Kolmanskop: Namibia’s Eerie Ghost Town

Kolmanskop, ghost towns
There’s something compelling about ghost towns. To walk amid the houses that once held families, past playgrounds that once rang with the laughter of children, and through public buildings where locals once gathered – all gone.

I’ve explored ghost towns all over the American Southwest, and while they have creepiness aplenty, the most disturbing ghost town has to be Kolmanskop in Namibia. Perhaps it hits closer to home because it was abandoned as recently as 1954. Perhaps it’s because its buildings are half filled with desert sand, and may one day get buried entirely.

Kolmanskop sprouted into existence in 1908 when diamonds were discovered there. At that time Namibia was colonized by Germans who were eager to extract the mineral wealth of the region and, shamefully, had just committed genocide against two Namibian tribes to secure their dominance. The discovery set off a rush of investment and construction and soon this barren stretch of sand was the location of a model German town with schools, theaters and stately homes. It was so wealthy that its hospital boasted the first x-ray machine in the Southern Hemisphere and its public transportation included the first tramline in Africa.

%Gallery-155604%Much of the town remains, desiccated and preserved by the harsh desert environment. Check out the photo gallery to see the bleak grandeur of a place that was used by astronomer Dr. Brian Cox to illustrate the concept of entropy on his show “Wonders of the Universe.”

Kolmanskop is located in Sperrgebiet, a diamond-mining region in southern Namibia that is off-limits to the general public without a permit, which can be easily obtained through one of the tour companies that offers visits. Prebooked tours are currently the only way to visit the town. Because of the limited number of visitors, nature thrives in this region despite half of it being desert.

Interested in seeing more ghost towns? Check out Justin Delaney’s post on “The World’s Ten Creepiest Abandoned Cities.”

[Photo courtesy Damien du Toit]

Video of the day: a goaty guide to pronouncing foreign cheeses

The holidays are Cheese Season. At no other time of the year are cheese and specialty food shops as thronged by dairy-seeking customers. They’re hungry for a fix or searching for a gift, recipe ingredient, or the makings of a cheese plate. Cheese is love, and one of the easiest, most elegant ways to kick off a cocktail party or conclude (or make) a memorable meal.

With that in mind, the folks at Culture: the word on cheese magazine (full disclosure: I’m a contributing editor) have produced this clever (and utterly adorable) video to aid you in pronouncing some of those delectable but tricky foreign cheeses from France, Spain, and Switzerland. Happy Hoch Ybrig, everyone!


Useful foreign phrases, Part 2: how to say, “Can you write this down for me?” in 10 languages

useful foreign phrasesA post written by Chris on Tuesday reminded me of this little language series I started in March. In “Ten things Ugly Americans need to know before visiting a foreign land,” Chris recommended brushing up on the local language. He joked about dashing around Venice clutching his concierge’s handwritten note, “Do you have 220/110 plug converters for this stupid American who left his at home?”

Thanks, Chris, because I’ve had this post sitting in my queue for awhile, as I debated whether or not my phrase of choice would appear useful to readers. It’s saved my butt many a time, when a generous concierge or empathetic English-speaker would jot down crucial directions to provide to a cab driver. It’s also helped me out when I’ve embarked on long-distance journeys that require me to get off at an unscheduled stop.

I have a recurring nightmare in which I board the wrong bus or train in a developing nation, and end up in some godforsaken, f—ed up place in the wee hours. Actually, that’s happened to me more than once, except I was actually in my intended destination. So the other piece of advice I’d like to impart is: do some research ahead of time on accommodations and how to reach them as safely as possible if you’re arriving anywhere in the wee hours–especially if you’re alone, regardless of your gender.

I digress. Before your next trip to a foreign land, take the time to scribble the words, “Can you (please) write this down for me?” in your guidebook or dog-ear it in your phrasebook (you’re bringing one, right? Right?). It will serve you well, I promise you. Below, how to make this useful request in ten languages.

P.S. It bears repeating that I’m far from a polylinguist; I’m relying on phrases based on past experience or research. If I inadvertently offend anyone’s native tongue, please provide a correction in the “Comments” section.

1. Spanish (Catalan): ?Puedes escribirlo, por favor?

2. Italian: Può ripeterlo, per favore?

useful foreign phrases3. French: Pourriez-vous, l’écrire, s’il vous plait?

