How to Visit the Mucha Museum, Prague

The Mucha Museum, in Prague, is one of my favorite “almost hidden” treasures in the City of 100 Spires. Located in Nové Město, just a quick walk from Wenceslaus Square, it should be on your must-see list of things to do in Prague.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link for an item or service I recommend and make a booking or purchase, I may get a small commission on that sale. It won’t affect the price you pay. Also I was offered a discount on this tour to be able to write about it for you. But that has not affected my opinion. My enthusiasm for this experience is genuine.

December 26,1894 – The workshop office of Lemercier Printers, Paris:

The phone rings and Maurice de Brunhoff, manager of the publishing firm, picks up. On the other end is the most famous actress in Paris, if not the world, Sarah Bernhardt. Her current production of Gismonda is being extended and she wants a new poster designed at once. Of course, Madame, M. de Brunhoff replies. Then Bernhardt drops the bomb; she wants the poster ready to distribute by January 1.

Let’s imagine the rest of the conversation, shall we?

“But, ma chère madame, that is only one week away!”

“Mais oui, mon chèr Maurice. And I want something different, non? Something unique. I am going to plaster Paris with them. See to it, please, will you, mon chèr?”

Well, clearly, M. de Brunhoff now found himself in a pickle. You just did not say no to the world’s greatest actress, not to mention one of your firm’s best customers, as they had been printing Bernhardt’s posters for some time. But it was the holidays; all his artists were unavailable. Where was he to find someone to design such an important commission and get it ready and printed in seven days?

Fortunately for him, and for the future of the art world, a not-well-known but talented artist/illustrator, a fellow from Moravia, was in the print shop at that moment, correcting some proofs. “Can you do it?” the manager asked after explaining the problem. Well, of course he could, replied Alphonse Mucha. And he did.

The Sarah Bernhardt poster for Gismondo, her gown in shades of gold, as seen at the Mucha Museum, Prague.

One week later, Paris was indeed plastered with Mucha’s 6 ½’ high poster. Bernhardt was delighted with the design, full of complex details and subtle colorations. It showed her full length and bigger than life, dressed as a Byzantine princess with orchids in her hair, holding a palm frond. Her head was outlined with an arc that looked like a halo, a design feature that would become a signature element of Mucha’s work. So popular was the piece that people were pulling it off walls and kiosks, taking it home to decorate their own walls. 4000 posters were printed. Bernhardt immediately offered Mucha a six-year contract to design posters, costumes, and stage sets for her.

Alphonse Mucha, who had been struggling to make his name known, to say nothing of paying his café bill and the rent on his atelier, had been designing restaurant menus, advertising posters, and illustrating popular novels. With this poster, he became one of the most popular artists in Paris almost overnight.

You can see this beautiful Gismonda poster—yes, the original proof print, from 1894—at the Mucha Museum in Prague. And I heartily suggest you do.

How to Get the Most Out of a Mucha Museum Visit

I have been a fan of Mucha’s work since my college days—a long time ago!—so I was thrilled to see so many of his pieces in person. Also, since I knew almost nothing about his life, I enjoyed seeing the photos, drawings, and the reproduction of his Paris studio. The museum is small, but rich for anyone who loves the work of Mucha or Art Nouveau in general.

I suggest you plan to spend at least an hour here—I stayed closer to two—and that you begin your visit by watching the excellent 30-minute film—in English—shown in the video room at the very back. It gives a great overview of the artist’s life and work, and is the perfect introduction, especially if you are not familiar with the breadth of his work.

After the film, return to the front of the museum and work your way through the sections one by one.

“The purpose of my work was never to destroy but always to create, to construct bridges, because we must live in the hope that humankind will draw together and that the better we understand each other the easier this will become.”

– Alphonse Mucha

The Decorative Panels and Posters

The first sections are where you’ll see the Mucha works you probably know best—decorative panels and posters. In fin-de-siècle Paris, there was a hunger among the middle class for beautiful but affordable artworks to adorn their homes. Mucha was happy to supply them with a stream of decorative panels, calendars, and prints. He developed an archetypal style that would forever mark his work—flattened, subtle colors, curved lines, flowing hair and fabrics, and strong outlines.

He often worked in series—The Four Seasons, The Four Flowers, The Four Times of Day. I particularly loved The Four Arts–Dance, Poetry, Painting and Music. Its warm golden tones, the lushness of its flowing lines contrasted with the rigidly round crescent behind each figure, drew me in.

Mucha's The Four Arts, a four-panel piece. Each panel has a woman in slowing dress and hair, in warm colors of yellows and golds.
The Four Arts, by Alphonse Mucha–Dance, Poetry, Painting, & Music

The Four Flowers has a quite different feel, although a similar palette. The thing that most struck me about it was how modern the flowing dresses on the four women seemed. You could put these gowns on any woman walking the red carpet at a celebrity-heavy awards ceremony and they would not look out of place.

A set of four tall, narrow panels, each with a woman adorned with a different flower. The shades are pastel pinks, yellows and golden tones. At the Mucha Museum, Prague.
For Mucha, The Flowers are a full-blown expression of his Art Nouveau style.

This is also where you can see some of the famous Bernhardt posters. I was intrigued by the Medée poster, which captures the actress’s powerful presence in the look of horror on her face as she stands over the bodies of the children she has killed. The snake bracelet she is wearing was a design detail the artist added. Bernhardt liked it so much, she commissioned the jeweler Georges Fouquet to make her one just like it.

Mucha’s style was also perfectly adapted to the growing need for printed advertising materials in turn-of-the-century France, and he was glad for the commissions. He designed advertising prints for champagne and chocolate, beer and Benedictine, bicycles and corsets. And his ads sold merchandise, making him much in demand.

In this section, you can see his famous ad for JOB cigarette papers, featuring a scantily clad woman in flowing fabric and even more flowing long black hair. This wild mass of almost Medusa-like hair was another signature of Mucha’s work, often called “macaroni” or “vermicelli.” The woman’s pose is flirty and sensual. Even in such early advertising, it was already clear that “sex sells.”

An advertising poster for JOB cigarette papers, it features a woman in a strapless red gown with exaggerated long black hair that flows around her in waves. She holds a cigarette in one hand.
The Alphonse Mucha JOB cigarette papers ad shows that
even 125 years ago, he knew. “Sex sells.”

Documents Décoratifs and Czech Posters

The next section of the museum contains a number of what are called Documents Décoratifs. These are primarily pencil drawings highlighted with white paint showing his designs for everything from furniture to fireplaces, tableware to cutlery, hair combs, fans, chandeliers, and jewelry (much of which was produced by the famous Parisian jeweler Fouquet).

These works are followed by more posters, Czech ones this time, created after he returned to his country of birth in 1910. He was very much a Slavic nationalist, and the work he created at this time shows a distinct difference from the Paris posters. Folk costumes, Slavic faces, and strong Slav sports figures replace the flowing, almost liquid lines of so much of the Parisian work. Social commentary in speaking out against the Germanization of the Czechs is also present.

Alphonse Mucha Paintings

Although Mucha made his name and fame as an illustrator and graphic designer, his first love had been painting, which he studied in Munich. There are not a lot of examples of his painting work here, but one drew me to it and I stared for a long time, taking in every detail. It is a powerful work, called variously “Star,” “Woman in the Wilderness,” and “Siberia.” It shows a Russian peasant woman, wrapped in a shawl, sitting alone on a field of snow, her face turned upward to the night sky with a single bright star hanging above her. There is defeat, acceptance, and finally a sense of peace in her posture. The artist’s wife, Marie, posed for the painting.

Mucha's painting "Woman in the Wilderness," also called "Star" and "Siberia." A field of snow and a blue-gray night sky with a single bright star lighting a Russian peasant woman wrapped in a shawl sitting on the ground.
“Star,” by Alphonse Mucha, is also called “Siberia” and “Woman in the Wilderness.” It is a powerful evocation of aloneness, defeat, and acceptance.

A Man of Many Talents

The final section of the museum seems specifically designed for the artist to just show off his astonishing versatility. There are drawings and pastels and studies, jewelry and sculpture, a design for a stained-glass window at St. Vitus’ Cathedral (which you can see while you are in Prague). There are examples of the Czech banknotes and stamps he designed.

You’ll also see here a small reconstruction of part of his Paris studio. That studio must have been a lively, happening place (especially when the painter Paul Gauguin lived with him for awhile). You can tell by looking at the many photographs on display. Mucha made glass-plate photos of models in preparation for many of his pieces, and they are fascinating. Look beyond the models at the studio itself, the furnishings and objects of the exotic Bohemian interior.

Paul Gauguin (left) lived in Mucha’s studio in Paris for a time. On the right is Gauguin’s teenage mistress and model, Annah la Javanaise.

“Advised to “Find a Different Career”

This is the feast of the Mucha Museum. Once you have seen the astonishing brilliance and breadth of his work here, it’s amusing to learn that in 1878, when the budding young artist was 18 years old and applied to attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, he was rejected. The person rejecting him told him to “find a different career.” I don’t suppose anyone remembers that man’s name. While Mucha went on to be hailed not only as the greatest of the Art Nouveau artists, but even as “the most famous artist in the world.”

After working your way through the entire Mucha Museum, I hope you end up loving Alphonse Mucha and his work as much as I do. This visit was one of the high points of my time in Prague. See this post for other high points and “insider tips” to what you should see in Prague.

If you’d like to get a good meal near the museum, I suggest heading to Bistro Spejle, just a block away; good food and a fun concept, with everything served on a skewer, with your bill calculated by how many skewers you consume. You can read my full review of Bistro Spejle here.

Fast Facts for Visiting the Mucha Museum:

Where: The museum is located at Panská 7 in the Kaunický Palace. This is in Nové Město, just a short walk from Wenceslaus Square. With your back to the National Museum at the top of the square and the venerable good King Wenceslaus astride his horse, walk about 2/3 the length of the square to Jindřišská and turn right. Go one block to Panská. You will see the museum on your right.

When: The museum is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm

Cost: Regular admission tickets are 300 CZK, about US$13.25. NOTE: There is a senior discount for visitors over 65 with tickets costing 200 CZK, about US$8.85

Amenities: There is a wonderful gift shop at the front near the entrance, full of Mucha inspired gifts, books, posters and other items.

Accessibility: The museum is wheelchair accessible.

Facilities: Clean, free restrooms are located near the front of the museum across from the ticket desk.

The Grocery Store Tourist: What You Can Learn About a Culture with a Visit to the Supermarket

Supermarket tourism—it’s one of the best ways to get the inside scoop on a culture. So make a visit to the supermarket one of your first stops on your trip abroad.

This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you click on a link to a product or service I recommend and you make a purchase, I may get a small commission.

A picture of a supermarket cold food aisle with the words "Supermarket Tourism: It's a Thin" superimposed over it.

I have a secret habit. Whenever I travel, I become a spy. I peek through doorways and into corners and peer into people’s faces—discretely, I hope—because I want to get inside the culture of the place as much as I possibly can. I want to see what is behind the touristic surface. Oh, I know I will never fully understand the intricacies of how the people of another country see the world. After living in Mexico for 17 years, there are still things about the culture here that baffle me. But I want to at least try.

And I have discovered one of the best ways to learn about a people and how they live, is to see how they eat and cook. And how they shop for food. That’s why I always try to make one of my first spy outings a visit to the supermarket or local grocery store.

The Grocery Store as a Window on Culture

It’s amazing what you can learn as a supermarket tourist in the local grocery store. What do the people like to eat here? When you walk into the biggest supermarket in my town of San Miguel de Allende, in central Mexico, and one of the largest sections of shelf space is taken up by dozens and dozens of brands of hot sauce and chiles, what does that tell you? Right, Mexicans like their food spicy.

A Mexican supermarket section six shelves high and many feet wide full of hot sauces and salsas. And this is only part of it! Dozens of types and brands.
This is just a part of the display of hot sauces and salsas available at my local supermarket in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

The grocery store is where everyday life happens. The people are not there to serve you a meal, take your entrance ticket, tour-guide you through town. They just want to buy something for dinner. And while they do it, they are opening a window on the culture for you to look through. Do they have a wide variety of herbs and spices to choose from? Are there mountains of fresh fish for sale? How many fruits and vegetables can you find that you’ve never seen and can’t name? How many different brands of beer are lined up on the shelves? These are clues.

Supermarket tourism is also a fine way to discover unique souvenirs. My kitchen tells the stories of my travels in the speculaas cookie butter from Amsterdam, a bag of flavored salt from Tbilisi, in Georgia, pickled kelp from Alaska, and even the little orange ceramic pots I bought yogurt in from a neighborhood grocery store on the Île de la Cité in Paris.

I’m not alone in this quirk, I’ve discovered. I asked a number of travel blogger friends and regular traveling pals about the oddest, funniest, or just different things they have seen in a supermarket in their travels. More than 20 of them came up with an answer, so I’m sharing them all below.

Sightseeing in European Supermarkets

You’d think that European supermarkets would be quite similar to those in the U.S, and in many ways they are. But there are differences, subtle clues to the things that mark us as different from each other. For instance:

Dutch Licorice: “Drop” from the Netherlands, by Rachel at Rachels Ruminations

The Dutch are absolutely crazy about licorice, and in more variety than any non-Dutch person can imagine. Every supermarket in the Netherlands has multiple shelves of the stuff, called drop in Dutch, ranging from super-sweet to dubbelzout (double salt). It comes in all shapes and sizes too: cars and coins and objects of all sorts. Sometimes the licorice is combined with other flavors: half licorice, half some other chewy candy, much like gummy bears, in “fruit” flavor for the most part. Almost all of them have a hard, rubber-like texture: the kind of candy that sticks in your teeth and drives dentists to despair—though sugar-free varieties are also available.

I have a theory about the Dutch love for licorice. In this country where it can stay cloudy for weeks on end, parents give their children vitamin D drops every day from September until April. Newborns get the drops all year. My son’s exclusive diet for his first six months was a) breast milk and b) vitamin D drops. It’s not surprising, once you realize that the drops taste like licorice, that Dutch people love the stuff. It’s comfort food!

Shelves full of packages of Dutch "drop," or licorice, in various shapes and degrees of sweetness or saltiness
“Drop,” Dutch licorice, comes in dozens of varieties.
Most are definitely an acquired taste.

And while we are talking about licorice, it’s not just the Dutch who are crazy about it. The Swedes apparently love the black stuff too, so much so they even flavor their chips with it.

Salty Licorice Potato Chips from Sweden, by James Ian at Travel Collecting

Grocery stores are always an insight into local tastes and culinary culture. Before visiting Sweden, I had heard about their love of licorice. Especially salty licorice. There are hilarious videos on You Tube of Americans trying salty licorice for the first time. It doesn’t go well. I already knew I hated the taste of anise, so I was steering well clear of all things licorice when, while browsing the shelves of a grocery store in Stockholm, I saw something I had never imagined would exist—licorice flavored potato chips. I was intrigued—and fortunately my husband actually does like licorice—so we bought a packet. He ate the entire packet bar one chip. Yes, I tried them (it). Yes, it tasted like licorice. Yes, it was definitely out of my culinary comfort zone. Yes, one was most definitely enough. Nonetheless, it was fun to see the different things you can buy in a Swedish grocery store. And this is something that you will most assuredly not find in an American supermarket!

A man about to eat a single salty licorice potato chip in Sweden.
Have you ever tried salty licorice potato chips?
Do you want to? If you do… why?
??

Plopp Ice Cream in Sweden, by Suzanne from Meandering Wild

In winter, in Sweden, in a blizzard, the best thing to do if you still need an adventure is to explore the warm supermarket. Even in a country very similar to your own, you can find unusual items, usually where translation really doesn’t work well. Browsing the ice creams for a treat to match the outside weather we came across Plopp. The name jumped out as we sauntered by. Amongst the strawberry ice creams and fruity ice lollies sat a box of chocolate Plopp. I am sure you can see why this had to be photographed and then tested. As an evaluation, I can confirm that these frozen ice creams taste far better than their name suggests even when consumed while walking across a parking lot in sub-zero temperatures. This really is a case of bad translation; anything other than Plopp would not have grabbed our attention or secured a purchase for the store.

A package of Plopp chocolate ice cream cones
I think this must be as much fun to eat as it is to say… Plopp!!

Spanish Cold Meats, by Sabine de Gaspari of The Traveling Chilli

One of the things that intrigued me the first time I walked into a Spanish supermarket was the copious amounts of cold and cured meats on the shelves. In most countries, you can find a nice yet often modest selection of various cold meats, both local and international. In Spain however, looking at the almost infinitely long shelves filled with cold and cured meats, it seems like that is the daily staple food, which in fact, it almost is. Most cold meats, or embutidos as they are locally called, are served as tapas, appetizers or prepared in the main dish itself. Serving a meal of Spanish food without cold meats doesn’t happen very often.

The most popular and famous cold cuts are the Spanish ham and chorizo which are also sold internationally. However, the variation seems endless. You can buy thin sliced meats, from small to large cuts of sausages to whole pork legs of cured ham. On top of that, the quality of the cured meat in Spanish supermarkets is of very high standards and tastes just delicious. So next time you walk into a Spanish grocery store, look for the aisle with the cold meats, which is in fact very hard to miss.

Packages of cured meats in Spain, some marked "tasty" and some marked "intense."
A very small fraction of the meats and cold cuts available in your average Spanish supermarket

And for some supermarket tourists, it’s about the stores themselves, not just what is in them.

SPARS stores in Vienna, by Gemma Armit from Two Scots Abroad

Spar brand stores in Vienna, Austria, could be confused for upmarket delis and off-off license shops. In contrast to Scotland’s Spars (and their equivalents) which stock beige food and cardboard boxes. The first time I stepped into a European Spar, not only could my eyes not believe what they were seeing but also my nose was surprised! The smell of fresh bread and pastries in contrast to the smell of, well, nothing because pantry goods found on Scotland’s shelves don’t tend to have a smell. Instead of the tinned peaches we are accustomed to in our corner shops, fresh fruit and vegetables! Forget stale bread in plastic bags, European Spars have baguettes, rolls, and deliciously sweet filled pastries.

Then there is the drink aisle, which admittedly Scotland does do well if you’re not too picky. Vienna has quality wine and craft beers as well as local schnapps. Avoid buying souvenirs at the airport; you can pick up Milka and Mozartkugel at most grocery shops too. So, when thinking about where to stay in Vienna, you might want to think about accommodations with a kitchen if you like to cook in and save money. You can just stock up at the nearest Spar.

Pork and Bacon Snacks in Denmark, by Lesley from Freedom 56 Travel

When it comes to eating pork, Danes eat more than any other country in the world per capita. As ardent pork and bacon lovers, Danish people have for years designed creative ways to prepare their favorite meat. Stegt Flæsk (fried pork belly with potatoes and parsley sauce), frikadeller (flat, pan-fried meatballs), flæskesteg (roast pork with crackling) and so many more are beloved pork dishes in Denmark that are regularly served at family meals and special occasions, particularly at holidays.

But, if you ever feel a craving for pork on a Danish afternoon and it’s hours until dinner, don’t worry—there’s a fast food waiting for you in the nearest grocery store or convenience store. Enter Bacon Snacks. I happened on these crispy pork confections during a holiday in Denmark and can’t get them out of my mind. Similar to pork rinds but fluffier, these delicious salty, porky snacks are as addictive as the best potato chips. Just don’t look at the calorie count. Try them on your next Danish shopping trip!

A bag od Danish "Bacon Snacks"
Yummmm…. bacon, bacon, bacon!
Sometimes supermarket tourism really pays off.

Binned Goods in Bulk in Tbilisi, Georgia, by Chris Backe from Worthy Go

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is one of many Eastern European cities formerly under Soviet control. While few of these cities look to the past with any level of fondness, some cities have kept some of the Soviet traditions alive more than others. While I’m sure you’d see it elsewhere, the Carrefour inside the Karvasla mall (a few hundred meters southeast of Station Square) features large bins of staples like noodles, sugar, and so on, sold in bulk. Much as you would with fruits or vegetables, you fill a bag, then take it to be weighed. 

I’m unsure if this was originally done as part of a rationing program, or if locals preferred it to get the exact amount of something they needed. You can always buy the standard sizes of things, but sometimes a holdover from the past still works for people today.

In a Georgian supermarket in Tbilisi, large bins holding dried pasta and meal, to be sold in bulk.
Is buying goods in bulk from bins in Georgia a leftover from Soviet rule and rationing?

Hard-boiled Eggs in Switzerland, by Will from The Broke Backpacker

Swiss grocers uphold the positive cliché that many will recognize of the Swiss: dedication to organization and efficiency. These stores are best approached with a game plan. There is an obvious route that begins at the entrance, passes each aisle exactly once, and deposits the shopper at the register. On the way you’ll see an array of Ricola lozenges (a word I only learned upon seeing them here), mayonnaise and other pasty condiments in stiff metallic tubes, and racks upon racks of eggs decorated for Easter. Actually, it doesn’t matter what time of the year you visit; the eggs are always brightly colored. Half of them are, anyway.

These brightly colored half (never mixed with the other, unembellished ovals) are marked so peculiarly because they’ve been hard-boiled. For us egg lovers, this is a huge convenience. These eggs are ready-made to throw in salads. Plus, you’ll have no difficulty discerning bits of eggshell to pick out when they accidentally fall into your meal.

For more on Switzerland, check out TBB’s Switzerland Travel Guide

A package of 4 "pic-nic" eggs, colored red, yellow, and gold.
Easter-colored eggs in Sweden let you know hard-boiled from not…any time of year.

Supermarket Tourism in Asian Grocery Stores—Not for the Faint of Heart

Europe is easy; Asia and Africa can present a bit more…culture shock. Our blogger friends came up with some interesting finds from the shelves of Asian supermarkets they visited.

Horse Milk in Kazakhstan, by Ellis from Backpack Adventures

The oddest thing I have ever seen in a foreign grocery store was in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s culture is strongly influenced by its nomadic past on the steppes. Horses were and still are very important to Kazakh people and this is also clearly visible in the average Kazakh supermarket. Often there is a special section with horse meat. Horse sausages are popular and an integral part of Kazakh cuisine. The national dish of beshbarmak consists of noodles in a broth with horse meat on top.

If the horse meat section isn’t odd enough, there is also the dairy section where you will find Kazakh’s national drink. Kymyz is fermented horse milk. A less common variety is shubat or fermented camel’s milk. It is an acquired taste and not one that many foreigners appreciate. Still, if you are in Kazakhstan, it’s a must try and in the supermarket it is relatively cheap to buy kymyz and shubat.

Bottles of horse milk and camel's milk on a supermarket shelf in Kazakhstan with very decorative labels.
Aren’t these bottles of fermented horse milk and camel’s milk in a supermarket in Kazakhstan pretty?

Ramen-Tofu-Kimchi in South Korea, by Cal from Once In a Lifetime Journey

When I first landed in Korea, I was taken to a gigantic “Mart” to do my food shopping. This is actually one of the best things to see in Seoul. It’s a megastore several stories high with different departments on each level, food usually being in B1. I never knew you could get so many different types of tofu, some for stewing, some for frying, with different textures and packaging. There must have been 25 different brands and varieties. Then there was the ramen. Where I’m from, ramen is a snack for you don’t want to cook or can’t afford a proper meal, but in Korea ramen is a very competitive market. It ranges from sweet to spicy, from thick (udon) to thin (soba) to gourmet. I chose Mashitneun Ramen (맛있는라면 – Delicious Ramen) because it looked nice and I’ve never turned back.

After walking past the fishtanks with staff shouting all kinds of sales phrases I got to the kimchi section. Us Westerners who know only a little about kimchi, don’t understand how many types there are. There are, wait for it, over 100 types of kimchi. From bossam (rolled) to chinggak (young) to kkakduki (spicy), it takes a while deciding which you like best and which goes with what dish.

Probably the best things about shopping for food in Korea, other than the glorious product packaging, are the “events” and the free samples. Sometimes each aisle will have a free sample, from kimchi to fried sausage or spam. And the events are constant, we say “buy one get one free.” They say “1+1 Event”. I still find it difficult to get only one toothbrush at a time. 

Supermarket shelves and shelves full of every kind of ramen in bags and cups, i Korea.
All the ramen….
in a South Korean supermarket

Beondegi (Silkworm Pupae) in South Korea, by Marie of Be Marie Korea 

After living for a while in South Korea, I’m used to most of the food and find the cuisine quite delicious. There are only a couple of dishes that I really don’t like and will never eat. One of these is beondegi or boiled silkworm pupae. You’ll find this snack canned in local supermarkets as well as fresh at any street food market. To me it just smells and tastes really weird. I tried it when I first came to South Korea three years back, but I have never gotten used to it. Beondegi became popular in Korea during the 2nd World War as it has excellent nutritional value and was widely available when other food was scarce. A can of beondegi at a supermarket costs around 2000 krw, and it’s about the same at the Myeongdong street food and night market.   

A pot full of Korean beondegi, or silkwork pupae, cooking in a brown sauce.
Beondegi – Boiled silkworm pupae. I’m not at all sure these are ever going to become a regular part of my die

Coconut Worms in Vietnam, by Josh and Sarah from Veggie Vagabonds

For us, one of the highlights of adventuring to foreign lands is experiencing supermarkets and the bizarre products they have on the shelves. In Vietnam, you’re absolutely spoiled for choice. And this is in supermarkets; go to one of the local street markets and things get even more extreme. One of the things that really caught our eye was the first time we saw packaged coconut worms in the chilled section of a supermarket in Hanoi. A pack of them, wrapped in clingfilm and for a cheap price, right next to the regular meats.

