Where squatting meets art at Ljubljana’s Metelkova

Metelkova in Ljubljana

What do you get when you take away societal norms and merge like-minded individuals with art, music and an entire underground scene that can go entirely unnoticed to people should they not walk down Metelkova 3 Street in Ljubljana, the capital of the tiny Central European country of Slovenia?

Answer: Metelkova.

Located a quick walk from the center of Ljubljana,  it has created one of the hottest underground scenes in all of Europe and today is a place where youth mingle, bands perform, beers are swilled at funky bars, NGOs work and art abounds.

Destinations

Escape of the Week: the Church of Bones

What to do with exhumed skeletons of more than 14,000 bodies from the time of the Black Plague? For woodcarver František Rint, the grisly task was his to handle the bones nearly 300 years after a half-blind monk unearthed them.

The result? The Sedlec Ossuary, or the Church of Bones.

Church of Bones

The entryway to the thousands of bones beneath

Located about an hour train ride from Prague in the quaint town of Kutna Hora (a UNESCO World Heritage site), today the Sedlec Ossuary is one of the town’s biggest draws.

Czech Republic Europe

Escape of the Week: Tel Aviv’s street art in photos

Street art in Tel Aviv is alive and well — something I learned recently on my tour with Mekomy and the start-up’s founder, Gilad Uziley.

What I learned on the tour is that the street art scene in Tel Aviv, while it flourishes in the warehouse neighborhood of Florentin, extends well beyond this mostly rundown, hipster area and can actually be seen all over town. It is just a matter of where you look.

Florentin

A street in Florentin, Tel Aviv

Considered hipster/bohemian, Florentin is the place to immerse yourself in the street art culture in Tel Aviv.

A street in Florentin in Tel Aviv

Located in the southern part of the city, the area is a hodge-podge of industrial and residential with the in-the-know crowd frequenting the area for its nightlife scene. Regentrification in the 90s saw a flux of the younger crowd moving in, and today there’s a span of people who call this area home.

A Jewish star against street art

It’s a mix of rich and not-rich. A meshing of ideas … all under one neighborhood.

Street art by Dioz in Tel Aviv

For me, I’m completely taken by the art flanking the walls, the dumpsters, the doors and beyond.

Street art in Florentin

Florentin’s street art tells a story.

A rabbi as street art

Street art in Florentin

It explains the the issues with the city, personal problems, creative solutions, cries for love, and more.

Street art in Tel Aviv

It merges local artists with visiting artists to create collaborative works of art.

String street art in Tel Aviv

It uses mediums aside from just paint, like string.

Street art by Dede

There is Dede, whose work can be identified by Band-Aids.

Street art by Eggplant Kid

Eggplant Kid who paints (you guessed it) eggplants.

Adi Sened street art

Adi Sened who creates these little box people.

Street art in Florentin in Tel Aviv

Dioz, with his abstract take on life.

Street art in Florentin

A street in Florentin

And so, so many more.

Tel Aviv Bus Station

The Tel Aviv bus station

And then, there is Tel Aviv’s Bus Station.

Street art in Tel Aviv bus station

Filled with vendors and quite run-down on most floors, the top floor is literally a work of art now, thanks to Mati Ale and his vision for bringing street art to the forefront of the locals and visitors. This floor treats passengers to a who’s who of street artists from Tel Aviv and beyond.

Street art at the Tel Aviv bus station

Street art at Tel Aviv bus station

Mooz street art in Tel Aviv

Cultural commentary in street art at Tel Aviv bus station

An apple as street art

Mixed medium street art at Israel bus station

Blindfolded street art

Sumo street art in Tel Aviv

Colorful street art at Tel Aviv bus station

Street art with rainbow

Elephants as street art

Computer game street art in Tel Aviv

A girl as street art

Tel Aviv street art

After walking through Florentin and then hitting the bus station, I love being able to recognize some of the artists whose work I have already seen in the gritty real world.

Street art box people

Street art in prose

Street art with string

Street art by Dede

Art by Dioz at Tel Aviv bus station

Around town

And, then my eyes are open.

Tel Aviv

As I walk around town, I can’t help but notice the street art everywhere I turn. The Band-Aids, the Hebrew prose, the little box people.

