A former remand prison dedicated to showing the brutality and secrecy of the DDR. The deprivation and inhumane conditions echo those shown in the film "The Lives of Others". However, the testimonies of former inmates make this living history. We loved the fact that the tour was lead by a guide (we went on Wednesday afternoon when the tour was in English) and not a sterile audio handset tour. The site is terrifying and I was glad of the direction of the guide who was also able to go off script.
A highly recommended visit - very unusual and scary!
The most popular place to see Riga from the height of birds is the Tower of St. Peters Church. The church is located in the Old Town, it’s included in the UNESCO World Heritage and from there you can enjoy romantic views to the old buildings, the river Daugava - which divides the city into two parts, and bridges. It’s a postcard worthy sight.
Tucked away close to St John's Roman Catholic Cathedral close to the center of Norwich, is a sunken garden being restored to its Victorian splendour. An old chalk pit was bought by William Trevor in 1856 and a three acre garden developed. He died in 1897 and the garden, while initially looked after declined, and by the beginning of the second world war was abandoned. It was completely lost until 1980 when it was rediscovered and is being lovingly restored by a group of enthusiasts.
It is now a haven of quiet, contains many original features and has the charm of a bye gone era. No one can visit without being enthralled by the atmosphere.
This church, overlooking Loch Awe on the road to Oban, has a very weird and wonderful personality, and its multifarious design echoes the eccentricities of its architect. On the outside many ecclesiastical styles are blended, such as the grand flying buttresses and stained glass, as well as other more zany features such as the stone-carved rabid hound chasing frenetic rabbits down the guttering. The gloomy interior holds many more delights including a giant effigy of Robert the Bruce, underneath which you can view a fragment of bone belonging to the great Scottish king.
A mile or so from the village of Loch Awe on the A85 towards Oban. Loch Awe is the closest station.
For information- www.loch-awe.com/local_groups/stconanskirk.html
St.Pancras Gardens is surely the quirkiest park in London full of quiet corners and eccentric memorials.
In the middle sits St.Pancras Old Church, one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in Europe. The surrounding park is what remains of the old churchyard cut through from 1863 by construction of the Midland Railway into St.Pancras Station. The exhumation of the graves was overseen by Thomas Hardy, then a young architect, who placed many of the headstones in a circular pattern around an ash tree, whose roots now entangle the stones around what is known as Hardy's Tree.
When the churchyard was re-opened as a public park in 1877 the Burdett-Coutts Sundial had been added as a memorial to all those whose graves had been exhumed and moved elsewhere.
Among the graves that were left in situ are those of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft and the monument designed by Sir John Soane for his wife. The latter will look very familiar to most people because it was the inspiration for Gilbert Scott's design of the K2 red telephone box.
All this for free in a lovely park with a beautiful fence and gates all recently restored with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund.
191 Saint Pancras Way, London NW1 9NH
+44(0)20 7424 0724
Google map: bit.ly/mSFivF
It's Europe's first traditional Hindu Temple and part of multi-cultural Britain's unique, eccentric and cohesive society. It is quite stunning.
As it is a house of god, visitors are asked to be respectful and you will be provided with a sarong if you have shorts or skirts above knee length. You are also respectfully asked to remove your shoes before entering the Mandir.
There are beautiful carvings to be seen and interesting exhibitions.
No food or drink is allowed inside but the shop/cafe serves some delicious Indian snacks!
A kitsch copy of a Lourdes shrine, a modernist housing development influenced by Le Corbusier, historic lampposts, a memorial to homing pigeon trainers, a hidden passageway Leopold II used to visit a mistress ... Nothing really really juicy, but I still revelled in a few oddities on my “Secret and Unusual Brussels” guided cycle tour. It was run by Pro Velo: a non-profit organisation set up to encourage cycling in a city prone to traffic problems. They offer a regular programme of themed public tours in French and Dutch, featuring cafés and bandes dessinées, beers and brasseries, the green belt around Brussels, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modernism ... And yes, intrepid explorer, you’ll see the city from a different perspective and cover more ground that on a walking or bus tour. I am particularly looking forward to learning about the mysterious history of freemasons in Brussels come October. For tours in English (or Spanish, Italian, German), ask for a quote for a 3-4 hour private tour at least five working days in advance. Choose from a good selection of themes “à la carte”; including “Brussels for Beginners”, “Magritte and the Surrealists”, “Art Deco and Modernism” and “Castles and Abbeys”. As with the public tours, don’t forget that you can hire bikes if necessary.
Lovely hotel, originally Charles Waterton's house (19th century naturalist), set in beautiful parkland.
The Pillars of Hercules pub dates back to 1733, although most of what we see now was built around 1910. Dickens mentions the tavern in 'A Tale of Two Cities' and the road next to the pub through the arch is named Manette Street, after one of the novel's characters, Dr Manette.
The pub is still popular with London's literatti, including Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan and Clive James, who titled his second book of literary criticism 'At the Pillars of Hercules', allegedly because most of the pieces were commissioned, delivered or written within its very wooden walls. The beer is excellent, the craic always witty and the Hungarian barmaid particularly charming, especially if you say 'egészsegedre' ... !
7 Greek Street, Soho, London W1D 4DF
+44 872 148 1909
Nearest tube: Northern or Central Line to Tottenham Court Road
Google map: bit.ly/oXSc2Y
One of England’s oldest visitor attractions which
opened to the public in 1630, Mother Shipton’s Cave in Knaresborough, Yorkshire contains the only known petrifying spring in England. The cave is the legendary birthplace of a 16th century prophetess, Mother Shipton, England’s answer to Nostradamus. My grandparents used to take me here when I was a kid and since I wished for a bike from the wishing well and then two months later got a bike for my birthday, I was always keen to visit again!
The well water's extremely high mineral content means that everything in its path turns into stone, leaving behind mineral deposits that build up to form a crust of new rock. Visitors to the petrifying well can make a wish by placing their hand in the waters and see all sorts of petrified items hanging from the rock face including shoes, teddy bears, a hat belonging to John Wayne and Agatha Christie’s handbag. Nearby is the Knaresborough viaduct, a museum, parks, riverside walks and boat hire along the River Nidd. A brilliant day out if you like messing about in boats, eccentric quirky places and enjoy a bit of local history.
If strange and eccentric is your thing, then you'll not go wrong in the imposing Camelot Castle in Tintagel. Perched on the cliffs like a giant sandcastle overlooking the ethereal ruins of the real castle, this is a Victorian station terminus hotel of grand proportions. The station and rail line have long since gone, but the owners of the hotel (none other than John Mappin, heir of Mappin & Webb and his stunning wife Irena from Kazakhstan) have maintained the grandiose Gothic feel of this monstrous building in a recent refurbishment. Beware! The owners and the residential artist Ted Stourton are scientologists ... but don't let it put you off. Other than some gently crazy conversations about Super Power around the fabulous King Arthur's round table in front of a roaring fire (and no, I was neither converted nor felt intimidated), this really is a friendly, quirky find. You can just pop-in for coffee or have the full-blown wedding package, but either way, your dogs and your cats will be as welcome as you are. Oh - and the whole place is stuffed full of Ted's original (in every sense of the word) art work. He may even take you down to the bowels of the castle to show you his lightbox. Honest! It's an advertised option. Don't forget to take the whole thing with a light heart and absolutely make sure you go around Tintagel Castle. It'll hurricane the cobwebs away.
The National Trust owned home of the eccentric Edwardian inventor Otto Overbeck, in Salcombe, Devon. Find the hidden room full of dolls and listen to the "polyphon" (a giant Victorian music box). Best of all, see Otto's invention, the "rejuvinator", designed to renew youth through electric shocks. This quirky place (kids can search for Fred the friendly ghost) is in a beautiful location, on the South West Coastal Path (Prawle Point, three miles walk away, is breathtaking) looking down on Salcombe and its bay. Take time to explore the house's exotic gardens, and to have a well earned drink in Salcombe itself, a charming little port.
A deep, bell-shaped, man-made chalk cave beneath the streets of Royston, believed to date from the 13th Century. It was deliberately sealed and forgotten until its accidental re-discovery. Its long concealment may have a lot to do with the bizarre Christian and pre-Christian imagery carved into the chalk walls - Sheela-na-gigs and Saint Catherine, the Holy Family (or are they?), knights, martyrs, magical creatures. They form a sort of frenzied panorama, their stories linked in ways that modern eyes can no longer see. The cave itself has sinister dells and niches and platforms. Royston was a town of the Knights Templar - it is also the place where Ermine Street and the Icknield Way intersect.
The CN Tower is the tallest free-standing structure in the Western hemisphere, standing at 1,815 feet.
This communications and observation tower, located in downtown Toronto, is a familiar icon of the city’s skyline. Its name refers to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower.
In 1995, the CN Tower was declared one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Taking the glass floor paneled elevator up to one of the observation decks is an exciting
experience in itself. It takes about 1 minute to reach the Look Out Level at 1,135 feet.
Other observation levels include the Glass Floor Level, at about 1,120 feet, which allows you to see straight down to street level. Brave children can sometimes be seen jumping on the glass floor, while those with less nerve remain on the sidelines. Also on this level is the Outdoor Observation Deck, where you can get a bird’s eye view of the city. The Sky Pod level is one of the world's highest public observation galleries, at an elevation of 1,465 feet. In June 2007, the tower installed 1,330 super-bright LED lights inside the elevator shafts, which shoot upwards to light the tower from dusk until 2am. The tower changes its lighting scheme on holidays and to commemorate major events.
If you want to be pushed to your limits, literally, the CN Tower opened EdgeWalk on August 1, 2011, where thrill-seekers attached to a safety harness can walk full circle and hands-free around the 5-foot ledge encircling the main pod of the tower, at 1,168 feet.
My wife and I went to the incredible Philip Johnson Glass House, just outside of New Canaan. We thought it would be just the house, but turned out to be a garden of architectural gems. Highly recommended.
Stay Chez Frank at Silvermine Tavern in neighbouring Norfalk, CT. Great place.
199 Elm Street, New Canaan, CT 06840
+1 203 594 9884 x0
Google map: bit.ly/quizxs
194 Perry Avenue Norwalk, Connecticut 06850 +1 (203) 847 4558
Google map: bit.ly/oykPDu
We recently did the gangs of Manchester tour. Starting at the Barton Arcade on Deansgate, Emma Fox, the tour guide takes you round sites relevant to the stories of The Victorian Scuttler Gangs and tells you tales of violence, poverty and squalor. She manages to recreate a sense of the time through her accounts, tales and poetry and having been resident in Manchester for 18 years, I ended up in areas just a few miles from home that i would never had known about. The tour finishes in the wonderful Marble pub just right for a thirst quenching beer!
+44(0)161 431 7030
The walk focuses Exeter's City Wall, almost 70% of the approximately 2000-year-old wall remains.
There are nine information panels (with quizzes for children) along the walk pointing out at each site the key events that have affected the wall and the city of Exeter.
The circular tour of this Roman settlement starts in Castle Street and continues into Northernhay Gardens, and to Rougemont Gardens to the Norman Gatehouse, where William the Conqueror established a stronghold within the city. The walk then takes in the city defences, the four main gatehouses from which entry to the city was controlled. At the North Gate discover how Exeter was threatened during various rebellions. The South Gate is arguably the most impressive of all the gates - follow the footpath alongside the city wall to Cathedral Close, turn right on to Southernhay, at Southernhay turn left then continue to the East Gate, the principal entry point into the city, which also played a vital defensive role during the English Civil War and the Perkin Warbeck Rebellion.
The walk takes in Exeter Cathedral, one of the finest examples of the decorated Gothic style in the country. Opposite the cathedral are many cafes to have lunch. The walk is around two miles.
'Walk the walls' run by Southampton Tourist Guides Association is a guided walk which gives you a fascinating insight to the Old Town, hidden behind the fairly soulless city centre. Southampton boasts the third longest original uninterrupted stretch of medieval defensive walling of any other town or city in Great Britain. The walk includes a long section of the walls, towers, and gates. Also a couple of medieval vaults that are not otherwise open to the public, some of which were used as air raid shelters in WW2. The walks are varied during the year to look at other historical aspects of the city as well, such as the Titanic Trail, or you can book tailor-made group walks. I went on one of the night walks when I first moved here and although I am not that into history the guides made it all so interesting and I got to view parts of the city that I wouldn't have given a second glance to in a different light. The walk is 90 minutes long, covers about four miles, and has some steps. They say they can offer alternative more accessible routes as well. Cost £3 for adults, free for children. You could also combine a walk with a visit to the Tudor House and Garden, which has re-opened 30th July after a long restoration project.
Underneath Edge Hill, a quiet district of Liverpool, lie the Williamson Tunnels. A retired tobacco merchant called Joseph Williamson paid to have them dug in the early 1800s, and nobody knows why. He might have been trying to create honest work for the unemployed, he might have been digging a bunker in which he could sit out Armageddon. Visitors can take a guided tour through a section of the vast complex – more tunnels are still being rediscovered.
Letchworth is often visited by those interested in town planning and the cloisters is a very unusual building. It isn't normally open to the public but if you are in town its worth a look.
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