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To prove that travel and urban exploration need not be limited to mere sightseeing, and can provide a rewarding multi-sensory experience, one man has introduced blindfolded walking tours to the German city of Cologne.
Axel Rudolph created Blindwalk in order to lead sightseeing tours that do not actually involve sight. Wearing snugly fitting sleep masks, and clasping the backpack of the person in front of them, up to six participants are lead by a tour leader like a group of helpless ducklings or third graders on a field trip through Cologne's historic city center. This may sound like a recipe for disaster, with tourists stumbling over cobblestones and curbs while being assaulted by honking cars and exhaust fumes. But Rudolph believes that by foregoing our reliance on our eyes, our other senses are accentuated and we can appreciate the nuances of city life that are normally overlooked. The sounds of chirping birds or a passing train; the feel of a breeze blowing off the Rhine River and the cool, damp stonework of the Cologne Cathedral; the smells of coffee and Kölsche beer being brewed. As the tour members slowly grow accustomed to this unseen world, the city can be appreciated in an entirely new way.
Participants in Rudolph's tours have almost universally embraced these walks, with very few people "cheating" by lifting up their blindfolds. The tours, which include a picnic and wine-tasting (all enjoyed blindly, of course) cost 35 Euros. If you understand German, or don't mind using Google Translate, check out their web site for more details.
The skyline of London is already studded with iconic landmarks - the London Eye, the (leaning tower of) Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral. But now, Dubai's Emirates Airlines wants to contribute to this vista by paying for the installation of the UK's first urban cable car.
The £60 million ($93 million) project, of which Emirates will pay £36 million in a 10-year sponsorship deal, will be completed and open to the public in the summer of 2012, in time for the London Olympics. The Air Line, as the cable car is appropriately named, will span the Thames River in south London, connecting the ExCel London convention center and the O2 Arena, two future Olympics venues. At capacity, the cable car will be able to transport 2,500 riders via 34 gondolas along the one kilometer route.
So, in less than one year's time, if you don't mind participating in an enormously expensive advertising campaign, you will have one more option to experience spectacular views of London.
One of the most eagerly anticipated events in New York (well, at least by me) is happening during the weekend of October 15 and 16. Open House New York, now in its ninth year, offers public admission to city sites normally off-limits. Hundreds of venues across the five boroughs, representing locations of historical, cultural, architectural, or religious significance, will throw open their doors and provide admittance and tours to curious visitors.
Some of the participating venues are normally open to the public, but on this weekend will provide specially-tailored tours and behind-the-scenes access. For example, you can walk along a closed-off section of tourist favorite elevated park the High Line; explore the Chrysler Building's art deco lobby with an architectural historian; or peek behind the curtains at Lincoln Center with the design team responsible for transforming the performance space.
Other opportunities will unlock doors to venues never seen by the public. Check out, among many, many other listings, a blacksmithing forge in Brooklyn, a wooden shipbuilding studio in the Bronx, a Freemasons' lodge, artist studios, and private homes.
Visit their web site to see how you can pack your weekend poking around unexplored corners of the city. Many venues anticipate crowds and long lines, and some require on-line reservations, so be sure to plan ahead.
[Photo credit: Flickr user H.L.I.T.]
I have a friend in Michigan who lives in a house with an outdoor hot tub which has never been used. He believes that it simply isn't worth the effort of filling it, cleaning it, and maintaining it. Clearly, my friend would be persona non grata with the members of the Jacuzzi Association.
The Jacuzzi Association (or l'Association Jaccuzzi) is an informal Swiss non-profit dedicated to fostering its members' creativity and sense of camaraderie through extreme hot-tubbing. The group designs and builds their own hot tubs which they then place in some of the most precarious and unlikely spots. In the past, they have hosted Jacuzzi parties on top of a frozen lake, at the bottom of a cave, in a parking spot in downtown Geneva, and at the summit of Mont Blanc. That last feat required 20 participants each hauling 45 pounds of specialized gear in a pre-dawn ascent in order to enjoy an 100-degree bath on the Alpine peak.
Not to be outdone by past accomplishments, the Association recently threw their most logistically demanding pool party on the Gueuroz Bridge, in Switzerland's Valais region, on October 1. More precisely, they built the hot tub under the bridge, on a specially designed platform hanging by wires attached to the bridge 150 feet above. Potential hot tubbers had to then rappel down to the platform, suspended 450 feet above the gorge below.
If you have the urge to bathe in unusual locations, and possess the right combination of courage and love of the absurd (not to mention a basic understanding of French), check out their web site for membership information.
[Photo credit: jacuzzi.ch]
New England may be the standard-bearer for fall travel, but New Mexico is an equally spectacular destination to spend the season. And perhaps there is no better way to usher in autumn than with necks craned skyward, under a dawn Albuquerque sky slowly filling up with several hundred illuminated hot air balloons.
Now in its 40th year, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta kicks off on October 1 for 9 days of events. The largest ballooning gathering in the world, and one of the largest events in the state, over 100,000 people attend to watch more than 700 balloons inflate, launch, and float over northern New Mexico. Many of these people happily set their alarms extra early in order to observe these vibrantly decorated balloons rise with the sun for the 5:30 a.m. mass ascent.
All of the week's events take place at a 365-acre, tailor-made balloon park in the north of Albuquerque, about 10 miles from the airport and city center. So the city makes a perfect base for exploring both the Fiesta and the region. And surprisingly, for an event that brings 100,000 visitors into the area, affordable hotel rooms are still readily available. The event's planners are also providing bus transportation from various points throughout the city, so thankfully there is no need to worry about driving through traffic or fighting for a parking spot.
For all you procrastinating gas balloon pilots out there, registration is unfortunately closed and you will have to wait until 2012. But for all you procrastinating spectators, tickets are still available. And who knows, instead of gazing up you may end up gazing down – it's not unheard of for pilots to offer friendly, curious tourists a lift.
[flickr image via Corvair Owner]
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