It takes a special kind of traveler to plan a trip around a phenomenon as capricious and fragile as seasonal flowers. As spring arrives in Japan, many foreign tourists will stay away this year, but—despite the recent series of terrible tragedies—Japanese meteorologists are still tracking the “cherry blossom front” as it slowly pushes north over the islands, waking the countryside from the slumber of winter.
The metaphor of a spring emerging from a cold winter and the ephemeral nature of beauty and life have always had a particular resonance for poets, artists, dreamers, spiritual sorts, nature lovers, and even politicians. Over the past century, the country of Japan has sent tens of thousands of flowering ambassadors around the world, creating gardens of cherry-blossom peace and beauty that bloom every spring in unlikely places like Newark, Toronto, Philadelphia, Macon, GA, and Istanbul. Even a town of serious workaholics like Washington, DC takes a brief pause to embrace the hanami spirit with plenty of suit-clad serious types lounging carefree for a few spring days in the shadow of the Jefferson memorial under the pink clouds of falling petals. It’s hard to imagine a more pure cultural impulse than sharing beauty—from one culture to another or the communal experience of crowds of people letting nature interrupt their daily routines.
Here are 14 places where flowers dominate the landscape, remind us of the endless cycles of nature, and command the attention of even the most distracted humans, at least for a short time. »Go to Slideshow
Seeking them out is a good excuse to explore some of the most remote, forgotten parts of America, deep inside state parks or down long dirt roads. These places tell the story of a turning point in American history; just at the time when the federal government was using the myth of “manifest destiny” to justify expansion of the US territory from coast to coast, another myth—that of a real El Dorado—drove the frenetic settlement, economic exploitation, and industrialization of the wild western expanse.
Countless movies and novels have delved into the diverse cast of characters who populated the mining towns and prospecting camps scattered throughout the American West. Their free-wheeling debauchery and restlessness is in stark contrast with the empty quiet of the skeletal present-day ruins left behind.
»Go to the slideshow
—Megan Cytron, Editor of Trazzler
Congratulations to all of the winners of our Juxtapositions Writing Contest and a big thanks to our sponsor, the City of Chicago, and all who took the time to enter and vote.
Editors’ Choice Grand Prize:
Falling Into a Book Lover’s Rabbit Hole in Detroit, Michigan
Editors’ Choice Runners-Up Prizes:
Going Pagan for Holy Week in Andalusia, Spain
Discovering a Rocky Oasis in Las Vegas, NV
The People’s Choice winners are:
Photographer: Fritz Berlin Fan
When we travel far from home, it can be hard to make contact with a historical reality that is deeper than royal china collections, presidential knick knacks, nationalistic propaganda, and kitschy reenactments. Museums are filled with the beautiful and seductive detritus of power. The stories of these “fugitive movements of compassion” (as Zinn called them) of ordinary folks who toiled in the shadow of the elite are less glamorous, but much more interesting and harder to tell. No presidents slept in any of the places in this slideshow… these are stages where the people are the protagonists—protesting, rioting, demanding, creating, organizing, and changing the world. »Go to Slideshow
—Megan Cytron, Editor of Trazzler
Photographer: Micha L. Rieser
The past 15 years have been especially interesting and productive (and controversial), as technology has allowed architects to squash the box, twist it, destroy it, deconstruct it, bend it, bury it, suspend it in the sky, or ignore it altogether.
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain
Therme Vals, Switzerland
Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, MN
Église Saint-Pierre, Firminy, France
Jewish Museum, Berlin
Seattle Central Library, Washington
City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain
CCTV Headquarters, Beijing, China
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Arthur and Yvonne Boyd Education Center, Australia
As all kindergarten teachers know, few activities bring people together in a state of zen-like contentment like sitting in a circle making things with our own two hands. No matter how exotic the locale, when we travel, it is this kind of basic human moment that sticks with us the most. Over the past decade, savvy communities of artisans around the world have discovered that burnt-out post-industrial travelers are interested not only in buying handmade crafts, but also in learning to make them. This is good for those of us in dire need of craft therapy, but it has also turned out to be a solid model for small-scale community-based tourism.
