Category: travel

The Bronx Zoo: Winter Wonderland

Every Christmas, the staff at the Bronx Zoo transform the grounds into a “winter wonderland,” an LED-illuminated forest of festive fun that begins at sundown.

The good: Young kids will enjoy themselves. The bad: All the animal exhibits are closed, with the tigers, bears, monkeys and elephants brought into their indoor enclosures before dark to shelter from the frigid New York winter.

On Friday night the only animal on duty was Quincy, a 16-year-old Eurasian eagle owl. The impressively-plumed Quincy gamely hung out and remained calm despite a small crowd of guests pointing cameras at him, occasionally repeating a vocalization that sounded more like Buddy’s high-pitched greeting than a call you’d expect from an owl.

Hooting, which is what most of us associate with the nocturnal birds, is more closely associated with territorial displays and mating calls, Quincy’s handler explained.

Bronx Zoo's Quincy
Quincy, a Eurasian eagle owl, wasn’t phased by crowds as he greeted guests at the Bronx Zoo’s Winter Wonderland. Photo: Pain In The Bud
Bronx Zoo's Quincy
Eurasian eagle owls live up to 20 years in the wild, but typically live twice that long in captivity. Photo: Pain In The Bud
Bronx Zoo Frozen castle
Visitors can watch artists chisel ice sculptures. Photo: Pain In The Bud
Bronx Zoo Winter Wonderland
Under the (very cold) sea. Photo: Pain In The Bud
Bronx Zoo Birds of Paradise
Birds of Paradise. Photo: Pain In The Bud
Bronx Zoo Winter Wonderland
Guests make Smores. Photo: Pain In The Bud

After taking my brother’s kids to Winter Wonderland, we stopped for a look at Roy’s Christmas Land in Harrison, NY. The owner, 61-year-old Roy Aletti, describes himself as a “maniac” when it comes to holiday decorating.

As you can see, his design philosophy can be summed up as “Buy as much shit as you can and cover every inch of your lawn.” The kids love it.

Roy's Christmas Land
Roy’s Christmas Land in Harrison, NY. Photo: Pain In The Bud
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Roy’s Christmas Land in Harrison, NY. Photo: Pain In The Bud
Roy's Christmas Land
Roy Aletti, 61, has been decorating his home for decades and his display draws a steady stream of admirers every Christmas season. Photo: Pain In The Bud

 

Man’s Elaborate Plan To Smuggle Fat Cat On Flight Backfires

Mikhail Galin loves his cat Viktor, that’s for sure.

The 34-year-old Russian and his feline flew from Riga, the capital of Latvia, to Moscow without any incident on Nov. 6, but when Galin checked in for an 8.5-hour flight to his destination in Vladivostok, he was told Viktor was too fat to fly in the cabin.

Officials from Aeroflot — Russian Airlines — told Galin there was an 18-pound limit for companion animals checked into the cabin, and at 22 pounds, the chonktacular Viktor was just too much chonk to hang with his human in business class. Instead, Viktor would have to tough out the long flight in cargo.

But Viktor was already stressed from traveling, and Galin wouldn’t take the flight without the cat by his side.

“I was very worried that during the duration of an eight-hour flight, something would happen to him in the cargo and he wouldn’t survive the trip,” Galin told the Washington Post.

When he couldn’t persuade Aeroflot to let him board with Viktor, Galin turned to social media for help and found a couple sympathetic to his cause. Their cat, Phoebe, looked like a miniature Viktor.

Galin booked a business class ticket, met up with the couple at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, and presented Phoebe as the cat he was taking with him on the flight. After airline employees weighed Phoebe and waved Galin forward, he and his new friends switched Viktor back in for his smaller body double and parted ways.

The plan worked beautifully and Galin would have gotten away with it if he hadn’t celebrated the successful swap on social media. He couldn’t resist the temptation and posted photos of Viktor on the flight: One shows the chubby cat peeking out of his carrier next to a glass of champagne, while another shot has Viktor in Galin’s lap, man helping cat enjoy a bird’s eye view.

Mikhail Galin and Viktor
Viktor takes a liking to business class.

The post went viral, an unamused Aeroflot got wind of it, and after an investigation the company docked Galin almost 400,000 frequent flier miles, his entire stash. It also booted him from its bonus miles program entirely.

“The law is harsh, but it is the law,” Galin told NBC News, repeating a stoic Russian maxim about punishment. “I violated the rules, and the carrier has every right to take action.”

Thankfully the result wasn’t all bad and Galin was rewarded for his loyalty to his cat. He told the Post several cat food companies had offered a year’s worth of food free for the flabby feline, and other transportation companies offered free use of their services.

While one politician called for Aeroflot to relax its rules on pet weight, the government wisely stayed out of kitty affairs.

“I don’t believe the Kremlin can or should comment on a situation involving a cat,” a spokesman for Vladimir Putin deadpanned.

As for Viktor, he’s made it clear he expects the same level of comfort next time he flies.

“He liked business class a lot better than economy class,” Galin said, “because he considered himself superior.”

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Viktor 11,214 snacks ago.

 

 

 

Japan’s Traffic Safety Video…For Cats

This is apparently the work of road safety experts who collaborated with animal psychologists, and not a Jackson Galaxy fever dream after half a pint of absinthe.

Naturally, it was made in Japan.

The animal psychologists are from Kyoto University and the traffic safety experts are from Yellow Hat, which is kind of like the Japanese version of AutoZone. The video’s makers say their feline “narrator” was chosen because other cats responded most to his voice during tests, and both the sound and visuals were designed to draw — and keep — feline attention.

Okay then.

Hotels With Cats: Getting Your Cat Fix On Vacation

As any cat owner servant knows, traveling is tough.

Not only do you have to make accommodations for your feline overlord(s) — including finding a reliable cat-sitter and writing a 32-page guide to properly caring for your kitties — there’s the issue of separation anxiety on both sides.

How can I sleep without Buddy using me as a mattress and walking on my face when he wants me to get up? Quite well, actually, but that’s beside the point.

A new site, Hotels With Cats, profiles resorts, hotels, AirBnBs and other accommodations throughout the world that feature cats on-premises. It’s basically a directory of cat-lovers who run hotels, for cat-lovers who love to travel.

Ashleigh Mills, the site’s founder, says she came up with the idea on a 2017 trip to Bali. While she was spending six glorious weeks in one of the Earth’s most beautiful places, she also missed her two cats terribly.

That’s when Tiger stepped in. The friendly tabby cat belongs to the people who run Geria Giri Shanti bungalows, and he served as Ashleigh’s feline companion for the duration of her stay.

“His presence soothed me when I missed my own cats,” Ashleigh wrote. As a bonus, “I knew I was giving my business to fellow animal lovers which was a good feeling as well.”

Tiger the Tabby Cat
Tiger: A cat on a permanent vacation with a rotating cast of humans to cater to his needs. Credit: Hotels With Cats

Thus far Hotels With Cats has profiled kitty-occupied hotels, lodges and seaside bungalows in Greece, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the US of A.

Buddy Is Angry!
“You’re telling me you’re going to relax in the sun on some pristine beach while I sit here at home waiting for the cat-sitter to come by and shovel slop into my bowl? No way, dude. I’m coming with you.”

Your own cats might not be too keen on the deal. After all, they’re left at home without their favorite humans. But sometimes it’s okay to lie to your cats, and in this case a little fib — “Oh, there were no cats where we stayed!” — could prevent furry little egos from getting bruised.

Asakusa: The Market Temple

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” – John 2:13-16

Growing up Catholic, I heard the story of Jesus furiously expelling the money-changers and merchants from the temple at least a few times a year in church gospels.

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“Christ casts out the money-changers” by Danish painter Carl Heinrich Bloch.

The message was clear: Houses of worship are supposedly to be solemn and hushed places where people can speak to God in peace.

Sensō-ji temple is quite the opposite.

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Sellers hawk overpriced gifts for tourists en route to Sensō-ji temple.

Sensō-ji is not only Japan’s oldest temple, it’s one of the most-visited spiritual sites in the world, with an estimated 30 million annual visitors.

It’s also one of Tokyo’s most-accessible shrines, just a short walk from a subway stop in Asakusa. All that foot traffic makes it irresistible for local merchants, who sell everything from traditional lanterns to t-shirts, stuffed animals, shoes, bags and hats.

On the day I visited a steady rain hadn’t put a dent in the mixed crowd of locals and tourists.

A giant lantern hangs beneath the temple gate, which was rebuilt in 1960 after a fire destroyed its predecessor. While most of the structures at Sensō-ji are reproductions, the area has been a religious site for more than 1,000 years.

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The temple grounds are a popular spot for tourists and locals alike.

 

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A shopping mall featuring eateries, gift shops and a sword smith.