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Osaka & Kyoto: A Japanese Folktale

This post is sponsored by Osaka Guesthouse Hive. We are so thankful for the hospitality they showed us during our recent trip to Japan! If you are heading to Osaka and looking for a fun hostel, we recommend checking out their website.

There are some questions that frequent travelers get asked all the time:
“How do you find the time for your trips?”
“Isn’t traveling expensive?”
“How do you stay safe?”
And “What has been your favorite country?”

The last one is always hard to answer because every country is so different, it’s hard to really compare them. Instead of naming one, I usually have a short list of several that span from Iceland to Vietnam.

Our most recent long holiday added another to the list: Japan.

Once you share a favorite, the next question is usually “Why?” This is even harder to answer – how can you understand the energy of a place without experiencing it yourself? It’s tough to explain.

There was something about the landscapes, people, and culture of Japan that I just loved.

As regular readers have undoubtedly noticed, I am fan of myths and legends. This delightful Japanese folktale about two frogs somehow encompasses a lot of what I appreciated about the country if you can read between the lines.

The story begins with the two frogs living separate lives – one is in Osaka and one in Kyoto. They are strangers. In fact, neither has ever left their own hometown.

But they both want to – they have a curiosity about the rest of the world and long for a bit of adventure.

So on the same day, they both come to the same conclusion. It’s time to embark on a journey. The frog from Osaka decides he will start walking in the direction of Kyoto, the second frog will head down to Osaka. They are on the same path heading toward each other.

Of course, they meet halfway. As most solo travelers can relate to, they are excited to meet a like-minded friend. So they take a break to talk to each other and share their stories.

And as most first-time travelers can relate to, they haven’t always had a smooth journey so far. They are asking big questions.

Questions like, “will this really be worth it?”

“How do we know that our destinations will offer us anything we can’t find at home?”

“Can we get a guarantee that the cost and time and effort won’t be regretted at the end of all this?”

So one frog comes up with an idea. He will stand on his back legs and lift up the other frog on his back legs, allowing him to look in the direction of Kyoto. Then he can see where he is going and decide if he still wants to continue.

The plan works. Except – neither frog realizes that they are actually looking backwards while on their back legs.

The frog from Osaka, believing he is seeing Kyoto, actually sees his own home.

“It’s exactly the same!” He says, disappointed. “There is no difference at all!”

The other frog gives it a try.

“You’re right! What’s the point?”

And both frogs shrug, grab their bags, and turn back home. Their desire for travel is gone because they have come to believe that there is no variety in the world; that every place is the same.

In reality, Kyoto and Osaka are two very different cities, despite being quite close to each other (we stayed in Osaka but took a quick train ride to Kyoto for the day).

From my point of view, Osaka was more industrial, and it had a very prominent political history to explore. Kyoto is more well known for its spirituality, with its top attractions being several famous shrines. People love Kyoto for beauty and traditionalism. Osaka is more fun and modern.

But the point of the fable above is that you cannot really know either city, or any city, in Japan or the world, without experiencing it closely for yourself. If you try to find a shortcut to the benefits of travel (whether it’s the opinion of a friend, a book, or even the view from a distance), you will cheat yourself out of a genuine experience and you will find that you adopt many mistaken beliefs.

So now it’s your turn to answer the hard questions: What is your favorite country and why? And if you’ve been to Kyoto and Osaka, how would you compare them?

Thailand’s Lantern Festivals

Second only to Songkran, one of Thailand’s most famous festivals is right around the corner.

If you’ve ever browsed through pictures of Thailand anywhere online, you’ve certainly found beautiful images of dozens of lanterns floating in the night sky or down a river.

These are actually two different festivals, but they have mostly been combined into one: Loi Krathong and Yi Peng.

Loi Krathong

This holiday is popular throughout much of Southeast Asia. Along with Thailand, it is also celebrated in Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and Cambodia.

It always occurs on the full moon of the 12th month of the lunar calendar.

During this festival, celebrants prepare a floating lantern, usually carrying flowers or a food offering.

When night falls and the moon rises, these lanterns are set afloat down a local river or lake. This is supposed to be done with a secret wish.

Some lanterns also hold nail or hair clippings from the one placing it on water. This superstition is believed to free the person of bad luck, negative thoughts, or regrets of past wrongs. It provides a fresh start moving forward.

Modern day celebrations usually include a fireworks show and a contest for the most beautiful lantern.

Yi Peng

While Loi Krathong is observed throughout much of Southeast Asia, Yi Peng is more common to the northern regions of Thailand.

