Old fashioned cinema entered through a corridor running through communist-looking tenements and accessed through a courtyard. In summer you can buy beer from a little kiosk in the courtyard and sup it before your film. In winter there's a decent bar and you are allowed to take drinks into the auditorium with you. The cinema's piece de resistance is the fact that the chairs in the auditorium boast drinks holders designed to allow you to line up a beer, a glass of water and a shot side-by-side. Shows arthouse and mainstream films with a decent sprinkling of English language films. Towards the end of 2009 price of entry hovered around the 100kc mark.
13000 Praha, Czech Republic
271 771 349
Trams 9 or 26 to Biskupcova
Best market I've seen, filled with bizarre artefacts, toys and whatnot from the last 100 years. How they ended up in the hands of these humble folk is a mystery, but there they are, for sale and waiting to make the most unusual new addition to your home! Not to be missed. Viva Colombia! "A la Orden!"
On the corner of carrera 7 (septima) with calle 18. (in the carpark behind the Mambo Museum. Sundays.
Even in San Francisco, the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar has a reputation for being surprising and quirky. It's in the basement of the very swish Fairmont Hotel - in which the UN charter was signed and, more importantly, where you can find Scarlet O'Hara's staircase from Gone with the Wind. (Although if you run down it repeatedly while attempting a bad southern accent, the staff will look at you strangely.)
The Tonga Room isn't signposted in the hotel, but take the lift down to the basement and you will find a place of such incredible kitch-ness that you'll understand why the hotel may try to downplay its existence. It's a tiki bar, so it's decorated in a 1950s vision of the tropics: pots of leafy plants, palm trees, plastic Easter Island statues, and waiters in Hawaiian shirts. Cocktails are served in hollowed out coconuts and pineapples festooned with umbrellas.
The room is arranged around a rectangular pool. The band plays in a thatched hut in the middle of the pool. The reason it's thatched? Because precisely every half an hour, lightning flashes, thunder rumbles, and it rains into the pool.
Go for the (admittedly expensive) cocktails and the experience: the food isn't great, but even on a weekday evening the punters arrive dressed in full 1950s costume and dance late into the night. And it rains every thirty minutes.
Address: The Fairmont, 950 Mason Street, San Francisco, California, USA 94108
Tel: (415) 772-5000
Melbourne has retained a lot of its history, and no better way of seeing that is to stroll along the many arcades (almost all have now been restored) in the centre of the city and also take off down the small laneways and alleys branching off the main city streets and arcades.
The city's network of arcades is Australia's most extensive, with Block Arcade between Collins and Elizabeth streets, built in 1891, its crowning glory. Royal Arcade (between Bourke Street Mall and Little Collins Street), is Melbourne's oldest, built in 1869, and features Gaunt's clock and the two folklore giants of the ancient Britons, Gog and Magog, who strike the hour.
The various lanes and alleys in the city centre all hold their own interest and most have a specific history. The group of back alleys famous (or infamous) for having all Melbourne's brothels in the 1880s or the lanes either side of the Chinatown strip are a rich source of authentic Asian eateries. Hardware Lane, one of the first laneways to be restored in the 1980s, now has a fine collection of outdoor cafes and bars. The local interest in these lanes and alleys has recently seen one named in honour of one of our best known rock bands... AC/DC
Melbourne city centre
go to Flinders Street station and start from there or use the City Circle tram to get around
If like me, you are totally into everything anime/animation related, then you should check out this kooky little shop right around the corner from Carnaby Street. They sell funky Japanese-style figurines and play things – great for children and as gifts for adults.
Although the majority of what they sell seems to be of the ornamental persuasion (for show), they also sell books, magazines, games and posters – my personal favourite being a huge Pixelation City, complete with people, cars, buildings and river, all presented in a space invaders-esque design. Very niche, but oh-so-funky.
19 Beak Street, London, W1F 9RF
RePOP is a treasure trove/vintage museum chock full of everything from mid-century modern furniture at cutting edge prices to marvelous curiosities like cast iron doll molds and retro figurine lamps.
Fabulous local artisan jewels line the walls as does the work of up and coming artists Ellie Balk and Dominic Albo. Before or after heading over to the much buzzed about Brooklyn Flea, located five blocks away, this well hidden boutique (with new merchandise arriving weekly) bears all the rarities and designer goods you ever needed to make your day of vintage/antique scavenging a success. Open six days a week and well worth the trip.
RePOP 68 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11205 www.repopny.com.
Located near the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Clinton Hill/Fort Greene. The nearest train is the G or C at Clinton/Washington.
I recommend to all nature lovers a unique form of accommodation in the immediate proximity of the Morvan Regional Natural Park. Two genuine caravans now retired near the old train station in Guillon sheltered by ancient trees - lime, plane and box - following a very busy life travelling with carnivals and touring with a circus. Before they start their new life as a B&B in l'Astrance and gîte in La Vraie, they have been refurbished with high ecological specification.
