Helsinki’s urban castle set right in the heart of the Design District

Attention, Princess Wanna-be’s!

If your sights are still set on a castle, you should probably know that most kingdoms and their palaces are located in the countryside, far, far away from shopping, the latest fashion and a decent sushi bar.

Unless, of course, you go to Helsinki.

Glo Hotel Art, a 1903 Art Nouveau castle, is located right in the heart of Helsinki’s Design District, a 25-street area with upstart boutiques, oh-so-cool galleries and restaurants that put Downton Abby’s Mrs. Patmore to shame.

Without having to call for your squire or your butler, you can easily prepare for a night out with Prince Charming at the nearby design showrooms, neighborhood jewelry makers and antique shops. You won’t even need your horse and carriage to get to the Esplanade, the famous green promenade with parks, free concerts and inspiring shops like Marimekko, Aarikka and Stockman’s. From Glo Hotel Art, it’s a pleasant ten-minute walk.

Renovated in 2012, just in time for Helsinki’s year as World Design Capital, Glo Hotel Art combines the accouterments of a castle (well, maybe not a moat) with the cool factor of Finnish design. The stone lobby with its arches, stained glass windows, soft lighting and mysterious stairways evokes a cool Hogwarts vibe. Or would if Albus Dumbledore had admitted Art Nouveau muggle Alphonse Mucha to paint the walls.

The 170 guest rooms, accessed down a series of long corridors, are contemporary, hip and even have free, fast WiFi, something you can’t say about your everyday garden variety castle.

Although Madonna, while in Helsinki on her Sticky and Sweet Tour, stayed at Hotel Kamp on the Esplanade, Glo Hotel Art is one of six owned and operated by the same hotel group and treats all guests as if they were famous rock stars.

Although they don’t hold up lighters or begin swaying together when guests walk in, they’re unwaveringly kind, courteous and don’t even seem to mind dumb questions.

The breakfast (free to all Glo Art Hotel subjects, er guests) is fabulous, featuring Finnish lingonberries, cheese, pastries, breads and other local dishes. Even foamy lattes are thrown in for the asking.

Glo Hotel Art, Lönnrotinkatu 29, 00180 HELSINKI, Finland, +358 10 3444 100.

13 things you probably didn’t know about Finnish saunas

On a recent trip to Helsinki, I was fretting about my glaring lack of language skills. How, I wondered, was I ever going to pronounce all those really long words with so many vowels and umlauts?

Turns out, nearly everyone in Finland speaks English. And even better, I’ve known the most important Finnish word since I was four.

Yes, I’m talking about the word “sauna,” a Finnish word that has made its way into more than 100 languages. Except in Finland, it’s far more than a word–it’s a point of national pride, a weekly ritual practiced by 99 percent of the population.

There are more saunas than cars in Finland and, unlike the rest of us who view a hop in the sauna as a luxury, the Finns consider their weekly sauna as a necessity, right up there with food, rye bread and vodka.

Here are thirteen more things you probably don’t know about Finnish saunas:

1. Any business worth its credit rating has its own company sauna. Even Parliament House has its own sauna chambers, as does the Finnair lounge in the Helsinki airport., the Pyhasalmi zinc and copper mine (it’s 4600 feet underground, making it the deepest sauna in the world), most passenger and cargo ships and every home, summer cottage and apartment building.

2. A popular Finnish television talk show that ran for years featured two hosts in a sauna chatting up celebrities and government officials. Even former president Tarja Halonen (the Conan O’Brien look-alike) was interviewed wearing nothing but a towel.

3. When Finns travel abroad, the sauna goes, too. Those serving in the UN Peace Corps are well-known for the tent saunas they build at every base. And every Finnish diplomatic and consular mission around the world has its own sauna, as does the Finnish Church in London.

4. Speaking of churches, the sauna is considered an equally sacred place. Swearing, controversial topics and sex (although it’s a faux pas to wear clothes in a sauna) are strictly verboten.