It falls on the same day as Loi Krathong, and also involves the creation and letting go of a lantern – but these lanterns are created to float up into the sky. They are sent up with a prayer and promise to commit good deeds during the following year if the prayer is granted.

The two holidays are often seen as one in Thailand.

Legendary Figures

There are many origin stories behind these traditions. Here are a few of the important figures behind the legends:

Nopphamat – During the 14th century, this beautiful woman was said to fall in love with the king. She created the first floating lantern, and her wish was to capture his heart. It worked, and the king declared this act a national holiday.

Phra Mae Thorani – Some believe the traditions of these festivals stem from the ancient worship of this goddess. She is typically depicted sitting near a river and wringing water out of her long hair – a symbol that she is letting go of earthly concerns.

Buddha – Finally, several origin stories honor and celebrate the life and incarnations Buddha. One claims that the festivals mark the anniversary of Buddha’s visit to an underwater world full of mythological guardian serpents. Another teaches that the celebrations honor a specific life of Buddha in which he was born a rich prince who gave up his inheritance and life of luxury in order to better serve mankind.

Have you ever experienced Loi Krathong or Yi Peng in Thailand? Tell us your stories below.

 

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Autumn Festivals: How the World Honors the Dead

A huge part of why I travel is just to experience something different.

I am always craving the unfamiliar. I want to be surprised by how different life, beliefs, and values can be across the hundreds of cultures around the world.

But on the other side of the coin, I also love finding things that remain consistent. It is interesting to see what is universal across all or most of humankind.

Halloween, which is very American in its modern celebrations (despite originating in Europe), is actually very similar to many other autumn festivals around the world in that it holds a very common theme: death.

When you take away the silliness and child-centered traditions, Halloweens true purpose has always been about honoring those who died before us. This theme is tied to autumn months all around the world.

Where can you see examples?

Mexico – Day of the Dead

The most well-known example is Dia de los Muertos, which translates to the Day of the Dead. It is celebrated widely in Mexico and other Hispanic cultures. It is a three-day event. On the first day, it is believed that spirits will return to earth to be close to their loved ones. On the second day, families visit the graves of their family members to leave flowers and fruit. The third and final day is giant party.

India – Fortnight of Ancestors

In India, 16 days are devoted to the deceased for “Pitru Paksha” around the time of the autumn equinox. According to Hindi legend, a spirit does not fully crossover into heaven until three more generations pass away. The three generations of spirits still waiting in limbo can visit their descendants during the Fortnight of Ancestors.

Hong Kong – Double Ninth Festival

The legend behind this festival is a bit dark, and, like many ancient myths from oral traditions, the story has several versions. The basic tale is of a man that is warned of an impending danger to his village and flees to a mountaintop. When he comes back down, he finds all his neighbors dead. The festival began as a way to honor those who lost their lives that day, and now it honors all who have passed on. Families in Hong Kong will visit the cemetery to clean their family’s tombs and leave flowers and small offerings.

Italy – All Saint’s Day

What we know as Halloween today descended from this holiday which honors Christian saints. It is celebrated in all Catholic communities, and many believe it borrows ancient Celtic traditions from the pagan holiday, Samhain.

Nepal – Gai Jatra

Rather than honoring all their ancestors, this festival is primarily for remembering those who passed away in just the last year. Cows, sacred creatures and the national animal, are lined up and paraded down the street in an effort to bring joy and luck to grieving families. Food is shared among the entire community.

Madagascar – Famadihana

We’ll end on this tradition, which is a bit strange from my western perspective. Once a year, the people of Madagascar retrieve the corpses of their ancestors from the family crypts. Their remains are wrapped in cloth and brought to a large party where they are paraded around and danced with.

As much as I love the spooky fun of Halloween, I can’t help but compare it to these festivals around the world that seem to have a deeper meaning. Do you think something is missing from our western culture that could be fulfilled with a holiday like these? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

 

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Mythological Monsters from Around the World

October has always been my favorite month. I love the crisp weather (not that we get much of that in Thailand), the comfort foods, and, of course, Halloween.

Ghost stories, haunted houses, magic, and spooky myths – all things I adore.

Back in America, I am used to stories about witches, werewolves, and vampires – but now that I’m traveling the world, I’m much more interested in discovering new creatures and fabled beasts that go bump in the night around foreign lands.

Here are a few to get us all in the Halloween spirit:

Banshee (Ireland) – Catching a glimpse of this old, witchy woman is not a good omen – her presence guarantees the death of a family member. Her hair wild and the color of fire, and she has a painfully loud shriek. Sometimes she might disguise herself as a young, beautiful girl before revealing her true appearance.

Chupacabra (Puerto Rico) – Like vampires, this little monster has a thirst for blood. But isn’t about to bite your neck, it actually targets goats. In fact, its name translates from Spanish to “goat sucker” – a terrifying thought to small farming communities. Its appearance can vary, from reptilian to resembling a monstrous kangaroo.

Manticore (Iran) – This beast has the head of a man and the body of a lion. Sometimes it has dragon-like wings and a tail. It definitely has more of a taste for human flesh – its name means “man eater,” and it was often blamed for missing people. People say it never leaves any remains when it feasts, not even bones, clothes, or possessions.

Nandi Bear (Kenya) – Imagine an overgrown hyena with massive muscles, and you’ve got the Nandi Bear. Folklore blames it for the deaths of both man and other animals. They say it eats only brains, leaving the rest of its victim’s body behind.

Revenant (Central Europe) – These spooky creatures are similar to ghosts or zombies – they are deceased humans who have returned from the dead. They are still made of flesh like a zombie, but they have human consciousness like a ghost, usually choosing to haunt places and people they know.

Rakshasa (India) – These demons were accidentally created as the gods slept, and they immediately began feasting on Brahma. They were banished to Earth, where they still try to satisfy their appetite by attacking and eating mankind.

Which creature do you find the scariest? Have you heard of any other mythological monsters during your travels? Share below!

 

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6 Unusual Temples in Southeast Asia

Temples – they are some of the most frequented sights on the tourist trail in Southeast Asia.

After living here for several years, we have to confess that we usually skip temple visits when we’re traveling. After awhile, they start to blend together and we’ve started to think that many just look the same as the last.

Not everyone agrees with us – and that’s fair. There is definitely some stunning architecture to be seen. If you are a spiritual person, they can also be a very peaceful environment (when the crowds aren’t too heavy).

But even if you are in the same boat as us, we don’t necessarily recommend skipping every temple. Here are some that we find truly interesting and unique:

Angkor Wat – Cambodia

This complex is huge, and if you are committed to seeing the whole thing it would take all day (even if you usually breeze through places with impressive speed). Aside from its size, what sets it apart? The age of the buildings (dating back to the 12th century!) is so apparent, it feels like you’ve stepped into a different world. It’s almost like magic. The surrounding temples are also very unique – some resemble castles, some have mysterious faces carved all over the walls, and some look as if they are being swallowed up by the jungles around them.

Bagan Temples – Myanmar

Also ancient, and also massive, Bagan can be toured in so many fun ways. One of the most popular (but also expensive) tours is a hot air balloon ride. It is surrounded by plains and fields, allowing you to completely escape your modern life.

Shwedagon Pagoda – Myanmar

You’ll also find this shiny, gold temple in Myanmar. It’s makes up a prominent part of the capital city’s skyline, especially when it’s brightly lit up against the all the other darker buildings. It’s a beautiful sight while exploring during the day, and when it’s a backdrop to your night out.

The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) – Thailand

This temple is partly a spiritual place of worship, and partly an art exhibit. This little twist gives it a completely new aesthetic that you won’t find anywhere else. Everything is white and sparkling. Dramatic sculptures are everywhere, from hands desperately reaching out of the ground, to dragons, to skeletons.

Sri Mariamman – Singapore

If you love lots of color, lots of art, and lots of detail, you will be delighted with this Hindu temple. There is so much to look at, it’s almost hypnotizing. The temple is bursting with life and energy.

Prambanan – Indonesia

Not only is this the oldest Hindu temple in all of Southeast Asia, its towering buildings are quite photographic. It is known for beautiful dance performances held at sunset at the neighboring park, with the temples as the backdrop.

Did we miss your favorite temple? Have you ever seen one that was just bizarre? Share it below and tell us why it was so interesting!

 

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Mid-Autumn Festival: A Chinese Celebration of Gratitude

We spent this past week in China and caught the beginning of the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations. This is the second largest Chinese holiday and you’ll find decorations and traditional foods everywhere if you’re in the country, especially round red lanterns strung up in the trees and very dense cakes called moon cakes.

This time marks the fall harvest and, like many cultures around the world, this is a time for expressing gratitude and enjoying time with family.

This festival has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years, with its first written records coming from the Shang dynasty. It is always celebrated during the full moon of the 8th month of the lunar calendar.

