An A to Z of trivia for travellers
The world: fascinating place. So fascinating, we’ve lavished a lot of love on an evocative journey in print through every country on earth.
To give you a taste of Lonely Planet's wanderlust-inducing The Travel Book, we’ve rounded up an alphabet's worth of weird and wonderful facts about some of the places you’ll discover in its pages (okay, okay, we confess: there’s no ‘x’, but it’s close enough, damn it).
Read on to find out which country inspired the phrase 'banana republic', where people consume vodka with gusto to cure all their ills, and what world-class museum relies on a pounce of resident cats to keep its masterpiece-clogged galleries mouse-free...
- Antarctica: Antarctica’s ice sheets contain 90% of the world’s ice – 28 million cu km – holding about 70% of the world’s fresh water.
- Azerbaijan: ‘Layla’, Eric Clapton’s classic rock song was inspired by the Azeri epic poem Layla and Majnun.
- Bangladesh: The national game of Bangladesh is kabaddi, a group version of tag where players must evade the opposing team while holding a single breath of air.
- Belarus: Many Belarusian folk-remedies involve vodka: gargle with it to cure a sore throat, wash your hair with it to alleviate dandruff and pour it in your ear to treat an earache.
- Canada: Every year the British Columbian town of Nanaimo holds a bathtub race, where competitors speed across the harbour in boats formed from bathtubs.
- Chile: The Atacama Desert has the planet’s best star-gazing potential: the Alma Observatory here is the world’s largest astronomic project.
- Denmark: Denmark really does have an extraordinary inventive streak: many innovative creations including the loudspeaker, magnetic storage and Lego have Danish roots.
- Ecuador & The Galápagos Islands: Tiny Ecuador is home to some 300 mammal species and over 1600 bird species – more than Europe and North America combined.
- Ethiopia: When the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front tanks rolled into Addis Ababa in 1991, they were navigating with the map in Lonely Planet’s Africa on a Shoestring.
- Finland: Finns are renowned for being quiet – there’s an old joke that they invented text messaging so they wouldn’t have to speak to each other.
- Gabon: High on nature – Gabon’s forest elephants are particularly fond of iboga, a shrub known for its strong hallucinogenic properties.
- Greenland: Numbers in Greenlandic only go up to 12 – after 12 there is only amerlasoorpassuit (many); otherwise you have to use Danish numbers.
- Honduras: Honduras was the original banana republic – the American writer O Henry coined the phrase in the 1890s to describe the influence American banana companies wielded over the Honduran government.
- India: There is no such thing as curry in India – the Southern Indian word kari simply means ‘fried’ or ‘sauce’.
- Italy: On average €3000 a day is tossed into the Fontana di Trevi, Rome’s lucky fountain that promises another visit to the capital in exchange for a coin.
- Japan: It’s common for Japanese people to give gifts of fruit as it can be considered a luxury product; one of the most expensive is the rare black-rind Densuke watermelon, which can cost thousands of dollars.
- Kyrgyzstan: The Kyrgyz oral poem, the Epic of Manas, is the world’s longest poem, 20 times longer than the Odyssey, and has been recognised by Unesco as intangible cultural heritage.
- Lesotho: The Basotho are traditionally buried in a sitting position, facing the rising sun and ready to leap up when called.
- Liechtenstein: Liechtenstein is the only country in the world named after the people who purchased it.
- Madagascar: Rice is so significant in Malagasy culture that words used to explain the growth of it are the same as those used to describe a woman becoming pregnant and giving birth.
- Marshall Islands: In 1946, Bikini Atoll was the site for the first peacetime detonation of an atomic bomb; subsequently, the two-piece swimming costume (thought to be as awe-inspiring as the blasts) was named after the explosion site.
- Netherlands: Of the area claimed as the Netherlands, 20% is underwater (canals, lakes, marshes etc) while another 20% is below sea level and protected by 2400 km of dykes.
- North Korea: Now-deceased former Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-il, uttered only the following words in public: ‘Glory to the heroic soldiers of the People’s Army!’
- Oman: The coastal oasis of Sohar will forever be remembered from the Arabian Nights as the starting point for Sinbad’s epic journeys.
- Panama: Panama hats actually originated in Ecuador – they acquired their name as they were shipped to Panama from Ecuador before being distributed worldwide.
- Qatar: Foreign maps of Arabia drawn before the 19th century didn’t show Qatar.
- Russia: The Hermitage in St Petersburg is home to a crew of more than 70 cats, who keep the palace rodent-free, as they have since the time of Catherine the Great.
- Scotland: Bevvied, blootered, hammered, eein’, fou, steamin’, stotious, plastered and just plain pished... all these words mean ‘drunk’ in Scotland.
- Tanzania: The Anglo-Zanzibar conflict on 27 August 1896 stands as the world’s shortest war – it lasted a grand total of 38 minutes.
- Tunisia: George Lucas was influenced in many ways by Tunisia during his time filming there: Obi-Wan Kenobi’s distinctive robe was directly taken from traditional Berber clothing, and the Sandcrawler used by the Jawas to cross Tatooine was directly inspired by the strange shape of the Hotel du Lac in Tunis.
- UAE: Dubai's police fleet includes vehicles made by Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren.
- Uruguay: In late 2014 Uruguay became the world’s first country to legalise the cultivation and sale of marijuana – it even has ‘pot clubs’, greenhouses where members can grow cannabis plants.
- Venezuela: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book The Lost World was inspired by the table mountain of Roraima, where plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth were discovered in the 1890s.
- Wales: Genuine Welsh products: Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Ashley, Roald Dahl, Tommy Cooper, Peter Greenaway, Alfred Sisley, Gareth Bale.
- Yemen: Despite having been united for centuries, modern Yemen was actually divided into two countries – South Yemen and North Yemen – until 1990.
- Zimbabwe: While visitors can no longer legally spend Zimbabwe dollars, they are entitled to use nine other currencies.