A Chip Off The Old Block

19 05 2009

Stonehenge mwIt was recently reported that two U.S. tourists have returned a small piece of Rome’s Colosseum that they chipped off 25 years ago. The fragment of stone, small enough to fit into a pocket, arrived in Italy in a package from California and was accompanied by an apology that explained they “…should have done this sooner.” The couple said that every time they looked at their little souvenir they felt guilty and realised that if every visitor chipped off a piece of the Colosseum as they had done, there would be nothing left.

I was reminded of visiting the pyramids and crouching down beside the great structures to tie my bootlaces. The shade of the massive limestone blocks provided a wonderful respite from the blazing sun and as I pulled my laces taut, I realised I was kneeling on a treasure-trove of tiny fragments of the ancient monuments that were far superior souvenirs to the mass-produced papyrus sold around the corner. It would have been easy to casually pick up a particularly appetising fragment and slip it inside my boot for transport home –until I noticed the heavily-armed Tourism and Antiquities Police officer standing a few feet away smoking a cigarette.

Even if I hadn’t spotted the machine-gun glistening in the sun and the nicotine-stained finger idly caressing the trigger, I am pleased to say that I actually wouldn’t have slipped away with a morsel of ancient Egypt. Partly out of respect for the site and future visitors, and partly out of fear for being caught with my illicit souvenir at the airport and spending 20 years in a Cairo prison. But I can appreciate the temptation and understand the Colosseum tourists’ actions – except for the bit about actually carving off a chunk: that goes beyond souvenir-collecting and headlong into sheer vandalism.

I imagine that Rome and Egypt aren’t the only places that have this problem. In fact, every famous site in the world likely has similar difficulties. It is likely only perimeter ropes, security and pangs of conscience that have prevented Stonehenge from being whittled down to a ring of miniscule stone-teeth over the years. There was a similar dilemma in Israel with the mountain-top fortress of Masada. I once read that the problem of visitors collecting rocks and pebbles from this ancient site became so great that the authorities began trucking in a load of gravel every week to top-up the ground on which the visitors walked. This not only helped preserve the site – and stopped Masada being turned from a mountain into a molehill – but also means that there are likely thousands of tourists around the world who treasure shards of rock from some anonymous southern Israeli quarry!

 

Photograph and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

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Most Unusual Travel Insurance Claims

13 04 2009

baboon-tent-mw

The Nakuru Cat Burglar is remarkable for its resemblance to the baboon. (Nakuru, Kenya)

 

Though I’ve had more tropical diseases than the average petri dish and once had to survive in Iceland for 24 hours without so much as a toothbrush and clean socks, I have been fortunate that I’ve only once had to make a claim on my travel insurance.

 

Travel insurance is one of those things that I faithfully buy but hope never to get my money’s worth from. Over the years I have probably spent enough money to pay for a pretty decent vacation, but so far apart from one visit to a doctor in London (see “How To Get A Head in Africa” 10 July 2008), I’ve never got back a penny – but I have scored a ton of peace-of-mind.

 

The silence at the end of the telephone line when I called the insurance company about my tick suggests it might well still be discussed around the water cooler. But I am glad to know that I am not the only one who has entertained or bemused travel insurance companies. Here are a few others that are likely pinned to a bulletin board beside Terry the Tick:

 

 

        A pensioner, whose false teeth fell out while he vomited over the side of a cruise ship, put in a claim to his travel insurers for new dentures under “lost baggage”.

 

        A young traveller, distracted by the appearance of a group of women in bikinis, broke his nose when he walked into a bus shelter in Athens.

 

        A traveller lost his wallet in a drain in Israel. Instead of filing a police report and making a claim through his insurance, he instead stuck his hand down the drain – only to be stung by a poisonous scorpion. He ended up claiming for both a lost wallet and a hospital visit.

 

        A man who claimed for holiday cancellation when refused boarding was turned down by his insurance company when it emerged his ticket was for a flight from Manchester, New Hampshire…not from Manchester in the North West of England.

 

        Returning from India, a traveller filed a claim with his insurance company for $1100 worth of “Bombay Mix” snack food that he had lost from his luggage enroute. The insurance company performed a few quick calculations and determined that at less than $2 per 250g bag, the man would have had to have misplaced more than 137 kilograms of munchies…and refused to pay.

 

        A couple on vacation in Malaysia returned to their lodge to find that monkeys had climbed in through an open window, stolen their clothes and scattered them throughout the neighbouring jungle.

 

        A family’s camping holiday was ruined when a parachutist from a nearby airbase missed his target and landed squarely on their tent, destroying their equipment. Their insurer rejected their claims as they weren’t insured against accidental damage.

 

And in the category of needing a vacation to recover from a vacation:

 

        A holidaymaker in Sri Lanka needed hospital treatment after a coconut fell on her head while she was reading in the shade below.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan