I was out for supper with some friends the other night when my blog came up in discussion. Somebody who wasn't familiar with my blog asked me if I only write about depressing places, and I had to laugh. Later that night I got thinking about what she asked and I figured I would write about why I visit, and why you should visit, depressing places too.
They Define Who We Are
Contrary to popular belief, the world is the safest it has ever been. There is no war in the Western Hemisphere, with every country from Canada to Chile working together in relative harmony. There are problems, but we solve them through non-violent measures. The story is the same around the world – minus a few pockets of chaos. This is a huge step forward and one that humanity has never seen before. It is so impressive that it even has its own name: The Long Peace.
How we got here, however, is full of sad, heart-breaking stories. They are the stories that come out of places like Auschwitz-Birkenau, which show us how easily humanity can fall into barbarism. The stories of the victims and the horrors they went through are sometimes so hard to understand that some choose not to believe them at all. Ignoring these events, may it the extermination of Jews by the Nazis, the mass starvation of Ukrainians by the Soviets, the killings of Yazidi women by the Islamic State, the slaughter of millions in the Cambodian Killing Fields or the Residential Schools Program by the Canadian government, will only allow these events to fade from history and repeat themselves. These horribly depressing events and the locations they occurred in define who we are today.
They Bring History Alive
In school I read The Diary of Anne Frank, and I had trouble understanding her life in a city halfway around the world. It wasn't until 2011 when I visited her house and climbed the steep staircase into the secret annex, did I understand it. Finally Anne Frank wasn't just a story, but it was a record of somebody's life. It wasn't something like The Lion King, a fable made up to teach a lesson, but a personal record of a young woman's final thoughts.
Visiting my local cemetery gave me a similar feeling. By seeing the tombstones of people like Francis Darke, I finally felt their story come to life. By visiting the cemetery I saw the names of victims of the Regina Cyclone, the Regina Riot, the Spanish Flu and the North-West Rebellion, and I finally understood how these events tore families apart and changed the climate of our city.
They Make You Uncomfortable
Most people prefer to be comfortable with what's going on around them, but becoming uncomfortable is also important as it leads to personal growth. This can be caused by anything like a competitor threatening your job market, trying a new food at a restaurant you don't know, or having a discussion over political ideas. Feeling uncomfortable helps you better understand yourself, and your place in this world.
I found this when I was exploring an abandoned hospital in Pripyat. I was 8,000 kilometers away from my home, in a military controlled, highly radioactive, dark corridor of an abandoned hospital, and I felt slightly uncomfortable. But this uncomfortable moment stayed with me and I finally began to understand why people flock to empty houses, abandoned prisons and decaying warehouses. This thrill of being uncomfortable is something most people tend to avoid, but it's exciting and exhilarating – something too that we don't experience enough of.
They Leave You with More Questions than Answers
My most memorable moment in St. Petersburg, Florida wasn't my walk along the wharf, but my walk around a train car at the Florida Holocaust Museum. I've never seen a train car that was used in the Holocaust before, and I was amazed by how small it was.
Next to the train car was a small display that showed a recently discovered diamond engagement ring. It had been found between two of the floorboards of the train car, and the original owner was lost to history. An engagement ring lost on a train car on its way to a death camp creates a plethora of emotions and questions. Did the groom ask for marriage before or after they got on the train? Was it even asked? What did the bride-to-be say? Did she lose the ring deliberately? Nobody will ever know the answer.
The same can be said about visiting places like Hiroshima and hearing the stories of children who witnessed the incredible devastation of the atomic bomb. On display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is a stone staircase with a dark spot in the middle. This is the shadow of somebody, baked into the stone, when the fireball exploded over the city. Why was he sitting there? What was he thinking about when he saw it?
Just over a year ago I wrote an article about the glockenspiel that once stood in downtown Regina. I had fond memories of the glockenspiel as a child and was sad when they took it down to renovate the park. I was even more sad when they didn't put it back up, and I was angry when I discovered it was sitting in a junkyard (sorry, outdoor "storage facility") for the past ten years. That article got a lot of attention, from both the public, the city and the press. Today, efforts are being made to restore the bell back to its original location.
I'm telling you this because preserving heritage – may it be a 25-year-old bell, or a fourth century building – is important. Without heritage, we lose who we are. Often, the desire to move society forward steps over the heritage and causes it to get lost. As impressive as tall glass buildings might be, nothing is better than a smoky red brick structure.
Saskatchewan is beginning to realize how important this is – and thankfully it's happening now and not in a few decades after everything is gone. But, our neighbours have been on the heritage preservation band train for several years now, especially in Alberta.
I don't often take blog requests, but a friend approached me recently and asked about Venice. He's traveling to Italy for a wedding this summer and is stopping in Venice for few days. He asked me if I knew what he could do in the Floating City, so I racked up a list of ten things for him to see.
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if I missed anything, what your favorite thing to see in Venice was, or if you plan to go visit Venice after reading this!
It's the time of year people start heading south to Mexico to escape the winter blues. About two years ago I took my first trip to Mexico too, but I went to the Mexico City and Puebla instead of a beach-front destination. While preparing for my trip to Mexico I remembered that Xochimilco is just south of the Mexico City, and that this Venice-like community was home to the famous "Island of the Dolls."
I've written about my time to the island before so I won't go into too many details in this article. Instead, in honour of my almost two-year-anniversary of my trip to one of the creepiest places in the world, I put together a list of my Top 10 Creepiest Dolls From The Island of the Dolls.
(I would say "enjoy", but c'mon now, you know this is going make your skin crawl.)