Somali murals: funky advertising in the Horn of Africa

SomaliOne of the fun parts of travel is discovering the street art of a new place. Whether it’s the elaborate graffiti of New York or Madrid, the political murals of Mexico, or the current craze of Yarn Bombing, there’s always something cool happening on the street.

In the Horn of Africa, street art takes the form of murals. I believe this is a Somali development, because I’ve seen it much more in Somaliland and the Somali region of Ethiopia than I have anywhere else. There’s a fair number of murals in Harar, Ethiopia, but that has always had close trade connections with the Somali region.

Some are simple, like this ad for a dentist in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. I don’t know why this guy jumped into the frame and bared his teeth but hey, it made for a better picture so I’m not complaining.

Then there’s this mural inside a bakery in Harar. It shows the founder, an Greek expat who opened the most modern bakery in town. One day I met his aged widow, who still presides over the family business. She treated me to tea and regaled me with tales of the old days. She was very proud of the mural and in fact that’s what drew me inside in the first place. Another example of art bringing people together.

Check out the gallery below for more images from Ethiopia and Somaliland.

What kind of street art did you discover in your last trip? Tell us about it in the comments section!

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Photo of the Day (10.31.10)

Happy Halloween! Er, should I make that Happy Day of the Dead? Believe it or not, America isn’t the only country that likes to celebrate spooky holidays. In Mexico and some parts of Latin America, November 2nd is the chosen day to remember and celebrate the lives of deceased ancestors. Though one might think a holiday about death would be a somber affair, it’s usually not. Much like Halloween, family and friends get together to laugh, eat some good food and pay tribute to those who have passed. The jolly skeletons captured here by Flickr user borderfilms (Doug) in Chiapas, Mexico are a common Day of the Dead decorating theme.

Taken any great photos during your travels? Why not add them to the Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Photo of the Day (9.26.10)

Sunsets are my favorite time of day when traveling. The angle of the light, the vividness of the shadows and the brilliance of the colors never fails to make me happy. So it was with great pleasure that I found this gorgeous sunset scene of Vienna this evening captured by Flickr user narinnr. The clusters of pedestrians milling about accompanied by those extra long shadows, the street art mural on the wall on the right and the brilliant flash of late-afternoon sun all caught my eye.

Taken any great travel photos you’d like to share with Gadling? Why not add them to our group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Trinkets and treasures: Istanbul on and off the beaten path


The tourist season in Istanbul is well underway, bringing hordes of tour buses and groups into Sultanahment (the Old City) each day, perhaps even more this year as the Turkish city is currently one of Europe’s Capitals of Culture. Whether you are planning your first visit or your tenth, here is a look at some of the most touristed spots, why you should fight the crowds to see them, and where you can get off the beaten path.

%Gallery-97405%Hagia Sophia
Why go: Istanbul’s star attraction could hardly be overhyped; it is awe-inspiring and worthwhile, period. The sheer size and fact that it was completed in just five years makes it a must-see. Yes, it will be crowded but it’s big enough that you barely notice.
Where else: There is no real comparison to Hagia Sophia, but if you enjoy the murals, plan a visit to Chora Church (aka Kariye Muzesi). While not undiscovered either, the location is outside of the Old City and can be quiet in the off-season and on weekdays.
Getting there: Bus 31E, 37E, 38E or 36KE from Eminönü, or 87 from Taksim, get off at Edirnekapı near the old walls after the sunken stadium.

Blue Mosque
Why go: The city’s most famous active mosque isn’t really all blue, as the interior is covered in tiles of all shades and designs. It’s perpetually filled with rude tourists with uncovered hair talking on cell phones and photographing worshippers (all major mosque no-nos) but if you are seeing Hagia Sophia, it’s right there, the light and colors are lovely, and it’s free. Watch out for the “helpful” guides who will tell you it is closed for prayer and “volunteer” to take you elsewhere; if it is closed to the public, you’ll know it at the door and will have to wait a half hour or so to enter.
Where else: Tucked in a busy street near the Spice Market, the Rustem Pasha Mosque is also decorated with beautiful Iznik tiles but gets few foreign visitors. You may sometimes get the place to yourself, making your visit far more peaceful or even spiritual.
Getting there: From the Spice Market, exit onto Hasırcılar and wander a few blocks past vendors selling everything from coffee to tinfoil to guns; look for an elevated courtyard on your right with a sign for the mosque (camii). From Eminonu, head up Uzunçarşı away from the water, the mosque will be on your left a block or two up the hill.

Topkapı Palace
Why go: In many rooms of the palace, you’ll feel the full court press of people trying to get a good look at exhibits, it’s worth it to see emeralds the size of a baby’s head, over-the-top Ottoman costumes, a bizarre collection of relics, and the reality that life in a harem was nothing like the inside of I Dream of Jeannie‘s bottle.
Where else: While less grand than the other royal residences, Beylerbeyi Palace is a pretty jewelbox of a palace and gives you a nice excuse to visit the Asian side. Only accessible by guided tour, but unlike the European Bosphorus-side Dolmabahçe Palace, you’ll rarely have more than a few other travelers on your English-language tour and the admission is a relative bargain at 10 TL.
Getting there: Ferry over to Üsküdar on the Asian side, where you can take bus 15 to the Çayırbaşı stop right by the big bridge.

Grand Bazaar
Why go: The mother of all tourist traps, it’s hard to say you went to Istanbul without visiting this maze of shops. While quality and value are questionable, it’s an experience to listen to the myriad ways the shopkeepers will try to get your attention (they are very thick-skinned and multilingual). One thing to note besides tourist swag is the “Wall Street” of the Grand Bazaar, a street of Turkish men trading currencies and yelling into their cellphones (thanks to Rick Steves for the tip). Want to actually buy something? Outside the actual covered bazaar lie more streets selling many of the same items without the hassle.
Where else: If you are in the market for a submarine phone or an Ottoman fireplace, Horhor Bit Pazari is your best bet. More of an antiques market than a souvenir bazaar, it’s still fun to wander the hundreds of shops and wonder about the history behind the furnishings.
Getting there: In the very untouristy neighborhood of Aksaray, take the tram to Aksaray, walk towards the metro and head up Horhor Caddesi and look for the sign at Kırık Tulumba Sokak. It can be hard to find so check with your hotel or ask directions when off the tram.

Galata Bridge dining
Why go: The views from the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn are spectacular and unmistakenly Istanbul, but the restaurants on the lower level tend to be overpriced tourist traps. Any place where the waiters try to hustle you into sitting down at their table and the menus are in seven languages should be approached with caution. Better to have a walk along the bridge with the fishermen and stop below for a tea (not the apple stuff, it’s a dead giveaway that you are a foreigner) or beer.
Where else: Waterside cafes are plentiful in the suburbs lining the Bosphorus and while they may also be overpriced, the Turkish locals are spending similar amounts to enjoy the views. Rumeli Hisarı is popular for Sunday brunches and has a cool old fortress to explore, Bebek is trendy and posh, Arnavutköy is full of crumbling Ottoman mansions and fish restaurants, Ortaköy is famous for overstuffed baked potatoes and terrace cafes, and Beşiktaş is crowded with students and commuters having a beer and lounging on bean bag chairs.
Getting there: Ferry schedules are erratic, try buses 22, 22RE, 25E from the tram end or 40, 40T, 42T from Taksim to anywhere along the water. Traffic is often bad along the Bosphorus, so work your way back on foot.

Have a favorite tourist trap or local secret to share? Leave it in the comments.

Santa Claus to seals: 5 California sights worth visiting

You already know the Southern California’s top tourist attractions by heart. Disneyland. Hollywood. Hearst Castle. Ever wonder what else is out there? Here are five great lesser-known attractions to check out on your next visit to the Golden State.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Wildlife is often entertaining, and you will get more than your money’s worth (it’s free) by making a stop at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. Located about seven miles north of San Simeon (site of Hearst Castle) along Highway 1 on the scenic central California coast, the rookery is home to an estimated 15,000 animals, according to Friends of the Elephant Seal.

The seals travel in the open ocean for 8 to 10 months a year, but they head to land at the Rookery to give birth, breed and rest. The site is typically a hive of activity as the animals bark, scratch, crawl, fight, sleep and care for their young. They are funny, sweet and fascinating creatures to watch any time of the year. Parking and entrance to the Rookery are free, and there are plenty of viewpoints from which to enjoy the antics of these strange but wonderful creatures.

Santa Claus Statue
Did you know it’s Christmas all year long in Nyeland Acres, California? You might just miss the area’s very own jolly old St. Nick, unless you know where to look. While cruising down Highway 101 through this area of Ventura County north of Los Angeles you’ll encounter a giant 22-foot-tall statue of Santa Claus resting behind wrought-iron gates off the Rice Avenue exit on South Ventura Boulevard.

For more than 50 years, this SoCal Santa stood atop a candy store in what was then Santa Claus Lane off Highway 101, nearly 30 miles away. After the Christmas-themed attraction closed down, Santa’s future was in jeopardy. In 2003, Mike Barber, president of Garden Acres Mutual Water Co. in Nyeland Acres, took possession of him, and the 5-ton Saint Nick moved to his new digs. The custom wrought-iron gate has Santa’s initials (an “S” and a “C”) in it, and he now has company: a snowman and two soldiers. Although the site is opened by appointment only and on special occasions, you can still come to peer at him behind the gates any day of the year for free.

Santa Paula Murals
The quaint Ventura County town of Santa Paula holds a treasure trove of artwork — all on walls of buildings in the city’s downtown. As the city says, you can “enjoy a Walk Through History” by viewing the nine colorful murals as you stroll through town. Santa Paula’s rich history in aviation, “black gold,” citrus, Chumash Indians, Latino culture and more is represented on the various murals. Best of all: It’s free. Visit SantaPaulaMurals.org for more information, including a map with the murals’ locations.

Nitt Witt House

Chances are you know about Hearst Castle, the opulent mansion built by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst in the central California coast town of San Simeon. But have you ever heard of the “Poor Man’s Hearst Castle?” That’s the nickname given to the Nitt Witt Ridge home at 881 Hillcrest Drive in Cambria, about 15 minutes away from Hearst’s fancy digs.

The Nitt Witt home, built lovingly out of junk, is the product of Arthur Harold Beal, aka “Captain Nitt Witt” or “Der Tinkerpaw.” Beginning in 1928, Beal spent 50 years building his “castle,” out of such items as toilet bowls, tires, tile, rocks and beer cans. In 1986, the home was named California Historical Landmark No. 939. Today’s owners, Michael and Stacey O’Malley, offer tours of the folk art home. Call 805-927-2690.

Fillmore & Western Railway
Residing in the rural town of Fillmore, north of Los Angeles, is a star of huge proportions. He’s been in more than 400 TV shows, movies and commercials. “He” is the Fillmore & Western Railway, also known as “The Movie Trains.” Just a few of his credits: “Monk,” “Seabiscuit,” “Criminal Minds,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Walk in the Clouds,” “City Slickers II,” “Bugsy” and “Fatal Instinct.” You can ride the rails on this famous train year-round for a myriad of special excursions, such as murder mystery dinner train rides, the Pumpkinliner Halloween journey and the North Pole Express trip. Visit Fillmore & Western’s Web site or call 1-800-773-8724 for ticket reservations. All aboard!