5. During the Cold War, Finnish President Urho Kekkonen, who was born in a sauna, held political negotiations in his sauna at Tamminiemi. In fact, soon after Khrushchev attended Kekkonen’s 60th birthday party, where he sat for many hours in Kekkonen’s private wooden sauna, the Soviet government issued a communiqué expressing support for Finland’s intention to cooperate with the West.

6. American actor Danny Kaye, in Helsinki as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, was made a Knight of the Sauna Order by the Finnish Sauna Society. It’s a cultural association with more than 4000 members that publishes papers, organizes seminars and symposiums, supports scientific research and, of course, maintains a sauna for its members.

7. Jatkankamppa, a log cabin sauna in Finland’s Lakes District, can hold 60 people. It is is thought to be the world’s largest.

8. Teuva, a town in western Finland, hosts a mobile sauna rally every year. Dozens of wacky saunas built into telephone booths, farm equipment, old cars and even on the back of a bike are displayed.

9. In Finnish folklore, there’s a sauna-elf. It’s called a saunatonttu and is rumored to perform magic.

10. Saunas are not just used for bathing. In olden days, they were also used for drying flax, preparing malts and curing meat. There’s a famous Finnish proverb, “Build the sauna. Then the house.”

11. Another well-known proverb says a sauna without a birch whisk is like food without salt. Yes, the Finns lightly beat themselves with young birch twigs that allegedly raises blood circulation and speeds up the sweating process.

12. For years, saunas were lauded as the poor man’s pharmacy. Studies now show that sauna visits may aid in everything from rheumatoid pain and heart disease to stress and chronic fatigue.

13. If you plead “saunanjalkeinen,” which means you’re just out of the sauna and completely relaxed, you can get out of most anything.

Only in Australia: the 5 Top Things you Will Find Nowhere Else

In the time it takes to read this sentence, an estimated 92 thousand selfies will be snapped for imminent posting on Facebook. And even though the Oxford English Dictionary chose the now-ubiquitous word as its 2013 word of the year, it was invented 11 years earlier in Australia when a drunk 21-year-old, eager to show off a drinking injury, apologized for his photo’s fuzzy focus, because it was, as is the Australian custom to add an “ie” to innocuous words, a “selfie.”

Australians also invented the wine cask (they call it a goon sack), spray-on artificial skin, the underwater torpedo and Vegemite, a brown food paste made from leftover brewer’s yeast that’s unlikely to ever gain much of a following past the country border.

Here are five more things you can only find in the rowdy, fun-loving country that also happens to be the sole continent without a volcano.

1. A convicted forger on a bank note. Francis Greenway, a British architect and one of the 164,000 convicts sent to Mother England’s newest penal colony between 1788 and 1868, received a pardon in 1819 when the colonial governor, Lachland Macquarie, fell in love with Hyde Park Barracks, a building Greenway designed to house fellow convicts. Greenway went on to design many significant buildings in the new colony including the Macquarie Lighthouse, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and St. James Church that was chosen by the BBC for its series Around the World in 80 Treasures. Even though he died of typhoid at age 59, Greenway’s face graced the Australian $10 note from 1966 to 1993.

2. A prime minster who attributed his political success to a championship beer drinking record. Robert Hawk, Australia’s longest-serving Labor Prime Minister from 1983 to 1991,was immortalized by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1954 for sculling 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds. At the time, he was a student at Oxford University and, in his memoir, Hawke suggests that this feat may have single-handedly contributed to his political success. Perhaps he took his cue from an earlier Australian politician, Sir John Robertson, five times premier of New South Wales and an early advocate for universal suffrage, who, for 35 years, drank a pint of rum every morning before heading to work.

3. A prestigious opera house that pays tribute not only to the arts but to the country’s strong gambling industry, the highest per capita in the world. When Danish architect Joern Utzon, chosen to design the now-iconic Sydney Opera House, resigned after nine years and ongoing battles with the new conservative government over skyrocketing construction costs, a public lottery was conceived to raise the remaining funds. The 4.5 acre-complex took 15 years and a final price tag of $102 million, most of which was raised from the Opera House Lottery that remained in effect for 29 years. It was a gamble that paid off. Even though Uzon never set foot in Australia again, his revolutionary design is now a World Heritage Site that hosts some 1500 performances and 7 million tourists a year.

