In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Niagara Falls banks on Wallenda’s tightrope stunt
More than a century after stunters, hucksters and daredevils were banned from desecrating the world’s most famous waterfall, a Flying Wallenda will walk a tightrope across the cataract in prime time on live national TV — with official permission and support.
It happens Friday night. Nik Wallenda, seventh-generation scion of the first family of the high wire, will try to become the first person in 116 years to walk over theNiagara River, and the first ever to cross so close to the mighty falls’ thick mists and gusty winds.
In a testament to the economy’s sluggishness and tourism’s allure, the USA and Canada granted Wallenda an exception to the no-stunts policy. The supposed beneficiary is this beleaguered city of 50,000, which shares the falls’ name and little else.
Once a scenic wonder, industrial colossus and honeymoon capital all wrapped in one, the city has over the past 50 years lost much of its industry, half its population and almost all its glamor. Yet now it’s the site of the biggest high-wire act since Phillippe Petit walked between the World Trade Center towers in 1974.
“We’ve done it — boom! — a shot heard ’round the world,” New York State Assemblyman John Ceretto said when the walk was approved this year. “Somebody might be out there and say, ‘I want to invest in this city. They’re on the move, they’re thinking outside the box.’ ”
Wallenda himself is on message. “Not even Marilyn Monroe brought the attention here that I’ve brought,” he says, referring to the star of the 1953 film Niagara. “Anyone who says this doesn’t help Niagara Falls, they’re fools.”
He means critics such as Paul Gromosiak, a local naturalist and historian whose books include one on Niagara daredevils. He calls Wallenda’s walk a step backward: “It’s a distraction from an experience of nature. It reduces Niagara Falls to a backdrop.”
In a nation whose basic economy is at best changing and at worst declining, Niagara Falls is one of many communities that have seen their future in the past:
The legalization of gambling in Atlantic City in 1978 failed to alleviate urban blight in the faded resort. The city is betting on yet another casino, the Revel, which cost $2 billion and opened last month.
Connersville, Ind., known a century ago as “Little Detroit” because of its importance to the auto industry, hoped to return to prosperity as the site of a plant where 1,500 workers would make high-tech police cars. But this year, the Energy Department denied Carbon Motors a $310 million loan, possibly killing the project.
Holland in the heart of Germany
With its red-brick houses with white window frames, the Dutch Quarter provides a unique example of Dutch architectural design – just outside the German capital.
The red-brick clinker houses brace themselves shoulder-to-shoulder against the wind; their belfries stretch up to the cloud-covered June sky. Their frugal design adds to the atmosphere in this tiny Dutch enclave amidst all the ostentatious Prussian buildings in Potsdam.
Tourists saunter through the narrow lanes, attempting to capture the atmosphere on camera. As the rain clouds suddenly burst, they seek shelter in one of the many traditional Dutch-style cafes offeringKoffie and Poffertjes - coffee and a small pastry that’s similar to a pancake.
The rain doesn’t bother Hans Göbel. Making his way through the Dutch Quarter, he’s happy to stop and chat with local gallery owners. As chairman of the Association for the Promotion of Dutch Culture in Potsdam, he knows the Dutch Quarter better than most.
“The Prussians constructed it with a typical German thoroughness,” explained Göbel. “You won’t find a residential area built so consistently to the style of this period – even in Holland.”
The architect of the Quarter was Dutchman Jan Bouman. In the mid-18th century, he was commissioned by Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm I to drain the local marshes and erect a Dutch-style residential area. Dutch craftsmen – some of the best in Europe – were enlisted to work on the project.
Although the craftsmen were promised that they would be given the houses upon completion, the strategy failed. The specialists from Holland didn’t come in the droves that had been expected. French and Prussian trade representatives, as well as soldiers and artists, were drafted instead.
The atmosphere in the Dutch Quarter has remained international even today. Italian cuisine, German craftwork and French boutiques can all be found there. A range of Dutch beers are served in the old local pubs. “People here like to drink Dutch beers,” said one landlord, grinning, “and it’s not just the tourists, but the locals too.”
Bomb shelters now trendy Shanghai spots
From the outside, The Shelter looks like any other building along Yongfu Road, a favorite hangout for Shanghai bar-goers.
But walk through the doors, down a narrow stairway and through a winding tunnel to the main room with its bare cement walls and smell of mold, and it’s clear this is a night club like no other in this trendy Chinese city.
For The Shelter is one of a handful of former bomb shelters finding new life as commercial venues, ranging from clubs to clothing shops and even wine sellers.
“It is gloomy and clammy, and very unique,” said Kis Chen, a 29-year-old office worker who hunts around town for exotic clubbing scenes.
“The smell reminds me of my childhood home,” she added, referring to the musty smell of clothes and furniture familiar to many Shanghai residents during the summer rainy season.
Hundreds of thousands of bomb shelters were built across China in the 1960s and 1970s to prepare for possible air raids from the then-Soviet Union amidst a souring relationship between the two communist countries.
It’s unclear how many of the underground shelters were built in Shanghai. But the local government says there are about 2,000 in the Xuhui district, a mix of commercial buildings and the elegance of the old French concession, where The Shelter is located.
“Some projects remain as secrets,” said Tong Songyan, an official at the Xuhui district government, when asked how extensive the bomb shelter network was.
The shelters were let out by the government after tensions with the Soviet Union eased in the mid 1970s. There is no specific figure on how many have been converted, but it may be only a small fraction of the total.
For many such places, the unusual structure of the shelters – as well as their underground location – is used to good advantage.
One is MANifesto, which sells underwear exclusively for men. Conveniently located next to an underground gay bar called Shanghai Studio, shoppers say the secretive location offers an extra “sense of safety” for customers wary of being seen.
And at wine seller Ruby Red, marketing manager Flora Wang says the naturally cool temperature is perfect.
“Our clients think this bomb-shelter structure is very professional,” she said, in the 600-square-meter (yard) cellar filled will wooden boxes from floor to ceiling.
The Shelter went through incarnations as a vegetable market, ice storage facility, massage parlor and even a public bath house before taking on its current form as a night club in 2007.
Despite its moldy smell and occasional flooding during heavy rain the 600-square-meter, The Shelter has become one of the more popular venues among the clubbing set, featuring things such as reggae, drum and bass, and soul.
Why German tourists get their towels down first
Germans sleep less and get up earlier than the British, according to a new study which suggests why holidaymakers from Germany get their beach towels on sunloungers first.
British scientists found that an average Briton slept for 7 hours, 21 minutes a night, before starting work at 8.50am.
In contrast, Germans citizens, famed for getting up early to secure their sunloungers with a towel, had an average eight minutes less sleep every night and started work 30 minutes earlier.
The University of Oxford study also concluded that when Teutonic alarm clock went off it was rarely silenced by a ‘snooze button’, unlike its British counterpart.
It reportedly found that Germans got up 15 minutes after their alarm went off compared to those in Britain, who lazed under the duvet for an average 20 minutes.
It could explain the two mysteries of Anglo-German relations: how do Germans get their beach towels on the sunloungers first and how does their countries economy continue to outperform ours.
The findings of the study, which reviewed the sleeping habits of 75,000 Germans and Britons, were due to be presented on the opening day at the Cheltenham Science Festival on Tuesday.
Prof Russell Foster, a neuroscientist who led the study, said it was not all bad news for the British.
He said British respondents had less “social jet lag” – the time difference between when a person gets up with and without an alarm – meaning they were more likely to understand their bodies better.
“This may be something to do with more flexible start times,” he told The Times ahead of his presentation.