Historic toilets of the world

toilet, toiletsWhen my family and I went to Aberystwyth in Wales last month, we visited the Ceredigion County Museum and saw an amusing exhibition called At Your Convenience all about historic toilets. The hardworking curators had amassed an impressive collection privies, commodes, chamber pots, early flush toilets, even an entire outhouse.

Needless to say, my five-year-old son loved this. Imagine, getting to make toilet jokes under the guise of education! This chair that lifts up to reveal a chamber pot especially impressed him until he noticed the yellow stains.

Being the highbrow kind of guy I am, I’m always interested to see historic toilets. These don’t get mentioned in history books much, and are generally not displayed in museums, which makes this exhibition a pleasant surprise. That such an important day-to-day item is blotted out of history tells us something about how the past is written and presented.

The sharp-eyed traveler can still discover privies from the past. Many survive in Roman archaeological sites. Ephesus has well-preserved Roman latrinae consisting of a stone benches with holes in them. Housesteads Roman Fort along the Hadrian’s Wall Path has a military toilet that gets lots of attention from younger visitors. The Romans had running water to clean these commodes.

They weren’t the first, however. The Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands had flush toilets 5,000 years ago. The ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro in Pakistan had toilets at around the same time. More modern toilets can be of interest too. In Addis Ababa, the Institute of Ethiopian Studies is housed in one of Haile Selassie’s palaces. The tour takes you through his private chambers, where you can visit the Imperial bathroom and see his baby blue toilet and bidet. Sadly, they don’t let you take photos.

Loo lovers will want to check out the Museum Für Historische Sanitärobjeckte in Gmunden, Austria. This toilet museum has probably the largest collection in the world. There’s a great gallery of photos here.

At Your Convenience is open until September 3.


Name a cockroach after your lover: Valentine’s Day at the Bronx Zoo

cockroach, cockroachesThe Bronx Zoo has come up with a good way to show that special someone you care–name a giant cockroach after them.

The BBC reports that for ten bucks you can buy the rights to one of the zoo’s 58,000 giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches and name it after that special someone who bugs you more than anybody else. The zoo says they sold 1,000 dedications in the first day of the promotion. Perhaps their tagline helped: “Flowers wilt. Chocolates melt. Roaches are forever.”

Indeed they are. They’ve been around since before the dinosaurs and they’ll probably be around after we’re long gone. The Bronx Zoo has some interesting facts about the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, like that they can grow to three inches long and the hiss they make can be as loud as a lawnmower.

They’re nutritious too. Check out our 8 bug-eating videos including two on eating cockroachs. Also check out the far less disgusting but much more educational the video below.

[Photo courtesy user Husond via Wikimedia Commons]

Customs finds snakes and geckos strapped to passenger

The fine folks at Travelocity did a poll a couple of months ago to find out the most annoying type of passenger to be seated next to on an airplane. People with poor hygiene and those who cough or sneeze came out on top, but there’s one category they missed–the guy with reptiles strapped to his body.

Customs officials in Norway have arrested a man who had 14 royal pythons and 10 albino leopard geckos hidden under his clothing. He had rolled up the pythons in socks and put the geckos inside boxes, and then taped them to his chest and legs. The animals had a total value of about $10,000.

While that’s pretty high on the ick scale, the scariest thing is that officials didn’t become suspicious until they did a routine check of his luggage and found a tarantula, at which point they searched him. This amazing video shows him all geared up and ready to fly.

This story begs the question–how often do people get away with this? How often have you sat next to someone covered in creepy crawlies? And how would you know?

Enjoy your flight!


Japanese chef publishes insect cuisine cookbook

One of the great joys of traveling is the chance to eat something new. Whether it’s a mouthwatering steak in Argentina or an English breakfast in London, exposure to new cuisine helps us understand the places we visit and people we meet. But of all the foods we’ll try when traveling, many people get all squeamish when it comes to insects. Not so fast says Japanese chef Shoichi Uchiyama, whose new bug recipe cookbook aims to give eaters everywhere a fresh look at eating and consuming these “untouchables” of the food world.

Uchiyama, who first became interested in insect cuisine during a workshop in 1998 in Tokyo, has become a devoted advocate of increased consumption of insects by humans. The chef points to the many benefits of insects as food, including their high protein content and the ability for farmers to raise them quickly and cheaply. He also notes that more than 1400 varieties of insects are consumed worldwide, from Africa to Latin America and Asia. Uchiyama’s new 256 page cookbook aims to further dispel humans’ natural aversion to eating bugs by providing a run-down of how to cook everything from cockroaches in pink vinegar soup, to moth pupae covered in sugar to pizza covered in water bugs.

What do you think? Does a sugar-covered moth-pupae get your mouth watering? Even if you think Chef Uchiyama has gone off the deep end, his enthusiasm and creativity are certainly cause for a second look at that plate of crickets. Have you ever eaten insects during your travels? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

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Disgusting tourists use Uluru as a toilet

The otherworldly red rock of Uluru (Ayers Rock) that rises above a flat expanse of Australia‘s Northern Territory has long been considered a sacred site to the native Aboriginal people. Against their wishes, over 100,000 people climb the rock, which is just over 1100 feet tall, each year. Recently, the National Parks service proposed a plan that would close Uluru to climbers.

There were many reasons given for the proposed climbing ban, including the site’s significance to the Aboriginal people, increased erosion on the rock, and the danger involved in climbing the rock(it is estimated that around 35 people die while attempting to scale it each year). A guide for the Anangu Waai tour company has now cited another reason – people are using the sacred spot as a toilet. After they get to the top, they take a “bathroom break” out of sight before starting their descent. It’s an idea so revolting that you hope it can’t possibly be true, but the director of the National Parks has backed it up. He says that in busy times, the levels of E. coli at the base of Uluru reach dangerous levels as the filth washes down the rock with the rain.

The Northern Territory government opposes the proposal. If Uluru were to be closed to hikers, fewer people might visit, and the area’s tourism industry could suffer. As per usual, environmental and social ideals become tangled with economic concerns and the country’s Environmental Minister will have to consider both when he makes his decision on a 10-year plan for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which he says will be made “in due course”. Looks like it you want to climb Uluru, you should get there now….but please hit the bathroom before you go.

[via Times Online]