4. A cattle ranch bigger than the state of New Hampshire. Anna Creek Station, the largest cattle ranch in the world, has six million acres and is seven times larger that the largest ranch in the United States, King Ranch in Texas. Located in the Australian outback in the state of South Australia, Anna Creek has its own pub, its own once-a-week mail delivery and its own small airplane fleet to keep tabs on livestock. Anna Creek’s scrub, sand dunes and savannah started as a sheep station, but dingoes kept decimating herds. On another ranch, a dingo fence, the world’s largest, is twice as long as the wall of China.

5. Boats made entirely out of beer cans. On Boxing Day 1974, Hurricane Tracy practically wiped out the Northern Territory capital city of Darwin. Work crews, rebuilding the town were unaccustomed to the humidity and ended up consuming larger than normal quantities of beer. Since recycling hadn’t come into vogue just yet, mountains of empty beer can began piling up. Lutz Frankensfeld, one of the territory’s many colorful, larger-than life characters, hatched a scheme of holding a boat race with vessels fashioned from empty beer cans. The inaugural 1975 race not only eliminated the litter problem, but was so much fun that they’ve held it every year since on Darwin’s famous Mindil Beach.

Boats are constructed entirely out of stubbies (that’s Aussie for beer cans) and extra points are given for creativity. Lots of extra points if your vessel happens to be seaworthy. Now sponsored by the Darwin Lions Club, the wacky regatta, depending on the tide takes place on a Sunday in either July or August.

Where to stay:

Adina Apartment Hotels, Sydney Central. The perfect place to toss another shrimp on the Barbie, this magnificently-restored turn-of-the century landmark (it was originally an insane asylum and later served as a post office), is literally minutes from anywhere you might want to go. The Central Train station is adjacent to the front door with regular trains to the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley and, of course, the Great Barrier Reef. And not only does it have all the regular amenities (heated pool, gym, spa) and spacious rooms with natural light, but it has DIY facilities for throwing your own barbie. Adina Apartment Hotel Sydney Central, 2 Lee Street, Haymarket, NSW 2000, Australia.

Sydney’s Harbour Rocks Hotel, a 59-room boutique hotel in the heart of “The Rocks,” the landing site of the first English settlers, is a mere 10-minute walk from the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Opera House and Circular Quay. Once a stone warehouse, the historic hotel was built by 12 of the early convicts who, with little but their sweat and tears, cut the stone for this three-story masterpiece. There’s even a resident ghost. Harbour Rocks Hotel, 34 Harrington Street, The Rocks, Sydney.

Sydney’s Harbour Rocks: a perfect mashup of historical charm and modern comforts

Bill Gates just gave $50 million to fight Ebola. I don’t have that kind of money, not yet anyway, so I support causes I believe in with my travel dollars.

I choose to stay and, as a travel writer, promote hotels that stand for things I believe in, things like creativity, kindness and making a legacy.

Sydney’s Harbour Rocks Hotel, a 59-room boutique hotel in the heart of “The Rocks,” the landing site of the first English settlers, is the perfect choice for supporting my passions.

Plus, you can’t exactly quibble with the location. Brilliantly situated for gallery viewing and pub-hopping, this iconic hotel is also a mere 10-minute walk from the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Opera House and Circular Quay.

Let’s start with making a legacy. Once a stone warehouse, this historic hotel was erected in 1887 by 12 of the 164,000 convicts that were shipped from England to Australia. These convicts, with little but their sweat and tears, cut the stones for this three-story masterpiece from the harbor’s rocky cliffs. First used as a wool warehouse, this mighty building has played as many roles as Kristin Scott Thomas, the British actress who helped choose the 60 hotels in the Accor hotel chain’s M Gallery collection to which it belongs.

Before it joined the M Gallery, (to give you an idea of this extraordinary collection, it also includes the former residence of the Caracciolos of Naples, Italy, the five-century-old Santo Domingo residence of the first governor of the Americas and the Songtsam Retreat that overlooks a remote valley of China and one of the world’s largest Tibetan temples), Harbour Rocks served as everything from offices for importers, indenturers and ink manufacturers to, in the 70’s, an art gallery.

Suffice it to say, The English Patient actress, educated in Paris and recently chosen by UK’s Guardian as one of the fifty best-dressed women, knows class when she sees it.

Let’s go next to creativity. This luxury hotel is a perfect mashup of historical architecture and unique contemporary styling. With exposed beams, original sandstone and brick walls, it’s arranged around a central atrium and a library in which, if I wasn’t in such a cool city, I would have loved to have spent more time.

I didn’t get to meet the architects or the interior designers, but I would have gladly given them a standing ovation for so creatively incorporating the old Nurses’ Walk and the rough-hewn sandstone. The tool marks of the original stone masons accent leather-lined walls, hand-cut furniture and other modern appointments.

Even Eric, the resident ghost, a former sea merchant who wanders the halls late at night looking for his lover, Scarlett, is celebrated in his namesake bar, in specialty drinks (a Scarlett Fever, anyone?) and in a ghost tour.

As for the kindness, the Harbour Rocks staff welcome guests as friends. They seem to really care. Either that or Kristin Scott Thomas also gave acting lessons to the 32 staff members who often call guests by their first names, go out of their way to provide every comfort, every whim and, like all the hotels in the M Gallery collection, offer what’s called a “Memorable Moment.”

For example, at the collection’s Phu Quoc in Vietnam, the “Memorable Moment” is a romantic lunch on a deserted island. At the Grand Hôtel in Cabourg, France, guests get the original recipe for madeleines de Commercy at a cooking lesson with the hotel’s head pastry chef.

At Harbour Rocks, the “Memorable Moment” is a three-course dinner on a private balcony overlooking the stunning Sydney Opera House while a Classical String Quartet plays on.

So, yea, I like a Four Seasons as well as the next guy. But rather than being one of 531 guests (which I would have been at the Sydney Four Seasons), I got the luxury experience (with a lot of added features) and I got to join Bill Gates in supporting a cause I believe in.

Harbour Rocks Hotel, 34 Harrington Street, The Rocks, Sydney.

Toss a shrimp on the barbie at Sydney’s Adina Apartment Hotel

If you watched TV at all in the late 80’s, you probably saw Paul Hogan slipping an extra shrimp on the barbie in an ad campaign for the Australia Tourism Commission.

When the campaign started, the popular movie Crocodile Dundee hadn’t yet hit the silver screen so most people had no idea the loveable Aussie who encouraged us to ‘Come say, G’day” would become an iconic movie star and lauded screenwriter. His screenplay for Crocodile Dundee, you may remember, was eventually nominated for an Oscar.

What we did know is that a barbie, one of many popular Aussiesms, is slang for a barbecue, a tradition as Australian as kangaroos, the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Ayers Rock.

Having a barbie is a must-do for anyone visiting Australia for the first time. If you aren’t lucky enough to make the acquaintance of a real shrimp-tossing Australian (the actor playing Mick Dundee has of late been rather tied up with a nasty divorce and tax problems) you should consider booking a room at Adina Apartment Hotels, Sydney Central.

Not only does this hotel have all the regular amenities (heated swimming pool, gym, spa, etc.), but it has facilities to throw your own barbie, Australian style. Because each suite is an apartment (complete with kitchen, washer/dryer and a handy place to hang out when your traveling partner is sleeping off jet lag), you can pop into any Woolies (another Aussieism for Woolworth’s, a popular grocery chain), pick up your shrimp (although in Australia they’re called prawns) and barbie away.

The other thing I adore about this hotel, to quote a realtor’s top three selling points, is location, location, location.

