In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Spider-Man returns to scale new Dubai heights
Alain “Spider-Man” Robert has survived two comas, three skull fractures and so many nights in prison cells around the world he no longer keeps count.
But those hurdles barely register against the French daredevil’s passion for scaling skyscrapers – usually with no rope and no permission.
Alain, 49, has logged 125 towers, including the Burj Khalifa in March last year.
His feats make him one of the few people worldwide who can comfortably put to shame the Hollywood action hero Tom Cruise, who wowed global audiences in last year’s film Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol by swinging around the world’s tallest tower from a cable.
Alain may also be one of the few with a lower body-fat ratio than that of the movie star.
“I don’t understand why we are making such a big, big story out of Tom Cruise,” he says. “He did three metres on the building. He was pulled by a cable. Me, I started at the bottom and I went all the way to the top.”
Scaling the Burj Khalifa took six hours – two hours more than his second-longest climb. Winds at the top of the 828-metre tower blustered around him at 55kph. For traction, Alain had chalk-covered hands and climbing shoes. He carried a banner of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and the Ruler of Dubai, to unfurl at the top.
But Alain says the Burj Khalifa was nowhere near his most challenging climb because the authorities made him wear a harness before they gave him permission.
“There was no risk,” he says.
Permission is a problem that has dogged him in many countries, especially at the start of his career.
In his first major urban climb, the Sears Tower in Chicago, two dozen police officers met him at the top and cuffed him. About two-thirds of the time he climbs without approval.
“I was climbing, I was getting arrested, I was going to jail, I was going to court, I was doing community service,” Alain says.
Fellow inmates were often friendly but the jails could be unbearable, with cockroaches and mosquitoes.
Best Non-Travel Apps for Travelers
Five essential non-travel apps and websites that will make your vacation or business trip all the more enjoyable and productive.
There are so many city guides and hotel- and airline- booking apps to help you navigate your travels, but what about some essential non-travel apps or websites to make your vacation or business trip all-the-more enjoyable or productive?
Any list of the best non-travel apps for travel would be subjective. A yoga enthusiast’s “best of” list likely would be far different from a hedge fund manager’s top non-travel apps.
With that caveat, and being neither a yoga enthusiast or hedge fund manager, here are five free non-travel apps that may really improve your travels:
The Facebook website (www.facebook.com) and the social network’s free Facebook Messenger (iPhone, Android and Blackberry) and Facebook for iPad apps will help you stay in touch with friends and family when you are miles or oceans away from the domicile. How else would you find out that Johnny Jet is taking in the Chinese New Year fireworks in Singapore or that aunt Sally is jogging alongside Lake Michigan in Chicago? You can use the Facebook website to keep track of friends’ updates, video-chat or rock out with the Spotify music service. And, with the Facebook Messenger apps you can message friends who also have the app and attach your vacation photos. The Facebook for iPad app enables you to view your just-snapped high-resolution vacation photos and while away your relaxation time playing Words with Friends or Bejeweled.
If you forgot your Kindle Fire or merely want to be more fleet of foot in your travels, then Amazon’s Kindle apps (Windows PC, Mac, Blackberry, iPad, Android and Windows Phone 7) may be a convenient alternative. You can decide to buy an eBook from the more than 1 million in the Kindle Store and peruse magazines and newspapers, too. And, if you are on page 102 of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on your iPhone when the cruise ends, the Amazon Whispersync feature automatically lets you pick up where you left off on your Kindle or other device when you return home.
Evernote (www.evernote.com) apps (Android, Blackberry, iOS, Mac, Palm, Windows Phone and Windows) enables you to write notes and create to-do lists, and to sync them across all your devices so you can search for the American Express office address you penned or remember the phone number to call the concierge for dinner reservations. You can also record voice notes, take photos and scan your passport and visas for reference.
Hitler’s Ukrainian bunker revealed
If secrets were measured by the thickness of walls that keep them, then Adolf Hitler’s secrets would be eight feet deep.
Hidden in the pine forests of central Ukraine is one of Hitler’s clandestine bunkers, from which he and his generals monitored the Eastern Front during the World War II.
Built in 1941, about eight kilometres from the town of Vinnitsa (three-and-a-half hours southwest of Kiev), the site today is overgrown; frequented by history buffs and illegal diggers. A concrete grey swimming pool – dry except for when the spring rains come – and eerie piles of rocks covered in Nazi graffiti are the only indicators that this was once a German command centre. Below the surface are the bunker’s covert facilities, which some historians claim go as deep as seven floors underground.
Plans to sanction the digs and turn the site into a memorial have not gotten very far. When news broke that the Ukrainian government wanted to open a museum on the site in May 2011, indignant, local residents and communists protested against it. The Communist party objected to memorializing Hitler’s past, calling the museum a shrine for neo-Nazis, and residents expressed fear that digging into the site may ignite possible dormant gas traps. Nothing has been done to the site ever since.
While there is no set date of completion for the memorial, you can still visit the ruins by taking a mini-bus from the railway station in Vinnytsa, getting off at the “Camping” stop and walking for 20 minutes until you see the sign for Wehrwolf.
The bunker — called the Wehrwolf in reference to “wolf”, the translation of Hitler’s first name — was built by Soviet prisoners of war, most of whom were shot dead and buried in a mass grave after construction was finished. There is an elaborate gilded monument to the estimated 14,000 victims in the nearby village of Stryzhavka.
M25 is UK’s newest tourist attraction
Landmarks, trivia and lunch at a service area all included in £15 tour of London’s orbital motorway that is proving a surprise hit.
Long in tedium, short in dramatic action and inescapably circular, the M25 is not so much The Road to Hell, as Chris Rea once sang, but life itself.
On a bright spring morning, however, Britain’s least loved motorway was almost beneficent on Monday when viewed from the seats of the first sell-out coach tour of the 117-mile London orbital.
The Middlesex County Asylum, Heathrow Terminal 5, South Mimms services, Badger’s Mount; all these landmarks took on a pleasing sheen when subjected to the scrutiny of Nigel Pullen, the guide for the Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company’s surprise hit day-trip.
With his strawberry blond thatch and light-reactive glasses, Pullen looked the tour-guide part and did not disappoint with his deadpan delivery of a stream of trivia that flowed as freely as the traffic.
Like estate agents or tabloid journalists, tour guides have their own peculiar argot: toilet stops are “comfort breaks”, Thorpe Park’s amusements are “thrill rides” while Middlesex Asylum was “now a residential development of outstanding prowess, ie, quite expensive,” explained Pullen.
We joined the motorway at Godstone and climbed Reigate Hill to the dizzying heights of 220m, the most elevated spot on the orbital. “Oxygen masks will be dropping from overhead shortly,” quipped Pullen. Later we passed a farm where meerkats live 20 yards from the carriageway. “They would be out to sell insurance if we were stuck in a queue,” he observed.
After lunch at South Mimms, one of three service areas on the motorway, Pullen was surprised to still have a full coach. Some punters were just surprised to be there.
“I’m speechless and I don’t think that’s ever happened,” said Julie Hayes, 45, taken on the £15 tour as a surprise by her boyfriend, James Smith. “What have I learned?” mused Hayes. “Never to go out with a man from south London.”
Working as a gas engineer in south London, Smith knew a thing or two about traffic jams and was fascinated by roads. “It’s a random thing, it’s abstract, it’s eccentric. People have different interests. How do you quantify normality?”