For some who is an avid reader, most of my favourite books tend to have a history of some sort – where I found them or who recommended them, etc. But one such item on my bookshelf has been there for years and I’ve not got a clue where it came from: Weird Europe. For those of you who’ve spent any length of time here (or for god’s sake if you actually live here), you’ll know the place is crawling with unusual stuff, some of it medieval and some of it modern, believe it or not. And the creepiest thing is that I’ve got this book and I don’t know where it came from. Weird, eh?
It is a brilliant book though, and I take it with me on any European jaunt – or if I’m tight on space I at least write down some of its peculiar suggestions to spice up my excursion. It has a 1-to-5 star rating for each “attraction,” and even has a handy symbol system so you can quickly find things that might appeal. Such as the skull to indicate “cemeteries, ossuaries, and corpses.” Or how about the handy unicorn which means “extraordinary exhibits and collections.” There are strange topiaries, unusual architecture, bizarre festivals, outrageous artworks, abandoned spots…they’ve got it all covered!
Let’s just say that if you think you’ve seen it all in Europe, you’ve not seen nothing yet. Here are some of the weird and wonderful places Weird Europe has taken me over the years.
The Caves of Moravia, Czech Republic
The caves in the eastern side of the Czech Republic are like underground cities – their entrances are as tall and wide as our modern expressway underpasses and the insides go on for miles and miles. The particular cave we went to, the Punkevni, was a over and hour tour and for most of that time we were walking and walking and walking – then we took a boat! Underground! For another 15 minutes or so. It was pretty surreal to say the least, and the guides said we were only seeing a tiny portion of that cave. Or so I thought – it was difficult to get an English guide, so we went on the German tour. Weird Europe also recommends the Balcarka Cave, the Sloupsko-Sosuvske Cave, Catherine Cave, and Javoricko Cave. (These caves have Czech characters in their names, but my laptop seems incapable of producing them, so apologies but you can find them by Googling the Anglicised name.)
That’s a stalagmite and a stalactite that over thousands of years have almost connected.
Janneke Pis, Brussels, Belgium
So everyone knows two things about Brussels: the waffles are phenomenal and you have to see the wee boy pissing. Sure, it’s kind of gross and really tacky, but it is a classic Brussels experience. (Besides, you can see which uniform/costume he’s wearing that day, and the best waffle shops are in that area.) But did you know that Manneken Pis isn’t the only one urinating in public? He’s got a sister, Janneke Pis, doing the dirty deed as well. She’s hidden down Impasse de la Fidelité. What’s more – there’s also a dog statue with a raised hind leg. I’ll leave that one for you to find.
The Keyhole of the Knights of Malta, Rome, Italy
Apparently all of the locals in Rome know of this oddity, but somehow I didn’t get the message. My cousin and I are undecided if this is real or not, but you have to go and see for yourself – it is the strangest thing and definitely Weird Europe-worthy. You take a breezy, refreshing walk up one of the hills of Rome, enjoying great views, lush gardens and the whole bit along the way, then when you reach the Knights of Malta, you bend over, look through the keyhole, and see a set of perfectly manicured gardens ending in the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. Yeah, weird. I mentioned it last year to Europe a La Carte readers and on that article I have put the detailed directions. Here’s what it looks like:
The Labyrinth of the Buda Castle, Budapest, Hungary
This is another one of those major tourist attractions in a major European capital that nobody seems to know about. (Or doesn’t care about, one way or the other.) Budapest is a major must-see in Hungary, but did you know that buried deep under the castle hill is a series of tunnels that were once caves but were expanded into store rooms and military shelter? I don’t think the owners running this place know if it should be a scary-creepy place or a family-friendly attraction; currently it sits somewhere in between the two, with a on-site cafe but otherwise you spend much of your time in the dark, giving it classic Weird Europe status. There are eerie candlelight “exhibits” (to call them art would be difficult) and noise machines ensuring the creepy factor stays sky high. I enjoyed it, though – it’s not busy and is a great break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Have a seat…if you dare!
Creepy Cool – How do I get a copy?
Well you can’t have mine. How weird would that be?
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen in Europe?
Photo from Brussels by Piutus,