If you’ve not seen coconut worms before, they’re a form of beetle larvae which look like huge maggots. Beetles lay their eggs inside coconuts and the larvae grow inside. They ruin the coconut, but the worms are a delicacy to the Vietnamese who eat them in a number of ways. They are becoming more popular with tourists. Sometimes they’re fried, sometimes fermented in stew and sometimes eaten raw. We’re vegan (here’s our Vegan in Vietnam Guide) so they weren’t appealing to us, but in Southern Vietnam they’re highly sought after as it’s believed they enhance men’s sexual abilities!

A metal bucket full of maggoty-looking fat coconut worms.
Coconut worms are a delicacy in Vietnam, found in the street markets and also in Vietnamese supermarkets. Hmmm… I think I’ll take the coconut instead.

Snake Wine in Vietnam, by Ben at Horizon Unknown

Shopping in Vietnam can provide you with plenty of memorable sights, even at the local markets and grocery stores. While this tourist hotspot is known for many things, shopping was always interesting. That is especially true when you first encounter snake and scorpion wine, which I first encountered during a free walking tour of Hanoi. Clear glass bottles of these wines are for sale throughout the markets and grocery stores of Vietnam. Filling the gaps between the snake and scorpions is a white wine-type alcohol that soaks in the flavor, and there is usually some sort of spices added to the mix. While this drink is certainly unique, at least to an Australian like me, you can find it in many shops around the country.

A word of warning: if you want to try this beverage while in Vietnam, know that some of these wines can be watered down. This watering down lowers the alcohol percentage and won’t preserve the snakes and scorpions. This lack of preservation causes the animals to decompose—not great for drinking.

A jar of Vietnamese snake wine, showing coiled snakes marinating in the liquor.
Snake wine? Scorpion wine? Perhaps if I’d had too many drops of some other kind of alcohol first!

Fruit Syrups from India, by Somnath Roy from Travel Crusade

The most interesting items that stole my attention in foreign grocery stores was the syrups made of strawberry and green mango. They are stored and sold in glass containers capable of holding quantity up to 1 liter. These syrups are mostly available in the summer season as they are the perfect soothers and refreshers to keep us cool. They are normally mixed with water and one teaspoon of sugar. They have the real flavors of strawberry and green mango, which are perfect for mocktails to serve during the scorching summers.

Glass bottles of strawberry and green mango syrup, ready to mix into refreshing fruit drinks in India.
A fine way to cool off on a hot summer day, strawberry and green mango fruit syrup for making cold drinks.

The Tiny Grocery Shops of Kathmandu, Nepal, by Michelle from Full Time Explorer

Being an American, I’m used to going to the grocery store, buying a cart full of food, then heading home until next week. Something I found intriguing about living in Kathmandu, Nepal, is how every food item seems to have a separate store. Food shopping for one meal involves going to at least five different locations. We have a dairy store, a fish shop, a chicken butcher, a vegetable stand, a fruit stand, a tea shop, a spice shop, and more. I think Americans are often in a rush, so we demand convenience, but in Nepal everyone has a pretty laid-back attitude. One of the first phrases I learned to say was “Ke garne?” which means “What to do?” If something isn’t working or is inconvenient, the people just shrug and say “Ke garne?” and let it go.

Another interesting insight is that there aren’t many chain stores. Most of the shops are owned by families who live nearby, so you aren’t buying from a corporation. You’re buying from your neighbor. It’s something I admire despite the hassle of running to five different stores every day.

A tiny, open-front shop in Kathmandu, the size of a newspaper kiosk, selling dozens of packages of different spices and teas, including cumin, garam masala, saffron flower, and ilam leaf tea.
A tea and spice shop in Kathmandu, Nepal. Can’t you just imagine the heady smell?

What Oddities Can You Find in an African Supermarket?

Biltong in South Africa, by Alya of Stingy Nomads

Biltong is South Africa’s favorite meat snack. I remember clearly the day my husband first placed this peculiar item in our shopping basket in a supermarket in Cape Town. It is made by cutting meat into strips, marinating it with rock salt, pepper, coarsely ground coriander, and vinegar and just hanging it out to dry. Popular biltong is made from game such as kudu, springbok, and wildebeest, but the most common biltong found in South African supermarkets is made from beef—usually fillet, sirloin, or silverside—due to its lower price and widespread availability.

These pieces of meat hung out to dry can be seen in most supermarkets, where you can choose a piece according to dryness and taste, specifying a “wet” (moist), “medium,” or “dry” piece. Fat content is another criteria used to choose biltong; some customers prefer it with a lot of fat, while others like it as lean as possible. Voortrekkers, the Dutch settlers in South Africa, preserved their meat in this way when they migrated away from British rule in Cape, because there were no refrigerators in those days. The word biltong comes from the Dutch bil (“buttock””) and tong (“strip” or “tongue”).

Long strips on biltong, dried meat, like beef jerky, hanging in a shop in South Africa.
Biltong, available in every South African supermarket. It looks similar to some jerky.

Soya Mince in Lesotho, by Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan

When traveling in Lesotho and in other southern African countries, I was surprised to see row upon row of boxed “soya mince” on the grocery store shelves. It’s a powdered soy product that, when mixed into a sauce, clumps together and resembles minced meat. Plant-based meat alternatives like this are becoming common in Western countries, because many in the West are adopting vegan or vegetarian diets or at least trying to cut down on their meat consumption. In Lesotho, on the other hand, the concepts of veganism and vegetarianism are virtually unheard of. So why are these products so popular? It was explained to me that soya mince is both cheaper and more practical than meat. It is shelf stable and doesn’t need to be refrigerated, which is a huge advantage for people living with a sporadic electricity supply, or perhaps no electricity at all.

As vegans traveling in Africa, my husband and I found our options for eating out were somewhat limited at times, so we decided to give the soya mince a try. We added it to a tomato-based sauce with beans and ate it over pasta. It was pretty tasty!

Boxes of packaged soya mince, in chicken and mutton flavors, in Lesotho. "More meaty taste."
Soya Mince in Lesotho, seems like a good way to “beef” up a vegetarian or vegan meal.

Braid Spray in Namibia, by Shara of SKJ Travel

When traveling in rural northern Namibia, I’ve noticed a paucity of hair care products. In America, it’s overwhelming the number of shampoos, conditioners, hairsprays, gels, coloring kits, etc. you see on the shelves, but not here. However, the one hair product on every shelf, even in the small convenience stores, is braid spray. I had to read the bottle to figure out what it was. I’d never heard of it. Simply enough, it’s a spray to condition the scalp and keep braids or hair extensions (and “all kinds of bonded hair”) soft and supple. In a region where so many of the women, and even men, wear their hair in elaborate braided styles, it makes perfect sense! It’s also an important part of the African Hair Salon.

Going into grocery stores in northwestern Namibia also happens to be one of my very favorite activities because they are a concentration of great diversity in a very small area. Nowhere else have I been where in one check-out line there can be people dressed in regular Western clothes (shorts, tee-shirts, flip-flops); women dressed in brightly colored, long hoop skirts with huge, puffy, fabric hats like bullhorns; men in “skirts” fashioned from two pieces of brightly printed fabric secured by a rope around their waist; and women in stiff cowhide skirts with bangles and jewelry, barefoot and completely topless. I laugh trying to imagine this in America! 

A woman in Namibia with tightly braided hair wrapped in a scarf. And a beautiful smile.
All the elaborately braided hairstyles in Namibia need braid spray to keep the hair soft and conditioned.

South American Supermarkets: What’s Different?

An Eye-Opening Tea in Peru, by Carol Perehudoff from Wandering Carol

“Is this what I think it is?” I asked my friend, as we stared at a grocery store shelf in Lima, Peru. In front of us was a long row of packages of coca leaf tea. “Does coca leaf tea contain, like, cocaine?” Short answer, kind of. But you can’t equate the leaf with the drug. While you can’t make cocaine without coca leaves, the tea is such a mild stimulant that it’s more akin—as one Peruvian told me—to having a cup of coffee.

Said to quell hunger, quench thirst, and help with pain and fatigue, coca leaf tea is also widely used as a cure for altitude sickness. It’s especially popular in the Andes, and when I flew to Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, it was freely offered at the hotel I stayed at. This was a good thing as the altitude sickness hit me like a sledgehammer, and I’m always up for trying to stay healthy while traveling. After sipping a cup, I can’t say I felt any effects, but now, if I saw it in a grocery store, I wouldn’t blink an eye.

A green box of "Mate de Coca," Coca leaf tea, common in Peru and the Andes.
Not everything about the coca leaf is bad for you. Especially is you live in the Andes.

Dulce de Leche in Colombia, by the team at One Weird Globe

Strolling through the Colombian megasupermarket Éxito, past a dozen Fabuloso floor cleaner products decorating the aisle in more colors than a Pride Parade, and not far from the brick-like sugar called panela (coming in blocks ranging from paperweight to paving stone), you eventually come across arequipe. This Colombian delight is caramelized and goes by the names of dulce de leche and manjar in other regions of Latin America. Its uses are general, potentially replacing both chocolate and Nutella. In Colombia, you can find arequipe scattered about the grocery store, in tins beside the sweeteners, in plastic bags by the refrigerated dairy, in personal-sized tubs with the snacks, and in cookies in the bakery section. Mmmm…. alfajores.

Careful of those chips. Make sure they’re not dulce de leche flavored. And compare prices before you buy that manjar! Products can be more expensive when bought in bulk in Peru—due to the extra packaging, it was explained to me. If you end up in Juan Valdez (not Starbucks), snag one of those iced arequipe (not caramel) macchiatos. Here’s our list of Hostels in Medellin.

And Even in the Caribbean…Grocery Store Tourism Can be a Thing

Old Amsterdam Cheese in Aruba, the Dutch Caribbean, by Michele from A Taste for Travel 

If you’re browsing the deli and dairy sections at a grocery store on the Caribbean island of Aruba, you’ll quickly notice that the aisles are packed with a vast assortment of Dutch goods including drop (licorice), cold cuts, and cheeses. The reason is that, along with the Netherlands, Curaçao, and Saint Maarten, Aruba is one of four countries that are members of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This Dutch influence, along with contributions from 90 other nationalities that have left their mark on the island’s culture and identity, have helped shape Aruba into one of the Caribbean’s most diverse culinary destinations. 

While the glossy red rounds of Edam cheese you’ll see are a key ingredient in Aruba and Curacao’s national dish of Keshi Yena (a rind of Edam cheese stuffed with spiced meat), one of the most popular cheeses in grocery stores in Aruba is Old Amsterdam Aged Gouda Cheese. It comes available in sizes from bite size portions to huge pizza-sized wedges, designed as crowd-pleasers. Not only does it come wrapped in almost indestructible packaging that makes it very portable, the intense flavor of this yellow gouda is so full of character, it’s a popular food in Aruba for taking to parties and get togethers. For visitors, it makes a delicious and affordable snack to enjoy during Happy Hour at your condo rental or during a day at the beach. When your visit to Aruba is over, if you haven’t yet eaten your fill of Old Amsterdam Cheese, you can pick some up at the Queen Beatrix International Airport in Oranjestad. Make a stop in the Duty Free area where certain shops have whole sections devoted to Dutch cheeses and meats. 

An assortment of "Old Amsterdam Aged Gouda Cheese" in a supermarket in Aruba.
Dutch cheese in the Caribbean… it makes sense you’d find it in an Aruba supermarket, since the island is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Being a Tourist in an American Supermarket

Of course, what travelers may find odd or funny in a foreign grocery store is not at all weird to the locals. It’s simply what they eat. And we should remember that things we find commonplace at home, might seem distinctly weird to a visitor from abroad. Do you wonder what things would jump out at a foreign visitor to the U.S.? Like how much people on the western side of the Atlantic like dry cereal!

Packaged Cereal in the USA, by Annick from The Common Traveler 

Are you a breakfast eater? And when you eat breakfast, is it cereal that you’re eating? If you visit the United States of America, a walk into any grocery store reveals America’s fascination and love of all things cereal. When I was growing up in South America, we rarely ate cereal, and the cereal we ate was either Rice Krispies or Puffed Rice. But in America, you will find large aisles devoted to shelves upon shelves of any type of cereal you can imagine (and many you wouldn’t have dreamt of!)

Apparently, in the USA cereal is not just a breakfast food. Many people eat cereal for lunch or dinner, or even as a snack, with milk or dry. And there are multiple versions of some favorite cereals. For example, I counted 16 types of Cheerios on the supermarket shelves: Original, Honey Nut, Maple, Blueberries, Oat Crunch, Peach, Apple Cinnamon, Multi Grain, Chocolate, Fruity, Frosted, Banana Nut, Very Berry, Pumpkin Spice, Honey Nut Medley Crunch, and Chocolate Peanut Butter. And that’s just one type of cereal! Healthier, more conscious versions of cereal are available, or you can select from the opposite spectrum with a shameless version of cookies or candy bars in your cereal bowl. You won’t believe the cereal variety available in the U.S. compared to other countries! 

A very, very long supermarket aisle in the U.S. stacked with dozens of types and flavors of dry cereal.
Have you ever really thought about just HOW MANY brands and types of dry cereal there are on the shelves of every U.S. supermarket? It’s kind of staggering.

There you have a taste of some of the things you might (or might not) find odd when you let yourself be a grocery store tourist while on your travels. Wherever you go, a trip to the supermarket can be an entertaining and culturally enlightening experience.

Have you come across some treasures of your own while on a grocery store tour? Tell us about it in the comments!

Banksy's "Forgive Us Our Trespassing" shows a young boy in jeans and a gray hoodie kneeling in prayer before a heavily graffitied stained-glass window. It is displayed in front of another staind-glass window, which frames it perfectly. At the Moco Museum Amsterdam.

Moco Museum – Amsterdam’s Newest Home for Modern & Contemporary Art

Amsterdam’s Moco Museum of Contemporary Art has taken root beside its bigger brothers on the city’s Museumplein. And if you like edgy, subversive, and provocative art by the likes of Banksy, Andy Warhol, Dali, and Roy Lichtenstein, you need to see it. Also, if you love beautiful vintage architecture, you get a sweet bonus at what some are calling the Banksy Museum, Amsterdam.

The 1904 Alsberg House, an elegant 3-story house brick house neo-Renaissance details, home to the Moco Museum of Contemporary Art.

The 1904 stately Villa Alsberg on Amsterdam’s Museumplein, home of the Moco Museum. Amsterdam’s newest venue for contemporary, opinionated, subversive and controversial art has also been called the Banksy Museum Amsterdam.
Photo by C. Messier CC license

Amsterdam is a city where museum lovers are spoiled for choice. There are more than 90 museums in the city. They honor everything from historic art masterpieces to kitsch, from tulips to cheese to cigars. There’s a handbag museum, a Bibles museum, and a sex museum. Whether you want to see Rembrandts and Van Goghs, world-class photography, or the rooms where Anne Frank hid with her family, whether you love cats or science or vintage ships, whether its spectacles, pipes, or diamonds that get you going … there’s a museum for that in Amsterdam.

Moco Museum of Modern Contemporary Art Enters the Scene

In 2016, Moco—Museum of Modern Contemporary Art—joined the list as a home for exhibits featuring popular culture icons of op, pop, street art and other contemporary funk. Underground-gone-mainstream artists like Banksy and Warhol, Koons and Haring, Yayoi Kusama and Roy Lichtenstein and others are filling the walls and spaces of a graceful and distinctly non-contemporary 19th-century townhouse on the city’s Museumplein.

Moco is a private museum. Owners Lionel and Kim Logchies have a long-established presence in Europe’s contemporary art scene. Their Lionel Gallery, in Amsterdam’s Spiegel Quarter, was named one of Europe’s top galleries by ArtNet. They have long had an affinity for so-called “subversive art,” like the clandestine street work of the mysterious Banksy. So opening a museum was a logical extension of what they’ve been doing for years. And Banksy and Andy Warhol were the no-brainer choices for Moco’s first star-turn exhibit.

Contemporary Art – Vintage Home

The stately Villa Alsberg was a less obvious choice of venue to house their new contemporary art museum. Built as a family home in 1904, it was designed by Edward Cuypers, whose uncle, Pierre Cuypers, designed the massive and distinctive neo-Gothic style Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam’s Central Station. Edward was trained by his uncle, but developed a different style, with elements of Neo-Renaissance and Jugendstil. Against the elegant backdrop of beamed ceilings, polished wainscoting, and stained-glass windows, the cheekiness of the young, vibrant, edgy art pops out even more. The dichotomy works.

An elegant room in the Moco Museum, with yellow walls and a heavily beamed ceiling, showing two "Stormtrooper" paintings by Banksy on one wall, below vintage beveled glass windows.

The contemporary, humorous, and sometimes subversive art exhibited by the Moco Museum offers a sly, delightful counterpoint to the elegant early 20th-century style of it’s Villa Alsberg home, like these Banksy stormtroopers.

I visited Moco Amsterdam shortly after it opened and was fortunate to spend time with that original Banksy-Warhol exhibit. I was delighted at every turn, both by the whimsical, colorful, or anarchic art and the beauty of its new housing. Although the small size of some of the rooms and stairways works against the flow of the large crowds, the curators have used the layout well.

A large black-and-white self portrait of Andy Warhol sits against an elegant glass and wainscoting wall at Moco Museum, Amsterdam

The contemporary art at Moco makes for a whimsical counterpoint to the elegant building.

The First Banksy Exhibition in Amsterdam

I’ve been a Warhol groupie for decades, but I was fairly new to Banksy’s work. I’m now a confirmed fan. I love the irony and humor with which he expresses his subversive ideas. I also love the mystery of him. The fact that no one seems to know who he is simply makes the work more intriguing. And after the 2018 stunt he pulled at Sotheby’s, when a shredder he’d built into the frame of one of his paintings kicked in just as the gavel came down on the $1.2 million price, leaving the painting of the girl with a red balloon in shreds, I loved him even more.

This unauthorized exhibit, called “Laugh Now,” is a grouping of works from private collections. It is comprised of more than 50 pieces, including his huge “Beanfield” painting. Some of the original street pieces look like they’ve been physically cut from their original outside walls, still attached to concrete slabs, or appear on traffic cones, metal signs and other surfaces. The parade of monkeys, rats, children, British policemen, soldiers and street fighters send the artist’s anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-establishment message with both power and humor.

"Beanfield" is one of Banksy's largest work, a classical pastoral village scene overlaid with a cartoon mouse about to set the world on fire.

Banksy’s very large canvas, “Beanfield” combines whimsy and anarchy in his unique style.

One of many instances of Banky's "Girl with Balloon," showing a young girl who has just let go of (or lost) a red, heart-shaped balloon.

One of Banksy’s most famous images is his stenciled girl with a red balloon. It was a print of this image that was rigged to self-destruct as soon as the hammer came down on its auction at Sotheby’s.

To see the actual semi-destruction of the print at Sotheby’s, watch this video. For some reason, the shredder only worked on half the print, leaving the piece perhaps even more valuable than it was before.

My favorite work in the group was “Forgive Us Our Trespassing.” This large painting shows a young boy in cap and hoodie, praying on his knees, in front of a large stained-glass window covered with graffiti. Moco has placed it by one of the house’s original stained-glass windows, and the result is stunning.

Banksy's "Forgive Us Our Trespassing" shows a young boy in jeans and a gray hoodie kneeling in prayer before a heavily graffitied stained-glass window. It is displayed in front of another stained-glass window, which frames it perfectly. At the Moco Museum Amsterdam.

Banksy’s “Forgive Us Our Trespassing” showing a young boy in a hoodie praying for forgiveness before a graffitied window. It fits perfectly against the stained-glass window of the Villa Alsberg, home of Moco Museum. Banksy has been a perennial favorite at the museum since it opened in 2016. The current exhibit runs through September, 2019.

That original Banksy Amsterdam exhibit proved so popular that Moco brought it back. It has been extended several times and is now scheduled to remain through September, 2019. It’s quite possible that some Banksy pieces will continue to show up in the museum’s ongoing shows. But despite the strong Moco Banksy connection among locals, the museum has shown a range of contemporary artists. Salvador Dali was a popular recent choice, as was the primary-colored cartoon style of Roy Lichtenstein.

Lichtenstein, Kusama, et al at Moco

Bold, clean lines over flat, strong colors, regularly spaced dots like an amplified half-tone… these are the hallmarks of much of Roy Lichtenstein’s work. One of the most popular pieces from Moco’s exhibit of his work, the 3-D “The Artist’s Room at Arles” installation, remains in place. A reimagining of van Gogh’s iconic yellow room in the French city, its showing here has been extended indefinitely.

At Moco Museum, Lichtenstein's "The Artist's Bedroom at Arles" is a bold, "cleaned-up" version of the famous van Gogh painting, with strong primary colors, bold lines, and a diagonally striped wall.

You can walk into the 3-D isntallation of Roy Lichtenstein’s reimagined and “cleaned-up” version of van Gogh’s
bedroom at Arles. I wonder if Vincent would recognize it.

Two pieces by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama are currently on show through September, 2019: “Pumpkin” and “Night of Stars.” Easily recognizable from their strong lines and polka dots, the pieces have a joy about them that fills the room. An earlier show featured Icy and Sot. Two Iranian street artist brothers, sometimes called “The Banksy of Iran,” their work has been banned in their own country.

A big, bold, orange, polka-dot pumpkin painting by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

“Pumpkin,” by Yayoi Kusama, is one of two of the artist’s pieces that have been shown at Moco, Amsterdam.

While visiting Moco, be sure to check out the garden. Filled with a constantly changing, evolving parade of whimsical and unexpected sculptures and installations, it’s always a fun discovery. Drool over a giant red Gummy Bear; puzzle over a big bronze melting Dali pocket watch; or climb aboard Marcel Wanders’ “Tempter,” a giant hobby horse, and have yourself a ride. There is a very nice gift shop in the basement of the house.

While it’s possible, and even likely, that few or none of these specific works and artists will still be showing when you make your own way to Moco, I hope they convince you that whatever is on display is certain to be interesting, thought provoking, probably subversive, whimsical, and something you’re not likely to see in most other museums. And it will be a delightful counterbalance to all those Rembrandt’s and Vermeers and van Goghs filling your other museum hours in Amsterdam.

Moco Amsterdam has already become very popular in its short life. I recommend you buy tickets online before you go. It will definitely ease your entry. Book your Moco Museum tickets online at the Moco website.

If You Go to Moco Museum Amsterdam:

Opening Times:

Sunday – Thursday, 9 am to 7 pm
Friday-Saturday, 9 am – 8 pm
(Open one hour later each day in July and August)

Admission Prices: (2019)

Adults €14
Students and Youth (16-17) €12.50
Youth (10-15) €9.50,
Children under 10 free
€1 Discount for tickets purchased online

Location and Contact:

Moco Museum Amsterdam is on the western edge of the Museumplein, between the Rijksmuseum and the van Gogh Museum.
Address: Honthorststraat 20
Telephone: +31 (0) 20-3701997
email: hello@mocomuseum.com

Getting There:

Trams #2, 3, 5, 12 stop at van Baerlestraat.
Trams 16, 24 stop at Museumplein

Accessibility:

Moco Museum is located in a vintage home with many steps and no elevator. Consequently, it is unfortunately NOT wheelchair accessible.

Photography is allowed. Flash is not.

Järnpojke, Iron boy, sits on a small iron table covered with coins from many nations, candy, flowers, and other gifts to bring luck.

The Iron Boy Järnpojke: Stockholm’s Smallest Monument

Järnpojke, aka “Iron Boy,” is so small you might miss him. In fact, he’s the smallest monument in all of Sweden. But going in search of him is worth the trip when you’re in Stockholm. And don’t forget to make a wish!

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase,
Nomad Women will get a small commission. And we thank you for it.

There’s someone in Stockholm I want you to meet. He is very small, a little boy. He likes to dress up in hand-knitted scarves and hats in the cold Stockholm winters and sun hats on hot summer days. He enjoys receiving presents and having his head patted. And he loves looking at the moon.

Järnpojke, Iron boy, sits on a small iron table covered with coins from many nations, candy, flowers, and other gifts to bring luck.

Meet Järnpojke, aka Iron Boy or The Boy Who Looks at the Moon. At less than 6″ high, he is Stockholm’s smallest monument.

His name is Järnpojke, which translates as “Iron Boy,” because that’s what he’s made of. He’s easy to miss because he’s less than 6 inches/15 cm high. He sits on an iron bench, his legs pulled up and his arms wrapped around his knees, with his face turned toward the sky. That’s why he is also called “The Boy Who Looks at the Moon.” A visit to see him is one of the nicest things to do in Gamla Stan, the city’s Old Town, the most charming and delightful part of Stockholm.

A Stockholm Secret Attraction Tucked Into a Small Garden

As with Copenhagen’s underwater statue of Agnete and the Merman I posted about earlier, most Stockholm guidebooks don’t mention The Iron Boy. Finding him is a bit of a trick, which is why he’s sometimes called a “secret attraction.” His perch sits at one end of a tiny courtyard garden behind the Finnish Church, just a few yards from Stockholm Palace.

I don’t think I ever would have stumbled on Järnpojke by myself. I was led there by our guide on an Old Town Walkabout: Guided Tour of Gamla Stan I found through Get Your Guide. The perfect introduction to Stockholm’s Old Town, it showed me things I never would have found on my own. It also gave me a grounding for wandering about solo later on. That’s why I always search out a walking tour when I get to a new city, and this Gamla Stan walking tour was a good one.

The Iron Boy was first created in 1954 by local artist Liss Eriksson. He was positioned on his little table and placed in the courtyard in 1967. Supposedly, Eriksson had a studio overlooking that courtyard at the time and got tired of how boring his view was. He decided to dress up the space with a piece of art. Also, it’s said that Eriksson, who died in 2000, suffered his whole life from insomnia and spent a lot of time staring at the moon hanging in the night-dark sky. So perhaps “The Boy Who Looks at the Moon” is a bit of a self-portrait.

Järnpojke wrapped in a dark, hand-knit cap and scarf against the Swedish chill.

Local people often dress Järnpojke up, especially in the Swedish winters when he’s often seen in hand-knitted hats and scarves.

One of the most charming things about Järnpojke is how much this little Iron Boy is loved and cared for by the local people. During the long and cold Swedish winters, he’s often wrapped in tiny hand-knit woolen scarves and a warm knitted cap. In summer, it’s not unusual to find him wearing Barbie-sized sunglasses. On rainy days, he may be protected by a tiny umbrella or wrapped in a plastic poncho to keep him snug. Apparently, he has quite the wardrobe. Very often, flowers, candy, even cheese, fruit, or other snacks and random gifts decorate his table as offerings. The day I was there, someone had left him a lady’s watch and some cookies.

Always there are coins from many nations. People leave coins as both a thank you and a plea. For the Iron Boy is said to have magical powers that bring good luck. If you pat his little head three times and make a wish, it’s sure to come true within a year. Others say if you pat him, you will return to Stockholm. His forehead gleams from decades of people seeking his blessing. The Finnish church collects the coins surrounding the boy and adds them to a fund to help needy kids in Finland.

How to Find Järnpojke, the Iron Boy

A Gamla Stan Walking Tour will show you this and many other charms in Stockholm’s Old Town, and I highly recommend booking one. However, if you prefer to venture out to search for Iron Boy on your own, begin at the obelisk in front of the Royal Palace. With your back to the palace, look forward and a bit to your left to the narrow street called Bollhusstäppen and the yellow-orange building of the Finnish Church, the Finska Kyrkan. To the right of the church, walk a few yards/meters up that narrow street to the courtyard in the back of the church on your left. Iron Boy is at the far end of the garden courtyard. You can click on this link to Google Maps to find the exact spot.

A tourist rubs Järnpojke's head for good luck.

Järnpojke’s iron head has been worn shiny smooth by decades of beseeching hands patting him for good luck.


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A panoramic view of Hotels Paris and Planet Hollywood and the famous Bellagio Fountains on the Las Vegas Strip.

Flash! Get 5-Star Hotel Rooms in Las Vegas for Less than Cheap Motel Prices!

This post is sponsored by Hotwire®, and I am so excited to be able to
share this great opportunity with you all.

The iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign welcomes visitors on the north end of The Strip.

The iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign welcomes visitors on the north end of The Strip. Photo by James Walsh.

Hotwire Announces “The Million Dollar Sale” in Las Vegas!

Do you love Las Vegas like I do? Or have you always wanted to visit “Sin City” but thought there was no way you could afford it? Well, I’ve just learned about a special Million Dollar Flash Sale on 5-star luxury rooms at some of the top Vegas hotels that will allow you to give yourself the Christmas gift of a quick holiday luxury getaway for less than the price of an off-Strip motel chain.

How much will one of these luxe rooms cost you if you’re quick? How about…wait for it…$50US! FIFTY DOLLARS! I know it sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. I double-checked with Hotwire to get all the details for you. This is a genuine deal.

But you have to act Fast! This special one-time promotion is likely to end in just a few days.

A panoramic view of Hotels Paris and Planet Hollywood and the famous Bellagio Fountains on the Las Vegas Strip.

You can virtually travel the world on the Las Vegas Strip, from Paris, to Luxor in Egypt, to New York, New York or Mandalay Bay. Photo by Aldric Rivat


Why is Hotwire Doing This?

So, what exactly is Hotwire, and why are they spending a million bucks to make it easy for you to chill out from Christmas stress with a holiday from the holidays, and to do it in style?

Hotwire®, an operating company within the Expedia brand, is a major discount travel site designed to inspire spontaneous travel through their “Hot Rate®” deals. To get you those deals, they negotiate deep discounts from travel suppliers for unsold airline seats, hotel rooms and rental cars. Then they pass those savings on to you.

But even one of their usual Hot Rate deals isn’t going to get you this amazing kind of bargain on a 5-star room in Las Vegas, luxury rooms that carry an average holiday-season retail price tag of a whopping $432 a night. So they decided to take the extra step to get you there. The company is investing One Million Dollars to cover the price difference for anything more than 50 bucks over their usual Hot Rates prices. Why? Because they want you to see for yourself what Hotwire offers.

As company President Neha Parikh explains, “I know it might sound too good to be true, so you may ask yourself, ‘what’s the catch?’ But it’s real. I believe Hotwire is a different kind of travel site, a different kind of company. I am putting my money where my mouth is in terms of showing the incredible value we bring to people who love to travel, and inviting everyone to experience our amazing Hot Rate deals—and luxury five-star travel—for themselves.”

And here’s a point to remember: WE, NomadWomen travelers of a certain age, deserve that kind of break. A survey conducted recently shows that millennials are much more likely than people in our age group to stay at a 5-star hotel. Only 13 percent of people over 55 in the US have spent one or more nights in this kind of luxury room. But why should the kids have all the fun and pampering? In my opinion, it’s definitely our turn!

The sale is running NOW. As soon as available room inventory is exhausted or the company investment hits it’s million dollar mark, it will end. And that is very likely to happen in a matter of days.

Jackpot of a slot machine in Las Vegas.

With the Hotwire Million Dollar Sale, you’ll definitely hit the jackpot on a luxury hotel room price in Las Vegas, IF you act fast.
Photo by beckyb on Flickr.


The Specifics:

• The Million Dollar Sale is good for bookings between December 8-28, 2017.
• Bookings are for a double room for a maximum two-night stay for two people at $50/night.
• These rates do not include taxes or any additional hotel fees that might apply. But your total cost will be shown to you at check-out so you won’t be surprised by hidden fees.
• During the booking process, you’ll be given details of the participating hotels, such as amenities, general location and access to Hotwire and Trip Advisor reviews.
• BUT, as usual with Hotwire’s booking process, you won’t know the name of your actual hotel until you finish the checkout process on the Hotwire site and your booking is complete. But don’t worry, because nearly all of Vegas’ premiere luxury properties are participating in the sale.

How to Book Your 5-Star Las Vegas Christmas Getaway for $50

• Visit Hotwire.com and look for hotels in the search box.
• Select Las Vegas as your destination.
• Choose up to two-nights between December 8-December 28.
• Select your number of guests and push “find hotel.”
• Select your hotel from the list of properties by location and amenities—make sure you select a five-star property to get the best deal.
• Check out to find out which property you’ll be staying at.

Why You Should Visit Las Vegas for the Holidays

Bellagio Hotel's dancing fountains at night - Las Vegas

Watch the ethereal dancing fountains at the Bellagio Hotel on your Las Vegas getaway. Photo by Sean MacEntee on Flickr.

Anyone who’s been reading NomadWomen for a while already knows I love Las Vegas. I’ve shared some of my childhood memories of this one-of-a-kind desert town while visiting the Neon Museum. I’ve shown you my favorite downtown neon sign on Fremont Street. I’ve even told you where to find my favorite thing to eat in Las Vegas (yum yum for real frozen custard!).

It’s an exciting place to visit at any time of year. (Well, maybe not so much during the summer, when temps can easily top 100F.)

But Las Vegas for the holidays is really something special. The over-the-top Christmas decorations everywhere, like the 600,000 lights at Ethel M Chocolate’s Holiday Cactus Garden. Like the ethereally lovely holiday botanical displays at the Hotel Bellagio’s atrium Conservatory and Gardens. Like the special holiday-themed shows. Like the Food! And the Shopping! Or how about just relaxing poolside in 90 degree weather while your friends back home are freezing and stressing out?

A span of the beautiful Red Rock Canyon near Vegas. Left - A woman does a tandem sky dive over the desert.

Just outside Las Vegas, you can hike amid the striking colors of Red Rock Canyon. Or the more adventurous can go sky-diving over the desesrt! Photos by Olenka Kotyk (left) and Sky Dive Andes on Flickr with CC license (right).

And you really don’t need to confine yourself to the Strip. If you love the outdoors, head out to Red Rock Canyon, just 30 minutes away, for a beautiful hike. Or drive 30 minutes in the other direction for the quaint antique stores of Boulder City and the grandeur of Hoover Dam. Visit one of several museums. Speed along Fremont Street downtown on the zipline (and no, you’re not too old for a zipline. If I can do it, so can you.) Get a massage or other spa treatment. Or even go sky-diving over the desert!

Las Vegas really is a place like other, a sort of giant theme park for grown-ups; and you owe it to yourself to see it at least once, especially during the Christmas season.

Get your $50 luxury 5-star hotel room in Las Vegas NOW on Hotwire®,. Because these amazing deals will be gone in a few days.

A view of the skyline of the 17th century Colegio de Sales in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

15 Instagram-Worthy Things in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende is nothing if not Instragrammable. With its rich colors, its colonial architecture and cobblestoned streets, its traditional crafts and its beautiful people, San Miguel will have your camera screaming to be clicked. Here’s why–15 of the most commonly photographed places and things in San Miguel de Allende.

A view of the skyline of the 17th century Colegio de Sales in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

With Camera in Hand in San Miguel de Allende

One of the rules of living in or visiting San Miguel de Allende in the central Mexican highlands: Never leave home without your camera! There are so many beautiful, odd, or off-beat things in San Miguel de Allende, pictures screaming to be taken everywhere you look. Whether you like the long-shot panorama of the streets and the view with purple jacaranda trees or you prefer to focus on the more intimate details of a dancer or your dinner, San Miguel is a feast for your lens.

Don’t believe it? Just put #SanMigueldeAllende into the search box on Instagram and see what you get. This town is an instagrammers banquet.

Take a look at this list of 15 of the Most Instragram-worthy photo spots and things in San Miguel de Allende.

* To see more wonderful photos of San Miguel de Allende, click on the Instagram images embedded below and check out the feeds of the photographers–including mine. Likes and comments ar always welcome there.

#15 – The Old Gas Pump: Was This the First Gas Station in San Miguel?

This old pump is found at the corner of Juarez and Mesones. I have no idea how long it has been there, but I’ve seen it in some very old photos, from the ’30s or ’40s. Until a couple of years ago, it tilted at a bit of an angle. Then one day it disappeared. There was a public outcry–“Where have you taken our beloved old gas pump? Bring it back!” But no worries, it had merely been removed to repair the base. It now sits proudly upright once again, just waiting for your camera. One of the best vintage things in San Miguel de Allende.

#14 – Vochos: The VW Beetles are One of the Best Things in San Miguel de Allende

You thought the original VW Beetle was a relic of the past? Not in Mexico, it’s not. In fact, Mexico was one of the very last countries in the world to still manufacture the iconic little car, and they can still be seen frequently on the streets of San Miguel. They are as beloved by Mexicans as they are in many other parts of the world. They even earned that ultimate sign of affection from Mexicans, a nickname. They are called vochos, though I have never been able to find out why. Perhaps for the “V” in VW. On July 30, 2003, the last vocho rolled off the assembly line in Puebla, Mexico, accompanied by a Mariachi singing the song “Las Golondrinas” (a Mexican folk song that speaks of farewell). It was immediately shipped off to become a permanent fixture at the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany. So keep your eye open for photographable examples of this most Mexican of things in San Miguel de Allende.

I'm pretty certain that Mexico was the last country where the classic Volkswagen Beetle was still manufactured (up until just a few years ago). You still see a lot of them on the streets. Locally, they are called "Vochos" and are much beloved. When I first came to Mexico more than 20 years ago, most of the taxis in Mexico City were Vochos, with the front passenger seat removed for storing luggage and large parcels. Another hallmark of the streets of Mexico. They always make me smile, because I drove one myself in my university years. #vocho #mysweetblue #asundaycarpic #instamexgram #mexico_photolovers #mexigers #numberof1 #smartertravel #vwbug #vwbeetle #beetle #ss_blue_04 #wonderful_worldshots #trustalocal #tvc_pantone_snokelblue

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#13 – The Otomi Dollsellers

These Otomi Women craft lovely hand-made dolls with embroidered features and sell them in the streets and doorways of San Miguel. The Otomi people are an indigenous group that goes back centuries in this part of central Mexico. In fact, the nearby pyramid at Cañada de la Virgen, which dates back at least 900 years, was built by the Otomi. Thousands of their direct descendants live in the pueblos and ranchos around San Miguel de Allende.

#12 – The Fountain on Cuadrante: One of the Prettiest Things in San Miguel de Allende

There are many public fountains remaining around San Miguel, and several are quite lovely. But this one behind the Parroquia church, on Cuadrante Street, just uphill from Cuna de Allende, is surely the most photographed. It’s easy to see why. The carving, the colors and the bougainvillea are all lovely and tell a story of San Miguel’s colonial past. It is one of the prettiest things in San Miguel de Allende.

Probably the most photographed fountain in San Miguel de Allende, at the corner of Aldama and Cuadrante. A true symbol of San Miguel. Today it will be decorated, along with every other fountain in town. For "Night of the Altars," and people will stroll around town all evening seeing these and the beautiful altars for the Virgin of Sorrows that people build on their homes. #mexicolors #mextagram #mexico #mexico_lindo #mexico_magico #mexicoandando #Mexico_maravillosa #ig_mexico #igersgto #igersmexico #loves_mexico #ilovemexico #instatbn #chasingshadows #shutterbug_collective #catching_beauty_shots #transfer_visions #transfer_visions_nm #unesco #gounesco #fandelacultura #Aficionados_mex #tv_colors #colors_hub #great_captures_mexico #ig_guanajuato #tbscommunity #turismo_sma #pocket_world_destinations #tvc_pantone_peachecho

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#11 – El Charco del Ingenio: San Miguel’s Beautiful Botanical Garden

Not simply your typical enclosed botanical garden, El Charco del Ingenio, covers more than 170 acres on the southeast edge of San Miguel de Allende. It is one of my favorite spots in town to get away from noise, traffic, buildings and people.

The name comes from a legendary spring-fed pool deep in the canyon. It includes a reservoir with a dam you can walk across, wetlands, scrubland, hundreds of species of cacti and succulents, many of them endangered, plus birds, flowers and indigenous trees. It was created to preserve and protect the biodiversity of this beautiful area. In 2004, El Charco was declared a Peace Zone by the Dalai Lama.

#elcharcodelingenio #naturaleza #viajemos #juntos #mexico?? #? #sanmigueldeallende

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#10 – Muros en Blanco: the Street Art of Colonia Guadalupe

The neighborhood of Guadalupe, not far from the Fabrica Aurora Art & Design Center, has been officially designated an Arts District. This is thanks to the Muros en Blanco project begun a few years ago by Colleen Sorenson. Over the years, she has brought dozens of street and graffiti artists from all over Mexico and the world to adorn the blank walls of Colonia Guadalupe with fantastic murals. The street art of Guadalupe is definitely one of those things in San Miguel de Allende that make it worth a trip, camera in hand.

#9 – The Mojigangas: The Giants that Walk–and Dance–Among Us

The Mojigangas (pronounced Mo-hee-gahn-guhs) are one of my favorite San Miguel traditions. These giant figures with wooden A-frame bodies and over-sized papier maché heads, are part of just about every wedding, festival, and procession in San Miguel. At 15 feet tall, they tower over everyone else. The puppeteer climbs inside the A-frame, hidden by the figure’s fanciful clothes, and carries it on his shouders as he dances through the streets. A small slit or window about waist high allows him to see where he’s going. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, as part of their celebration of Mexican culture, had a pair of mojigangas in their home in Mexico City.

#mojiganga #playaenmano #guanaguatobonito #sanmiguelallende #guanajuato

A post shared by Vero Mier (@sharazan77) on

#8 – The Colors of San Miguel de Allende

You will almost never read a travel article about San Miguel that doesn’t mention the colors. They are everywhere. From the rich earth tones of the houses in El Centro, to the cobalt blue or lime green, mauve or pink or lemon yellow of the facades once out of the center. These colors glow in the handicrafts on sale everywhere, in the bright rebozos (shawls) and flowered garments of the indigenous women, in the fluttering “papel picado” flags that flutter on the streets for every festival, in the paintings of the artists who flock to San Miguel for the special quality of the light. Visitors’ cameras itch to capture those colors.

Casita light fixture excellence #sanmigueldeallende

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#7 – La Comida Mexicana: The Food, Glorious Food

If you grew up on what you thought was Mexican food, in Calilfornia or Texas or most anywhere outside of actual Mexico, you have a delectable surprise in store when you order your first truly authentic Mexican meal. The food is varied, hearty, and amazingly delicious. San Miguel now has a food scene that can rival any other town of its size in the world, and many much larger ones. From street tacos to haute cuisine, enchiladas to fusion, the San Miguel food scene’s got it.

Tamal ?

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#6 – The View: The Beautiful Panorama of San Miguel de Allende

I fell in love with San Miguel de Allende more than 25 years ago… at first sight. As my bus into town drove slowly past the Mirador, a viewpoint from the periferico road that curves above the town, San Miguel landed in my heart. When I returned a few years ago to live in San Miguel after a multi-year absence, I stopped again at that very viewpoint to drink in the panorama and let myself know I was back home at last. There’s another great viewpoint on the Salida a Querétaro. That view is one of the things in San Miguel de Allende that people have been photographing for years. Isn’t it gorgeous?

#5 – The Doors of San Miguel de Allende

What is it about doors that appeal to so many of us photographers? I can’t say, exactly, but I know I often find myself framing a beautiful door in San Miguel. So do many others. They are among the many things in San Miguel de Allende that just beg to be photographed.

Puertas de San Miguel de Allende #puerta #door #doors #mexico #mexico #sanmigueldeallende

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#4 -The Conchero Dancers

Of all the dozens of festivals, street parties, fireworks and religious processions that happen throughout the year in San Miguel, my very favorite is Día de la Conquista, Day of Our Lord of the Conquest, which happens the first Friday in March. Because that’s the day the conchero dancers fill the town. The spectacle of drumming and dancing in front of the Parroquia is unforgettable. Even more wonderful, for me, is that this is not a show put on for the tourists, although they will certainly be crowding around watching and taking pictures of the gorgeously clad and beplumed dancers. This is a religious rite that is very important to and for themselves. It combines their pride in their indigenous heritage with their love of their mestizo race, celebrating the meeting of the Old and New Worlds. It is not to be missed if you are in town. See this post about why the conchero dancers have a special meaning for me.

#3 –Las Calles: The Streets of San Miguel

A very popular Instagram shot is any of the wonderful streetscapes of San Miguel. With their cobblestoned surfaces, the colorful facades, and the hills climbing up and down through town, the calles offer photographers a whole cornucopia of material for their lenses. It’s one of the things in San Miguel de Allende you are sure to find yourself trying to capture during a visit here.

Pintorescas calles #sanmigueldeallende #guanajuato #mexico

A post shared by Fabián Gutierrez (@fabianelviajero) on

#callesdesanmiguel #sanmigueldeallende #gto #mx

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#2 – This Streetview in San Miguel

And speaking of street views, this one is one of the most photographed things in San Miguel de Allende. This is Calle Aldama, heading toward the Jardín, with that wonderful view of the Parroquia church at the end. I think most visitors to San Miguel end up taking one of more shots of this street.

#1 – La Parroquia de San Miguel Archangel

There is no question about what is the #1 most Instagrammed thing in San Miguel de Allende. The Parroquia church, which anchors and adorns the Jardín Principál, the town’s main plaza, is an unmistakable icon. You can be pretty sure that every visitor to town will take at least one photo of it, with or without themselves standing in front it. The church interior is very old, but the facade dates back only to the 1880s. A local stonemason named Zeferino Gutierrez designed it based on postcards he’d seen of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe. When I was in Barcelona a couple of years ago, I was struck by the similarity in lines to the Cathedral of Barcelona. And by the way, please don’t call our beautiful church a cathedral. It’s not, since it has no bishop. It is “simply” a parish church, albeit a magnificent one.

Take Camera in Hand….

Now, doesn’t that make you want to get yourself down to Mexico with camera in hand and photograph all the wonderful places and things in San Miguel de Allende? To put on Instagram or not, up to you. But it’s so much fun to share this glorious town with others, especially those who think Mexico is all beach resorts or cantinas. Come see San Miguel de Allende… and bring your camera!

If you are planning a trip to San Miguel or elsewhere in Mexico, check out this post all about the budget airlines of Mexico. Why pay more?


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Sunrise over Yosemite. See it for free with a National Parks Senior Pass

U.S. National Parks Senior Pass Price to Rise Soon–a Lot!

The U.S. National Parks Senior Pass has been one of the best bargains on the planet for 25 years. That’s about to change. But there’s still time to get yours—cheap! Find out how to do it and why you should.

Sunrise over Yosemite. See it for free with a National Parks Senior Pass

The sun rises at Yosemite National Park in California. You can just see the famous “Half Done” in the distance. See this park for free with a National Parks Senior Pass. (And keep reading for more breathtaking National Park photos.)


But Do They Really Have to Call us “Seniors”??

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I hate the word “senior,” unless it’s referring to an upperclassman in high school or college. When I think of “senior citizens,” I think of my mother at the end of her life (she lived to be 97). Even she then acknowledged that she was, uh, “old.” The word makes me think of free lunches at the “Senior Center” and the other women who shared my mom’s table at her Senior Independent Living Home.

Not that there is anything wrong with any of those places, mind you. I think they’re a great option for many people who are getting up into the high digits. But for those of us Nomad Women who feel like we are still in the prime of our lives at 65 or 75, the term can be, well, jarring. We are women who travel the globe, who seek out adventures and deep travel experiences. We live large and love it. We don’t think of ourselves as “senior” anythings.

On the other hand, I have always been more than willing to accept the financial benefits occasionally offered by my age. Yes, ladies (and gents), the “Senior Discount” is your friend. Which bring us to the topic of this post.

For mature lovers of “America’s Best Idea”—the U.S. National Parks system—there’s good news… and a bit not so good.

The U.S. National Parks Senior Pass–Bargain of a Lifetime

The good news? If you’re a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident age 62 or older, you can still visit every National Park in the country for a one-time fee with a National Parks Senior Pass. For the rest of your life. That is not going to change.

The U.S. National Parks Senior Pass, a handy card that will fit in your pocket but will take you to magical places.

The U.S. National Parks Senior Pass, a handy card that will fit in your pocket but will take you to magical places.

Currently, the National Parks Senior Pass, costs just $10 for lifetime access. It will continue to be available at that price until October 1, 2017. This pass has been one of the greatest bargains in the country for older Americans for the last quarter of a century.

The bad news? That bargain price is about to change. It you want to jump on this bargain, you need to do it soon.

Uh-Oh, the Price of the National Parks Senior Pass is About to Skyrocket

As of October 1, the price of the National Parks Senior Pass will go up. A lot. In fact, there will be an 8-fold increase. That’s right, an 800% rise in the price. The now $10 price for the lifetime pass will go to $80.

That price will still be a bargain, considering that many of the larger and most impressive parks charge up to $30 in entrance fees. So visiting 3 of these parks with the pass means it will have paid for itself and then some. And your savings are locked in until the day you die. Also, you’ll be able to opt to pay $20 for a one year Senior Pass. The next year, you can do the same. Once you’ve purchased four $20 annual Senior Passes, you can convert them to an $80 lifetime pass.

But here’s the age-old question. Why pay more? If you’re a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who is now or will be 62 before October 1, 2017, you can still get that coveted pass for ten bucks—the bargain of a lifetime.

Get Your National Parks Senior Pass NOW

The steep hike in the pass cost was a little-discussed provision of the National Parks Centennial Act, which received bipartisan support in the U.S. House and unanimous consent in the Senate when it was passed in December, 2016. The law was intended to help fund the nearly $12 billion in repairs currently needed to park infrastructure, including deteriorating buildings and unmaintained trails. It will also help fund education programs for young people to learn more about the parks and their unparalleled place in our national history and culture.

Since the price hike goes into effect in October, 2017, there is still plenty of time to get your pass at the current $10 price. And boy, is it worth it!

The Many Benefits of a National Parks Senior Pass

Here’s a look at what that ten bucks gets you:

— Free admission to more than 2000 U.S. federal recreation sites nationwide, including National Parks, National Monuments, National Seashores, National Recreation Areas, National Wildlife Refuges and many National Forest lands.
— Free admission for anyone traveling with a pass holder in a non-commercial vehicle when there is a per-vehicle fee.
— Free admission for up to three accompanying adults, no matter their age, when the admission fee is per person (children under 16 are always admitted free).
— Discounts on many park related fees, including some camping spots. It also gives you discounts of up to 50% on many federal use fees charged for swimming, boat launching, parking, and tours.
— It’s good for the rest of your life—one fee forever.