IMG_0856

Am I in love with the street art scene in Tel Aviv? Yes, I think so.

IMG_0907

For more information on taking your own street art tour, be sure to check out Mekomy’s Facebook page.

Editor’s Note: My street art tour was courtesy of Mekomy, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy

Destinations Featured

Escape of the Week: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

It’s 4 a.m., and I am awake in my bed, heart thumping in my chest with excitement, because I know in 30 minutes, my dad will be knocking on my door, telling me to wake-up, and then I will be bounding down our creaky, carpeted steps into the kitchen to pet Flash, our black and white English Springer Spaniel who resembles a small cow, and then with brother and mom in tow, we will pile into the 1987 Ford Taurus wagon and embark on the three hour drive from the DC suburbs to the Eastern Shore.

It’s a ritual I go through my entire childhood. A day or a week at the beach.

I can remember vividly the drive there, the countless “are we there yet?” questions being hurled at my parents in the front seat. The awe of driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The flat expanses of farmland as we headed toward the Atlantic Ocean and Rehoboth Beach.

The Atlantic Ocean at Rehoboth Beach

The sticky salt air when we got out of the car. The McDonald’s breakfasts, the Dollie’s lunches, the Grotto’s Pizza for dinner, followed by cotton candy that turned crunchy and being scared witless as we took the black cart through the Haunted House, and the sadness as I saw the sun sink into the sky atop the Paratrooper ferris wheel.

Rehoboth Beach is one of my fondest memories.

The sunset at Rehoboth Beach

And when my parents decided to sell the house I grew up in last year, I was heart-broken. But, they moved just outside of Rehoboth, and this trip “home,” I am able to relive my innocent youth, packed with Thashers French Fries …

A beach staple, Thrashers French Fries

Cotton candy …

Enjoying cotton candy in Rehoboth Beach

and that gorgeous, humid salt air.

Delaware's Rehoboth Beach

It may not be the sprawling suburbs of Washington, DC, and there may not be a Whole Foods, Target or shopping mall within an hours drive, but this is my new “home” away from “home,” and damnit, it sure is pretty.

In the mornings, we hop in the car, head from Lewes traversing down tiny roads lined with corn fields and old homes to the main street of Rehoboth. With the fresh air blowing off the ocean, we sit on the painted white benches facing sea grass, and beyond, the ocean.

Benches at Rehoboth Beach

It’s magical and whisks me back to being a kid in the flash of a second.

We walk down the boardwalk I remember from my youth being more massive, past the rides, to where the wooden planks end.

The boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach

From there, Dad and I let our toes sink into the sand and the foam from the Atlantic kiss our toes.

Foot prints at the beach in Rehoboth

We walk back towards Grotto Pizza, which always tasted far better as a kid, and to the hotels lining the shore, but not before I stop and marvel at the beauty of the tide lapping along the cliffs of sand.

The Rehoboth shoreline

My parents and I stand on the sand as the sun sinks behind us, casting a pinkish glow over the little main street.

The sunset in Rehoboth

I look back one last time at the popular haunts of my youth, Dolles and Candy Kitchen.

The Dolles at Rehoboth

 

One of many Candy Kitchen's in Rehoboth

By night, we scope out the games.

A game at Rehoboth's boardwalk

Horse racing game in Rehoboth

My favorite boardwalk game in Rehoboth

Then, I take a moment to stand, facing into the darkness of the world to my east, and think of my life as an expat in Thailand, so very far away.

But, in this moment, I am here.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

In Rehoboth. Reliving my childhood one Thrasher’s french fry and fluffy piece of sugary spun wisps of cotton candy at a time.

Getting there: From Washington, DC: Take 495 North or South to US-50. Head east on US-50 and cross the Bay Bridge to Route 404. Go east on Rought 404 to Route 16, then east on Route 16 to Route 1. Head south on SR-1 toward Rehoboth and Dewey Beaches. Follow Route 1 for about 20 minutes, then take exit 1A (Rehoboth Beach-Henlopen Acres). Route 1 ends at the boardwalk. Travel time: 2.5 hours

From Philadelphia: Take I-495 to I-95 South, then Route 1 south. Pass Milford, De. and go towards Rehoboth and Dewey Beaches. Take exist 1A and ends at the boardwalk. Travel time: 2 hours.