Travel, at its best, is an exercise in wish fulfillment. In a world of mass-production, the romantic notion of escaping to a far-flung destination and making contact with a community of craftspeople using ancient techniques is a compelling fantasy. While they may not be the Arts and Crafts utopias envisioned by the likes of John Ruskin and William Morris, the good news is that places like this really do exist and the possibilities are endless: batik workshops in Senegal, pottery classes in Turkey, incense making in Vietnam, glassblowing in Italy, weaving in Guatemala, drum making in South Africa, or quilting in Alabama. This slideshow pulls together fourteen spots around the globe where you can travel and immerse yourself in a craft.
Photo by Andre Natta
Hotels are places of transgression. While there doesn’t appear to be a medical term for people who suffer from a fear of hotels, there’s something about these transitional spaces, teeming with intimate human moments, that can make us feel a bit uneasy. Hitchcock knew this—his sketchy, rootless characters breezed in and out of hotels and boarding houses. In “Psycho” (and later Stephen King’s “The Shining”), the specter of an empty motel off the main road produced a sense of dread and foreboding.
If a hotel has been around long enough, it’s probably safe to say that someone died there at some point—and most don’t make much of a fuss about it. Some places, however, have a way of holding on to their sad stories—and embellish and fictionalize the facts to feed our morbid curiosity.
Each of these 15 hotels has a dark past—they are all, also, lovely places to spend a night, if not an eternity. Several are said to harbor ethereal remnants of the people who perished there, others bear physical scars from real violence, and a handful go down in infamy as the site of a messy, high-profile celebrity death.
- Lizzie Borden B&B in Fall River, MA
- Foulksrath Castle in Jenkinstown, Ireland
- Kenmore Inn is Fredericksburg, VA
- L’Hotel in Paris, France
- Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO
- Hotel Dalen in Telemark, Norway
- Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, CA
- Ballygally Castle in Northern Ireland
- Grand Hyatt in Taipei, Taiwan
- Hotel Coronado in Coronado, CA
- Chateau de Brissac in France
- Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, FL
- Three Crowns Hotel in Chagford, UK
- Bates Motel in Hollywood, CA
- Chelsea Hotel in NY, NY
- Lizzie Borden B&B in Fall River, MA
Quirky places where artists and dreamers turn trash into structural works of art
Some, like the beer can guy, hold onto their own trash until it reaches a critical mass of building material. Others seek out and collect bits and pieces that catch their eye on their daily meanderings (mailmen and those in the construction industry seem particularly susceptible). Unlike the hoarders portrayed on A&E, these visionary artists transform their trash stash into something much greater than the sum of its parts (though it makes you wonder if many of the compulsive hoarders are similar creatively motivated folks with grandiose, unrealized plans for their treasured cache of objects).
America is littered (in a good way) with art yards, trash houses, and found-object sculptures. A sense of whimsy and ingenuity pervades these 13 places, among them a sound sculpture made from demolished cemetery marble, a 10-story children’s wonderland built from salvaged industrial waste, houses made of wine bottles, a desert mountain of discarded tires…
Image courtesy of the City Museum
While a visit to the home of a famous literary figure offers a peek at an eerie, lifeless space suspended in time, seeking out the public places where a writer wrote, drank and caroused tends to be a messier proposition. Life marches on in bars and cafes. Regimes fall. Neighborhoods change. New people take over. If you are lucky enough to find the place still in operation, you can never be sure what to expect.
It’s true that many of the world’s great literary haunts have been reduced to a tourist-trap cliché — just consider the countless European bars with dubious “Hemingway drank here” signs propped up outside. Some venerable salons were disbanded and commandeered for decades for some other use (like the communist occupation of Kafka’s coffeehouses in Prague). Others managed to stay afloat but couldn’t keep the intellectual spark alive or the market forces at bay. It’s enough to make a sentimental literature nerd somewhat despondent. Nostalgia aside, reading about these temples of debauchery and creativity and then making a pilgrimage to their present-day incarnations is sure to reveal a fascinating intersection of history, homage, mythology, memory and marketing.