How to Buy a National Parks Senior Pass

The best way to get your Senior Pass is in person at any national park, national forest, or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office. You’ll be asked to show ID proving your age. Ten dollars later, you’re out the door with your lifetime pass in hand. (Hint: Don’t lose it. It is not replaceable.)

If there is no park or other pass locale near you and you’re not planning to visit one before October 1, 2017, you can buy the the Senior Pass online. It will cost you an extra $10 in processing fees, effectively doubling the price to $20, but it’s still a great bargain. This is a “Senior Perk” you don’t want to miss.

To order your National Parks Senior Pass online, visit the National Parks store here.

Roadtrip Anyone?

So go get out there, Nomad Women (and family and friends). Go “See the USA”—whether in your Chevrolet, Honda, Mercedes or even a Smart Car! Or load up the RV and head on out. The U.S. National Parks have rightly been called “America’s Best Idea.” You need to go experience them. And with the U.S. National Parks Senior Pass, you can go from north to Alaska, to see Denali, or down to the Dry Tortugas off the Florida Keys. You can see the Hawai’i Volcanoes and visit Acadia National Park in Maine. And all those 2000 beautiful, natural, historic places in between.

And once you’ve got that precious pass, you can do it all for free.

A Small Taste of What You Can See….

The deep blue water of Crater Lake, in Oregon's Cascade Mountains.

Crater Lake in the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon is loved for its round shape–it was created by a collapsed volcano–and its pristine, deep-blue water, caused by its extreme depth.

The red sandstone hoo-doos of Bryce Canyon, in Utah, an outdoor experience like no other.

The red-orange sandstone “hoo-doos” of Bryce Canyon National Park are breathtaking at any season.

A volcano erupts at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park on The Big Island.

Feel the heat at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. Just be careful!

Mesa Verde National Park. Some of the more than 600 preserved cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people of Colorado... who began living here more than 1400 years ago.

At Mesa Verde National Park in Southwestern Colorado, you can visit some of the more than 600 cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people. They lived here for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300.

The 19th-century Fort Jefferson is part of the Dry Tortugas National Park, found in the Gulf of Mexico west of Key West, Florida.

The 19th-century Fort Jefferson is part of the Dry Tortugas National Park, found in the Gulf of Mexico west of Key West, Florida.

Snowy egrets are commonly found in Everglades National Park. They are easily spotted by their glowing white color.

Snowy egrets are common in The Everglades. They became extremely endangered in the 19th century, when their filmy feathers became very fashionable for ladies hats. Luckily, we don’t wear hats much anymore.

 

Pin it for Later Pin - How to Get a U.S. National Parks Senior Pass, before the price goes way up.
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The cover sketch of Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba gives you an idea of the delights inside.

Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba–an Illustrated Look

In Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba, writer/artist/photographer/
filmmaker and all-around creative whirlpool Jan Baross takes us into the daily life of Cubans. These excerpts from her book will take you with her.

The cover sketch of Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba gives you an idea of the delights inside.

Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba, as well as several other books by Jan Baross, is available on Amazon.com

When Jan Baross went to Cuba on a literary tour to meet with Cuban writers, she went with a notebook. And a sketchbook. I think she never travels anywhere without both of these indispensable tools. If you’ve seen any of her earlier books, which you can check out here, you’d have known she was going to write about this trip. And draw it. And completely delight you with it.

The result is Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba. The struggles, the joys, the color and music and dancing, these are the experiences Baross uses to paint her word pictures. Then she adds her delightful sketches made along the way. In these short word-and-picture sketches, she takes you behind the scenes of what she saw, heard, tasted, and danced.

Have a brief look inside the book. I think these excerpts will make you want to see more!


Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba

by Jan Baross

“Travel is the best way to stay amazed.”

My dream of Cuba began in 1957 when my parents said, “You can come with us to Cuba or you can go to camp and learn to ride a horse.”

I chose the horse.

They described Cuba as a lush island of spectacular beauty, endless music, and wide open fun. My youthful imagination took it from there.

Then, in 1959, I read about Castro’s revolution. Later, after living through the Cuban missile crisis, I was left with the conflicting impressions of beauty and annihilation. Now, fifty-eight years later, I was going with a troupe of writers to clarify Cuba for myself.

[Continue reading for some excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]


Sketch in Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba - "Mis nietos!"

WiFi Grandma
Hotel Paseo Habana, Vedado, Havana

I join our group on the hotel’s humid veranda where they’re scarfing down free introductory mojitos. I take a sip and nearly choke when an elderly Cuban woman shrieks and clasps her hand to her heart. She stares into a cellphone and shouts.

“Mis nietos! Yo no puedo creer! Te amo!” (“My grandchildren! I can’t believe it! I love you!”)

Apparently Grandma is viewing her grandchildren in the United States for the first time. When they answer on the speakerphone, their little voices yell, “Te amo, abuela!” (I love you, grandma!)

The old woman bursts into tears and then delighted laughter.

[Continue reading for more excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]


Sketch from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba - Cubans know how to stroll!

Strolling with Cubans
Havana

The early evening air is soft and warm as I amble past my neighbors.

I love how Cuban men and women carry themselves, as if they know how to have a good time, or have recently had one. Their loud, animated exchanges remind me of Italians. They talk exuberantly in the parallel language of hands. As they pass, they smile and say, “Buenas tardes.”

Their “good evening” doesn’t sound like the Mexican Spanish that I am used to hearing. “Buenas tardes,” becomes “Buen tar,” as though someone is holding onto their tongues. It has a softening effect on their words.

[Continue reading for more excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]


Ms Baross goes dancing with a Cuban - rumba!

Dancing at UNEAC
(The National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba)

The band plays a captivating rhythm.

Everyone moves, rocks and sways.

A man with coffee-colored skin and green eyes is sitting at the next table surrounded by three black women with huge smiles. He lunges over and asks me to dance.

I’ve never danced rumba.

He takes me in his arms and begins to move.

The beat is so deeply rooted in his body that it awakens the same rhythm in me. Our legs move weightlessly like soft light between shuddering ferns.

If this is dancing, I haven’t lived.


Ms Baross goes to Cuba - and eats at Los Naranjos

Los Naranjos Restaurant
Calle 17 #715, Paseo & A. Velado, Havana

Our second evening in Havana.

The evening air is so hot that my fellow writers and I decide to take a stroll in search of an elusive Havana breeze.

As we cross the street, a man with a big smile introduces himself as Alex and waves us into his mansion. Naturally we follow the adventure through a small tree-lined garden.

Upstairs is a wonderful restaurant with a colorful bar, a cozy sitting room and a long banquette. This was his family’s mansion that had to be abandoned during the revolution.

Two years ago, Alex returned from the U.S. to open his Los Naranjos Restaurant. The major problem was how to advertise in Cuba.

Just as Alex thought he would be forced to close his business, an American tourist wandered in to dine. The American was so impressed that he posted a rave review on the web. Ever since then, the restaurant has become a dining destination in Havana.

Alex serves us lobster and an amazing salad that has to be one of the high points of my culinary world.

Alex says, “When you Americans come to my restaurant, you are family.”

With such open-hearted people, it’s not hard to get adopted in Cuba.

As we leave, we remind each other to post rave reviews.
[Editor’s Note: They did! So did a lot of other people. You can read reviews for Los Naranjos Restaurant in Havana, Cuba, here.]

[Continue reading for more excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]


And old man discourses with Ms. Baross in Cuba, in Havana's  Central Park

Central Park
Paseo del Prado, Central Havana

I’m catching a bus in Central Park when a young newspaper vendor pursues me, waving a copy of the propaganda rag, Granma

An older gentleman sitting on a park bench raises his finger in the air. “Señora. Fear nothing. Cubans protect strangers.”

My protector wears a torn, short-sleeve yellow shirt and his eyes are cataract gray.

Like most Cubans I meet, he talks loudly and with ferocious passion. He speaks like the best lecturers on the good and evil of his country.

When I run for my bus, he surprises me by struggling to his feet and running alongside with his hand out. I give him money, of course, because I now realize the old gentleman’s trade is discourse. His intelligent tirade is the way he supplements his unlivable government pension. My CUCs are his next hot meal.

I hop on this bus, watching as he returns to his bench.

[Continue reading for more excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]


Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba and sees street art in Callejon de Hamel

Callejon de Hamel, Havana
From Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba

A friendly transvestite tours me through the tiny Callejon de Hamel street, named after a wealthy French-German arms dealer who lived here. It’s more of an alley, barely 200 meters long, but it attracts hundreds of tourists because of the colorful street murals and wild sculptures created by Salvador Gonzales Escalona

As a self-taught artist living on Hamel Street, Salvador began painting murals on his neighbors’ walls in the ’90s.

He is still adding images to three-story high apartment buildings. Salvador describes his work as surrealism, cubism, and a little art-naive.

Tourists fill the tiny coffee shop, a small art gallery and a colorful canopied area where Santeria priests dance to rumba every Sunday to evoke the spirits of Orishas.

On the way out, I notice a gray-bearded man sitting on a painted bench, with one bare foot in the lap of a young girl. She’s in the process of giving him a pedicure.

My transvestite friend tells me the bearded man is the famous artist, Salvador Gonzales Escalona.


Ms Baross in in Cuba meets artist José Fuster.

Fusterlandia
Jaimanitas, Cuba

José Fuster’s installations remind me of Watts Towers in Los Angeles. Fuster is a well-known Cuban artist, painter, sculptor with his most visible contribution being the public art in his home town, the fishing village of Jaimanitas, outside of Havana.

In the last ten years, Fuster has decorated over 80 of his neighbors’ homes so that the small town itself has become a unique work of art. It’s reminiscent of Hamel Street in Havana but on a much grander scale.

I follow children running through shining archways and past giant tiled figures. All surfaces are covered in bold murals and decorative design. It’s truly amazing.

The inclusive Artists’ Wall is composed of tiles by other Cuban artists.

Fuster has installed a theater and public swimming pools which he sponsors with the sale of his paintings and ceramics.

Fuster says, “I keep working every day to do something more spectacular.”


I hope you enjoyed this small taste of Jan Baross’ views and insights in Cuba. You can purchase your own copy of Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba on Amazon. Many of the sketches in this book have also been included in her Cuba coloring book. You can also see the whole range of Baross’ books, including her wonderful magical realism novel, Jose Builds a Woman, also available on Amazon.

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When not sleeping or studying, the student inmates at the Heidelberg University student jail decorated the walls of their prison.

Boys Behaving Badly: The Student Jail at Heidelberg University

The Student Jail at Heidelberg University is proof that college students acting stupid is not a new thing. It is part of a long and rich history of university boys behaving badly.

Every inch of the walls of the rooms at the student jail at Heidelberg university is covered with graffiti.

A stint in the Student Jail at Heidelberg University seemed to bring out the natural artist in its bad boy inmates.
Every inch of wall and even the ceiling is covered with graffiti.

 

Boys Behaving Badly

As I write this, Spring Break has just ended, with the usual reports of naughty, outrageous and just plain stupid goings on by college students in their time off. Many adults shake their heads and wonder what the world is coming to. Where have these kids’ parents gone wrong?

But this sort of behavior is far from new for young people away from home. And the “Studentenkarzer,” the Student Jail at Heidelberg University, is the proof. Starting in 1823 and continuing to the beginning of World War I in 1914, young scholars at the prestigious German university—the oldest in Germany and one of the oldest in Europe—who found themselves in trouble with the rules ended up in these attic rooms designed to keep them off the streets until they learned their lesson.

And speaking of lessons, they were still expected to attend classes and lectures but had to return to their incarceration afterwards. There was a special door that allowed them to enter the Old University building directly from jail.

When not sleeping or studying, the student inmates at the Heidelberg University student jail decorated the walls of their prison.

The walls of the Heidelberg University student jail were a blank canvas for the bored young men. Student inmates passed their time sleeping, studying…and decorating their prison. Young men have always liked to leave their mark!

 

Go Directly To Student Jail. Do Not Pass Go.

The most common infractions that could land a fellow in the college clink? Carousing and rabble-rousing, dueling, and freeing the pigs of the town farmers, apparently a hilariously popular past time. Then, as now, such antics were often fueled by alcohol. The penalties were most often a few days in the Studentenkarzer, though a few weeks or up to a month could be handed down for more serious offenses.

The loo for the students in the student jail at Heidelberg University was tucked into a stairwell... a wooden bench with a lid, and a window!

A “loo with a view,” tucked under the eaves of the student jail at Heidelberg University.

The conditions weren’t bad, and apparently there was an almost universal party feel to the place. Students often broke the rules on purpose just to get a few days “inside” with their chums. Seemingly, serving at least one stint in the student jail at Heidelberg University was something of a badge of honor.

To see how these bad boys lived during their time in stir, you can visit the Studentenkarzer yourself. It’s located in the university quarter in the heart of Old Town, at Augustinergasse 2, behind the Old University building. Look for the hanging sign with an incongruous image of a cherub and the words Uni Shop-Studenten Karzer. Past the entrance, climb a dark wooden stairway to the top floor jail.

There are no cells here, just a warren of rooms high up under the eaves. Iron beds, wooden desks, a few chairs. But the rooms are far from dull or barren. That’s because spending time in the student jail seemed to bring out the inner graffiti artist in these collegiate inmates. The walls are completely covered with graffiti—cartoonish drawings, fraternity badges, family crests, poems, names and clever epithets. Everywhere are silhouettes of the frat boys themselves, each topped with the colored cap that was a standard part of the university uniform in the 19th century.

Family in the Student Jail at Heidelberg University???

While perusing the graffiti and snapping pictures, I came across one that especially made me smile. My grandfather, who I never knew, was born in Heidelberg. He left at 16 for America. I’m told he had a brother named Ernst who stayed behind.

The name E. Meyer is painted onto one wall at the Heidelberg Student Jail. My great uncle's name!

Could this have possibly been my great uncle, leaving his mark from a stint in the student jail at Heidelberg University?
Probably not… but I can imagine it.

So think how delighted I was to find one bit of graffiti scrawled with the name E. Meyer. Yes, I know, I know. Meyer is as common as Smith in Germany. And Ernst as everyday as John. But I still enjoyed the fantasy that perhaps my great uncle had one night imbibed a bit too much and roused some rabble with the guys, maybe chasing a squealing pig along the river… and landed himself in the brig for it.

The entrance to the Heidelberg Studenten Karzer, marked by a sign with an incongruous cherub.

The entrance to the Studenten Karzer at Heidelberg University, located at Augustinergasse 2.

Entrance to the Student Jail at Heidelberg University is included in the Heidelberg Card. The Card is a great bargain at €15-19, depending on the number of days of validity. It also includes entrance to Heidelberg Castle, the funicular ride to get there, free public transit and lots of discounts.

Without the Heidelberg Card, a ticket for the Student Jail at Heidelberg University costs €3, or €2 with a senior discount. This also includes admission to the Alte Universtat Museum, just around the corner, and the beautiful Alte Aule or Great Hall. You can get tickets at the university shop in the jail building’s ground floor.

 


Location: Augustinergasse 2, Old Town, Heidelberg, Germany
Hours: Open daily except Mondays, 10 am to 6 pm (4 pm, October thru March)

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The main facade of Culzean Castle, on the Ayrshire coast of SW Scotland, glows in the warm light of the Golden Hour.

Sleeping With Ike: The Eisenhower Hotel at Culzean Castle

On the top floor of Culzean Castle (pronounced Cull-ANE), in Scotland’s southwest corner, just 50 miles from Glasgow, is a special place. It was where Dwight D. Eisenhower went to get away and relax. To feel pampered and free from the stresses of being a hero… and later a President. Now you can go there too. You can even sleep in Ike’s bed.

 

The main facade of Culzean Castle, on the Ayrshire coast of SW Scotland, glows in the warm light of the Golden Hour.

The main facade of Culzean Castle, on the Ayrshire coast of SW Scotland, glows in the warm light of the Golden Hour.

 

Feeling At Home in Culzean

In the large courtyard of Culzean Castle, a long queue of people wait to pay the fee to tour the public rooms. It’s no wonder. The 18th-century Robert Adam masterpiece is glorious. The castle, which belongs to the National Trust for Scotland, is a popular spot with tourists.

They wait patiently—or not—to gaze at the armor, the massive curved staircase, to wander through the high-ceilinged rooms and admire the elegant furnishings, the elaborate plastered ceilings, the gilt and marble. From the looks of the line, it‘s going to be awhile before the last of them gets in.

But for you? No worries. You reach into your pocket and pull out a key. You walk across the courtyard to a small door in the wall of one of the large side wings. You calmly unlock it and let yourself into the building, where a private 1920s-era elevator whisks you to the top floor. Is it your imagination that the people in line watched you enter and wondered, “Who is she? Why is she so special?”

But that’s just what staying at the Eisenhower Hotel at Culzean Castle does to you. It makes you feel special, pampered, like an important and special guest of the house.

A Welcome with Afternoon Cream Tea

It was afternoon when our group arrived at Culzean, and misty. To get the full effect of the castle’s magnificent first impression, we opted to ignore the elevator and enter though the main hall.

Robert Adam's grand sweep of oval, colonnaded staircase at Culzean leads to the Eisenhower Gallery.

Robert Adam’s grand sweep of oval, colonnaded staircase at Culzean takes you up to the Eisenhower Gallery on the top floor.

It was a good choice. Our first view of Culzean’s interiors was the great sweep of Adam’s double-curved and colonnaded oval staircase. We stepped from marble to carpet the rich red of the best British claret. We tried to keep our jaws from dropping as we rose to our home for the night. Home? The idea made me smile.

When we’d climbed to the Eisenhower Gallery on the top floor, a very un-stuffy butler greeted us and ushered us into the round sitting room. A misty sky veiled the wide view of the Firth of Clyde from the windows. We were grateful for the welcoming fires crackling in the pair of fireplaces at opposite ends of the large room. We had arrived just in time for tea.

Steaming pots of tea, dainty sandwiches, light scones, jam, and double cream served by a butler—could anyone ask for a more perfect welcome to a Scottish castle? It felt like we were at a genteel British country home house party from the 19th century.

The round sitting room at the Eisenhower Hotel at Scotland's Culzean Castle.

The round sitting room at the Eisenhower Hotel at Scotland’s Culzean Castle is a lovely meeting place for Afternoon Tea.

 

Why the “Eisenhower Hotel”?

But why is a Scottish hotel in a castle in Ayrshire named after an American general and president? In the region where Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, lived and wrote, how did Dwight Eisenhower come to have his Scottish White House?

Before World War II, Culzean was the home of the wealthy and prestigious Kennedy family for many generations. As direct descendants of Robert the Bruce, the Kennedy’s were one of the most important families in Scotland. It was David Kennedy, 10th Earl Cassillis, who commissioned Robert Adam to redesign the original 16th-century castle. Adams, the most important architect of his day, finished the Georgian masterpiece in the 1790s.

By 1945, the owner had been made the Marquess of Ailsa. The country was beginning its long recovery from the ravages of World War II. Taxes were high and the Marquess decided it was the better part of financial valor to gift Culzean to the country. He made his generous gift to the National Trust for Scotland.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower on his first visit to Culzean Castle, in Scotland, with his son John, in 1946.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower on his first visit to Culzean Castle, in Scotland, with his son John, in 1946.

But the gift contained one stipulation. On the top floor, they must create a self-contained apartment reserved for the use of General Dwight D. Eisenhower during his lifetime. The gift was made as gracious thanks from the people of Scotland to the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, for his part in saving Europe from the Nazi nightmare.

Eisenhower visited Culzean Castle several times, including once as President. He loved Culzean. “I can relax here,” he said of it.

It was easy to see why he loved it. So did I.

The Comfort of the Ailsa Suite

Warmed and satisfied after tea and those lovely scones and jam, I was happy to have the friendly housekeeper show me to my room. Others in our group of travel writers were led to the Eisenhower Suite (yes, Ike Slept Here), the Cairncross Suite, or one of three other rooms. I was taken to the Ailsa Suite. After asking if I preferred tea or coffee to be brought in the morning, she left me to enjoy my room. And what a delightful space it turned out to be.

The lovely Ailsa Suite at Culzean, with its carved and canopied four-poster bed and wooden steps to get up into it.

The lovely Ailsa Suite, named for Ailsa Craig, a haystack rock island offshore in the Firth of Clyde,
was my most comfortable home for the night.

The carved and canopied four-poster bed is original to the Kennedy family. I loved having to climb the trio of wooden stairs to get up into it because of its height. A fire was already burning brightly in the marble fireplace. The bathroom was huge and I made a mental note to enjoy the deep tub later.

The mist was clearing and pale sunshine began to seep through the sky, lighting the impressive views of Culzean Bay as well as the Clock Tower Courtyard below. As inviting as the stuffed chairs before the fire were, I wanted to take advantage of that bit of sun. Coat, scarf and gloves on, I headed out to explore.

Culzean Castle: Romantic as All Get Out

Culzean Castle aeriel view from the water side. Photo shows the drum tower, where the Eisenhower Hotel's round sitting room on the top floor.

Culzean Castle is magnificent from the water of Scotland’s Firth of Clyde.
The top floor of the central drum tower is the round sitting room, where we had tea.

Culzean Castle reigns from atop a 100-foot cliff overlooking the Firth of Clyde where it flows into the Irish Sea. It commands sweeping views of the water and the haystack peak of Ailsa Craig, a rock island jutting up 10 miles offshore. They say that on a clear day you can see the coast of Northern Ireland.

It wasn’t clear that day, but the mist had lifted enough to reward a shoreline wander. I took the path down the cliff to the rocks below. I wandered and jumped over tide pools, picked up stones and shells and watched a crab scuttle away. I listened to the waves as they rippled over the rocky beach like music. I felt the salt on my skin and my tongue.

I admired the view back up at the huge, elegant pile of stone. From the water, you get a powerful overview of Robert Adams’ brilliance with the architecture—elegant, imposing, opulent… but seeming just a bit lonely, perched there on its cliff facing the sea.

Finally the chill drove me back up the cliff, across the extensive gardens toward the castle. It was then that I made use of my key to bypass that line of tourists waiting to tour the public rooms.

There was just time to warm myself a bit in front of my private fire before a pre-dinner drink in the sitting room.

Food Fine Enough to Match the Setting

The three-course meal in the dining room was as elegant and finely detailed as the hotel itself, yet not at all stuffy. My red pepper-crusted salmon with couscous was perfectly cooked, pink, moist and flaky. The vegetables came from the property’s own gardens as did the fruit in my fruit crumble dessert, served with Arran ice cream.  After-dinner coffee and conversation in the round sitting room, with a pair of fires roaring, completed the day to perfection.

Next morning’s breakfast was everything you’d hope for in a Scottish castle, with rashers of thick Ayrshire bacon, smoked salmon and perfect oatmeal among the options.

So Much to See and Do at Culzean Castle

Before leaving Culzean Castle, you really have to tour the public rooms of this stately home. The neo-classical Georgian interiors open to the public include the State Bedroom and Dressing Room, the Dining Room, the Round Drawing Room with its beautifully plastered and painted Adam ceiling, the Blue Drawing Room, Lady Ailsa’s Boudoir and the Kitchens. All are worth your time.

Watercolor painting of the main facade of Culzean Castle painted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower

President Eisenhower painted when he visited at Culzean, including this lovely watercolor of the main facade of the castle.

The property itself comprises more than 600  acres. Stables and a gas house and other out-buildings are surrounded by gardens, ornamental ponds, a deer park, follies. There is a conservatory, an herb garden, orchards, a peach house and an elegant camellia house dating from 1818. The formal terraced garden and Fountain Court are filled with flowers. Add in the 13-acre swan pond, an 1814 pagoda and sweeping lawns, and you realize you don’t want to rush off from Culzean Castle. There is too much to see and do right on property.

Culzean Castle: the Perfect Setting for a Hero.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower on a visit to Culzean Castle, now home to the Eisenhower Hotel, in 1959.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower on a visit to Culzean Castle, now home to the Eisenhower Hotel, in 1959.

Most of our generation of girls grew up on fairy tales. We knew about heroes—they were the ones who always rescued the heroine. Also for our generation—those born when World War II was still a very fresh and recent memory—Dwight Eisenhower was certainly a hero, idealized by parents and grandparents, the Savior of Europe, later the President of the United States.

So it is only fitting that Ike found respite and comfort at Culzean Castle. With all the dragons already slain, and the terror of World War II behind him, he could relax here.

So will you.


Room rates at the Eisenhower Hotel at Culzean Castle include afternoon cream tea in the drawing room and a full breakfast. Dinner is separate and is served only on Fridays and Saturdays unless by prior arrangement.

A tour of the castle is included in the price.

For more information, more photos and booking details, visit The Eisenhower Hotel’s website.


I visited the Eisenhower Hotel at Culzean Castle as a guest of the British Tourist Authority. I appreciate the opportunity. As always, all of my opinions and comments on the hotel are my personal observations. I will never recommend a hotel or event I didn’t love myself. I heartily recommend the Eisenhower Hotel for a deserved splurge.
Photos courtesy of The National Trust for Scotland.

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