00 33 3 86 32 57 69, roulotte-de-la-gare.com. 60€ to 65€/night, children 5€. TGV in Montbard or train in Avallon.
There are several boats a week that travel along the Rio Paraguay, a long and sultry river which begins in the Pantanal of Brasil and ends at the border with Argentina in the south.
The passenger boat called the Aquidaban seems best avoided because of the crowds but the weekly journey of the Guarani, a freighter is a real treat. I say treat as it is far from comfortable or reliable but if you want an authentic, no frills view of life on the river then this is it.
The majority of the boat is taken up with all kinds of goods for the small towns and villages along the river. Food, furniture, oil, motorcycles and a huge load of gravel we collected en-route were part of the cargo. For a negotiated price of about $20 we secured a rough dark cabin above the engine.
There are no real comforts but food can be taken with the crew and the few locals who take the boat between villages. Sitting up on the tin roof watching the river go by and observing the comings and goings as the boat gets caught on sandbanks, loads and unloads and the crew get on with the tasks of running the boat. Fishing off the back of the boat in their spare time to have the old lady cook up the catch in the evening.
The passage takes roughly 2 to 3 days depending on all of the above. It is a working freighter so as such the passengers are the last concern of the crew but having said that we never felt unwelcome or in the way.
Small towns such as Puerto Pinasco and Puerto Vallemi slowly pass by. There is a huge chest freezer with beers in to help pass the time and a really ancient looking giant tv showing a constant stream of football and Paraguayan soap operas by the kitchen area at the back of the boat. The toilet and the shower are one in the same being just a hole in the floor to stand over and a shower head directly above it. All very basic and in no way designed for tourists expecting comfort or service. Brilliant. Take a good book and let the river slowly pass by.
The weather went from sweltering airless heat to heavy rain and strong wind so be warned. The end of our ride came after three days at Isla Margerita which is at the border with Brazil, we arrived at midnight and with Brasil on the far bank of the river we quickly found some cheap lodging right next to where we had disembarked. The owner of the room also happened to own a boat so for a small fee took us across the river the next day. We had arrived in Brazil.
None of the towns have a real port or dock so the boat just ties up on the riverbank. Concepcion is a major town by Paraguayan standards and can easily be reached by bus from Asunción. Find the river and the Guarani leaves sometime on a Tuesday. Speak with the captain to negotiate your passage. Timings and days vary so prepare to be very patient.
A footpath leading up to a large hill that overlooks the city and has a mizmaze on top of it.
St Catherine’s Hill Wildlife Reserve
OS Map no. 185
Grid reference: SU 484 276
+44 (0) 1489 774400
Info from my visit there is on my website at www.reeves-hall.net/kids-outings/winchester-mizmaze/
A fascinating little museum, not to be missed when visiting Kolkata. It covers everything from 1930s anti-British terror gangs (and a good selection of homemade wooden bombs), Dacoitism in the city and some rather gruesome modern murders.
113, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road
Kolkata - 700 009
This is where hundreds of Pakistani guys and Indonesian women hang out and flirt on their day off. It all seems very innocent and sweet until you sit and watch for at least an hour and notice some of the darker undertones.
Very, very interesting, quite sad and quite voyeurisitic. We felt like we were watching a fly-on-the-wall documentary.
Have a chat and make friends, everyone's very friendly.
The whole experience reminded us of the often miserable lives of immigrants, wherever they are.
The male camels are decked out in colourful livery with tassels with names shown such as the heroic Thunderbolt, Destiny, Falcon and the more dubious Jackal. The prospective protagonists are introduced to the female to liberate their natural tendency to do battle. Fights last from a few minutes to 15 minutes.
The combatants initially strain against each other, neck to neck. Very occasionally one camel flees. A victory occurs when one camel forces the other to the ground. A well-dressed referee oversees the contests in the ring and officials occupy the one small stand while an announcer describes the detailed action. Can combine with a visit to Ephesus.
Selcuk, Western Turkey - third weekend in January
The epitome of kitsch, this great little bar has glittery red walls, an array of vintage hairdressing tools and salon furniture, with cute locals and a DJ every now and then with alternative and indie rock. The best part is the manicure and a cocktail offer (was $10). Getting a manicure in Beauty Bar is not a novelty feature - it really lasted!
Nearest subway is Union Square, 14th street between 3rd ave and ave A.
Dherinia lies on a hill, north of Ayia Napa in south-east Cyprus, on the edge of the no man’s land, which marks the border between the divided north and south.
One sunny, windy Easter-week day, we drove there and paid a tiny fee to climb steps from the haphazard garden of what is not much more than a shack, to a viewing platform where, through telescopes, you can scan a desolate and abandoned townscape of Famagusta, deserted during the conflict of 1974.
Our five-year-old son loved the telescopes and running round the platform, pointing out windmills and the sea, whilst our three-year-old daughter played happily (and safely) in the garden below, full of fig trees, plants and flowering bushes, feeding leaves to the giant tortoises that slowly ambled around a wire enclosure. We were mesmerised by the site of the empty buildings and houses, imagining the scenes on the day they were left amidst the violence and uproar.
Afterwards we sat in the garden at the wooden tables painted cobalt blue, having fresh, warm banana cake and tea, provided by the elderly, handsome owner, speaking grammatically perfect English - somehow a human embodiment of the region’s past. He has also lovingly curated a mini-museum to his country's sad history, with yellowing newspaper cuttings, photographs, signs and testimonies displayed. You are gently urged to write a comment in the visitors’ book before leaving.
The kids came away talking about their adventure and the fantastic cake. We adults found it an intensely moving, eerie and evocative experience.
Signed once you reach Dherinia, north of Paralimni in south east Cyprus.
The Super Lamb Banana was the original work of Japanese-based artist Taro Chiezo. It originally caused an outcry in Liverpool when first shown but now has its admirers. It's a huge yellow lamb with a banana for its tail. A Super Lamb Banana parade is to occur in summer with 100s of mini Super Lambs accross the City of Liverpool.
On the corner of Tithebarn Street and Vauxhall Road in Liverpool City Centre. Near to Liverpool Lime Street Station
Amazing mix of colours, sights and sounds.
Best tip - buy a couple of kilos of crickets from the old lady sitting under the umbrella at the very far end of the market. Crickets? Yes, don't be squeamish! They are caught by children for Ugandan pennies, de-winged, and then kept alive in a huge covered barrel, which keeps them docile and sleepy.
Fry them quickly over a high heat - they taste exactly like prawns! My children couldn't stop eating them, and we had to fight them for a grown up share!
Grown up tip: fried crickets are delicious nibbled as you sip your Ugandan beer sitting in the sunshine, waiting your meal to arrive freshly cooked...yum.
Kampala Market, centre of Kampala, by the taxi rank.
The classic four-day trek, the Inca Trail, to Machu Picchu now has an adventurous alternative. From Cuzco, I went across the scary Abra Malaga pass by local transport to the attractive warm jungle village of Santa Teresa and visited hot warm springs (very few foreign visitors at the present moment) and stayed with a local family in a rustic adobe lodge where fresh coffee beans were roasted in front of my eyes and papaya picked off the trees for morning breakfast!
The journey from Cusco to the jungle on to Machu Picchu with the local Quechua speaking guide involves one night staying by the hot springs in tents, one night with his family (a great experience!), a horse trek, some trekking and the final descent to Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu. In the morning, rise early before the other travellers and take in this famous lost Inca citadel.
A more varied experience overall, following a different route to the majority of people and great to get to stay with a local family, even for one night!
Santa Teresa is about a fivehour ride from Cuzco. I travelled with the volunteering and alternative adventure travel organisation, Inka Magik, which works with local schools as well as the Cuzco guide and rustic lodge.
Kemi Ice Castle in northern Finland is a structure to behold! Once inside, action is divided into different areas of adventure and history. For example, an ecumenical prayer area called the ice sanctuary with pews covered in reindeer fur and religious crosses carved on the walls.
A 10 minute walk from the centre of town, the Ice Castle is right next to the water's edge. Tuck-up before you go, remember you'll be surrounded by walls of ice!
There's a magical Arctic experience hidden away behind the busy shopping hell of Regent Street. The build up to going inside is part of the fun.
First, you raise your body temperature by a few valuable degrees in the normal, heated Below Zero bar downstairs, which serves creative fresh fruity cocktails such as a scrummy apple and blackberry crumble concoction.
Everyone is allocated a 40 minute time slot so when your time comes they give you space-age silver cloaks, thick gloves and snow boots and you go into the Ice Bar. Inside it's minus five degrees and everything inside is made from clear crystal ice from Sweden – the walls, the bar, the tables and the chunky glasses, which you slurp simple but super-strong vodka cocktails from. Drinking doesn't get more refreshing than this.
This was my closest ever brush with foot and mouth - a shot of Yukon jack whisky with a shrivelled human toe in the bottom.
To join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club in the Downtown Hotel, Dawson City, Yukon, I had to let its gnarled blackened nail touch my lip, a tradition that started in the 1970s when a local discovered the frozen tootsie of a rum runner who'd had to amputate it in a log cabin when he got frostbite.
Occasionally toes are accidentally swallowed by visiting drunks - they re-emerge painfully a few days later but they aren't really toes you can use again (unless you're really flying), so a steady supply have been donated over the years including ones from diabetics and people who decide to use a lawnmower while wearing sandals. Last time I went they had a full donated set of five toes, all preserved in salt.
It's not as bad as it sounds and you do get to become a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club, the only club I've been a member of in my life.
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