In ancient times, the Mid-Autumn Festival also honored the gods or mythological figures honored in each region, such as gods of the moon, the local mountains or the great dragon who was believed to control the weather – therefore creating a bountiful harvest season.

A Mid-Autumn Festival Story

My favorite parts of any holiday are the myths and stories behind them.

In China, where stories were told orally for generations, the myths tend to vary per region. Here is one version:

It was believed in ancient days that there were once 10 suns that took turns lighting the sky. As long as only one sun rose at a time, Earth was safe and warm.

But one year, all 10 suns rose at once, which was understandably a disaster.

A very talented archer, Hou Yi, saved all of humanity was shooting down 9 suns, leaving us with only the one we have today.

In reward for his quick thinking, Hou Yi was given an elixir that would grant him immortality.

But Hou Yi loved his wife very much, and he did not want immortality if it meant she would eventually die and he’d have the rest of eternity without her.

A student of Hou Yi knew about this elixir and wanted it for himself. One night, when he knew Hou Yi was away, he broke into his house to steal the vial.

Hou Yi’s wife tried to fight him off, but in the end she took the elixir herself to keep it from the disloyal student.

She could no longer live among mortals and was carried up into the heavens. Hoping to stay as close to Hou Yi as possible, she chose the moon as her new home.

After Hou Yi discovered what had happened, he would often spend time looking at the moon and thinking of his wife. During the full moon, he’d leave out her favorite foods and drinks in honor of her. Others felt compassion for him, and began the same practices, which spread throughout the country.

An Alternative Version

The first story was very sweet, but not all depict Hou Yi in the same positive light.

Another version says he was crowned king after shooting down the nine suns, and later given the immortality elixir.

Unfortunately, he was a prideful and cruel king, and his wife knew he should never be made immortal. To protect the country, she took the elixir to keep it from him.

She flew to the moon, and the mad king died of anger. The people celebrate the wife and the moon as their heroine.

How to celebrate:
Share a mooncake with family or friends. This symbolizes unity and a strong bond between loved ones.
Have a glass of cassia wine. It is the traditional drink, and a favorite of the archer’s wife.
Watch a dragon dance. These are common performances around China during this time of year.
Pray for love. Whether you are hoping to begin a new relationship or preserve an existing one, the time is right for this kind of intention.

I’ve experienced two Mid-Autumn Festivals in China now. Have you ever been? Which story do you prefer – the romantic one or the one with a darker twist?

 

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Qixi Festival: The Chinese Valentine’s Day

One fun part about living as an expat is encountering your favorite familiar traditions with a foreign twist. It has always interested me to see what is universally honored around the world, and also to note the incredible variety in how different cultures can celebrate the same themes.

My first experience with this was two years ago in China, when a Chinese co-worker dropped some chocolate on my desk in August and told me “Happy Chinese Valentine’s Day!”

It was actually Qixi Festival, a Chinese holiday that also celebrates love and romance. It’s held on the seventh day of the seventh month on their lunar calendar. The name translates to “Evening of Sevens.”

This year it’s coming up soon on August 28th.

A Love Story

Although there are several versions of the myth behind this festival, they all center around a couple who were forbidden to be together, forcibly separated, but who find a way back to each other once a year for one night – on the seventh day of the seventh month.

In the most common version of the story, the girl is a fairy and the youngest daughter of the Goddess of Heaven. She often finds herself bored with with her celestial life, and she sneaks off to Earth to have a little fun.

During one of her trips, she meets a mortal boy – a cow herder – and falls in love. They marry secretly, even have a couple of children, and the fairy manages to keep her double life hidden for years.

But eventually the Goddess of Heaven discovers her daughter’s secret. She is forced to return to the heavenly realm, never to come back to Earth again, separated from her children and husband.

Some versions of this story detail how the cow herder tries return to his wife, even by disguising himself with the hide of his dead ox. But ultimately, he cannot reach her.

It is a romantic story, but it is also heartbreaking. The only moment of joy comes briefly once a year, during the Qixi Festival, when legend says a flock of magpies intervene for the lovers. They create a bridge so the two can reunite for one night, but only one night.

Traditional Celebrations

So how exactly is Qixi Festival celebrated?

Needlework is practiced, as this was a talent of the wife in the story. Competitions are often held among unmarried women.

Prayers are offered to the couple, usually for a good and happy marriage.

Offerings of paper, fruits, flowers, or tea are also made at local temples.

Divination is sometimes practiced to predict a future spouse or the happiness of a marriage.

Women might wear a special face powder believed to help them mirror the beauty of the fairy wife.

People will search for constellations in the sky, keeping an eye out for the bridge of magpies reuniting the separated lovers.

Rain is considered a bad omen. If a storm comes, it is believed that the river has washed away the bridge of magpies before the lovers could come together. The rain symbolizes the overflowing river and the tears of the heartbroken couple.

The biggest difference between the western Valentine’s Day and the Chinese Qixi Festival is that Qixi is primarily for unmarried people. Newlyweds couples only celebrate one final time, to say goodbye to the mythological couple.

Have you ever celebrated Qixi Festival in China? How did you think it compared to Valentine’s Day at home? Do you prefer one over the other?

 

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The Symbolism of Chiang Rai’s White Temple

Over a year ago, I was about to head to Thailand for the first time. Simon asked me to make a list of my top priorities of things to see and do. Near the top of my list was The White Temple in Chiang Rai (known as Wat Rong Khun to the locals).

While many temples around Asia start to look very similar after you’ve been traveling or living here awhile, the White Temple stands out with its surreal statues, surprising references to pop culture, and twisted fairytale-like architecture.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it up to Chiang Rai during that trip, but we recently, finally, made it there a couple weekends ago.

Our thoughts? It made for some beautiful pictures, but in person it was a bit smaller than expected.

But! Despite its size, there is a lot going on if you know what to look for. Here is what you should know:

Temple or Art Exhibit?

Years ago, Wat Rong Khun was a typical Buddhist temple that had fallen out of use and was badly in need of repairs. An artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, decided he wanted to completely renovate the building in an unorthodox way with his own money.

So is the current temple still a religious center or is it all for the sake of art now? It’s a mixture of both. While you can definitely see that an artist designed every inch of this attraction, it is still intended to enlighten its visitors about the teachings of Buddha and eventually provide space for meditation and religious learning. Kositpipat sees his work on the temple as a spiritual mission.

A Story Comes to Life

Exploring the White Temple is essentially entering into a narrative of temptation and redemption. To keep each visitor in the intended progression of the story, no one is allowed to turn back as they explore. They must move through each chapter just as they would a novel – without skipping forward or backward. (So make sure you get any pictures you want the first time around.)

Overcoming Temptation

At first, the artwork in front of the temple is almost disturbing. Multitudes of hands desperately reach out of the ground – this scene is supposed to represent the problem of desire and greed. Visitors pass over it by bridge, entering a state where they are free of worldly attachments and pain.

Mythological Creatures

You will also encounter many strange, mythological figures within and around the White Temple, including:

Kinnarees – Look for statues of half-bird, half-man creatures. They are similar to guardian angels in Buddhist mythology, keeping an eye on humans and intervening when we are in trouble.

Rahu – This creature is a beheaded serpent, and Hindu myths teach that he will determine the fate of each soul upon their death.

Nagas– You will also see plenty of snake symbology with their full body still intact – these are Nagas, and they are minor deities that guard the temple.

Pop Culture

When you actually enter the building, you are no longer surrounded by figures of ancient myths. Instead, you’ll see a display of movie posters, western celebrities, and popular fictional characters alongside news photos of war, terrorism, and other horrors. Again, the message is that the world is full of sorrow, vanity and destruction.

Where’s the Toilet?

Even the bathrooms have become an elaborate work of art. They are housed in an ornate building designed to contrast the spiritual purity of the White Temple with a materialistic, worldly gold coloring.

There’s Much More to Come

Kositpipat has many more plans for the temple in the future – according to his timeline, the entire project won’t be finished until 2070.

For those of you who have traveled around Asia, has any specific temple caught your eye? Why did it impress you?

 

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Strange Museums Around the World

There is really no “right way” to travel.

If you hang around the travel community a lot, you might start to hear some people talk about “real travelers,” “authentic experiences,” or passing judgment on someone else’s decision to go (or not go) to certain attractions.

But the truth is that there are as many ways to travel as there are people traveling.

Our travel confession? We aren’t really into museums, even though these attractions seem to top the must-see lists of many other travelers.

But the occasional museum does catch our eye – when it’s something so bizarre we can’t believe it exists. We have to see it for ourselves. Here are some of the strangest museums around the world we would love to visit:

The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum (Osaka, Japan)

Into noodles? Even the biggest enthusiasts might find this museum a little over the top. You’ll explore the many types of ramen sold over the years, including taste testing some of the selections.