Directions from Rehoboth.com.

Americas Delaware Destinations

Escape of the Week: Downtown Las Vegas

Downtown Las Vegas has always held a special place in my heart.

I remember the first time I ever went to Vegas, fresh off of my ninth grade year in high school. My father drove us down past Fremont Street and the glittering lights and seeing Vegas Vic welcoming visitors to town with an arm raised. Instantly, I was mesmerized.

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

Then, when I moved to Vegas in 2005, and learn more about the history, particularly of the mob and the town’s earlier days, I became fascinated imagining what my experience in the southwestern town would have been 40 years earlier.

In the years I lived in Vegas, I watched the downtown area be reborn. I watched as the Arts District 18b laid its roots, as local hot spots were born, as the city cleaned up its act and began to embrace the area for what it could be — a burgeoning place for businesses, locals and tourists to all share space.

With Zappos moving in to the old City Hall this month, and my stop there, I noticed a huge change from my last visit: Downtown Las Vegas is alive and oh-so vibrant.

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

There is something so old-school about heading to Fremont Street and seeing the glittering lights beckoning people into the casinos … the ringing of the slots as the machines “dispense” coins.

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

The in-your-face marketing of one of Vegas’ biggest sells: getting wasted …

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

And the neighborhood charm of Fremont East and all of its groovy bars and restaurants (you can read about some of my recommendations here) which have popped up in the past decade.

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

In fact, some of my best memories of my life in Vegas center around Downtown and the amazing and beautiful memories created there.

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

Getting there:

From the infamous Las Vegas Strip, simply hop in a cab or bus and head north on Las Vegas Blvd. to downtown. It is a straight shot. If you want to avoid the congestion of The Strip, hop onto I-15 North and exit at either Charleston Blvd. (to check out the awesome arts scene), or take 95 towards downtown and exit at Casino Center. My favorite spots are Fremont East, which is home to Beauty Bar, The Griffin, La Comida, Park on Fremont and other hopping bars and restaurants. Don’t miss Gold Spike. A former casino, today it’s got a sweet bar and fabulous outdoor patio with corn hole and more. To experience Old Vegas, check out the Fremont Street Experience and the casinos there.

What’s your best Vegas experience?

 

Americas Destinations Nevada

Escape of the Week: Getting Molested at the Mud Volcano

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from travel blogger Dani Blanchette.

Have you ever immersed your body in a vat of thick, chocolate pudding? Have you ever been crammed into a closet with a gaggle of almost naked strangers? Have you ever voluntarily let random foreigners rub your nether-regions in front of a tour group?

No?

Well, welcome to Volcan de Lodo El Totumo, where all this can happen … and more.  

mud volcano, cartagena, colombia

Volcán de Lodo El Totumo is Cartagena, Colombia’s famous mud volcano. Upon arriving we pulled up to what looks like an overgrown anthill with a rickety, home-made wooden staircase up one side. Unless you have a car, the only real way to reach this volcano is by tour (usually from Cartagena), so all at once, you and a few dozen of your not-so-close friends all strip down to their skivvies and climb the 15 meters up to the mouth of the volcano.

As you come over the top lip, you suddenly look down into what appears to be a hideous form of group torture: a pit filled with helpless bodies grabbing and clawing each other to stay afloat in this virtually bottomless mud pit. 

As you wait in line, you are thinking to yourself, “Why am I doing this? Can I still back out?,” but, realizing you just PAID for such humiliation, you succumb to the fact that you are cheap and will stick out and get your full money’s worth. Even though, at this point, you could easily just watch, you know you wont. You are also acutely aware that you will also be paying the 3 mil (about $1.75) each to get your photo taken, to get massaged by strange burly men, and to get ‘washed’ by random women, which happens somewhere around here.

As you make your way around the top ledge of the volcano, which “safely” keeps you from falling off the outside by a flimsy rail made by haphazardly nailed together two-by-fours, and doesn’t have anything holding you back from cannon-balling onto fellow mud submerged victims below, you keep thinking that this is possibly the strangest situation you have ever put yourself into, yet you can’t wait to feel the thick mud squishing between your toes, while realizing that you are about to get mud in various nether regions that you usually take pride in their cleanliness

bodies in a mud pit.

