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Day One - Paris

At long last, after travels around the world, I finally visit Paris.
It's not quite what I expected. I've always thought of it similar to NYC, but it's so much older, with more history, and a very different culture.

Random first thoughts:
Airport elevated moving sidewalks. I feel like I'm falling. How do elderly people ride these things?
Protests. The random smashing of windows along Champs Elysees.
Cobblestone sidewalks. Not easy for travelers with luggage.
All forms of transportation. Not just cars. Scooters everywhere.
Connections. Not so glued to cell phones. Instead, people are in sidewalk cafes. Talking.
Friendliness. Unlike the rumors I've heard, I found the French to be delightful, helpful and friendly. That was a pleasant surprise!
Dark. A fair skinned blonde, I was never mistaken as French. A very tall people, quite handsome, with dark - often curly - hair.
Fashion Fashion Everywhere. EVERYONE dresses so beautifully. It must be fun being able to dress so creatively. Loved it!

fashion in parisLovely fashions
paris older city than New York CityOlder, cultural city
people in paris enjoying the social life outsidePeople socializing outdoors
paris scootersScooters everywhere
the smashed windows of the protestorsThe aftermath of protestors


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SkyLodge in Peru hangs on the mountainside by a thread

Ummm ... NO! Not for me! Do you have a place you've been that beats this for fear of heights? 


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Doesn't this place look amazing? I'm so intrigued with Dubai. On the one hand it is SO manufactured, on the other hand it is fascinating what they've created. Vegas on steriods!

Posted in Dubai, international, travel | 1 Comment(s)
Our Favorite Things to Do in Seattle
Want some ideas of things to do while you're in Seattle? See below for some of our favorite things to do.
And if these ideas below aren't enough .... here's a great article "36 Hours in Seattle" that may provide a few more interesting things to do.
  • Pikes Market (
    If you've never been to Seattle or Pike's Market, this is a must. Not because you'll want to buy something here (although you might find that you do!), but this is probably the place most known in Seattle (besides the Space Needle and Starbucks .... more on those two in a minute!). There are tons of vendors selling all kinds of stuff. Not to miss: the flying fish throw ( and check out the bouquets of flowers from the many flower vendors. These are the most inexpensive flowers around -- and they're absolutely gorgeous. 
  • Seattle Underground Tour (
    This tour wins the prize as the best unexpected surprise! As you walk the streets of Seattle, little do you know that a whole world exists below your feet. With some of the best - and funniest - tour guides around, this walking tour winds through the interconnecting tunnels of the Seattle underground (entombed when the city rebuilt on top of itself after the Great Fire of 1889).
  • Chihuly Garden and Glass (
    Another DON'T MISS. As you go from room to room, you're amazed by color, light, glass and creativity. With just the right amount of text that is well-written on the signage, you learn about how Chihuly was inspired to create the different pieces in this collection. Not your typical blown glass exhibit, you'll LOVE this!

  • The Space Needle (unless you're afraid of heights)(
    Love high up places? Then don't miss the Space Needle for an amazing view of Seattle (although the top of Sarah and Ian's apartment building is pretty darn good as well!). Enough said. For chickens, go to the website and click the "Go" button on the right and pretend you're riding up without feeling terrified.
  • Freemont Sunday Market - SUNDAY ONLY (
    If you want to do something that is uniquely Seattle, visit the Freemont Sunday Market. This street fair hosts more than 180 vendors from around the region including flowers, crafts, world imports and FOOD. Including - what else do you expect in Seattle? Coffee! Let's be clear, though, it gets weird with booths like the one that sells nothing but used Birkenstocks. Fun times!
  • Starbucks Destinations
    What is a trip to Seattle without the company that founded Seattle, Starbucks. Lol, not really, but Starbucks definitely has helped Seattle gain notoriety for having great coffee! So here are some options for some Starbucks related activities:

    - Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room (
    This is the place to fresh-roasted coffee.  Not familiar with various brewing methods? You can try them here, including Clover brewed, siphon pot, pour over, etc. They also roast coffee on-site. And, of course, there is plenty of coffee, merchandise, and food to purchase as well!

    - 1912 Pike Place Starbucks (
    Here's where it all began and one of ONLY two Starbucks that sells Pike Place Special Reserve. Beverages here are handcrafted using a classic La Marzocco espresso machine. 
Day Trips
We have two day trips we recommend if you have the time when you visit!
  • Bainbridge Island, town of Winslow (
    If you have a few hours, you can take the regular ferry service over to Bainbridge Island ... and you don't even need a car! Winslow, a short walk from the ferry, has restaurants and charming shops.
  • The Mountains
    There are three parks that are within driving distance for a (long) day trip. Impressive views and hiking are to be had by all these parks. Word of warning: check the weather, the temperatures are much lower in the mountains, so you need to be prepared for the cold. For example, at this writing it is 35 degrees in Seattle, but 21 degree at Olympic National Park. Nevertheless, the parks are beautiful, even if you view the scenery from your car. The parks include:

    - Olympic National Park ( ) 

    - Mount Rainier National Park (

    - Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (

Places to Eat: Our Favorites
  • Byen Bakeri (
    This bakery is AMAZING. Well worth a visit for coffee and pastry, lunch and pastry, or pastry and pastry. Yup, you get the idea ... the pastries are to die for!
  • Swedish Restaurant: Scandanavian Specialties (
    We're part Swedish and we definitely inherited the taste buds of our ancestors. We're frequent visitors at this little cafe (a few tables located into this retail store). Our favorites are the salmon quiche and the yellow split pea soup with lamb. 
  • Cafe Turko, Fremont section of Seattle (
    If you are in the Fremont section of town and looking for an ethnic restaurant, this little charmer has some tasty Turkish food.  On our visit, we tried a variety of dishes and everyone enjoyed their selections!
  • Mantra, Belltown section of Seattle (
    Another ethnic favorite - this time located in Belltown - offers up very good Thai food and a very reasonable price. We tried one of the lunch specials which included generous portions of both Pad Thai and Chicken Green Curry with rice -- for only $10! Having eaten here numerous times, it consistently offers a good meal at a good value.
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Cantor Center for the Arts in Palo Alto CA
Loved the Cantor Museum of the Visual Arts at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. Besides the amazing art, my favorite part was our docent! Unfortunately, I don't know her name, but she not only was knowledgeable, but she shared her sheer enthusiasm for the art and made everyone in the tour feel a part of the discussion. Art for everyone, instead of "snobby" art. Loved it!

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Travel Tips Time
How To Get Through Security Faster

Be part of the Trusted Traveler Network and you can zip through airport lines. Well, maybe not zip, but at least avoid having to take off half your clothes, drag your computer out, take off your shoes and remove all your jewels. In other words, you can go through the Pre-Check or the Global Entry lines, both of which - thus far - can be way shorter.

In fact, last week we got to spend about 45 minutes a few feet away from Andy's bachelor (alas, they've since gone their separate ways). Now, even you, can feel like a celebrity as you breeze through security.

To apply:
If you travel internationally:
If you travel only domestically:

Want more info?

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Sightseeing, Tartu, Latvia

The Tartu Science Museum

We visited this wonderful museum in Tartu much fun for kids and adults (even baby boomer adults like us) alike!

In general, we don't really recommend going out of your way for Tartu. It is appointed as an UNESCO Creative City, but that didn't really translate into a lot of wonderful things to see and do.

We had the most fun at this museum. So I'll share some of the fun with you.

First, the 360 degree camera. The first thing that strikes me is my pathetic jump. It looks as if I barely got an inch off of the ground. I am going to attribute that to several layers of clothing (it was quite cold in Tartu) and my coat, along with a heavy purse that included my camera. I'm not sure the jump would have been any better without all of that, but I am going to pretend that it would. ;-)

To see my jump, visit this facebook page:
360 degree camera and my jump

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Sightseeing, Riga, Latvia

Baltic's Biggest Graffiti (PHOTO COMING SOON)
This is pretty cool. Off the beaten path, so not included with the Walking Tour. It just so happened that the place we stays is RIGHT next to it!
Perkons Saule Daugava
K. Barona 114 (Tallinas), Riga, Latvia

Here's what we learned about this from "To celebrate Riga as a European Capital of Culture, in 2014 two Latvia's most renowned street artists  - Rudens Stencil and Kiwie - came together to create the biggest graffiti mural in the Baltics - 800 square meters. They used more than 1500 spray cans to create this symbolic street art that combines the ancient with the modern. The graffiti is inspired by a 1938 poster for Latvian Song Festival - one of the largest choral events in the world. "Saule Perkons Daugava" is the unofficial anthem of the festival. the graffiti you can see ancient Latvian traditional belt - Lielvarde belt - that is said to protect its wearer and has become very popular in contemporary culture.

IF YOU LOOK CLOSELY, YOU WILL SEE THE NAZI SYMBOL. The Latvians don't mean it in the same way is an ancient symbol of good will. It is important to read this blog post by a Dutch journalist who explains the use of this symbol and why it is uncomfortable for people outside of Latvia.

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washing clothes, Russian

Washing Machine - washing our clothes!

Laundry question of the week:

Does anyone know why the Russian machines offer up to 5 extra rinse cycles and our machines only (and even that is sometimes) offers ONE additional rinse?

Operating Instructions:
Ok, so Allan is clearly not as picky as I am about the settings with my clothes. It has to be the right amount of time, right temperature, right scrubbing action ...right girls?

What to do when faced with these dials?
2016-06-17_karma travel washing machine russian

First, here is the User's Manual. If you're traveling and can't find the Manual for the particular model you're using, this is similar enough that you can pretty much figure it out.

Here's the dial part in English:

Water temperature: Below 30C is "cold water". 30C is the least hot water with 95C being hottest.

Most of these places have tiny hot water heaters and you're lucky to get through a hot shower, so it's likely you're clothes will be washed in cold no matter which you select!

Spin Speed: The machines we used also have "600". That seems to be the default setting, so that was the spin setting I mostly used.


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Riga Latvia Walking Tour

  • Take a trip back in time to the Middle Ages at Riga Castle
  • Stop by the Three Brothers – Riga’s oldest residential buildings
  • Learn some Latvian history at the Freedom Monument and the Parliament of Latvia
  • Admire impressive architecture at the House of the Blackheads
  • See the city’s stunning Opera House
  • Visit several of Latvia’s oldest and most prized places of worship including Riga Cathedral and St. Peter’s Church
  • Hear about the city’s past at Dome Square and Riga Town Hall

Lots to see on our walking tour through Riga.

Freedom Monument
Kalku iela
The monument is 42 meters tall and depicts "Milda" holding three golden stars (symbolizing the provinces of Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale). It was build to honor soldiers who were killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1918-1920). Between 10am - 4pm there is a two man honor guard (although, we didn't notice that!). It also say "Tēvzemei un Brīvībai" which means "For Fatherland and Freedom".

Orthodox Cathedral
Brivibas bulv. near Esplanade Square
We noticed here, as well as at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Tallin, that no photos are allowed inside. While the Christian Cathedrals range from very ornate to quite plain, the Orthodox churches tend to be elaborate with lots of gold inside. The Cathedral was erected in the 1860s, although apparently the golden dome on the outside is relatively new. During Soviet times it was a planetarium, cinema and a cafeteria. It now is open for worship again.

Laima Clock
Brivibas and Aspazijas corner
One thing you learn at the Laima chocolate museum is they take pride in this clock. It became "famous" because it was a well known landmark where locals and lovers alike would meet. It started off as just a clock, but overtime, Laima was able to add it's name to it -- and it stuck as permanent advertising!

Riga Bourse Art Museum
Doma laukums 6
150 year old gallery.

Museum of Barricades of 1991
3 Kramu Street
Mo-Sa: 10:00 - 17:00
We learned about how Latvia - in resisting the USSR - denied the Russians access to important buildings by putting up barricades in key places around the city. In this model that represents the barricades, you can see how trucks and large vehicles - filled with lumber and garbage, were placed around city buildings to block access. Doing this was key to regaining independence in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1991. Large numbers of the population participated - in this unarmed resistance.

Riga Cathedral
Doma laukums
The cathedral is approximately 800 years old! It's one of the oldest and biggest cathedrals in Latvia. During Soviet times, it was used as a concert hall. It is now a Lutheran church.

Jewish Synagogue
Peitavas street 6/8
Build 1904. Art Nouveau architecture.
We visited the only synagogue that was spared from being destroyed during the Nazi occupation. Most buildings were destroyed by burning, however, this synagogue is in a very dense part of town, thus, the Nazi's felt burning was too risky.

The inside was interesting in many ways. (1) There were stained glass windows (obviously not traditional Christian type of scenes, but flowers); (2) There are balconies, and (3) It is a bit more ornate and more colorful than other synagogues (or at least of the ones I have visited).

Museum of Occupations
Strelnieku laukums 1
Tu-Su: 11:00 - 17:00
Unfortunately, this museum is being renovated so we saw a reduced version of it. The story told is very much similar to the Estonia museum we saw. It relates the history of occupation by the Soviets, the Nazi's and, then once again, the Soviets. The LONGGGGG occupation that these countries faced makes me truly thankful to be American and to have lived in freedom as we have.

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Sightseeing, Riga, Latvia
Laima Candy Museum

What is more fun than a kid in a chocolate factory? Well, maybe a kid in a chocolate museum!

The manufacturing and sales of chocolate became of the the leading industries in Riga in the early 1900s. It was so successful, that even when the USSR occupied Latvia, they took over and ran the chocolate factories (combined from 3 different companies into one). After Latvia became independent in 1991, Laima remained and today is own by a Norwegian corporation.
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Even more about Sweden!
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More about Sweden!
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Sightseeing, Stockholm, Sweden
Seeing Stockholm

Just to wet your appetite and see how lovely Stockholm is, I've posted just a few of my photos. More to come!

2016-06-16 karma travel blog stockholm

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Getting Around, Where To Stay, Baltic States and Sweden

Buses and Trains and Renting Rooms

For the most part, we've been using (similar to AirBNB) to find flats instead of staying in hotels. For the same or less money, we get a bit more space and a kitchen. In each city, we've been going grocery shopping and buying local foods (herring, pate, Estonia had amazingly wonderful tomatoes, fruit, cheese, oat milk in Sweden, etc.) and eating breakfast/brunch "at home" instead of eating out. That probably saves us $25 each day, plus we're likely getting a healthier, more nutritious breakfast.

The flats have - for the most part - been acceptable and clean. They each seem to have their little issues: in Latvia we have no microwave and we're a bit further from the center of towel (and, oh, the towels are scratchy); in Sweden the first two days we had no hot water in the shower so we had to use the sink (but we were in walking distance to the center of town and the flat was quite a bit cheaper than the VERY expensive hotels); in Kuressaare in Estonia the TV channels were really bad (actually that's been true nearly everywhere!).  Plus, by staying in our own flat, we've been able to do laundry occasionally which has also been helpful. In any case, we've found this to be a great way to affordably and comfortably travel. 

We also have figured out/learned that if you're traveling by train or tram in this part of the world, the tickets are sold in convenience stores. In Sweden we bought the subway tickets in a small convenience store right next to the underground gates (the woman at the ticket counter told us to buy them in the store instead of from her because they cost less) and in Latvia we bought them in a convenience store (like a 7-11) called Narvesen.

If you ever travel here, these tips will help!

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Thoughts about Estonia
We loved Tallin! It's a super-easy city - everyone speaks English, it's affordable, clean (at least the parts we were in), the old town is quaint, and wonderful food.

Fun (or not) facts about Tallinn!

  • Estonia doesn't fare well on the "happy scale". It's ranked one of the world's most unhappy countries. The Guild Museum in Tallinn that we visited surmised that centuries of occupation and repression are the key to this.

I have found that when I travel - even though I find many things I love about other places around the world - there's no place like home and there are many ways where we have, as a nation, been so fortunate.

Since around 1940, Estonia was occupied first by the Russians, then the Germans, and then the Russians again until 1991 when they finally gained their independence. We learned that the Russians were more hated and crueler than even the Germans, albeit hard to believe. We also learned that while many Estonians escaped the Russians (after getting rid of the Germans) by going to Sweden, they were then rejected and sent back (and then killed by the Russians) because the Swedes knew that some of the immigrants were Nazis. For whatever reason, they didn't want to figure out which were Nazis and which were innocent Estonians, so they just sent them all back. 

Even earlier in history before all the Russian/German/Russian business, Tallinn and Tartu in Estonia became part of something called the Hanseatic League (1400-1800), which was a network of German merchant trading cities. But, what ended up happening was the Germans took over the cities and made the Estonians second class citizens and laborers, so even then, for hundreds of years, the Estonians were repressed.

But just think in terms of 1991. In 1991 I had a 4 year old daughter. I could do whatever kind of work I wanted. I could travel wherever I wanted nationally and internationally. I didn't have to worry about the KGB. I didn't have to worry about if I was seeming too friendly to a tourist that I happened to be speaking to, nor did I have to worry that a family member might be sent to Siberia ...or that I might do something that may end in ME being sent to Siberia (of which, I might note, as I complain about the 50 degree windy weather we've had on this trip, that I would last about 30 seconds in Siberia). 

And while we are all well aware that the Nazis were trying to create the perfect race (by getting rid of other races), I - at least - didn't realize that "russification" was similar in that the Russians were forcing non-Russian communities to give up their culture and language in favor of the Russian one. And while they didn't as overtly murder people as the Nazis did, they knew that sending people into hard labor and basically starving them, would also result in their "removal".

In other words, as recently as the year that my daughter was born, people in this country had to worry about these kinds of things. 

It is sobering. Also frightening, because both the Russians and the Germans, when they invaded Estonia, started by identifying groups of people and then exiling those people. It is said to be the first step to genocide. A slippery slope.

One of the best things about our country is that those things haven't happened here. We can be proud of our melting pot heritage. We can be proud of our compassion as a nation. 

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Food in Estonia - Tallinn Liquor and Chocolate
Tallinn Liquor and Chocolate

If you're in Tallinn, then you might want to pick up a candy bar made in Estonia or a bottle of Tallinn Liquor (made, duh, in Tallinn). While the liquor might be a nice gift, since we are only bringing carry-on luggage, we can't travel with liquids, so we only got one bottle to try. It tasted to me like a slightly weaker version (Allan disagrees) of Bailey's Irish Creme. I felt the same about the chocolate. It was fine -- nothing bad nothing amazing. If you're in the mood for some chocolate, it will satisfy that craving.

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Food in Estonia - Blood Sausage

When in Rome ....

Blood Sausage

I love trying local/ethnic foods - so does Allan! So, I decided to take the plunge (being the female Anthony Bourdain that I am) and try ANYTHING! 

So, I did it, I had blood sausage. Let me start with saying that I thought blood sausage used the term artistically, kind of like a blood orange, i.e. it may look bloody but there's not really any blood in it. 

Hard to describe how it tasted, but unlike most sausage which is like any piece of meat, it was more like bits of things pasted together. The bits were hard to identify, as was the stuff that pasted it together. Also, I should mention it is a traditional Christmas dish. So what is it? Well, let me share the Wikipedia definition:

"Blood sausages are sausages filled with blood that are cooked or dried and mixed with a filler until they are thick enough to congeal when cooled. The dish is found world-wide. Pig, cattle, sheep, duck, and goat blood can be used depending on different countries.

In Europe and the Americas, typical fillers include meat, fat, suet, bread, cornmeal, onion, chestnutsbarley, and oatmeal."

All I can say is since I learned what it is, I am trying to wipe the memory of eating it from my brain. Merry Christmas! 


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Food, Tallinn, Estonia
Restaurants, Tallinn, Estonia

We loved Tallin! It's a super-easy city - everyone speaks English, it's affordable, clean (at least the parts we were in), the old town is quaint, and wonderful food.

Fun (or not) facts about Tallinn!

  • Estonia doesn't fare well on the "happy scale". It's ranked one of the world's most unhappy countries. The Guild Museum in Tallinn that we visited surmised that centuries of occupation and repression are the key to this.
  • ​more coming

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Walking tour of Estonia

Travel Blog Estonia_Fat Margaret

Tallin: Self-Guided Walking Tour
One thing I love doing is a walking tour with snippets of information along the way. I found the perfect self-guided walking tour for our first full day in Tallin from the Smithsonian magazine: Tallin Walking Tour

In my blog, you'll get a lot of information about what I saw, what I learned, what I ate (yum!), and what I bought (a girl gots to shop -- hee hee). And just so it doesn't get boring with facts, history and sightseeing stuff, I'll also be telling you stories and snippets of life along the way. So stay tuned.

Tallin: What You Need to Know
So in order to understand the history of Tallin, you need to understand four things:
1. Tallin has been occupied and/or repressed for much of its history by Swedes, Germans and, most recently, Russians.
2. For a long time, Tallin was essentially run by the Germans (way before the Germans of WWII). Much of the history in Tallin relates to either the Estonian's life with the Germans or the Estonian's life with the Russians.
3. Tallin was part of the Hanseatic League (during the days with the Germans). This was a "league" of different cities (i.e. merchant guilds) that traded with one another.
4. There were two parts of town: (1) the upper part (Toompea) where the government people hung out and (2) the lower part which was the trading center with all the merchants (who hired Estonians to do the dirty work). 

One the walking tour, here are some of the things we got to see:

Fat Margaret (above): The old part of Tallin was a medieval city surrounded for protection by a wall with a few gates going into the city. Fat Margaret was one of the gates.

Pikk Street: These charming buildings used to be primarily warehouses and offices.

St. Olav's Church: Some believe this was once the tallest spire in Scandanavia. Far more nefarious, the KGB used the tower to block Finnish TV signals. 

Ministry of Police (Pikk 59)
Ugh....this is the KGB police station. While Tallin is quaint and charming now, it wasn't that long ago that the KGB ruled the streets. Because of the awful things that took place in this building, the KGB bricked up the windows (see the blue arrow). It was said that "from here started the road of suffering" with many of the people arrested ending up in Siberia.

Hall of the Black Heads Society, Pikk 26, dating from 1440
Do you know what the Black Heads were? See the answer on my next blog post! In the meantime, the name "black head" came from the use of the head of St. Mauritius, an early Christian martyr, that was beheaded in Switzerland.

Here's a close up of St. Mauritius on the building:

Next, right down the street, is a really interesting Art Nouveau building. 
2016-06-08_keeping karma travel blog_art nouveau building in tallin

#16 Pikk: This coffee shop Maiasmokk (Sweet Tooth)(popular during the Soviet days) with a lovely ferris wheel made out of spoons in the window. You can also see the reflection of the pink building from across the street.

We then continued to the Great Guild Hall. This is where the German bigs wigs (of the Hanseatic League days) hung out. Lots of interesting interesting in this museum about Estonia! Well worth the visit! Here are some of the more unusual things we saw:

During Festival times back then, people went CRAZY and did all kinds of things that they normally would not have - just because they were hiding behind a mask.  Notice how Allan really looks like a devil but I just look like me with a mask. smiley

This is what they called a "Flea Trap". Because people got fleas (UGH) they created the flea trap. It was basically a piece of fur they hung inside their clothes. Apparently fleas LOVE fur, so they would congregate there instead of on the person's body. Wouldn't a bath have been simpler?

Life was also uncomfortable for animals ...take a look at this horrible mask that some poor horse had to wear:

This is something I've never seen....they had the tradition that if a soldier was killed, his sword was also "killed". This is what a sword looks like after it has been killed:





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