I don’t know that any city in the world can match the sheer “wow” factor of Hong Kong’s harbor. The city’s massive skyscrapers sit precariously perched on the lips of mountainous islands, always looking as if they’re about to fall into the sea. There’s probably no better way to take in the incredible view of this marvelous city than from the confines of a boat, particularly aboard a line like the Star Ferry. Flickr user wesleyrosenblum provides us with a fine example what the view from a Hong Kong boat ride might look like. In front of you is ancient Chinese Junk, its bright red mast floating in the breeze. Behind, Hong Kong Island aglow at twilight, a shimmering sea below and a sky of dusty orange and soft blue above. Perfect.
Shopping is a fun part of any trip, yet sometimes it’s hard to find something truly unique, something that tells a bit about the culture but stands out from what 10,000 other tourists bought that year. Finding a good souvenir can be a real problem.
In Madrid, you’ll never have that problem. At El Rastro, a giant open-air market that happens every Sunday from about 7am to 2:30pm, you can find pretty much anything. Part swap meet, part flea market, part bargain emporium for cheap imports, El Rastro has something for everyone, and piles of things you’d think nobody would ever buy.
Take this fish-shaped candle holder, for example. It’s hard to imagine someone taking this home, but it’s got a certain lure that made me almost cave in, because it’s so bizarre it deserves a home. Then there’s that collection of door locks behind it. The box contains about thirty of them, and only one still has its key. Is there a market for locks with no key? I do know someone who collects antique keys, so is this just the flip side? Do these people meet somewhere and try to reunite old locks with their long-lost keys?
It’s hard to get out of El Rastro without buying something and just the experience of wandering through the crowd looking at all the cultural detritus is a great way to learn about Spain. El Rastro has been voted by Gadling as one of the ten great markets of the world. Gadling also named it as one of the top ten places to have your pocket picked, so be careful. Madrid’s pickpockets are some of the best in the world, and they loooooove El Rastro.
Armed with a camera, a small amount of cash stuffed deep into a buttoned-down pocket, and no other valuables whatsoever, I headed out to explore, accompanied by Madrid’s leading ghost story writer. Somehow that felt appropriate.
%Gallery-96401%The most popular way for madrileños to visit El Rastro is to go to Metro stop Tirso de Molina and head downhill. This Sunday the square was filled with communist, socialist, and anarchist tables selling mementos of Spain’s Second Republic, as well as books, punk CDs, and lots of pins, stickers, patches, etc. to help you flash your leftist identity. Working our way downhill we ran a gauntlet of cheap imported kitchenware, tools, jeans, and heavy metal t-shirts. Not a bad hunting ground if you need to pick up some disposable clothes to wear on your trip, but nothing that really screams “Spain.” Except for the Chinese-made and very flammable-looking flamenco costumes for little girls.
El Rastro has no core and no real boundaries. Stalls sprawl along side streets and antique/junk shops line both sides of some avenues. Our path was the usual madrileño meander with no set course except a general direction downhill. The further you go down, the more interesting it becomes. Soon the open-air Walmart is replaced by sketches by local artists, handmade crafts, dusty old toys, and tattered movie posters. A circle of old men rummaged through a table of battered VHS tapes. A long table filled with old carpenter’s tools tempted for DIY fans. People selling stamp collections stood next to stalls piled high with used porn and old martial arts magazines.
The pop culture stuff is some of the most interesting. Here you can see what those old men with the VHS tapes consumed when they were kids–comic books with gaudy covers, Mexican pulp novels, and pennants for half-forgotten football (soccer) championships. There’s something very revealing about rummaging through another culture’s nostalgia. Forty years ago Spain was a fascist dictatorship with a struggling economy. Yet Spain was still Spain, and people liked to have a good time. The paper might be cheap, the print a bit blurry, but I could imagine Spanish kids devouring the latest issue of Coyote or Esther as eagerly as we read Superman or Archie. Come summer they’d head to the beach blaring Spanish pop music on that bright green plastic transistor radio, kicking that old soccer ball in the days when it was still inflated.
Now we had reached the bottom of the hill, where some real antiques (and a whole lot of junk) was being peddled. A cluster of stalls did a brisk trade selling ten year-old laptops with cigarette burns, rickety old chairs, and a collection of fine mirrors and glassware that had graced a some stately home a century ago but now were in desperate need of some love and attention. Every price is open to haggling. The prices for cheaper stuff tend to be less flexible, but it’s always worth a try and haggling is part of the fun. Some people get quite animated, showing Spain’s Arab heritage. At times it felt like I was in the bazaar of Cairo or Damascus.
So what did we buy? Remarkably neither of us spent more than 12 euros ($15), although we could have easily spent ten times that.
A collection of three classic films on DVD that was originally part of a newspaper promotion
La sangrientas battallas de Montecasino (part of a WWII series that came every week in a newspaper back in the Eighties)
Buffalo Bill contra Los Fumadores de Opio (a translation of an c.1900 American dime novel, translated & reprinted c.1930)
An imitation Zippo adorned with a symbol of the Spanish Republic
Two dirty old lampshades he plans to use for an art project.
What better way to spend a lazy Sunday morning?
Vietnam’s Halong Bay is natural oddity unlike anything on earth. Huge limestone rock formations surge from the Vietnam’s coast like looming sea monsters, lending the landscape an unforgettable visual appeal. Flickr user andreakw has put Halong Bay’s unique rock formations to good use in today’s photo. The darkened outlines of limestone float mysteriously upon the horizon like some vanishing dream; a fleeting memory soon to vanish in our subconscious.
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!