Friday, May 4, 2012

Signs, Signs Everywhere the Signs

No matter where we go, what languages we attempt or what cultures we infiltrate, us travelers must always rely on the kindness of strangers. Or at least their words of wisdom. More often than not, those sage suggestions come printed, painted or carved on an infinite array of canvases.

No doubt, if you've traveled you've depended on a sign or two to get you where you're going. Road signs, business signs, exit signs, bathroom signs - silent communication brings the world together.

Signs give direction; but guiding the lost means much more than rights and lefts. When humans post words on a wall (or a tree or a gate or anything), it immediately adds weighty significance to whatever comedy or tragedy they're enacting. Whether hilarious or hear-wrenching, urgent or introspective, a good sign can provide a travel memory as unforgettable as any statue or museum.

What better way to make sure the world remembers your legacy than by carving it into a tree on top of a mountain? If you went through those lengths to tell us, it must be important. I should probably pay attention. I could learn something, get a good laugh or at the very least, find the way to where I'm going.

Here are some of my favorite signs I've encountered around the world.

Location: Outside Denver, Colorado at Buffalo Bill's grave site and souvenir shop, atop the Rocky Mountain foothills.
I tried to put this ad out in a newspaper and I did not get the response I was hoping for. As soon as you walk through the door of the restaurant/souvenir shop (which sells fantastic bison meat hot dogs), you feast your eyes on this old-time want ad, straight out of a Western saloon. Why is this my favorite? Because if this describes a "good woman," what makes a "great woman"?

Location: Lover's Leap, The Black Hills in South Dakota
One of the most beautiful viewpoints in America, this sign is tacked on a tree near the precipice of Lover's Leap. From this vantage point, after a short hike through the Black Hills, the entire wooded region of South Dakota's southwest corner sprawls out before you. I printed out this photo and hung it in my office because if these aren't words to live by, I don't know what are. 

 Location: Black Friars Pub, London, UK
London's world famous pubs serve some of the best cask-pumped ale in the world. Creamy and stout, these libations are only half of the Black Friar's charm. A warm, old atmosphere mingles with a rowdy clientele to make a classic British pub. And in the back room, up against a mirror wall is a sign that I wholeheartedly agree with. England is home to some of history's most talented, creative and crafty wordsmiths. But I doubt any of them could say it better than this.

Location: The Jungfrau (Top of Europe), Switzerland
The Swiss clearly are confident you'll obey their signs, because the thin rope preventing you from mimicking the poor soul within the red triangle certainly isn't providing much extra protection. Two steps past this sign and you become a permanent part of the glacier that sprawls far into the distance. Everywhere you look is the most beautiful thing you've ever seen up atop the Jungfrau. Just also be careful to look where you're walking.

Location: Lake Konigsee, Berchtesgaden, Germany
This sign doesn't have as much to do with it's location as it does for what it stands for: beer garden. Anywhere in Bavaria, or anywhere in Germany, Austria or Illinois for all I care, a sign that says "Beer Garden" is a sign you must obey. This particular beer garden skirts the edge of Lake Konigsee, Germany, the most pristine lake in Europe, nestled under soaring alpine mountains in a whimsical Bavarian setting. But of course, this sign means beer - good beer. See the sign, follow the sign.

Location: Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy
It may not seem while you're doing it, but after scaling 382 stone steps in the blazing sun a little congratulations is a nice gesture. You may want to swear at this sign while your calf muscles scream, but once atop this seaside village outcrop, the breathtaking views will calm all anger and salve any pain. Everywhere in the Cinque Terre in jaw-droppingly gorgeous. But it's always nice to have the locals recognize you've done at least some work to enjoy their treasures.

Location: The Badlands, South Dakota 
Being from New England, we don't typically run into many rattlesnakes. Which is why a giant, bold sign that screams, "BEWARE RATTLESNAKES!" sort of catches you off guard. I must say, it worked, because during my entire hike through the moonscape Badlands, I threw rocks at every stick I saw on the ground. Didn't see any diamondbacks, but nevertheless hiking in this corner of America was an invigorating experience.

Location: The Turquoise Trail, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Turquoise Trail, the scenic route between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a haven for artists and ghost towns alike. And apparently, some jokers. In one of the artsy villages, rows and rows of intricate, colorful mailboxes lined the street sides. But one person decided to go the opposite route, and decorate the other side of his mailbox.

Location: Top of Nevada Falls, Yosemite National Park, California
Similar to the Jungfrau, I enjoy this warning atop Nevada Falls in Yosemite because that knee-high railing really isn't doing much to prevent some fool from stumbling into the whitewater and being shot out over Yosemite Valley. That bridge in the distance is over the falls, so disobeying this sign is the last middle finger to authority you'll ever flip, right before you flip into oblivion. The panorama from up here is incredible, though.

  Location: Dachau Concentration Camp, Dachau, Germany
 "Work makes you free" was what prisoners in this notorious Nazi concentration camp saw as the literal gateway to the outside world. Even today, this powerful symbol of blind intolerance stops visitors in their tracks. For more on Dachau, read here

 Location: Docks at Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, California
Infamous Alcatraz was known for many things, mostly its slew of famous prisoners and haunting urban legends. But the welcome sign on the docks remains one of the creepiest moments of a trip to the island. It comes into view when you first step off the boat and reminds you that, although it is now, this was not meant to be a tourist stop by any means. The graffiti scrawled around it is a staunch reminder of the later use of the island, when Native Americans gathered here in protest, making it a commune of sorts for freedom fighters. It's a significant piece of Americana, in a place that still mystifies many Americans.

1 comment:

  1. That's a great collection of fun and interesting signs you have there. My personal favourite is the Compliment sign in Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy