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Archive for 2012
Catacombs are the subject of a lot of interest and fascination; with deep cultural roots in Paris’ history, many tourists, travellers and curious minds set off to explore these mysterious and intriguing formations that lie below our very feet. It’s a bizarre concept – and yet something that has enriched the history and tradition of many European countries – with the concentration being on Paris at this current time.
Catacombs are a network of underground caves, which were primarily used for mining back in the 19th century. Paris’ “Catacombes de Paris” was an underground ossuary which holds over 6 million bodies! Quite a strange though – to think of all the history and culture located just below the ground and just below your feet. Situated at the city’s former gate, the grounds have been open to the general public since 1874 and haven’t been something “hidden” for a long time. On one occasion, the tunnels were closed in September 2009 following vandalism but the underground tunnels were once again reopened to the public the same year in December.
Are there any restrictions in place?
Yes, as you’d expect – in 1955 a ban was initiated to restrict anyone to “penetrate into or circulate within” the rest of the network. As you can imagine – these tunnels could be used for all sorts of trading and illegal use – so a restriction needed to be put into place. However this hasn’t prevented groups of people letting their curiosity get the better of them! From secret societies to black market traders, the caves are secretly and illegally frequented outside public tours, making them a hugely controversial subject in the city.
So what discovered uses have there been?
Police discovered a secret cinema set up in one of the underground caves, without a clue as to who was responsible for it! Police officers were said to of stumbled cross the site during a training day underneath the Palais De Challiot! It was reported that there were two swastikas painted on the ceiling, as well as Stars of David and Celtic crosses, which fortunately, ruled out the possibility of them being extremists. Police were led to suspect a secret society operating meetings and gatherings, in the neatly curtained off underground amphitheatre which had terraces cut into the rock as well as chairs! The secret cinema discovered, was disguised well with a sign warning building work. If intruders were spotted on a set up video set, a tape of a dog barking would play to scare them away. It doesn’t stop there, with an inbuilt informal restaurant and bar the mysterious culprits behind the whole operation had a professionally installed electricity system with three phone lines. Police returned three days later, electricity lines were cut with note with the words “Do not try to find us”.
Cataphiles are known to be groups of people who frequent the underground caves at night! To be a cataphile you have to depend upon feline nerves, as you navigate your way through the darkness of the underground caves! Cataphiles are said to descend into the dark caves with a thirst for the secretive underworld and the history in store and inscribed on the walls! It has become more of a rumour and city-myth more than anything else – but there are even Hollywood movie’s being based upon the people who feel compelled to explore the underground mazes of Paris.
Will they ever be closed?
It is unlikely that the Catabombs of Paris will ever become completely closed. Because they provide a tourist attraction and add value to the city itself – it would be a shame to deprive people of knowledge about this part of the country’s history.
This look at the subterranean passages of Paris was written for us by Alton Breaks, who are counting the days till their next Scarefest.
While space flights may seem like a far flung fantasy, the first commercial galactic flights will depart later this year.
Once again genius businessman Richard Branson is first of the mark in terms of commercial space flight development and it will be a Virgin Galactic vessel that will create history by ferrying the first commercial ticket holders into orbit.
Celebrity Space Race
Photo Jeff Foust
You’ve probably seen the news stories about which celebrities have purchased tickets with Virgin Galactic and they include famous characters as diverse as Stephen Hawking and Ashton Kutcher. Russel Brand and Katie Perry added fuel to rumours about their less than amicable split when it was revealed that Ms Perry had purchased a pair of tickets for her then husband and now wants them back. However it’s not just scientists and super rich entertainers that are getting in on the act, the pull of purchasing space flight tickets has proved too strong for several dot com millionaires too, including the creator or paypal.
If you’re thinking about the list of soon to be celeb astronauts then you’ve probably noticed that despite the diversity of those who are alleged to have bought tickets, they all share one thing in common – they’re loaded.
A ticket with Virgin Galactic is reported to cost up to £200,000 dollars for what is in effect a pretty short flight. Ticket holders will also receive a couple of days training before they’re launched into the stratosphere but it’s still a pretty hefty cost that is well out of the price range of the ordinary Joe.
Will a space flight always cost the Earth?
When you consider that just a few short decades ago the price of an air ticket was unobtainable for 99% of people, but now people can fly for ridiculously small amounts of money, it seems clear that within a few decades space flight will become cheaper and more availably to the general public.
There are several other commercial aerospace companies that are developing commercial space ships all over the world and the more ships that are built the cheaper it will become to fly. When technology is new it is more expensive to manufacture so the costs of the separate components such as aerospace springs, computer systems and landing gear all adds up into one massive expense.
However, as technology develops it becomes cheaper to manufacture component parts and so prices for tickets can be reduced in accordance with that.
If we take a lesson from history then it’s perfectly viable that the average person could be able to afford a trip into space within the next two decades.
Jade Coleman is a qualified journalist that works as a marketing consultant at The Blue Cube in Birmingham, UK. Jade enjoys blogging about many topics including celebrity, home renovation, furniture and gardening.
The Cold War may have been rife with propaganda on all sides but, as with any war, there were rumours and mysteries that persisted. Many of Russia’s secretive operations during this time have been well documented, regarding military machines and technology, but one aspect of Russia’s mysterious side has yet to be solved or confirmed. That is the so-called Metro-2, which is held by many to be a fully functioning secret subway system deep below Moscow.
The interesting rumour has been around for decades and apparently connects the Kremlin with the FSB headquarters via four lines which are longer than that of the public metro. The Metro2 is said to have been built when Joseph Stalin was in power – which is interesting in itself. It’s been described as ‘Stalin’s best kept secret’, but while no confirmation from the Russian government has ever been given, we’re left with very little on which to speculate if such a secret underground subway system does (or even could) exist.
Below is a picture of the Metro-2 system as imagined by the United States military intelligence, and while it’s a head-scratching image, it doesn’t really prove anything at all. As with any conspiracy theory or rumour, the ‘dark legend of Russia’ is just that – a legend. But does that mean it doesn’t exist? Well, no. There’s no denying Russia, under the power of Stalin, were an ultra-secretive outfit that did what they wanted with the technology they had access to, and the Cold War proved this best as the U.S continued to find unidentifiable pictures from high-flying aircraft of weird and never-seen-before military machines.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
So yes, the existence of the Metro-2 is a distinct possibility. After all, building an underground system isn’t exactly the most technologically advanced practice this side of a Nuclear-bomb. And with Stalin’s prowess for secrecy, it’s likely the Metro-2 could have been in place and working order for decades. This is all speculative, of course.
There are even rumours (far less plausible) of there being underground towns which the Metro-2 links to, meaning there is a possibility of underground and secret communities which are still living next to the lines to this day. Whatever the rumours, many believe the lines were used to help transport supplies and new technologies across Russia without any American eyes watching their every move. It’s alleged that the KGB codenamed the Metro-2 “D-6” and the Russian government refuse to confirm or deny its existence – which does make you think there’s something fishy going on.
So with all these rumours, is it possible that the Metro-2 is still in working order to this day? Are the Russians still using the lines for secretive transportation? Well, in a world of new found peace between the West and the Russian governments, it seems unlikely, though an existing network would no doubt. Having said that, you never know; and we’ll probably never have a confirmation whether it’s real or not. At least it keeps the rumour-mills busy, though!
This speculative peek was written on behalf of official hotel provider Thorpe Park Breaks – bringing you heart-pounding thrills (and comfy beds).
“Huka” translates from Maori as “long white water” and “foam,” which is what the largest falls on the Waikato River near the town of Taupo on New Zealand’s North Island appropriately resemble, particularly during flood conditions.
Huka Falls New Zealand are made up of a set of falls that drain into Lake Taupo, starting at the top with 8-foot cascades.
A spectacular show of colliding water manifests in powerful falls and rapids as a result of the river’s abrupt narrowing from its usual 100 meter width to just 15 meters over a volcanic ledge crossing. The pressure bursts into an amazing display of energy and force as 220,000 liters per second culminate in an 11-meter plunge back into the river.
A footbridge spanning the Waikato River and great viewing platforms exist in several parts for breathtaking vistas. Onlookers will notice a unique blue color in the falls and river, intensified by air bubbles in the clear water that reflect blue light.
The sound of the falls is overpowering with strength and sound. As I stood there watching this magnificent natural ongoing occurrence, I was so taken by its beauty.
Powerful Huka Falls New Zealand is among the many travel attractions not to be missed on your vacation. While this landmark makes for awesome photo opportunities, there are other ways to experience its natural beauty.
Adventure tours such as Hukafalls Jet features the falls in conjunction with a thrilling jet boat ride with 360° spins at exhilarating speeds. The half hour ride also journeys through the river past the Wairakei Thermal Power Station, Huka Prawn Park, and Aratiatia Dam.
Another way to see Huka Falls New Zealand is on foot via the Spa Park Walk and Aratiatia Rapids Walk. The first facilitates easy walking with a two hour return and many photo opportunities of cliffs, mid-channel islands, and rain forest along the way.
The second offers cliff top views of the Waikator River on the way down to the Aratiatia hydro dam and rapids, with a picnic area stop. The spectacular sight of rapids flowing through the control gates occurs several times daily. The Taupo Visitor Centre can advise on opening times.
A most extravagant and memorable way to enjoy this landmark is to arrive by helicopter at Huka Lodge where lucky guests on New Zealand holidays may experience a unique wedding in its picturesque setting.
Such natural Kiwi attractions are must see stops in your travel. Huka Falls New Zealand is no exception.
Barcelona is full of quirky, colourful architecture, from Gaudi’s fairytale spires to cutting-edge contemporary design. The city is like a living museum as each street boasts its own masterpieces.
Image by George M Groutas
From the rule-breaking and forward-thinking to the downright bizarre, here is a rundown of the ten quirkiest buildings the city has to offer, and where to find them.
1) The Indoor Forest
From the outside, El Bosc de les Fades might look like any other bar, but on entrance, a magical world awaits. Located in Barri Gotic, this one-of-a-kind watering hole has a full blown forest inside, giving you a Where the Wild Things Are experience. Sit between tree trunks and trailing leaves; sometimes you can even hear the odd thunder storm sounding overhead.
2) Candy and Gingerbread
Image by: Tiago Cata
The two Guadi buildings in Parque Guell are like something straight out of a fairytale. Remember the candy houses from Hansel and Gretel with ginger bread walls and icing roofs? That’s what these cute little buildings remind me of.
The Santa Caterina Market in the El Born neighbourhood is a spectacular feat of architecture, with a wavy roof making use of tessellated ceramic designs. The brain child of Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, the design is utterly unique and makes the market a fun place to shop.
The Never Ending Cathedral
Never ending in the sense that it was never officially completed, the Sagrada Familia is said to be Gaudi’s masterpiece and is surely the most unusual cathedral in Europe. Patterns and forms range from intricately crafted saints to modernist turtles, making each section a work of art in its own right.
Out on a Limb
Glass shapes seem to defy gravity on the Torre Mare Nostrum building by sticking out on a limb from the glittering central tower. The quirky concept was drawn up by Enric Miralles, and the building currently serves as the Gas Natural HQ.
Image by: Jen Gutmann
He’s done it again! Gaudi’s Casa Batilo is a crazy curvaceous casa with a dazzling facade decorated in rainbows of colour. Gaudi created the seemingly impossible with his designs, and there is something truly wonderful about this quirky house which defies all traditional conventions.
The Camp Nou FC Barcelona stadium is the largest in Europe, and has been redesigned to incorporate a brightly coloured, glowing mosaic all the way around it. Causing it to light up at night like a futuristic Christmas tree, this new design for the stadium is certainly a spectacle whether you love it or hate it.
Magical Music Hall
Decedent, elegant sophisticated and magical, the Palau de la Música concert hall was built in 1905 and is exquisite, from its decorative ticket box to its heavenly stained-glass skylight.
The Leaning Tower
On Barcelona’s urban beach you can’t help but notice the industrial leaning tower that is a sculpture designed by installation artist Rebecca Horn.
Quirky Quarry House
Image by: Gustavo Maximo
Casa Mila is another of Gaudi’s houses, completed in 1912. Stone, wrought-iron and statues give it a magnificent, noble appearance. The best bit is the roof, where stone shapes and statues snake across the Barcelona skyline.
Next time you’re in Barcelona, don’t forget to look up as you stroll along the streets, what can you see?
Do you have any more weird and wonderful buildings to add to my list?
Sophie McGovern writes for Hotelopia, a website that allows you to book hotels online and pay at the hotel. If you’re heading to the architecturally quirky capital of Spain, Hotelopia can find great Barcelona hotels to host you. You might even find Sophie there, travelling the streets and searching for inspiration, stories and new adventures.
There are many cultural differences between the East and West, and a trip to Asia will often leave you a baffled and confused fish out of water for most of the time.
However despite this there are of course still some similarities between the two halves of the globes. Some things are reliably the same no matter where you go, and some things bridge cultural divides and are Universally. Everyone knows who Mickey Mouse is, and most tellingly, we all enjoy a cold beer from time to time.
When making your way in this exciting, often beautiful, but equally strange and new continent, these are the beers you need to seek out to get that comforting feeling of familiarity.
OB Blue: OB Blue is one of the most recognizable beers from South Korea and is now owned by InBev. It has often been marketed for its very fresh taste and it has a very clean image. A nice light lager that won’t taste too different from something you might enjoy back home.
Hite: Hite is another Korean beer and has possibly overtaken OB as its most popular drink Again claiming to be very ‘fresh’, the company invested in over 70 engineers from various different breweries to spend over three years developing the ‘Fresh Taste Keeping’ system.
San Miguel: Here’s one you might have tried already. A popular export San Miguel comes from Southeast Asia’s biggest food and beverage company and is popular in Hong Kong and the Phillipines. Despite the factory being in Manila, the company originally has its origins in Australia. We’re still counting it…
Kirin Ichiban: Kirin Ichiban is also sometimes known as ‘Number 1’ and is a well known Japanese drink – possibly because Ichiban is so fun to say (especially when drunk). It has a complex flavour and is 4.95% volume.
Tsingtao: It’s perhaps a strange and sad reflection on the male psyche that many of us get so much joy from drinking out of a ‘funny shaped glass’. Well, if that’s something you can relate to, then Tsingtao is possibly the drink for you which sometimes comes out of very tall glasses and sometimes glasses with a stem… It’s also a nice and light tasting beer with a slight tang that is sold in over 50 countries around the world (a testament to its popularity). It is Chinese in origin correctly pronounced ‘Ching-Dao’.
Hanoi Beer: Some people describe Vietnam’s Hanoi beer as the best beer in Asia. It is a little stronger than some of the other beers in the area and has a crisp taste. Perfect for enjoying in the crowded streets of Vietnam.
Beer Saigon: And while you’re in Vietnam you should also try ‘Beer Saigon’. Fun because you say the ‘beer’ part first, it’s a very light beer that borders on watery. Good for hot days and good as hair of the dog.
Bintang Bir Pilsener: Kuta is renowned as a great place for backpackers and hikers to party, and the drink of choice in this part of Indonesia will be Bintang Bir Pilsener – which some report to be slightly salty but largely drinkable.
Kingifsher: Another one you’ve maybe tried. This is one of the most successful and popular Indian beers from around the world and one of the only drinks you’ll commonly find on tap there.
Sight-seeing in the city that never sleeps might at first glance be a predictable affair, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, 5th Avenue, Central Park and so on. While I would never deter anyone from seeing these sights, they’re worth seeing, there are options for people looking for something a little different or who’ve already done the tourist thing and are after a more authentic experience. Below are four options that are a bit more unusual than the regular trappings of a tourist hike around New York City.
Not many people list their exploits while in the big apple and include, “Oh yeah, and I learnt how to do my thing on the flying trapeze.” That’s because most people aren’t mad. But some are and if you’re one of them the Trapeze School New York will help you fly through the air just like you always imagined you would in those dreams about running away to the circus. Obviously you’re probably going to need more than one lesson, but the school is designed for anyone who fancies a go to be able to do so. Can’t say fairer than that, so chalk up those hands, hang on and swing like Jules Léotard himself!
Take the High Line
The high line is an off ground freight train system that was built in the 1930s. It meant that cargo could be shifted without having the trains passing through the busy district of Manhattan. You’re thinking ‘why would I want to ride an industrial train’. Well first there is nothing wrong from wanting to ride an industrial train, and secondly, the highline is no longer a train service. The trains are gone and the rail line has been converted into an overhead reserve. A stroll through the unusual park offers a superb mixture of flowers, art and architecture as well as some spectacular views.
Flea Market In Hell’s Kitchen
If you’re more interested in the kitsch and the unusual then 5th avenue really isn’t going to be for you. However the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market almost certainly will be. It isn’t the only one in the city by any stretch, but it is one of the best and if you’re in the city on a weekend you can go have a rummage through what’s on offer. Running from 9am to 5pm you’ll find a mix of vintage goods from housewares and clothing to art and jewellery, and if you’re willing to explore a bit and get there early, probably a whole lot more too.
Mooching through NYC’s Chinatown is cool, if not a little bit full on. It’s a crazy place and picking a place to eat can be a dilemma. However, why not take the dumpling tour. A nice local fellow called Mark will for a very modest sum treat you and other friendly tour members to a dumpling extravaganza through Chinatown stopping at eight, yes eight different restaurants to sample their dumpling offerings. Social, fun and tasty. Brilliant!
There are literally thousands of unusual things to do in New York City and hopefully these four will have you well on the way to an experience you’ll never forget.
Freddy Jones loves New York, he has a t-shirt that says so. A t-shirt he wears while looking into unusual gifts for the online store Find Me A Gift.