Photo Of The Day: Proud To Be Romanian

Today is Independence Day in Romania, a country most known for the Transylvania region and its implied ties to the legend of Dracula. It’s often overlooked in a traveler’s typical European Grand Tour, even among eastern European countries. If you have the time to explore, you’ll find absolutely gorgeous country villages, cheap and good-quality wine and beer, and evidently, bad ass old men. From the Flickr archives, today’s Photo of the Day by Jon Rawlinson captures five cool Romanians, just shooting the breeze on a park bench. Some commenters have noted the men look like they could be in organized crime, but I’d prefer to just say they are proud to be Romanian and it shows.

If you want to learn more about Romania, you can read the excellent My Bloody Romania series with Lonely Planet author and Romania expert Leif Pettersen.

Add your travel photos to the Gadling Flickr pool to be chosen for a Photo of the Day, or share with us on Instagram using #gadling AND mentioning @gadlingtravel.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Jon Rawlinson]

Museum Month: Madness And Badness At Psychiatric And Crime Museums

It’s no secret amongst my friends (and I suspect, most of my readers) that I’m obsessed with the more sordid aspects of humanity. Why? Hell if I know. As with most things, I blame my dad, the veterinarian. I’m pretty sure a childhood spent playing necropsy assistant has something to do with it.

My love of forensics is only the tip of the iceberg: psychiatry, taxidermy, eating weird shit and serial killers also make my list of fun things to read about or watch documentaries on when it’s time to relax. I know – I’m a total freak.

Obviously, I’m not alone (do a quick Google search of “forensic television shows” and you’ll see what I mean). There are also scads of museums and the like devoted to the seamier side of life, all across the U.S. My picks, after the jump.

P.S. If you find this reprehensible yet you’ve read this far, well, that makes you a bit of a voyeur, as well. Embrace it, and click away.Glore Psychiatric Museum
A part of the St. Joseph Museum located in St. Joseph, Missouri, the Glore was once housed in “State Lunatic Asylum No. 2.” Founded by George Glore in 1903, the museum is essentially a history of the treatment of mental illness (including keepsakes from patients that include “items ingested” and contemporary artwork). There are also interactive exhibits, replicas and documents. Expect to see everything from lobotomy instruments to treatments for patients “possessed” by witchcraft or demons.

Glore worked for the Missouri Department of Mental Health for nearly 41 years, and despite the thematic content, his museum contains what’s considered the largest and most well curated exhibition of mental health care in the U.S. According to its website, Glore’s goal was to “reduce the stigma associated with psychiatric treatment for patients, their families and their communities.”

The Glore Psychiatric Museum is located at 3408 Frederick Avenue, and is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays 1 to 5 p.m. – closed on major holidays.

The National Museum of Crime and Punishment
Washington, D.C.‘s “Crime Museum” opened in the Penn Quarter neighborhood in 2008, and boasts 28,000 square feet packed with artifacts, interactive exhibits, including an FBI shooting range and high-speed police chase simulator, and forensic techniques ranging from ballistics analysis to facial reconstruction. There are also historical exhibits focused on colonial crime, pirates, the Wild West, the Mafia and serial killers, and law enforcement uniforms, firearms and other equipment.

Other educational offerings include public forensic workshops, CSI summer camps for teens (it’s never too early to become the next Marg Helgenberger, kids) and rotating exhibits. Don’t forget your night vision goggles.

The Crime Museum is located at 575 7th Street NW, Washington D.C, and is open seven days a week. Hours vary by season. Click here for details. If you’re traveling by Metro, take the Green, Yellow or Red lines, and get off at the Gallery Place/Chinatown station.

[Photo credits: Michael Myers, Flickr user Chepe Leña; Crime Museum, Wikipedia Commons]

Coming Attractions: Panama

Watch out world, ‘cuz here comes Panama–that skinny little land-bridge of a country that’s famous for straw hats, yellow-fever infestations and American meddling.

Just how skinny a country is it? From the time the pilot lowers the landing gear to the time your flight actually lands in Panama City, that’s how much. One minute you’re looking down at the turquoise Caribbean and exactly four and a half minutes later, you’ve landed on the other side of the country, where–if you can see past the skyscrapers–you’ll observe mammoth cargo ships lining up in the Pacific Ocean to enter the canal.

Imagine a 13-year old mixed-race girl from a broken home who spends her childhood in a reform school later to discover that her abusive deadbeat father left her a massive trust fund. That’s Panama: young and eager, a little messed up, filling out nicely . . . and ridiculously rich.

Now that Panama gets to keep the cash she earns from her famous canal, the country has gained the kind of newfound respectability that comes from having new clothes and holding democratic elections. Witnessing Panama’s overnight transition from banana republic to middle-class retirement haven is like watching the Univision version of Extreme Makeover: it feels so tacky but you can’t change channels because you just have to find out what happens next.What’s happening now is this: a LOT of money is flowing into Panama, some of it from legit investors and some of it from Colombian entrepreneurs (and such as). Until recently, dysfunction and dictators kept away the Bills and Carols from Oklahoma City so that Panama’s nature remained underappreciated and remarkably intact. Meanwhile, neighboring Costa Rica has turned into another Orlando but with ziplines and monkeys. Panama’s real estate boom threatens a repeat of that trend, but for now, the real nature lovers and hardcore birdwatchers are all heading down to Panama’s vast network of well-protected national parks. They quickly realize that this is a beautiful, safe and fun place to travel.

The time I spent in Panama was filled with virgin tropical rain forests that were packed with amazing wildlife but wonderfully devoid of annoying tourists. Also, the beaches are phenomenal: literally hundreds of miles of beautiful coastline line the Atlantic and Pacific. Yes, all you scuba divers-you can dive in both oceans on the same day and enjoy two completely separate experiences.

The great Panama Canal is an awesome attraction in and of itself. Canal cruises are exploding in popularity so that nearly every major cruise line now tries to work it into their annual itinerary. If you prefer to head off the beaten path, then check out the deepest darkest Darien region or the San Blas islands and the Caribbean homeland of the Kuna Indians-Panama’s indigenous population. The fascinating Kuna culture is definitely one of the more exotic elements that has fortunately begun to be included in the country’s growing tourist development.

As a former American colony, English is widely spoken alongside Spanish, so that in many ways, Panama is a bilingual country. Other benefits include relatively good roads, a surprising collection of fine hotels, and a greater degree of rule of law than your average Central American country.

But is it really so peachy in Panama? Pretty much. Obviously, there’s a bunch of shady stuff going down–when Panama City billboards advertise savings accounts in Russian, well then, that’s got dodgy written all over it. And yet this kind of minor-league, white-collar stuff actually encourages all the stuff tourists love: lower street crime, good restaurants, and broader acceptance of credit cards. The fact is that nobody really knows what’s going on in Panama–the important thing is that it’s going and the sign in the window says, “Open.”

Helpful hints
The worst thing about getting to Panama is that you might have to switch planes in Miami-a two-hour flight away. Better options include direct flights from Houston (2 hours), Washington, DC (4 hours) or Los Angeles (5 hours). Panama’s Tocumen International Airport feels like an upscale Orange County mall minus the skateboarders. If you go shopping, remember that real Panama hats are made in Ecuador, so check the label. Another quick tip: get out of Panama City. Other than the old city (a romantic, yet tumbledown cluster of Havana-like architecture), the city is trying its darndest to be the next Las Vegas. Better to trade the traffic jams for the nice villages and tropical landscape of the countryside.

Mafia-free shopping in Palermo

“Why did you go to the police? Why didn’t you come to me first?” the memorable line was said by one of Hollywood’s most famous Mafia men: Don Corleone of The Godfather. But in some places, people really do skip over the police and head directly to the boss. Take Palermo, Italy where shopkeepers have for years paid the “Pizzo;” 200 to 500 euros paid monthly to Sicily’s Costa Nostra in order to avoid pesky occurrences like smashed windows and mysterious car bombs under cars outside of shops.

That might all change with Punto Pizzofree, a new shop which promises that all products and staff are 100% Mafia-free. What can you get at a Mafia-free store? Everything from marmalade to produce grown on farms seized from jailed Mafia bosses. But Mafia-free Palermo businesses can’t take a rest just yet; one member of Adiopizzo, an organization that supports shops who don’t pay up the Pizzo, lost £3 million in goods when mobsters burned down his warehouse.

[Via World Hum]

A musuem you can’t refuse

One of my favourite Scorcese movies is Casino.

(It’s not as good as Goodfellas, but hey, what is?)

So it’s cool to see a new museum being planned in Las Vegas dedicated to the role of the Mob in making Las Vegas what it is today.

I haven’t been to Vegas yet, but I wish I’d seen it in the glory days of the Rat Pack and the Tropicana. Once I do get there I might be disappointed with the contemporary lure of all-you-can-eat salad bars and Cirque de Soleil.

Of course, Casino was set a few years after the 1940s and 1950s period the musuem’s going to focus on – a time when a gangster nickname like Bugsy, Lefty and Sneezy was nothing to be sneezed at.

OK, I made that last one up.

The musuem is scheduled to open in 2010.

Don’t fuhgeddabout it, OK?

Thanks to Hometown Invasion Tour on Flickr for the pic of Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo.