‘Imaginary Elephants’: the sculptures created by a 17th-century artist who had never seen an elephant.

We are in Japan. The Tōshōgu Shrine complex of Nikkō is popular for its architectural and sculptural beauty, including the Three Wise Monkeys and the “Sleeping Cat”. Another among its hundreds of sculptures is commonly referred to as “Sōzō-no-Zō”, literally the “Imaginary Elephants.” The sculpture is located on the gable of the Kamijinko (Upper Sacred Storehouse or God’s Storehouse), where a pair of strange-looking animals grin with crescent-shaped eyes. The sculpture on the left is green and white, while the other is black and both are complete with golden tusks.…

Read More

‘Nemuri-Neko’: is the Sleeping Cat asleep, or just pretending?

We are in Japan. As we already know, Tōshōgu Shrine, the burial place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, is the most popular tourist attraction in Nikkō. Of course, It’s popular for its elaborate architecture, but also for its carved details, including the three wise monkeys and others. One of the most notable carvings is the Nemuri-neko, or the Sleeping Cat, at the entrance to the okumiya (rear shrine) where Tokugawa Ieyasu’s remains are housed. The carving is attributed to Hidari Jingorō, a legendary 17th-century artist who…

Read More

The Three Wise Monkeys of Tōshōgū Shrine in Nikko, Japan

The grand Tōshōgu Shrine was built in 1617 in Nikkō, and it is one of Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrines. It is actually the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was later deified, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, a dynasty that ruled Japan from 1603-1867, with its capital in Edo, current day Tokyo. This Shinto shrine is a part of ‘Shrines and Temples of Nikko’, a UNESCO World Heritage site and 5 of its structures are categorized as the National Treasures of Japan. A cobbled path leads up to its…

Read More

Sibiu, the romanan city where the roofs don’t sleep.

We are in Sibiu. Geographically, it is located in the southern part of Transylvania, close to the Carpathian mountains. Built in the 1100s by the Saxon settlers invited by the Hungarian King in Transylvania, Sibiu, also named Hermannstadt, managed to preserve untouched most of its architectural heritage. While walking around the Romanian city, you’ll start to notice something a bit odd, and you may even get the sense that someone, or something, is watching you. And, wnhile you gaze at the city’s architecture, you’ll start to realize are the houses…

Read More

Cabo da Roca: the most westerly point of mainland Europe.

We are in Portugal. The diverse heritage and stunning architecture make it a must-see for history lovers, while its very good cuisine is a foodie’s dream and the coastline attracts surfers and beach-goers from all over the world. If you’re planning a break to this fantastic country, don’t forget to stand on the Most Western Point in Europe Okay, technically just continental Europe, but that’s still pretty cool. To do this, you’ll need to head to Cabo da Roca, in the municipality of Sintra. The beautiful coastal trail offers stunning…

Read More

Kanmangafuchi Abyss and the mystery of Jizō statues

Nikko is one of the most popular day trips from Tokyo, and for more than a good reason: it’s got gorgeous shrines, tons of history, and is situated in a really beautiful nature. But besides all the standard stuff you’d see in a trip to Nikko, Kanmangafuchi Abyss (憾満ヶ淵) is probably the most interesting. The area practically untouched by tourists boasts beautiful ravince, rows of shrines, and also a row of stone Jizō statues. How many? Nobody knows for sure, because apparently each time you count them, you end up…

Read More

Kissel: the dessert that’s also a meal

Depending on the person you ask and what part of Eastern Europe he hails from, kissel is either a thick juice, a dessert soup, or a gelatinous porridge. Just one thing is certain: it is a veritable medley of forest-born ingredients and a constant presence at the dessert table. Traditionally, Kissel is a soft, fruit-based dessert, generally made from berries, sugar and either cornstarch or potato starch. Its name comes from the Russian word “kisliy” meaning ‘sour,’ because sour fruits are traditionally favored. Its recipe varies from country to country,…

Read More

St. Stephen Bulgarian Church: the unique cast iron Church of Istanbul

We are in Istanbul, Turkey, a city that has no shortage of houses of worship, and the Bulgarian Church of St. Stephen set along the shore of the Golden Horn blends in with its holy brethren at first glance. Upon closer inspection, however, this cross-shaped basilica is like few others in the world. St. Stephen Church has the detailed ornaments of a regular Orthodox stone church, but it’s actually made of prefabricated cast iron elements. Sometimes referred to as “The Iron Church”, it is considered the largest prefabricated cast iron…

Read More

Pine Cone Preserves: a sweet jam made from soft young cones believed to have health benefits in Russia and Georgia.

Aside from their decorating uses, especially in Christmas season, pinecones play an important role in nature and, like all plant parts, they have a very specific function in the plant world. Generally they serve as a protective cover for pine nuts, (a key ingredient in pesto!). Pine cones and pine trees belong to a group of plants called gymnosperms and date back to prehistoric times. There are a group of plants who have naked seeds, not enclosed in an ovary and the main function of a pine cone is to…

Read More

Gobodura Hill and the Lioness of Gobedra

We are a couple of kilometers west of the ancient city of Axum, Ethiopia, where stands the isolated hill of Gobodura, also known as Gobedra. The organizational and technological skills of the Aksumites were represented by the construction of elaborately carved stelae, monuments created in line of older African traditions and made of single pieces of local granite. They were cut out and transported from quarries located at least 4 km away (Gobedra Hill) to the location where they needed to be erected. The city is known also for an…

Read More

Zhiva: the Slavic Goddess of Life

Zhiva, Dziwa, Zywa, Siwa, or Sewa are all names for the Slavic Goddess of Life. Words that derive from here name are zhizn/zycie/zhyttya, meaning life, zhivotnoye/zywiola, meaning animal/animals, zhivnost – critters, zhivot – stomach, and zhivitsa, meaning tree pitch. Zhiva is an all-Slavic Goddess of life and fertility, although Her cult is more noticeable among Western and Southern Slavs that know her as Vida. Medieval Polish sources mention Her as a daughter of Sventovit and Noncena, respectively deities of day and night, while late Polish sources call Her Dzidzilia (Great)…

Read More

Nadežda Nada Tomić: the story of a brave young medical doctor who lost her life trying to save a drowning child at Lake Geneva

We are at the secluded part of the New Cemetery in Belgrade, under a century old trees. Here there is one of the most striking and, according to some art historians, most valuable piece of artwork at the cemetery: a high-relief depicting Our Savior, embracing a sleeping young girl, firmly holding an infant who is grasping tightly onto her. The inscription on the white headstone beneath the relief reads: Into Death for Another – Nada 1896-1922. The high relief is located at the Tomić-Tomanić family crypt and it is devoted…

Read More

The Irish legend of O’Donoghue on May morning

One of Ireland’s most enduring legends tells us of how O’Donoghue, who was once Lord of the Lakes of Killarney, Ross Castle, and the surrounding lands, can be seen each May-morning upon a white horse gliding over the three lakes. He is accompanied by unearthly music, and attended by an army of otherworldly beings who stew May flowers in their wake, including youths and maidens who moved lightly and unconstrained over the watery plain. The following account of the origins of his May-morning visitations on the Lakes of Killarney was…

Read More

The Inca legend of Lake Titicaca and other mysteries about its origin

We are in Peru. The history of the creation of some local cities is sometimes based on the Inca mythological legends. One of the best known is the myth of the origin of Lake Titicaca, whose main characters are the inhabitants of Puno, a city in southeastern Peru, not by chance located on the shore of lake. Lake Titicaca is the biggest freshwater lake in the world. It is located in the Andes, on the border between Bolivia and Peru, with a surface elevation of 3,812 metres, and It’s always…

Read More

Why we observe Easter Monday?

Easter Monday is the day after Easter Sunday and is a public holiday in some countries. But why we observe Easter Monday? The Bible itself does not say anything about what happened on Easter Monday, after Jesus’ resurrection, and it also doesn’t specifically instruct Christians to celebrate the Monday following Easter Sunday. But across the world, different cultures celebrate the day for different reasons. For some it’s a more solemn remembrance of Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection, which is marked with an outdoor procession. For others there’s a more playful…

Read More

Pleiades: mythology of the Seven Sisters

In Rome and in Greece, in this period, the Pleiades were remembered, and predictions were made on the illnesses of the season. In short, the Pleiades were the seven sisters who, at the time of their death, were transformed into stars from Zeus. After the spring equinox, the ancients were careful not to expose themselves to the unstable climate of the period to avoid the seasonal ills. Since the ascent of the Pleiades coincided with this period, it was common opinion that the constellation was somehow linked to the climate.…

Read More

Rusovce Mansion: a once-fairy tale mansion in Slovakia now stands in a state of disrepair.

We are in the Rusovce borough, part of Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. Surrounded by crumbling walls and Rusovsky Park, a beautiful sprawling English park, the Rusovce Mansion, english for Rusovský kaštieľ, is a decaying example of neoclassical architecture. There are records of a castle at this location dating back to 1266, but today visitors to the area will only see this once-glorious white building constructed between 1840 and 1906. The current mansion was built on the site of an older manor house from the 16th century, with a medieval structure…

Read More

Gamsutl: nestled high atop the peak of Mount Gamsutlmeer, this abandoned russian village is one of the oldest settlements in the region.

We are in the Gunibsky district of Dagestan, Russia, where lies Mount Gamsutlmeer. At an altitude of roughly 1,400 meters above sea level, resides the pictoresque village of Gamsutl, known to be one of the oldest settlements in the region. Translated from the Avar, the majority ethnic group of the republic, Gamsutl literally means “at the foot of the kahn’s fortress”, leading many to assume that someone named Khan chose this location to build his fortress or tower, to defend himself from his enemies. And, eventually, a community evolved around…

Read More

Kuli-Kuli: crunchy peanuts snacks from Nigeria

We are in Nigeria. Kuli-kuli is a popular local snack made from crushed peanuts, a popular crop in several West African countries. High in protein and fat, groundnut-based foods such as kuli-kuli provide an inexpensive option for a quick and satiating snack. Kuli-kuli originated in Northern Nigeria, but is now widely enjoyed throughout the country and across Benin, Northern Cameroon, and Ghana. Often referred to as groundnut cakes or groundnut chips, the snacks come in an array of shapes and sizes, from round balls, square flat shapes, cylindrical shapes or…

Read More

The Legend of the drowned city of Kitezh submerged in Svetloyar Lake

According to a Russian legend, hidden beneath the waters of Lake Svetloyar, in the Nizhny Novgorod Region north-east of Moscow, there is Kitezh, a mythical city built by Georgy II, the Grand Prince of Vladimir in the early part of the 13th century. Its first reference comes in an anonymous late 18th century book known as “the Kitezh Chronicle” which was thought to have originated among the Old Believers of Russia. The book does not actually say that the city disappeared or that it was covered by the lake, but…

Read More

Beddgelert: a place of legend in the heart of Wales.

We are in Beddgelert, North Wales, just south of Snowdon. Meaning literally the grave of Gelert, Beddgelert was once described as “a few dozen hard grey houses, huddled together in some majestic mountain scenery”. A short walk south of the village, following the footpath along the banks of the Glaslyn leads to its most famous historical feature, “Gelert’s Grave”. According to legend, the stone monument in the field marks the resting place of Gelert, the faithful hound of the medieval Welsh Prince Llewelyn the Great. The story, as written on…

Read More

The infamous murder of Colleen Bawn, one of Ireland’s most haunting crimes

It was autumn 1819 when the body of a 15-year old girl was found floating along the estuary of the River Shannon, Ireland. Through a police investigation, it was discovered that her death was orchestrated by her recently eloped husband John Scanlan, who was a few years her senior. She was Ellen Hanley, orphaned at an early age and raised by her uncle John Connery. She was known by the nickname “Colleen Bawn,” an anglicized spelling of “Cailín Bán” meaning the “pure/innocent girl”. This attracted the eye of John, who…

Read More

Ice Cream Burrito: the deceptive, sweet-and-savory snack of Taipei’s night markets.

We are in Taipei. Tucked deep into local night markets, vendors disguise scoops of ice cream as a savory snack. Customarily, Taiwanese cooks fill their flour crepes with pork, cabbage, and ground peanuts to make a traditional roll called run bing. However, street hawkers use the same wrap to swathe a sweet-and-savory treat. To assemble, the vendor lays out a flour crepe and shaves fine pieces of peanut brittle over it from a wooden tool which is used to shave the peanut candy block. On top, he adds three scoops…

Read More

The strange story of the Farne Island devils

The island that Saint Aidan (born around 590 and died in 651), an Irish monk that restored Christianity to Northumberland, (and later St Cuthbert) chose for his retreat was the largest and closest to shore of the Farne Islands, a volcanic archipelago off the coast of Northumberland, England. It is known as Farne Island (Farena Ealande), which may mean literally “Island of the Pilgrims”, and sometimes as Inner Farne. In summer, artic terns nest in the island’s carpet of sea campion and over-protective parents divebomb the heads of visitors treading…

Read More

February 2: Candlemas, feast of purification

Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Feast of the Holy Encounter, is a very old holiday with a Christian-Pagan history commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple (based upon the account of the presentation of Jesus in Luke 2:22–40). According to Leviticus 12, the third book of the Old Testament, a woman was to be purified by presenting a lamb as a burnt offering, and either a young pigeon or dove…

Read More

Diósgyőr Castle | Hungary

We are in the historical town of Diósgyőr which is now part of the Hungarian city Miskolc. Diósgyőr castle is a window into the traditions and history of this often-forgotten section of Northern Hungary and, in fact, It’s unlikely that you will find many tourists in this part of country. Its walls were likely constructed around the 13th-century upon a rock hill elevating from the valley of the Szinva stream, and the castle itself has a complicated history, as it was destroyed not long after its construction during a Mongol…

Read More

Kauai, the Hawaiian Island home to thousands of feral chicken

The island of Kauai, in the Hawaiian archipelago, is home to thousands of feral chicken that have developed a real relationship with the island’s human inhabitants. From the pristine beaches of Lumbahai, to airports, gas stations, even urban parking lots, they are everywhere on the Island. They roam freely, and have adapted to lead a a variety of lifestyles in their Hawaiian paradise, from eating garbage and cat food, to depending on tourists for food, or foraging on native arthropods. It’s because of this lifestyle variety that the chickens relationship…

Read More

The “curse” of the Wooden Man of Egeskov Castle

We are on the Danish island of Funen (Fyn), near Odense. Hidden among the dusty rafters beneath Egeskov Castle spire is a curious wooden doll. No one knows to whom it belonged, how old the doll is, how long it has been there, or how it came to be left in the dark attic of the imposing 16th-century castle. The dust-covered figure is the size of a child and has been left, as if asleep, on a old pillow. Egeskov Castle is one of 123 manor houses and castles on…

Read More

January 12th: the feast day of Saint Benedict Biscop

January 12th marks the feast day of Saint Benedict Biscop (born about 628, Northumbria, died on Jan 12th 689/690). He was the founder and first abbot of the monasteries of SS. Peter at Wearmouth, and Paul at nearby Jarrow, and he is famous for his adventures on the continent, for enriching Northumbria with holy treasures gathered abroad and as the father of Benedictine monasticism in England. For istance, he made at least five journeys to Rome in his lifetime, which was quite a feat in the seventh century. Visits that…

Read More

Gleann Cholm Cille and St. Columba’s trail

We are in Ireland. The remote valley of Gleann Cholm Cille, in western Donegal, was already a holy site when Stonehenge was but a vision taking shape. Named after Columba, an Irish abbot and missionary evangelist credited with spreading Christianity in what is today Scotland, it is the setting for a pilgrimage on the anniversary of the saint’s death in 597AD. The three-mile journey (or ‘Turas’) is typically performed between the eve of 9 June (the saint’s feast day), and 15 August (the feast of the Assumption). Local tradition says…

Read More