And now you are there.

You loom over the edge of another shabby-looking, handmade, wooden ladder plunging about six feet down into this pit of body parts, and take a deep breath. You hand your camera to a random local boy, who is adorned with a variety of other’s cameras and say either of two words: “photo” or “video.” The only redeeming thing is that this strange person seems to know how to use every style camera; from $20 disposable to $5000 DSLR, known to man. You wonder if you will ever see your precious piece of gear again (because you know each camera is worth way more than the 3 mil ($1.75) this kid will make, as you say “Photo, por favor,” and take that first apprehensive step down the ladder.

One, two three, four, and you overreach the last step, just to hurry up and get that first feeling of the sticky, oozy warm mud on your toes.

It is weird.

There is no other word that describes this better. Weird is actually an understatement. You take another step onto an unseen rung below the mud, then search for the next step – which is distinctly missing. Do you jump in? No. You are aware that this pit plummets to the center of the earth, and you still cling to the sides of the ladder as you move your foot in vain looking for something solid to stand on, something solid which doesn’t exist.

A local man helps ease your confused body into the mud. You sit in it. Everyone does. You can’t bring yourself to let go of the ladder until you are positive you wont sink to your doom. Once you get in a semi-sitting position, the thick mud cushions your body and you kind of float. A few people liken this to the Dead Sea, a place I have never been, so these words of reassurance are meaningless to me.

bodies in mud, mud volcano, cartagena, colombia

You are now sitting in the mud, a single toe still refusing to leave the safety of the submerged ladder rung, when this local who has helped eased you into the buoyant pit, grabs your leg, and thrusts you back towards the mud covered massage men behind you. One of the men grabs you and spins you to the side. Another then pulls you towards the back wall, where you are now looking at others leering over the side, hoping they don’t slip on the uneven ledge above and land on your head, and starts throwing mud on your body.

There is no niceness in this.

Within seconds you have become one of the many unidentifiable mud creatures, and now have some strange guy rubbing his mud covered mitts all over your barely clothed body. There is no shame. Every sexual part of you is being rubbed down in a very non-sensual way. Yet it feels good. The warm mud covering your entirety feels like bathing in a vat of pudding. Slightly egg-smelling pudding. You are holding your head up until this mud massage genie forces it back so you are planking on your back, floating in the viscous dirty liquid. After a minute, he not-so-nicely flips you over and you suddenly have to raise you head again so you don’t suffocate on the mud.

You feel like a human mud-pie. A human mud-pie who is not only voluntarily letting — but paying — a man to rub his hand all over you buttocks, a man who seems to take more time and joy in the women.  He really has rubbed your butt quite a bit, you keep thinking.

After another minute of strangely relaxing-feeling molestation, you get flipped back over, and after a final feel-up of your frontal parts, you get pushed off into the horde of mud people. There is no room to lay flat, and as your feet hit someone, they instinctively push your legs down, so not to kick them in the face, and suddenly, without warning, you are standing.

Standing is a relative word.

You are more floating in what you are convinced is a watery form of quicksand. You can feel small harder chunks of mud floating in the liquid below your feet, but there is no bottom to stand on. This is one of the coolest feelings ever. You look down towards where your feet should be and suddenly you are flailing your arms, grasping for any body part you can grab, because you start to face plant. Quickly you realize that wherever you look, your body tries to go. A man behind you grabs your hair to pull up your head as you grab the shoulder (OK, side boob) of a middle aged women. Another women behind you also starts to face-plant, and grabs someone else’s neck, while kicking her feet into your stomach. You nervously start introducing yourself to these new-found friends of yours, and everyone is laughing at how ridiculous this is.

You see a girl with a clean face and feel the need to stop her to rub some mud on her forehead. Some one else puts some mud behind your ear for you. A random foot pops up between you and a guy you are talking with. “I’m in between some dudes legs now,” he exclaims, as you start playing ‘This Little Piggy’ with the toes. This mud pit is akin to a group orgy, and you are really hoping no one decided to relieve themselves in it.