The Mummy Museum (Guanajuato, Mexico)

In a small Mexican community, a strange discovery was made. Corpses were being exhumed from a certain crypt, only to find that a peculiarity to that region had mummified them all. The Museo de Las Momias now displays many of the creepy looking mummies.

Iceland Phallological Museum (Reykjavik, Iceland)

Ever wondered how the penis compares from human to animal? Here you’ll find 215 penises to size up and learn about. The museum’s founder says he became interested in penises as a kid, and he later began collecting whale penises as a hobby. When his collection grew, he turned it into a museum open to the public.

The Underwater Museum (Cancun, Mexico)

This museum is found in the ocean and can only be viewed by divers, snorkelers, or passengers in a glass-bottom boat. The sculptures were created and placed underwater with the hopes of spreading awareness about the preservation of clean oceans, marine life, and coral reefs.

International Spy Museum (Washington DC, United States)

As a kid I was very into Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, and other mystery novels. I dreamed of becoming a spy and having dramatic adventures around the world – so this museum definitely intrigues me. Not only are cool spy tools on display, visitors can role play in their own interactive spy mission.

Museum of Vampires and Legendary Creature (Paris, France)

This gothic museum was founded by a scholar who devoted his life to the undead and other occult subjects. You’ll learn plenty about vampire folklore, old protective superstitions, and the history of vampirism in Paris and beyond.

The Museum of Death (Bangkok, Thailand)

Finally, in our current home base of Bangkok, we have the Siriraji Medical Museum, also referred to as the Museum of Death. The most popular (and creepiest) part of the museum is the forensics exhibit, which displays the corpses of murder victims and executed criminals.

What’s the most interesting museum you’ve been to while traveling? Would be tempted by any of the museums listed above? Tell us about it in the comments!

 

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The Conspiracies and Obscure History of Vatican City

Vatican City isn’t a normal place.

To start with, it is technically its own country – despite only being a mere 110 acres with a population of about 1,000. But it does have its own post office, railway station, radio station, and, of course, a rich and influential story. It has certainly earned its prominent place in European History. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in its unique power.

The conspiracies swirling around Vatican City are honestly mind-boggling, especially when they stray from the typical power plays and corruption you learned about in history class. From aliens to time travel, we want to discuss some of the strangest and most obscure legends we found.

Does extraterrestrial life exist? According to many conspiracy theories, the answer lies in the Vatican’s secret archives, which some claim detail an encounter between the Vatican and an alien society that wants to help Earth’s impending energy crisis – unfortunately they are afraid to reach out publicly because of our overly violent nature.

Are we alone?

And if that seems far-fetched, get ready for this strange rumor: Also hidden away in those strictly confidential archives? The secrets of time travel, and proof that time travel has already occurred to change history in dire situations. Apparently this powerful technology is owned and restricted by the Vatican, but it has been borrowed by both American and British governments in times of need.

From forgiving sins to defying the laws of time, the Vatican is rumored to have a lot of power.

Of course, we can’t forget about the secret, strange, or scandalous lives of popes throughout history.

Pope Stephen VI was so opposed to his predecessor, he dug his body from the grave, dressed him in his papal robes, and shouted horrible accusations at him before tossing him into a river.

John XII transformed the Vatican from holy grounds to a huge brothel, in which he was the center of the sinful activity. Eventually his wild life caught up with him when he was killed by a jealous husband who found him in bed with his wife.

There is also a 9th century pope appearing in several historical texts that many people believed to secretly be female. Now referred to as Pope Joan, legend says she entered the priesthood with the encouragement of her lover, quickly advancing in rank because of her intelligence and spotless character. Her lover was her greatest weakness and ultimately her downfall. Their secret was uncovered when she became pregnant, giving birth one morning as she rode her horse. She was executed within days.

The legendary, probably mythical, Pope Joan

One last papal story: Pope Paul II. He was not very popular during his reign, as he was always trying to wear a very fancy tiara and apply rogue to his face despite the objections of everyone around him. He met an untimely death, supposedly caused by eating too many melons. He may have been a bit materialistic and vain for a pope, but no one can say he didn’t live life on his own terms.

There’s no denying that behind the walls of Vatican City lies the inspiration for countless conspiracies, mysteries, and speculations of secrets and scandals. This is why, for such a small city-state, there seems to be endless histories to explore. Its influence stretches to the strangest of places.

Have you ever visited Vatican City? What interesting facts (or pseudo facts) did you uncover?

 

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