Unusual country traditions that create visual points of interest

I suspect the June 2015 news of the removal of the famous “love locks” on the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris took a lot of people by surprise. I mean, really, with an estimated total of more than 700,000 locks similar in weight to that of about 20 elephants it means a lot of lovers must have journeyed to that site to etch their names onto specially or hastily bought locks before fastening them to the bridge.

The former Lock Bridge in central Paris, France (photo courtesy of englighcntv.com)
The former Lock Bridge in central Paris, France (photo courtesy of englishcntv.com)

Who knew that such an innocuous practice, believed to have started in Rome after a 2006 Italian novel-turned-film aired would have mushroomed into such a symbolic sign of “ironclad” affection? So great was the movement, it eventually converted a regular bridge into a world-renown point of interest arguably as famous as the Seine River over which it flowed.

I found the concept fascinating. In fact, it spurred me into thinking about other unusual traditions that I’ve seen throughout my travels. At each place, I’ve always paused to wonder about the origin of these unusual practices. Two examples immediately sprung to mind:

Cayman Shoe Tree

Any visitor to Grand Cayman should drive, jog or walk to South Sound Road and witness the spectacle of the Cayman Shoe tree in person. Reportedly the brain child of an expat couple who lived and worked on the island for a few years, it began as a means of them clearing litter from some of the beaches they liked to frequent. Deciding they wanted to do something that would draw attention to the need for recycling, they collected more than 300 discarded shoes on the first night they started rounding up garbage. They then secretly nailed the flip flops and sandals onto a tree over the course of two nights. They were aiming for shock value, so they stopped what they were doing whenever any cars drove by to ensure that early discovery would not spoil their big reveal.

Cayman Shoe Tree on South Sound Road, Grand Cayman
Cayman Shoe Tree on South Sound Road, Grand Cayman

By the time they were finished hammering shoes to the tree, their unusual display was 12 feet high. Since then, people have continued to add to it. The couple have since left the island but either them or someone else was kind enough to leave a hammer and nails in a wooden box at the base for you to leave your own footprint on their initial design.

The Egg Plant in Nevis

I heard covering trees with egg shells used to be a common practice outside traditional households in Nevis but the only evidence of it I witnessed was one small plant on the grounds of a cute little eatery by the waterfront in Charlestown. Nestled among the colorful tables, chairs and foliage at the  popular breakfast and lunch spot called Café de Arts, there sits a small spikey plant covered in brown and white egg shells. The art of properly positioning them lies in the level of skill in the cracking method. You must make a small incision at the tip of the egg shell so that it can be affixed to the prickly and pointed ends of the plant. Most of the shell must remain whole in order to achieve the full peacock-like effect.

I stood there dumbfounded.  I just couldn’t outrun that eerie sense of déjà vu that came over me because I was immediately reminded of the reaction I had when I first saw the flip flop tree in Cayman. Shaking my head to clear it, again I wondered who had started this unusual trend.

Egg plant in Charlestown, Nevis
Egg plant in Charlestown, Nevis

I was with a small group on a walking tour so I couldn’t stay to dig deep into the back story. All I know is that the eggs that patrons order for breakfast are likely to end up on the plant. After I left, I called the restaurant owner to ask about the practice but she was an expat-turned-resident and told me she really didn’t know the origin of it. I’ve made it a point of duty to find out. After all, this popular food spot sits next door to an important part of history – the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton; one of the writers of the United States Constitution and the face on its 10 dollar bill. From farm to table to plant décor, it is only fitting that the history of these eggs must also be told.

Have you ever come across any unusual country traditions that have become visual points of interest? Please tell me about them.


A few London attractions that I think are worth the hype

At some point in our travels we all have fallen prey to a tourist trap or two. You know, those popular attractions that are mentioned in every destination guide and where crowds and long queues to enter are common. If the experience is worth it, I don’t mind the hassle but if I walk away underwhelmed, I mind it – a lot.

With that in mind, I put together a short list for those of you headed to London. Be warned: All the attractions listed will be swarming with tourists but I think they live up to the hype.

Changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace

According to the Washington Post there are 26 monarchies in the world forming “a fascinating network of kings, queens, sultans, emperors and emirs who rule or reign over 43 countries in all”. However, none is as prominent as Britain’s Royal Family so no trip to London is complete without a visit to see Buckingham Palace.

Changing of The Guards
Changing of The Guards

If you are in London, schedule your visit to coincide with the Changing of the Guards ceremony. Between May and July, it takes place at 11:30 a.m. daily and happens every other day for the rest of the year, weather permitting. It’s a dignified exhibition of British pomp and pageantry while guards exchange duty posts.

And, it is free to watch.

Tower of London

The Tower of London, also known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, was built by William the Conqueror after his invasion of England in 1066 and over the years was used as a zoo, an armoury, and a place of torture and death. Today, it showcases much of London’s history.

Historical re-enactment on lawn
Historical re-enactment on lawn

Ceremonial guardians of the Tower, who are called Beefeaters, take you on guided walking tours where they regale you with bloody tales as you traverse the torture rooms and see horrifying tools used on former prisoners. The graffiti they left behind on the walls tells its own story. Additionally, there is a room that houses the impressive yet ostentatious Crown Jewels and there are displays from the Royal Armouries’ collection in the White Tower. Please note, the dramatic re-enactments of bravery and tragedy by actors in period costumes are not to be missed. They are colorful and animated spectacles.

Admission starts at £22.00 | US$35.per ticket.

The London Eye

If you appreciate stunning views and are not afraid of heights, add the London Eye to your list of must-dos. This attraction is the city’s 135 meter-high equivalent to a giant ferris wheel (the Brits call it an observation wheel) that gives 360-degree views of many iconic landmarks.

One bubble of The London Eye
One bubble (capsule) of The London Eye

You sit or stand in one of its 32 high-tech glass capsules as they rotate slowly above the Thames River. The ride lasts for 30 minutes and during that time you see gradually changing vistas of London. Within each capsule, you can listen to interactive guides in several languages.

Admission is £20.70 | US$ 33 per ticket. Children aged four and under are free.

Madame Tussauds

While Madame Tussauds wax museums are not unique to London (there are 19 branches worldwide) I think the one in London is worth visiting because it was the city where the concept started. As their website says, it is the ‘ultimate celebrity day out’ and it provides the perfect selfie stick photo op next to the wax version of the famous person you always hoped to meet.

Bob Marley
Bob Marley

There are more than 300 life-sized replicas of many of the world’s favorite actors, sports icons, television personalities, politicians and musicians. Kids will go ‘bananas’ over the Marvel Superheros section and die-hard fans of Star Wars will go ‘bonkers’ over the newly added franchise characters. I hung out with Tyra Banks, Will Smith, President Barak Obama, Brad Pitt and more. In addition to numerous ‘celebrity sightings’, you also can opt for a look behind-the-scenes to see how the sculptors create their works of art.

Admission starts at £31.00 | US$48 per ticket.

Editor’s Notes:

In my opinion, one attraction that definitely did not live up to the hype when I visited a few years ago was the London Dungeon. The marketing material made promises of ‘a thrill-filled journey through London’s murky past’ where ‘you get 90 minutes of laughs, scares, theatre, shocks, rides, special effects, characters, jokes, mazes and storytelling’. Delicately put, that is complete hogwash. Unless things have radically changed and you have kids under ten who are terrified of their own shadow, I say skip it and use your money for something else that offers more value.

Note: Prices quoted are as at June 2015 and are subject to change.