After five to 15 minutes, you think you want to get out and back to the world of personal space. Plus people slip-climbing up the exit ladder (which is covered in a mix of dry mud coated with fresh wet mud), are being cleaned at the top by another local, and the mud coming off their body keeps plopping down into the pit and flinging mud on your face. Mud you quickly realize you can wipe off because every inch of your being is also covered in mud. You just want to get to the washing.

You full-body grab the exit ladder and with extreme effort, somehow make it to the top. Without warning, though you saw this coming, a man wraps his hands around your extreme upper thighs and squeezes down to clear away as much excess mud as possible. He reaches for your upper chest to ‘help’ clean that area, but you pull away, wrap your whole arm on a rail, and slowly side step your way down a slippery, mud-made staircase. By the third step, most of the mud on the bottom of your feet has scraped off and you can stop bear-hugging the wooden rail. At the bottom you find your camera man, who you lost, and he agrees to follow you down a hill to where this supposed shower is.

 

water, washing, molested at he mud volcano, volcan lodo el totumo

It is not a shower.

It is a lake filled with entering mud people, and exiting humanoids. It is a distinctly dirty lake, whose tide is brownish-gray, and whose bottom is muddy-rocky feeling. You don’t get far into the shallow waters before a women (age anywhere from ‘your-pretty-sure-they’re-not-legal’ to ‘how-are-they-not-dead-yet’) grabs your wrist and pushes you into a sitting position by the top of your head.

Before you can figure out whats going on, water pours down your face and this women is grabbing, rubbing and drowning you with buckets of water. Buckets and buckets of dirty, mud-saturated water rain down upon you. You are trying so hard to time your breaths in the half-seconds you get before the next bucket pours down upon you, you don’t realize that this women has stuck her hand under your bikini top and pushed it to the side. You are now in a lake with the same group of newly felt up friends saying, “Nice to meet you. Here’s my boobies.”

For us girls, the women assume you have zero shame or problem with their water-wrinkled fingers sliding violently in, out, and around inside of your bikini bottoms as they ‘clean’ you with the muddied water. You are also trying to ‘clean’ yourself to hurry-up this situation, in hopes they stop, but they don’t, so you finally give up and just let them do their thing. Remember, you are paying for this, too.

molested and washed, volcan lodo el totumo, colombia, mud volcano

 

And for the men, don’t be surprised when the ladies reach down under the dirty waves and rip your bottoms off of you. Some try to clean you, some let you do it yourself, some rip your bottoms off then walk away with them to beat the mud out, leaving you crouching and reaching in vain for your confiscated shorts (they don’t go far with them and give them back after however long it takes them to feel they are clean).

This is all done so un-sexy and viciously, that people are standing up only to have whatever stranger is in front of them pointing to whatever body parts are now exposed to the world. Everyone gets to know each other, real intimately, on this trip, minus any carnal desire. 

It’s very Group-Sexual-Assaultish.

At the end of the day, you are about $35 poorer, have been inside a live volcano, been lewdly massaged in the most non-arousing way ever, grabbed by and flashed complete strangers, and paid to get completely molested in the ‘dirtiest’ (literally) possible ways ever.

All in all, I say it was a great day.

Getting there: Volcán de Lodo El Totumo is reached through tours sold in just about every hotel and hostel in Cartagena. You can now get to Cartagena, from the USA, to experience your own mud molesting, with JetBlue Airways. 

Destinations Guest Posts

Escape of the Week: Udawalawae National Park, Sri Lanka

The sunrise in Sri Lanka casts a pink and orange glow across the peach dirt, warming me despite the slight chill in the air. In front of the guest house we’ve stayed at, there are two larger-than-life Jeeps, with their sides and roof ripped off and rows of plastic benches replacing the normal seats.

We’re off on a safari to see some elephants where they belong — in the wild.

“It’s nothing like what you’ve seen before,” my friend tells me before I climb into our SUV. “Seeing these animals in the wild … it is just amazing. It gives you an entirely different appreciation for them.”

Pee-ow. Pee-ow.

That’s the first thing I hear as we pull onto the very dry dirt road at the entrance to Udawalawae National Park.

What on earth? 

“Peacocks,” our guide explains. For the past two days, every time I hear that call, I have thought it was cats. But, nope. Peacocks.

Udawalawae National Park, Sri Lanka

He points to one in the distance, perched on a tree. Shutters snap as our group lay claim to the memory of our first peacock at the park.

But, the peacocks aren’t what we’re after. So, as the sun rises higher into the Sri Lankan sky, we set off on our journey through the vast park.

The third most visited park in the country, Udawalawae is home to various species of birds, lizards, cows, buffalo, and, of course, elephants. Spanning around 119 square miles, the 30-plus-year-old sanctuary is quiet at this time of morning. Even though we’re told it is the perfect time of day to spot wild elephants, it seems at 6:30 a.m., most of the world has yet to wake up to join us on our journey.

And I’m totally OK with sharing Udawalawae with only my team and the animals.

As the pee-ow continues to be the soundtrack, we venture into the park, bumping and thumping along dirt roads in our yellow SUV. Every now and then, our guide clinks a rupee against the metal shell of the vehicle, alerting our driver to stop. He will point out an animal, our cameras will all go off simultaneously, and then we will continue on.

It isn’t far into our journey when we spot our first elephants.

Udawalawae elephants

Bathed in thick brown mud, Mom and Baby meander together through a thicket of tall grass, casually whacking the blades against their legs to soften them and then depositing the vegetation into their big mouths and chewing it.

Udawalawae elephant

A wild elephant. In front of me.

Udawalawae National Park

Two wild elephants. In front of me.

I blink, gently dig my thumb into my palm to remind myself this is real. I am in Sri Lanka on a safari and witnessing these animals before they have been abused in the name of tourism, before they have been made to give rides. They are happy. They are free.

For a moment, I can feel the tears well up in my eyes. Then, we continue on, getting a better angle from the safe confines of our vehicle.

“Shall we go?” One of the members of our group asks once the photos have slowed down.

We continue on, stopping every few minutes to spot different elephants.

A male elephant at Udawalawae

A solitary male, or “tusker” as the guide refers to him.

Family of elephants at Udawalawae

A family group.

Elephant at Udawalawae

And more. And more. And more.

With each stop, my heart warms even more at the experience.

Until we encounter one single female elephant. 

We pull up beside her as she snacks. Two jeeps, parked at odd angles in the late morning. She watches us watching her, casting as curious of glance as an elephant can give. Then, she slowly meanders up to the jeep I’m in. Our guide reaches out his hand to touch her. She leans her head into his hand.

Udawalawae National Park

“Hello, girl,” he says, his eyes twinkling as she leans more and more into his hand. Suddenly, his hand is no longer against her head. Instead, her head is against the metal of our SUV. And, we’re being pushed.

Oh my god. I’ve seen this on You Tube videos. Stupid tourists get too close to wild animals and pay the price.

“Woah, woah,” he says. Then, she backs off our ride and slowly returns to her grazing.

“Again! Again!” My boss says, delighted at our mini assault from the girl.

I laugh, a nervous laugh. A laugh that says, “that was great … but never again.”

The day continues, weaving through gorgeous landscapes of dried lake beds against far-off mountains and grasslands.

Udawalawae landscape

After nearly 10 hours of being on a safari, we call it a day. After all, we’ve got another safari tomorrow to tend to.

Getting there: I recommend being a part of a tour. Head there in the morning and stick around for lunch. The elephants are most visible in the early morning hours. The park is located near the Ratnapura-Hambantota turn-off, about 35 miles from Embilipitiya. The closest major city is Colombo. Cost for entrance is $12.

PLEASE NOTE: There are many places to enjoy safaris in Sri Lanka, but not many which do it right. Places like Chitwan National Park, which pile people onto elephants and offer elephant rides into a safari, are not animal-friendly or examples of responsible tourism. These places encourage the capture of elephants from the wild, their spirit to be broken through abuse, and the ultimate demise of the animal from the very place you want to see it live. It is not only safer, but the responsible way to experience wildlife in this beautiful country.

 

Asia Blog Destinations Responsible Tourism Sri Lanka