4. German: Könnten Sie das bitte aufschreiben?

5. Czech: Můžete prosím napsat to pro mě?

6. Portuguese: Escreva, se faz favor.

As I noted in my Part 1, many languages, including those spoken throughout Asia and the Middle East, use written characters. For that reason, transliteration will vary, which is why the spelling or phonetics may differ. These languages are also tonal in nature, which makes them notoriously intimidating to Westerner travelers. Just smile, do your best, and have your pen and paper handy.

7. Chinese (Cantonese): Ng goi nei bong ngo se dai.

8. Japanese: Anata ga shite kudasai watashi no tame ni sore o kakikomu koto ga dekimasu ka?

9. Vietnamese: Có thể bạn hãy viết ra cho tôi?

10. Moroccan Arabic: Ktebha līya.

What useful phrases have helped you on your travels? Please tell us!

[Photo credits: pencil, Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography; tourist, Flickr user Esteban Manchado]

Ode to the expat newspaper

expat newspaperOne of my favorite things about traveling, in addition to foreign supermarkets, oddball museums, and miniature toiletries, is the local English-language expat newspaper. When I’m home in New York, I tend to get all my news online, either directly from news websites through specific searches or curated from friends’ links on social media (one of the best sources for news from US newspapers is Canadian NY1 anchorman and New Yorker favorite Pat Kiernan‘s site Pat’s Papers). Sorry US newspapers, I know I’m part of the problem. But while I’m traveling, I love to grab the local newspaper over hotel breakfast or in a coffeeshop and learn about local issues, news, and phenomena.Last month in Malaysia while reading the New Straits Times, I learned about how competitive the Chinese are at a kite flying festival and how southeast Asian children have to be taught to detect sour milk. The travel section reviewed a new hotel in Penang with a first impression of “adequate” and the Niexter insert written by Malaysian teenagers taught me all about malapropisms. A couple at our hotel told me they came to Penang after reading an article on the Hotel Penaga’s renovation from the paper in Kuala Lumpur.

It was from Istanbul’s Today’s Zaman that I learned about the excellent expat community and online forum I’ve become a part of in the last year, and I now have friends who have worked at Zaman and their competitor the Hurriyet Daily News. When I first visited Turkey in 2008, I recall reading an interesting editorial in one of the papers about how stealing things from airplanes like safety cards can cause delays, as the plane can’t take off without enough for everyone. The torn out article is long-gone, but I’ve retained the factoid and it keeps me honest on airplanes (though I’ve been tempted to take a souvenir from some eastern European airlines). When the Hurriyet turned 50 this year, writer Jennifer Hattam wrote a great piece on the particular challenges of not only translating the language of news, but the cultural specifics and background as well.

Expat news doesn’t only come in print form. I tweeted about expat news sources and read how writer Lisa Bergren relies on the BBC for news as well as comfort, and CJGuest recommends Al Jazeera from the Arabic world, the German Deutsche Welle, NHK from Japan, and Russia Today from the Russian Federation. Gadling’s own Grant Martin likes the South China Morning Post and the more western Sydney Morning Herald.The local English-language paper doesn’t always have the freshest content, the most stellar writing, or the coolest layout, but it provides an invaluable look into regional and national issues. Expat news can also provide a lens through which to see world news through local perspectives, and help us keep in touch with the sentiments and opinions in our home countries and cultures.

Gadling readers, do you have any favorite news sources abroad? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Ed Yourdon

Italy’s South Tyrol: Language disputes

italy south tyrol languageIn the Italian region of South Tyrol a language dispute has emerged over the exclusive use of German on mountain trail signs. In the Telegraph, Nick Squires provides an overview of what he terms a “language war.”

South Tyrol’s German-language Alpenverein is responsible for replacing all trail signage. Squires claims that around 1500 of these hiking path signs are written exclusively in German.

At stake is the maintenance of a difficult linguistic balance in the region, though mountain rescue workers also point to the issue of safety for hiking Italian speakers unable to understand the German-language signage. Squires notes that anonymous Italian-speaking hikers have taken matters into their own hands by scrawling Italian place names on signs.

In 2001, almost 70 percent of the region’s residents spoke German. Italian speakers are concentrated in Bolzano (Bozen in German), the capital of the region.

Language disputes aside, South Tyrol is an exciting place to hike and a great culinary tourism destination, with strong agricultural and wine production and an impressive tally of Michelin starred restaurants. It’s also ridiculously beautiful. See the above image, taken from the town of Sexten, for inspiration.

The kicker is that it is also surprisingly affordable. Check out our inclusion of the region among a recent list of budget-friendly destinations across Europe.

[Image: Flikr | lorenz347]