Weird Travel Facts!
After four years of travel, I've learned a lot of useless — but interesting! — information.
Everywhere Michael and I travel, we encounter some weird fact or random story that sticks with me. Here are some of my favorites:
A pillar that is also a sculpture of a woman is called a “caryatid.” The term comes from a specific ancient Greek temple to Artemis — the sculptures were of Caryatis, one of the goddess’ incarnations. A male version of the same pillar-sculpture is called an “atlas” or a “telamon,” and unlike caryatids, they’re usually portrayed as holding up the structure. Sexist sculptors, amirite?
The Ancient Romans whitened their teeth! True, they used human urine to do it, but at least it was a purified version, which was basically ammonia.
In the sixteenth century, the Knights of Malta discovered something called the Maltese Fungus, which they claimed was a miracle cure for everything from dysentery to venereal disease. The fungus — actually a flowering plant, not a fungus at all — supposedly grew only on one little rocky island just off the coast of Malta. As the plant’s fame grew, the Knights posted guards on the island to protect their crop, and even sheared off the rocky sides of the island, making it accessible only via a primitive cable car from the mainland. In fact, this little rocky island is the only place in Europe where the plant grows, but it is widespread in Africa. Alas, we now know it has no known medical properties at all. Placebo much?
Living in Bulgaria, I learned that “green peppers” are just unripe peppers that will eventually turn into red, orange, or yellow peppers. Green peppers are cheaper than red because they can be picked earlier. (However, it’s not true that all peppers are the same plant, or that all green peppers turn red, orange, and yellow. They are distinct varieties.)
Another “pepper” factoid I stupidly didn’t know? Paprika (the spice) is made from dried red peppers!
Pad Thai, arguably Thailand’s most famous dish, is neither ancient nor traditional. It was introduced to the country in the 1930’s by the prime minister, Plaek Phibunsongkhram, who created the dish himself using almost all Chinese ingredients, as a way to create national identity and pride.
Dracula author Bram Stoker never visited Romania or Transylvania — and he had probably never even heard of Vlad the Impaler, the vicious local warlord that Dracula is supposedly based on. He simply came upon Vlad’s family name, “Dracul,” and thought “Dracula,” which means “son of Dracul,” sounded cool.
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