When in Rome…Keep an Eye on Your Purse

If someone mentions Rome, a lot of things come to mind. You might think of museums, fountains, narrow streets, the pope, the history….the petty thieves. A recent post by Elizabeth Rosenthal on IHT’s Globespotters blog relates how Rome, while a great city and popular tourist destination, is not the idyllic spot some might expect. Pickpockets and bag snatching artists are out in full force in even the nicest of neighborhoods.

Rosenthal relates a story of a cell phone being plucked from a cafe table when the owner averted his eyes for mere seconds, and another about how she had her wallet taken out of her backpack…on two occasions…along the same street.

I recently posted about Cambodia seeing a rise in bag snatching. While the same kind of “wild west atmosphere” that some people think characterizes Phnom Penh is nowhere to be found in Rome, it does seem ironic that two cities with totally opposite images suffer from the same problem.

5 Non-Tourist Destinations in Beijing

Everyone is looking forward to the Olympics. It is expected that well over half-a-million visitors will descend on Beijing during the Games. While all those people will probably contribute to the excitement and energy of the event, it going to be crowded. Imagine trying to visit The Great Wall of China or the Forbidden City in mid-August. The crowds will make a packed weekend at Disney World look like a trip to one of the monasteries where the monks aren’t allowed to speak.

True, many touristy sites will be engorged with sightseers, but Beijing is a huge and wide-ranging city with plenty of corners that will go unnoticed by the visiting masses.

Here are a few places that are well worth visiting but will most likely end up under the radar of the average Olympic tourist.

1. Dashanzi Art District (a.k.a. 798 Art Zone) is the epicenter of Beijing’s independent arts scene. The area is made up of converted factory buildings that now act as art galleries for some of China’s most noteworthy talents. Not an art fan? Dashanzi is still worth a visit for its cafes, tailors, and restaurants. Though the neighborhood has recently gone through a period of gentrification, the arts scene is alive and well and worth a look.

2. The Golden Resources Shopping Mall is located in Haidian District. Yes, it’s in the guidebooks, so it’s not much of a secret, but it’s easy to get lost in. Or rather, it’s easy to lose the crowds by wandering through the twisting passages and multiple levels. There are surprises and bargains all over the place. Even if you are not a hardcore shopper, this is a great place to browse, snap some pictures, and maybe get a souvenir.

3. If you must visit the Great Wall, know that there are other options besides the popular spots at Badaling and Juyongguan. Though it is a little further afield, Simatai is one of the better Wall sites for more than one reason. Unlike the sections nearer the city, Simatai has not been completely rebuilt, meaning you are actually seeing some of the original structures. It is a bonus that it is much less crowded than other sites and boasts some magnificent scenery.

4. Lianhuachi Park has many of the attractions found in the more popular Beihai Park. The pavilions, ponds, rock gardens, and flowers (including thousands of lotuses) are straight out of a classical Chinese painting. Though it is a popular spot for Beijingers, most tourists will probably opt for the more famous Beihai, leaving you in Lianhuachi to snap photos of the ponds and practice tai chi with the locals.

5. Longfusi Snack Street (Dongcheng District) is the place to go for authentic Beijing eats. Restaurants line both sides of the street and there are plenty of vendors as well. Those who want to wander the city guided by their stomachs might also want to try some of the mom-and-pop joints located in the city’s many (but fast disappearing) alleyways (hutong).

Dashanzi gallery by pmorgan
Simatai Great Wall by +Rachel

Bizarre Japanese kinks: school boy cafes and more

While Japanese men get their kicks from “maid cafes”, Japanese women are getting their kicks from “school boy cafes” where waiters dress like teenage boys who go to boarding-school.

If I’ve understood clearly, these Japanese women do not want to get with these men dressed as school boys, but their thrill factor lies in the romance that they see (or imagine) between the boys at the cafes — something that comes to life from the Japanese boy-boy romance manga comics they read.

According to Reuters, the latest genre of such comics often include violent sex scenes that range from anal and oral sex to bondage and male gang rape. Apparently, seeing beautiful fragile boys in dangerous almost death-like situations makes them attractive to the women who read such manga comics.


The idea it follows after the “butler cafe” — opened in 2006 by the same person — to provide the young, sophisticated, geeky Japanese woman (female Otaku) a safe and trendy environment to hangout, something that is a rarity in Japan because of it’s rigid society norms.

Talking about rare cafes and kicks people get from them, a bit of prodding reveals numerous weird themed cafes in Japan: vampire cafe, prison cafe, ninja cafe, eyeglasses cafe, scientist lab coat cafe, and the church themed Christon cafes.

I think the success of such concepts is a great example of deep cultural complexities that I wonder if we will ever understand. But I suppose we don’t need to understand them as long as we accept them — perhaps then we will be able to enjoy them too!


Parisian Zinc Cafés

Now that Parisian cafés are smoke-free, it’s time to turn our attention to discovering the very best ones in which patrons can enjoy a warm cup of coffee and a quick meal without the sting of cigarettes burning the air.

In anticipation of the January 1 French law prohibiting smoking in cafés, Travel & Leisure has thoughtfully put together a handy write-up of the most outstanding “zinc cafés” in Paris.

According to journalist Christopher Petkanas, Zinc cafés are “workingman” cafés typified by a galvanized steel bar around which “scary” looking patrons tend to sit, sip, and partake of “affordable, delicious meals.”

Petkanas delivers eight such gems to our attention, the most famous of which is Café Des Deux Moulins. This particular café, located in the 18th Arrondissement, stared in the French film, Amélie. Naturally, the management now serves crème brûlée d’Amélie Poulain, as fans of the film flock to the café, all but pushing out the original clientele.

Not to fear, however. Petkanas offers up seven other authentic zincs in which to soak up the true atmosphere of a workingman’s café. Enjoy!