In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
A big year for Britain
From the summer Olympics to the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, several major events will make the British Isles a popular destination in 2012.
From July 27 to Aug. 12, London will host the Olympic Games. Leading up to the games, visitors can see the Olympic Stadium and other major landmarks from the View Tube, a covered shelter with a lookout tower and cafe that sits at the Olympic Park’s southern perimeter. From here, visitors can also stroll along the Greenway, a 450-metre-long sidewalk atop a berm, providing other viewpoints. Blue Badge guides continue to lead Olympics-themed walking tours, though you won’t see any more of the park itself than you would on your own.
Brits will be partying before the games even start. This year marks the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, commemorating 60 years of Elizabeth II’s reign. Museums will host special exhibits, and various events and pageantry will take place the first week of June.
As always, restoration work continues to keep visitors to London on their toes. At the Tate Britain, much of the museum’s permanent collection will be stored away in 2012, though you can still see a few key paintings and the J.M.W. Turner collection. After a two-year $22-million renovation, Queen Elizabeth II has just reopened Kensington Palace and its new permanent exhibit, Victoria Revealed, which showcases the life and times of Britain’s longest-ruling monarch.
Barclays Cycle Hire, London’s citywide bike-rental program, is now up and pedaling. The bikes, known locally as “Boris Bikes” (named after mayor and cycle enthusiast Boris Johnson), are available for rent from stations scattered throughout the city.
Though most of the Olympics action takes place in London, the rest of Britain is also preparing for an onslaught of tourists. In Greenwich, the Cutty Sark is slated to reopen in spring after a five-year restoration. The new display space allows visitors to walk above and below the suspended ship.
Visitors to the south of England will find a few changes along the tourist trail. Dover Castle has new exhibits that bring its secret World War II tunnels to life, including a look at the command centre for the 1940 evacuation of Allied soldiers from Dunkirk and a 30-minute guided tour of a re-created WWII hospital ward.
At Stonehenge, construction of a long-awaited visitor’s centre, designed to blend in with the landscape, may begin in April. Since the highway next to the stones will be closed, visitors will park farther away and ride a shuttle to the site.
Walking tour of Berlin’s architecture
From the jagged angles of the Jewish Museum to the inner “vineyards” of the Philharmonie, Berlin boasts some of the world’s finest architecture. And the best way to see it is by foot .
Buildings, in Berlin, tend not to be just buildings. They are manifestos, propaganda, memorials, battlefields. It is the city whose Wall was one of the most political works of architecture of all time. The confrontation of superpowers was condensed into Berlin’s urban form, and the apartment blocks in the old eastern and western halves are imprinted with competing ideologies. Nazism, Communism, social democracy and capitalism have all felt the need to say it with buildings.
The biggest names of modern architecture also left their mark: Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto. In the 1920s new ideas in architecture fomented there and, since the fall of the Wall, contemporary stars such as Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster and Richard Rogers have been invited in. A good place to start a tour of highlights is the Kulturforum, where large sums were invested in cultural monuments by West Germany’s government in order to boost West Berlin and to demonstrate its superior commitment to the highest works of civilisation.
The most spectacular of these monuments is the Philharmonie of 1963(number 1 on the interactive map of the walk – click here to view), designed by Hans Scharoun and the home of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Its swooping, freeform design and gold-coloured cladding anticipate by some decades the “iconic” architecture of the 1990s and 2000s. Unlike some of the latter it is bold but not bombastic – there is a lightness and sensitivity about it, with an awareness of the flows of people which makes it a delight to walk through. Above all, there is the 2,440-seat auditorium, with irregular terraces of seating which Scharoun described as “vineyards”.
Nearby is a library (number 2), also by Scharoun, and a striking science centre in pink and blue stripes by James Stirling. There is also the New National Gallery (number 3) of 1968, which is the polar opposite of the concert hall. It is solemn, temple-like, black, symmetrical, perfect, elegant, chilly. It is a late work of van der Rohe and one of his most extreme. Most of the art is buried in its stone plinth rather than the steel-and-glass superstructure, and van der Rohe confessed he’d have liked it if it had contained no art whatsoever, apart from a single Brancusi bird in its dead centre.
By turns unfussy and flamboyant, Helsinki is World Design Capital 2012
This is the year that Helsinki has been waiting for – the year the Finnish capital takes over the coveted title of World Design Capital from Seoul.
It’s about time, too. Without many of us even being aware of it, Finnish design has infiltrated our homes. It’s in the tapered legs of wooden, mid-century furniture that the hit television show Mad Men revived; the angular lines of urban design; the folksy fabrics found in vintage stores. All these elements – from retro to modern via quirky – make Finnish design what it is: deceptively simple and timeless.
Arriving in Helsinki for the weekend, the first thing I notice when I touch down is the glare of the snow and the bitter chill of subzero conditions – it’s nearly minus 20°Celsius. The air is sharp and dry; a slap in the face thatleaves red marks on my skin.
Aside from the antiquated trams clattering glacially, Helsinki lies still, covered in inches of snow. The streets are empty when I arrive on a Friday afternoon so bleak, my heart sinks. But it also feels dramatic in a film noir sort of way: there is a compelling vibe to the place, with low-rise utilitarian concrete blocks clumped together and street lamps strung across the middle of the road.
My impression of the city changes once I arrive at Klaus K, one of Helsinki’s first boutique designer hotels. With its glitzy lights and Art Nouveau facade, the hotel feels glamorous, in stark contrast to the drab blocks round the corner. Inside, the interior is contemporary – lots of glossy white furniture and twisted light installations – but with a classic Finnish twist, in colours taken from the palette favoured by the Finnish national artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela (who died in 1931). My room may not be cosy but it is sharp in style, with a silver and black feature wall and a gigantic plum velvet headboard.
Once a former German girls’ school and then a printing business, Klaus K was rebuilt in 1913 by Lars Sonck, a Finnish architect who was inspired by the organic forms and sinuous motifs characteristic of Art Nouveau (think Charles Rennie Mackintosh). It was Sonck who helped to develop the National Romantic movement in Finland, featuring carved stone, wood and curved, flowing forms.
Sydney’s grand lady the Harbour Bridge turns 80
Most 80-year-olds have already settled into retirement but not the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which is more active than ever.
Australia’s most iconic bridge reaches the octogenarian milestone today and there is a lot to celebrate since it was opened on March 19, 1932.
The “Coathanger” – the centrepiece of Sydney’s annual New Year’s Eve fireworks spectacular – has become an international symbol of Sydney’s vitality and beauty.
It is crossed by more than 160,000 vehicles every weekday and is climbed by many thousands of tourists every year.
It took six years for about 14,000 workers to build the world’s largest steel arch bridge, at 1149m-long, which was designed by engineer Dr John Job Crew Bradfield and NSW Department of Public Works officers. With an arch span of 503m and clearance for shipping under the deck at 49m, the total steelwork weighs about 52,800 tonnes.
During its construction, locals were worried the two arches from each harbour foreshore wouldn’t meet – and there was elation when they finally did in 1930. Up to one million people flocked to the city in 1932 for the grand opening at which Captain Francis De Groot controversially slashed the ribbon with his sword before NSW Premier John Lang could.
It’s a rich history that was celebrated in 1930s style at Bradfield Park in Milsons Point yesterday, with old-fashioned car displays, a vintage fashion parade and a lot of people with fond memories of the bridge. They included Dr Bradfield’s eldest grandson Peter. “JJC as we called him was there at the bridge’s conception, birth, growth and completion. He was the one person who was there at all times,” Mr Bradfield said at the Roads and Maritime Services event.