And then there are the places that haven’t given up the ghost: like the creaking boozer on the edge of Hampstead Heath where Keats morbidly pondered his nightingale; the Oxford pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis plotted their modern-day take on mythology; or the Madrid coffeehouse where starving postwar writers ran up tabs and sipped free soda water while plotting their next act of literary subversion. Time has passed, writers have changed, but the gathering places still feel relevant.
Here are 13 that run the gamut. Papa Hemingway only appears once, so it’s obviously an incomplete list. Have you ever gone on a literary bender? In 50 or 100 years, where will the hallowed writer hangouts from the early 2000s be? Tell us
— Megan Cytron
Here’s the list:
Eating a highwayman’s feast at a historic pub in Hampstead, London
Raging with dead poets in the West Village, New York City
Imbibing with the spirits of sotted Spanish writers in Madrid
Drinking in the history of al-Fishawy coffee shop in Cairo
Quaffing ale With J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in Oxford, England
Downing bourbons with Gatsby’s ghost in Louisville, Ky.
Hanging out with Henrik Ibsen in Oslo, Norway
Downing a pint at the Old Country’s oldest pub in Dublin
The more curmudgeonly among us might call the holidays, to (mis)quote David Foster Wallace, “a sneaky keyhole view of hell.” These days, hell is whatever we want it to be: other people (Sartre), ourselves (Oscar Wilde), a half-filled auditorium (Robert Frost). So much of our idea of hell comes from literature, rather than religion—Dante’s and Milton’s allegories, in particular—it’s hard to imagine a time when hell was more geological than metaphorical. Not so long ago, it was thought to be a real physical place beneath the earth’s crust with secret entrances in caves, volcanoes, underground rivers, and bubbling pools of boiling mud.
In the 12th century, Medieval Europeans (not unlike air travelers this spring) were terrorized by the prospect of Iceland’s increasingly active volcanic hellmouth, Hekla, spewing ash and evil all over the continent. In the 1500s, a Spanish friar exploring Nicaragua allowed himself to be lowered into an active volcano on a rope, just to get a closer look at the lake of fire and find a way to exorcise the demons. While science has demystified many of the natural occurrences that were once interpreted as emissions from Hades, these 15 gates to the underworld remind us of the power of the earth to command our fear and respect—and shape our stories.
View the Slideshow
When our ancestors climbed down from the trees and set into motion an incessant wandering in search of greener pastures, most humans lost touch with our fellow primates. Perhaps this is why finding ourselves face to face with furry long-lost cousins can be so compelling. How could we not recognize ourselves in those faces, fingers, and familiar gestures? While homo sapiens sapiens has spread all over the rest of the earth, 90% of the world’s primate species live in tropical forests—fragile ecosystems that are hard to navigate without a prehensile tail or grippy toes, and which chainsaw-wielding bipeds seem hellbent on destroying. To get to the habitats where wild primates live often requires an arduous journey off the beaten path to remote national parks, reserves, or rehabilitation centers. Many of these places are learning how to save the forests by encouraging a new kind of sustainable tourism—one that makes conservation a more attractive option for local communities than poaching and slash-and-burn deforestation.
Travelers unaccustomed to living with monkeys in their midst can get into some pretty entertaining trouble when the opportunity for contact arises. The animals often come out of neighboring forests and into tourist towns plying their furry wiles and foraging for easy snacks. A magical monkey moment can quickly morph from the mystical meeting of the minds depicted in Gorillas in the Mist to the menace of the Planet of the Apes. Sticking with more conservation-oriented protected areas will get you closer to the family groups and simian social clubs in their natural setting. Here they put the kibosh on full body contact and feeding the animals, but in return you get to observe the comings and goings, grooming, mating rituals, and general goofing off of non-captive primates. It’s far more entertaining and insightful than any reality TV—though strangely similar plot-wise, what with the nit picking, scuffles, primal screams, intense snuggling, and silly posturing.