From this magnificently-restored turn-of-the century landmark (it was originally an insane asylum and later served as a post office), you are literally minutes from anywhere you might want to go. The Central Train station is adjacent to the front door with regular trains to the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley and, of course, the Great Barrier Reef.

But first you want to take in Sydney, one of the most comely cities in the world. Outside the side door is a free bus that, in 15 minutes, will deliver you to Circular Quay, the Sydney Opera House, the Rocks, the Harbor Bridge and anything else you might feel inclined to see.

I particularly appreciated the Adina’s 3 L’s, because, being a fan of quirk, I was in walking distance of the more than 300 ticketed events in the Sydney Fringe Festival Sydney Fringe Festival, a month-long celebration of the strange and the beautiful.

So while there’s a Buckley’s chance (Aussie for no chance at all) that Paul Hogan himself will be available for a Barbie or an earbash (a long-winded conversation), Adina Apartment Hotels are ready and waiting.

And as for Paul Hogan’s commercial, it worked. Before its launch in the United States, Australia was number 78 on the list of American’s most-desired vacation. Within three months of airing, it moved to number three and for two decades it became number one or two on many an American bucket list.

For more about this converted post office with the spacious rooms, the natural light and, yes, the chance to toss another shrimp on the Barbie, contact Adina Apartment Hotel Sydney Central, 2 Lee Street, Haymarket, NSW 2000, Australia, 61 2 8396 9800 or click here.

Kenya, for those who look for silver linings

I recently wrote a story for CNN called “The Optimists Guide to Off-season Travel Bargains,” the idea being that just as every bull market has a bear, every tourist destination has a flip side, a season when prices go down.

Right now, for example, hurricane season has impelled resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean to practically give rooms away. Likewise, Arizona’s weather, its calling card in the winter, drives those with disposable income to more pleasant climes this time of year.

In fact, the state’s fancy resorts, its golf courses and its ooh-la-la spas would be as deserted as the streets of Tombstone after the famous shoot-out if it wasn’t for a whole posse of savvy hotels who drop their prices as fast as outlaws dropped their guns when Wyatt Earp and his brothers rode into town.

For optimists who see the glass half full aspects of say, Arizona’s dry sauna-like weather or those who like to play the odds (out of 183 days of the official hurricane season, the average of hurricanes is less than 11 with only 2.5 becoming Category 3 or greater), bargains run rampant.


Another significant travel bargain right now—and this is even during the high season–is Kenya where skies are brilliant blue and more than 2 million wildebeest and zebra have migrated from Tanzania into the legendary Masai Mara.

This “Great Migration,” as it’s called, is high on most folks’ bucket lists. Tourists normally pay top dollar to be there during peak season.

But this year because of, well, recent terrorist attacks on the coast, tour companies have cancelled bookings and several western governments have issued travel advisories.

Consequently, many of the Masai Mara safari lodges that, under normal conditions, would be sitting back smugly counting their high-season tariffs are slashing prices to levels you rarely see even during April and May, the rainy season.

Sure, you need to weigh the risks, but look at it like this. The 80 recent murders in Kenya pale in comparison to the nearly 415 that Chicago suffered in 2013, a year police bragged about a significant reduction in violence. Most people don’t blink an eye about vacationing in Chicago. The United States as a whole averages 80 homicides every two days.

In the last year alone, I’ve been to four countries with State Department warnings and, not once, have I ever felt threatened in any way. I even heard Pico Iyer talk about a recent assignment in Iraq. He said that the same people carrying the signs (“Death to Americans” and the like) would invite him home for dinner after the protests.

I’m not being flip. I just happen to know that the scariest part of most overseas trips is the media reports which, when you really get down to it, are nothing but anomalies.

Here are just a few savings I spotted this year for Kenya’s normally-high season right now.

Aberdare Safari Hotels dropped their rates (for a suite, no less) to $69 per night. And that includes meals. Golden Holidays offered a six-day safari with two nights in the Masai Mara, four game drives and three meals a day starting at a jaw-dropping $1325.

And last I heard, the Big Five hadn’t heard a peep about any travel advisories.

Nine best reasons to visit Namibia

Namibia is hot, desolate and ornery as an un-neutered bull. With the unheard of luxury of space (nearly three times the size of Germany, its 2.3 million residents average a half a square kilometer to themselves), this country on the southwestern corner of Africa recently hosted the 10th Adventure Travel World Summit, a delegation of 600 adventure tour operators, journalists and other seekers from 64 countries.

These intrepid travelers scouted this still-in-diapers country (independence from South Africa wasn’t granted until 1990), hobnobbed in its two biggest metropolises (Windhoek and Swakopmund), traipsed like Lawrence of Arabia across its seemingly-endless deserts and enjoyed one of the last bastions on earth where wildlife is actually making a comeback.

Here are nine actually pretty interesting things to emerge from the 2013 Adventure Travel World Summit:

1. Tourism may be our best chance to save endangered species. Like everywhere else on the planet, Namibia’s wildlife was nosediving at a drastic clip. Home to Africa’s legendary “Big Five,” this land of stunning landscapes was systematically reducing its game either by shooting it to protect livestock or eating it to survive. Its wily government took a long hard look at its resources, realized that lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and buffalo, rather than providing meat, could lure travelers with deep pockets to its shores.

With much of the country averaging less than 50 millimeters of rainfall per year, farming, despite all the seeds, Peace Corp workers and other international support, was simply unable to provide a long-term solution. But capitalizing on the resources it already had (animals that residents of already-developed lands will pay good money to see), Namibia chose to build an economy by convincing its residents to embrace five simple words: “We will live with wildlife.”

2. Namibia was the first country to include the protection of its natural resources in its constitution. Take a peek at the average constitution and you’ll find a long list of yawn-inducing items about governance, rights of the populace, elections and other human-centric concerns. Namibia, in a move since copied by other African nations, chose to grant its wildlife, its vast landscapes, its natural resources equal protection, a stunning proclamation.

When the Namibian Constitution went into effect on March 21, 1990, the protection of natural resources was guaranteed in Article 95 that clearly stipulates that the state shall actively promote and maintain policies to “maintain ecosystems, essential ecological processes and biological diversity…on a sustainable basis for the benefits of all Namibians…”. In other words, Namibia is constitutionally obliged to protect its environment and to promote sustainable use of its natural resources.

3. Namibia has a bizarre tree that’s less than two-feet tall. To call the Welwitschia mirabilis a tree is misleading even though it has bark, cones, leaves and its closest relatives are pines, spruces and firs. This truly weird plant grows only in the Namib Desert, hails from the Jurassic Period, lives up to 1500 years and grows a grand total of two leaves. These thick, leathery straps lie on the ground, get shredded by wind and typically grow longer than the tree is tall.

This freak of nature was first “discovered” by Austrian botanist Friedrich Welwitsch (his grave in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery is engraved with the plant he brought to the attention of the Western world) although native Herero people, who often cooked it in ashes, called it onyanga, the wild onion of the desert. This unattractive, but fascinating plant survives in a tiny strip of the planet that often goes without rain for years at a time by soaking up moisture from the fog that regularly rolls in from the Atlantic.

4. The Namibian government owns the world’s largest population of black rhino. Despite a recent report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declaring the Western black rhino to be extinct, the country of Namibia boasts a growing population of both black and white rhino, all of which are technically “owned” by the state. Recent counts estimate Namibia’s population of the South Western black rhino, a nearly-identical cousin of the extinct Western, at nearly 1795, a huge jump from 1992 when rhino population were nearly decimated thanks to Chinese herbalists’ claims that ground rhino horn revive patients in comas, bring down fevers and aid in sexual stamina and fertility. Working with the World Wildlife Fund, Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism (notice these two agencies are joined at the hip), Namibia’s black rhinos (28 percent of Africa’s population) are rigidly protected in Etosha Natioanl Park, Waterberg Plateau Park and in the 70 communal conservancies that make up a good 46 percent of Namibia, more than twice the land mass of the UK.

Although controversial, Namibia brings in millions of dollars auctioning the right to hunt five post-breeding rhino bulls per year. All proceeds are plowed directly back into anti-poaching and other conservation efforts.

5. Namibia is a surprisingly fitting place to wear lederhosen. Other than the swaying palms, Swakopmund, now a vibrant beach resort, could easily be mistaken for any town in Bavaria. Founded in 1892 as the main harbor of German South-West Africa, Namibia’s earlier incarnation, it has traditional German architecture, hotels with names like Hansa Haus and Europa Hof and boisterous German beer halls. It’s as easy to get strudel and wiener schnitzel today as it was before colonial Germany lost its claim to the colony after World War 1.

Beer is cheap and there’s an annual Oktoberfest in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital. This two-day drinking extravaganza comes complete with oompah bands flown in from the ex-Motherland, drinking songs, knockwurst and Bavarian pretzels, all served with Windhoek lager, one of many Namibian beers that strictly adhere to Reinheitsegebot, the German Purity Law of 1516.

Waitresses wearing dirndls vie to carry the most beer steins, men in felt hats compete in wood sawing competitions and the average stein, served from big yellow tents, run less than $1. Compare that to the Munich version where steins will set you back as much as $13.

6. Always proofread your menus. At Tuesday’s dinner sponsored by the Chilean Tourism department, the menu, left beside plates in the Erongo Dining Tent, listed the main courses as oryx lion. Oryx, of course, is the national animal of Namibia and a culinary staple along with mopane worms, the caterpillar of the emperor moth that Namibians collect, dry (after squeezing out their innards) and either munch like potato chips or serve with pap, a popular maize porridge. Nutritionists claim they have three times the protein of beef.

But lion? Really? Turns out oryx lion was nothing but an unfortunate misprint, an inadvertent spelling of oryx loin.

7. Tourism accounts for one in 20 jobs in Sub Saharan Africa. According to a new book, Tourism in Africa: Harnessing Tourism for Growth and Improved Livelihoods, tourism is expected to employ 6.7 million people by 2021. Published by the World Bank, this new report cites successful examples from Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and, of course, Namibia.

Since 1990, Africa has quadrupled the number of tourists and in 2012 reaped more than $36 billion in tourism dollars.

“Given the continent’s abundant natural and cultural resources, the fundamentals are in place for Africa to claim its fair share of world tourism, ”says Hannah Messerli, co-author of the report and Senior Private Sector Development Specialist in the World Bank’s Africa Region. “Although Africa’s tourism potential has largely gone untapped to date, it can now take steps to close the gap with other regions.”

8. Namibia’s famous White Lady was a cross-dresser. Deep within the Namib Desert, on the granite monolith of Brandberg Mountain, 2000-year-old bushmen paintings have puzzled archaeologists for nearly 100 years. In particular, the White Lady, the largest of the 1000 paintings scattered throughout rock shelters and caves on Namibia’s highest peak, was originally identified as a woman even though she had a penis and was clearly a shaman performing a ritual dance. The rumor was started by French Abbe Henri Breuil, an overeager interpreter of cave art. He went so far as to claim the White Lady was probably Isis, painted by an ancient tribe of Europeans that once inhabited Africa even though 50,000 acknowledged San paintings were already recorded in the region. In 1956, the archaeological community threw out Breuil’s interpretation of the ochre, charcoal and ostrich egg “lady” with a bow in one hand and a goblet in the other, but to this day the most famous of the Namibian bushmen paintings is still known as the White Lady.

9. Africa always wins. Try as you might to prevent catastrophe, organize efficient transportation and even take extra spare tires (two is the bare minimum) for the unpaved, rocky roads in Damaraland and Kaokoland, Africa has and always will have its own rhythm and sense of timing. Westerners might as well face that sobering reality and even embrace it.


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