expats, it’s a necessary pilgramage to make each year to apply for or renew your residence permit. One Sunday afternoon after a failed visit to the nearby Horhor Bit Pazari antique market (closed Sunday), I sat drinking tea at a cafe when I became aware of the fact that every man was staring at me. It turns out this is because nearly all of the non-Turkish women in Aksaray are prostitutes, mostly from Eastern Europe, and many of the area “night clubs” are fronts for brothels or bars that may charge you several hundred dollars for the privilege of drinking with a lady. I wandered up a side street in broad daylight full of night clubs and hotels and noticed every table lined with over made-up women sipping cocktails and looking damaged. The experience was so uncomfortable that I considered breaking into a sprint so I could get off the street faster, but I was not approached or solicited.

While these neighborhoods might not be added to the tourist trail anytime soon, they show another side of a very complicated and ever-changing city. Gentrification is moving in and soon Tarlabaşı could be the next trendy “Soho of Istanbul.” As in any major metropolitan city when you find yourself on the wrong side of the tracks, caution and common sense should prevail. Stay calm, stay in well lit areas, and try to get the hell out of Dodge as fast you can. Though you may find that the places with the worst reputations are over-exaggerated and that sometimes a busy street in the day can be scarier than a dangerous nightspot.

Male prostitutes coming to Nevada

A Nevada brothel plans to be the first in the state to offer male prostitutes.

The Shady Lady Ranch, 150 miles north of Las Vegas, is now taking applications for the position of male sex worker. Applicants must be between 21 and 40 years of age, have a good attitude, and be “service oriented”.

While male visitors to Nevada have long enjoyed the state’s legal prosititution, there hasn’t been anything for female tourists until now. I got to speak with Jim Davis, who helps run the ranch with his wife Bobbi, the owner and Madam, and ask him about the new service.

How did you decide to offer male escorts?
I had several people over the last couple of years request this service, both women AND married couples wanting a “threesome”. Economy slow, business a little slow, why not try it?

Was there any problem clearing that legally?

Legally, the State Health code had a requirement of an “endocervical” exam in their rules, otherwise they were gender neutral. We had to have the Health Department and County Licensing board address that issue. We received waivers of that requirement from both entities and they added an additional test for STD’s for the men.

What kind of men are you looking for?
The Madam is looking for sexy looking men, 21 to 40 that can provide an exciting and rewarding experience for our lady customers. Don’t ask how she’ll know, guesswork I guess, but she’ll use trial and error until she finds the right guys. She is presently starting the interviews, and we hope to have someone on staff in a couple of weeks.
Did you do any research into male escorts, such as visiting other countries where they’re legal?
We have done NO research, just going with experience and a hunch.

How will you market this to women? Won’t they be a bit reluctant to come to a place where men generally pay for companionship?
Advanced publicity has helped, Internet exposure on our website and discreet ads in appropriate newspapers is the plan.

Are you going to set up a separate building for male and female clients?

We will operate in the same house, we do have already appropriate separate facilities on site. We don’t anticipate this to be a problem.

What can female clients expect when they go to the Shady Lady?

The female client can expect an exciting and rewarding experience, all about them. We hope each individual lady gets exactly what they want to get from the experience, that’s our goal.

While men have paid for companionship since the beginning of time, women hiring men isn’t nearly as common. Do you think this is changing and why?

We think a PRIVATE, safe, healthy environment with the spotlight on HER wants and desires will work as well with the ladies as it does with the men.

Will you be offering male escorts to male clients?

Our business model is heterosexual but, the same as a gay-orientated bar lets in straight people and straight bars let in gay people, we are required by law to NOT discriminate. A man that requests an all male line-up will get one, that’s the law, however our sex workers are not required by law (or by us) to do anything in the room that they do not want to do. We intend to hire men that we think best suited to serve our female clients.

When will you be starting this service?

We will be starting this service as soon as Bobbi finds the right guys and they get the proper work cards.