In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
One World Trade Center becomes the tallest building in New York
One World Trade Center, the monolith being built to replace the twin towers destroyed in the September 11 attacks, has claimed the title of New York City’s tallest skyscraper.
Workers erected steel columns that made its unfinished skeleton a little over 381m high, just enough to peek over the roof of the observation deck on the Empire State Building.
City officials and iron workers applauded as the first 12-tonne column was hoisted onto the tower’s top deck.
“This project is much more than steel and concrete. It is a symbol of success for the nation,” David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority, the agency that owns the World Trade Center, said.
Clear skies afforded an immaculate 360-degree view from the top, although it wasn’t easy getting up there.
After riding an elevator to the 90th floor, a small group of officials and journalists had to climb three steep ladders to reach the top platform, which was encircled by blue netting along the perimeter.
The milestone is a preliminary one. Workers are still adding floors to the building once called the Freedom Tower.
It isn’t expected to reach its full height for at least another year, at which point it is likely to be declared the tallest building in the US, and third tallest in the world.
Those bragging rights, though, will carry an asterisk.
Crowning the world’s tallest buildings is a little like picking the heavyweight champion in boxing. There is often disagreement about who deserves the belt.
In this case, the issue involves the 124m-tall needle that will sit on the tower’s roof.
Tourists protest Dutch cannabis ban
Tourists puffed on spliffs in the streets of southern Dutch cities and defiant coffee-shops sold joints to visitors in protest against a ban on selling cannabis to foreigners which took effect on Tuesday.
In Maastricht, a short drive from both the German and the Belgian borders, protesters waved banners decorated with marijuana leaves and slogans such as “Dealers Wanted” and “Stop discrimination for Belgium”.
In the main square, a few hundred demonstrators staged a sit-in and about 50 openly smoked joints alongside a two-metre-long fake spliff.
The new law rolls back the Netherlands’ traditionally relaxed attitude to narcotics and clamps down on the millions of foreign “drugs tourists” who flock each year to coffee shops, famed for dispensing soft drugs.
From Tuesday, the cafes in three southern provinces close to the German and Belgian borders can only sell cannabis to registered members. Authorities say the move will reduce crime.
“Now we can’t enter any more, outrageous, it’s discrimination,” a Belgian smoker, who gave his name as Cannabas, told Reuters.
Maastricht’s mayor, Onno Hoes, was presented with a petition signed by about 300 coffee shops and other outlets asking for the ban to be scrapped.
The city’s Easy Going coffee shop closed its doors to all customers in protest, saying police would simply have to handle dealing on the street instead.
Marc Josemans, head of Maastricht’s coffee shop association, said in recent weeks dealers from northern France, Belgium and eastern Europe had started plying their trade in the streets.
“Now this is totally new for Maastricht, we never had this problem, so actually we are creating more problems than we are solving,” he said.
The new law, passed by the Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition before it collapsed last month, was introduced in January and will be enforced in the southern provinces before being introduced nationwide next year.
Coffee shops will only be allowed to admit a maximum of 2,000 registered members, who must have a local address.
Politicians said the measure was needed to stamp out crime related to the drug trade and to limit cannabis consumption.
Going au naturel is the business in S.Africa
From naked computer technicians to a concert where the audience — and musicians — are all in the buff, South Africans are embracing whipping their kit off two decades after the fall of apartheid’s stuffy rule.
Membership of the South African Naturist Federation (Sanfed) is growing briskly, from 130 people in 2009 to around 8,000 today, and attitudes are relaxed enough for a new all-naked business to draw bookings.
“Twenty years ago nudity was very much a taboo and people didn’t really speak about it, whereas nowadays times have changed,” said Sanfed chairman Carrington Laughton.
Public nudity in South Africa is not legal, despite a decades-old blind eye on certain beaches and at certain resorts, but attitudes are now more accepting since the once-isolated nation opened up after democracy in 1994.
“The general approach that the previous political regime had was a very conservative one, it was a very very conservative bunch of people running the country and as a result, certain things were not allowed,” said Laughton.
“And with the changes that have happened, obviously all of that nonsense has fallen away and that which hasn’t fallen away completely has very much taken a back seat.”
Around a quarter of Sanfed’s registered members are black, figures Laughton would like to grow, and up to 60 percent is male. Most white members are Afrikaners.
Prompted by the fast-growing numbers, Briton Mark Taylor, who with his wife has a naturist hotel in Greece and a naked sailing business, opened a dedicated family resort Vasnat near Cape Town in December.
Summer bookings were overwhelmingly international — 79 percent Europeans and 21 percent local — but South Africans are warming to the idea, he said.
“I was extremely surprised at the local interest,” said Taylor, who said a Sunday concert even saw the non-naturist band strip off in the second set.
— Less is more approach —
Equating sex with no clothes is the biggest misconception that the lifestyle faces, he added.
“People think we’re all here having sex,” said Taylor, even though public amorous shows usually lead to an immediate booting-out.
“And that is so far away from the truth — there is no sexual vibe about it, it’s not sexual, it’s not erotic, it’s just people enjoying being in the sun without their clothes on.”
Also seeing gain in a “less is more” approach, Cape Town resident Jean-Paul Reid in January started a company whose chef hiring policy is a willingness to work in the nude, or mostly so.
The 29-year-old has signed up more than 75 part-timers with diverse services onto his au natural books — from a computer technician to a law student — after failing to find work in his accounting field.
The Natural Company averages two bookings a day, mostly by rich, middle-aged white men, for services from body shots at hen parties to cleaners and plumbers wearing only a smile costing around 400 rands ($50, 38 euros).
Travelwise: The world in six cups
If you don’t count the necessity of drinking water, tea is the most consumed drink in the world.
Tea is made by brewing the leaves, buds and/or flowers of the Camellia sinensis plant, commonly called the tea plant. It plays a central role in both religious rituals and secular ceremonies. It has proven health benefits. It can promote either community and camaraderie or solitude and introspection. It can be calming or invigorating. Tea is arguably the most versatile beverage on Earth.
A cup of history
Historians trace the first use of tea to around 600 BC. According to Tom Standage’s A History of the World in Six Glasses, tea was likely first consumed in the eastern Himalayas by Buddhist monks in India and Taoist monks in China to help facilitate meditation.
Europe did not encounter tea until 1610, Standage explains, when Portuguese traders in Macao sent a Dutch ship home with a batch and it eventually made its way to England in the 1650s. As the British Empire expanded, colonizing many parts of the world, so did its stronghold on the tea industry. The British East India Company counted on China as its sole supplier of tea until 1834, when it realized that tea grew naturally in a region in one of its own colonies: Assam, India. To this day, Assam is thebiggest tea producing region in the world, and India is the biggest tea producing country in the world.
Tea preparation today
Masala chai (spiced tea), black tea prepared with milk, sugar, and spices like cardamom, cinnamon sticks, ginger and cloves, is now the hallmark of Indian tea culture. In the northwestern region of Kashmir, locals drinkkahwa (green chai), which can be prepared almonds and sugar, as well as local spices such as saffron, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.
In China, green tea is the most ubiquitous class of tea, while white, yellow, pu-erh and oolong teas are cherished delicacies. Tea ceremonies, tea appreciation and tasting services led by skilful tea masters, may feature any of the above. In Japan, the tea ceremony is often held in temples, led by Buddhist priests trained in the art of chado, “the way of tea”, and involves the use of matcha, a powdered green tea. In the predominantly Buddhist country of Tibet, tea is traditionally prepared in monasteries with the addition of butter made from yak’s milk.
In Russia, tea is prepared in tea rooms using a samovar, an urn of hot water. A teapot filled with dark, concentrated black tea is diluted with water from the samovar and served. England is world-famous for its afternoon tea, in which the beverage is served with finger sandwiches, scones and petit fours.
While in cold climates, tea is used to warm up, hot tea can also be used to cool down, such as Moroccan mint tea, a brew of green tea leaves mixed with mint leaves.
Types of tea
The very best teas come from small tea farms where teas are carefully crafted using traditional techniques.