Desert Dreaming: Escape to Joshua Tree
With sunny highs in the 60s and bright blue winter skies, December and January are excellent months to hit the road and head to Joshua Tree National Park and the quirky area surrounding it. This brief respite from the blistering heat allows outdoorsy types to rock climb and take long hikes without risking heat exhaustion (though you’ll need sunblock—and polar fleece at sundown). Photographers and botany geeks can linger as long as they like capturing the desert flora. There may be no better place to catch this month’s lunar eclipse and Geminid meteor showers. Especially if you are doing so while soaking in a hot spring under billions (and billions) of stars.
15 Quirky Shopping Spots in Los Angeles
Are you broke, a big-box store refugee, a militant recycler, a connoisseur of mom and pops, or just someone looking to outfit a home with something that isn’t owned by the teeming millions of Target shoppers? Attention indie shoppers: this list is for you.
NASA’s big announcement will surely inspire many to head up to beautiful Mono Lake, peer into the blue water, and ponder just how little we know about our very own planet. The fact that these newly discovered microbial oddballs have been there all along shouldn’t stop us from trying to get to know their remarkable ecosystem better. The area around Mono Lake also happens to be drop-dead beautiful—literally a photographer’s (that would be Ansel Adams’) dream. The area is teeming with other enigmas and—for those who are looking for more straight-forward fun—ski resorts.
Searching for Rebellious Signs of Life in Mono Lake, California
Most Americans will recognize Mono Lake. Ansel Adams loved this landscape, creating photographs that populate nature calendars tacked to walls around the country. Everything in this salt lake seems hypersaturated: the blue bellied sagebrush lizards, the unreal hue of the lake’s water, the surreal tufa towers that rise from the water like upside-down coral… and as we now know, even the bacteria breaks the rules. Hypersaline lakes are known for their bizarre ecosystems and oddly adapted species. Like a mini Galapagos, life here evolves differently. In Mono Lake, scientists discovered the first organism to replace one of the six building blocks of all known life—carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus—with another element, in this case, phosphorous swapped for poisonous arsenic. Oddly enough, arsenic is only a trace element here and the lake is full of other phosphorous-friendly life (like brine shrimp and algae) that share our same evolutionary trajectory.
Written by: Megan Cytron | Photo: Ottofunk9
More things to do around Mono Lake:
Check out the slide show on Huffington Post Los Angeles.
We have another round of freelance writing assignments up for grabs this month. Some are ending next week, so get your submissions in soon. Read more here:
As an avid (nearly fanatical) reader of Salon for over a decade, I am very excited to announce that we’ll be putting together weekly slideshows of our favorite Trazzler writing on Salon.com in the upcoming weeks. Over the years (really, it’s been years already?) as Trazzler’s editor, I’ve noticed many themes, leitmotifs, and odd commonalities among the thousands of Trazzler trips submitted. Be it the obsessions that drive us to travel and explore, cultural manifestations that are constants across the globe, or the earth’s repeating geological phenomena, there are so many interesting ways to read about travel and the way we experience it. We often tweet these @trazzler, but now you can follow along on Salon, too.
This slideshow “Urban Enigmas” was based on one of our very first writing contests. Since then we’ve collected many more of these quirky conundrums.
A good, productive city is often depicted as a hive of people zipping from one place to the next with purpose and determination. As any urban dweller knows, there’s not much fun in that — few of us move to the big city to sleepwalk through it. Situationist hero Guy Debord called this state of mesmerism the “petrified life” and urged urbanites to interact with the landscape in a deeper (and weirder) way. To notice what is hidden in plain sight, you have to be in the right frame of mind, which is to say, you have to be looking. Proto-slackers like Baudelaire paved the way, drifting through the streets riffing off the endless possibilities and moods, discovering poetry and mystery in the smallest details. Others, like today’s street artists, take a more active role, altering the urban terrain in ways that provoke and entertain passersby.
The enigmatic, inscrutable corners of cities get short shrift in guidebooks and travel sections, because they aren’t landmarks or must-see-before-you-die kinds of spots. The intersection of art, literature, history and mythology imbues these 13 places with meaning.
See the Trazzler Slideshow on Salon: