In the mood for something a little different from the usual holiday fare of “most romantic places in the world” this Valentine’s Day? To honor the places I’ve been that I find weird and, at first glance, oddly unsettling, here is an honorary round-up of my top five picks for most unromantic places I can remember visiting. Of course, any place can be perfectly dreamy, given the right people and the right circumstances, and I have some of the fondest memories I’ve ever made tied to some of these spots, but since the national day of love is coming up this week, enjoy these five weird and wonderful places. And on this Valentine’s Day, don’t forget to go somewhere you love–and do something you enjoy
5. Museum of Medieval Torture, Prague, Czech Republic
Stakes used to burn women labeled as heretics, witches, and criminals? Electric chairs, painful chastity belts, and saws that served to cut people in half? These are just some of the 60+ delightful torture instruments you’ll see at the Museum of Medieval Torture in Prague. While this isn’t a museum for the faint of heart, it’s also most certainly not a museum for the independent woman or the person even remotely invested in human rights. In all honesty, now that I’m writing this post, I haven’t the slightest idea why I went in here in the first place. Strange curiosity? Gratefulness that I was not a European woman born in the 1600s? Mechanic interest in old gadgetry?
Whatever the reason, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as a romantic hot spot, but, well, if you’re into unusual sex toys, there might be just the place for you here (they’re off to the left when you enter).
Prague Torture Museum
Køižovnické nám. 1/194, Prague 1
Tel.: +420 723 360 479
Hours of Operation: Daily from 10 am to 10 pm.
4. Mannekin Pis Peeing Statue, Brussels, Belgium
Literally “the little man peeing,” Mannekin Pis is one of the most unusual and amazing fountains I’ve ever seen. For one, the title says it all: it’s a small bronze fountain sculpture depicting a naked boy with an uncomfortable face urinating into the pool below him. On holidays and throughout the week, he gets dressed up in little costumes (there are rumors he becomes a mini Santa Claus around Christmas) and sometimes people play practical jokes and dress him up in, say, a judo outfit or a rice paddy hat. According to recent numbers, he has literally hundreds of tiny outfits.
But why the little man peeing? There are three prevailing legends that pinpoint his origin: 1), that in the 14th century when Brussels was under siege by a foreign enemy, a little boy ran by and peed on one of the explosive’s burning fuse, thus saving the city from ruin. (Actually, I guess that could be romantic, depending on how you look at it). 2), that a wealthy man once lost his son and, with the entire town, searched and searched until they found him peeing happily on some plants in a garden. And 3), that many centuries ago (we’re not sure when, exactly), a young boy near the king’s castle awoke to find the castle on fire, and he successfully put out the fire with his pee. (That kid must have had some peeing prowess!)
Whatever your fancy, a little boy urinating certainly doesn’t exactly make me think of wine and chocolates. For that reason, he comes in for most unromantic hot-spot at a solid #4.
Mannekin Pis is located at the junction of Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat in downtown Brussels.
3. Pat Pong Night Bazaar, Bangkok, Thailand
Though this place oozes “romancing,” it’s not exactly somewhere I’d call “romantic.” Let’s put it this way: it’s not the first place I’d go for quiet conversation, a nice dinner, or a romantic stroll through the streets. Pat Pong is Thailand’s infamous red-light district, and true to its name, you will be asked by several people to peruse their “menu” of ladies and prices and you will be asked to come into one of the hundreds of strip clubs and pleasure rooms to “try out the products.” Honestly, I have absolutely nothing against women making a living, and Pat Pong is a fascinating and worthwhile adventure into Thai sexualities and customs, but frankly, I’d go down the street to one of the night bazaars for a glass of wine if I was headed out on a romantic soiree.
Patpong is within walking distance from the BTS Skytrain Silom Line’s Sala Daeng Station, and MRT’s Blue Line’s Si Lom Station.
2. St. Paul’s Catacombs, Rabat, Malta
Underground graveyard, anyone?
Now, let me preface this one by saying that my heart literally belongs to Malta, and this choice is in no way an affront to the cultural diversity and beauty of this tiny little island. It’s just that, well, I’m not sure if traipsing through a dank, dusty, Phoenician-Punic graveyard site would be many people’s first choice for a first date (or, actually, maybe it would…). Whatever your fancy, these tunnels and tombs are the homes to thousands of Christian, Pagan, and Jewish burials side-by-side, emphasizing Malta’s incredible tolerance for different faiths and backgrounds and illustrating the nation’s history quite literally through its dead. While the catacombs are absolutely mind-numbing, hanging out with a bunch of dead religious figures might not exactly spark romance.
St. Paul’s Catacombs are located on St. Agatha Street, Rabat, Malta.
1. The Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Like many of you, I have absolutely nothing against shopping and I’ll do retail therapy with a girlfriend any day of the week, but let’s face it: Is the biggest consumer conglomerate really the most romantic spot on earth? I mean, The Mall of America serves 40 million (yes, that’s 40 million) tourists a year (which is probably more than most small countries combined) who come to marvel at the 97-acre shopping mall. Even with the SpongeBob Square Pants roller coasters and playgrounds, I’m not sure I’d bring a first date to a place that has simultaneously created over 12,000 jobs but also caused hundreds of local businesses and shops to close their doors. As an advocate for local shopping whenever possible, I just can’t get jazzed up about the Mall of America (even though, admittedly, I did have a blast riding the SpongeBob roller coaster and trying on expensive dresses with two of my girlfriends). Plus, call me an essentialist here, but how many guys or gals have you dated who’ve wanted to hit the mall for that big date?