10 Sherlock Filming Locations

As a relatively late convert to the latest BBC adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories (I’m now a mad Cumberbatch fan, too), I thought I’d have a look at where some of the most famous “Sherlock” filming locations.

221B Baker Street

187 North Gower Street & Sherlock Fans

187 North Gower Street & Sherlock Fans

The address, which made its first appearance as the famous fictional detective’s residence in the book “A Study in Scarlet”, doesn’t appear in the recent BBC1 series. The actual 221B Baker Street is occupied by the Sherlock Holmes Museum, a small institution with a waxworks room, a drawing room well laid out in Victorian style, and a gift shop.

For the purposes of the new series, a nearby street location serves for exterior shots – 187 North Gower Street in Bloomsbury. The current resident copes very well indeed with the  crowds of tourists taking selfies outside his door (all day at the weekend); and was amused to receive a letter addressed to the actors who the Sherlock fan letter-writer believed lived inside. Interiors are shot in film studios in Cardiff.

Speedy’s Café

The Cumberbatch having brekkie at Speedy's (Radio Times)

The Cumberbatch having brekkie at Speedy’s (Radio Times)

The café used by Holmes and Watson in the series, Speedy’s Café, is on the ground floor of 187 North Gower Street, and, being seen regularly in Sherlock (interiors and exteriors) it’s benefited enormously from its prime position. At time of writing it has nearly 18,000 Twitter followers!

Its owner, Chris Georgiou says, “Customers ask me what it’s like, what the actors are like. I’ve always said they’re a lovely crew, lovely actors, lovely people.” (From an Independent article.) He’s hoping to have a cameo in the next series.

Appledore

Appledore aka Swinhay House

Appledore aka Swinhay House

The high tech home of super-baddy Charles Augustus Magnussen from the last episode of the third series, is in real life Swinhay House near North Nibley in Gloucestershire. Owned by millionaire engineer Sir David McMurtry, it’s a spiral-designed 30,000ft “futuristic mansion” whose swimming pool has a floating floor so that the water level can be adjusted. The engineer doesn’t live in the house, however, because his wife thinks it’s too “flashy”.

Leinster Gardens

Leinster gardens aerial shot (Bing Maps)

Leinster gardens aerial shot (Bing Maps)

The dummy houses featured in finale episode of Series 3 are in fact “real” dummy houses. 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens in Paddington were pulled down to make way for the Metropolitan Railway (the world’s first underground railway) and, instead of leaving a distasteful gap where locomotives used to vent off their smoke and steam, a frontage was built that matched that of its neighbours.

St Bart’s Hospital

 

The Cumberbatch and his double outside St Bart's Hospital

The Cumberbatch and his body double outside St Bart’s Hospital (PacificCoastNews)

Sherlock meets Watson both in the original stories and in the BBC series in a lab in St Bart’s, and it’s the connection with Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation that led to the Tokyo “Sherlock Holmes Appreciation Society” to donate a grand sum of £650 to the “Save Barts” campaign in the 1990s. There’s also a plaque in Bart’s Pathology Museum in commemoration of the meeting of two of the most famous characters in literary history on their premises.

The Sherlock fan site Sherlockology details a visit to the building in an attempt to scour the area for clues after Sherlock’s “fatal” fall. The roof of St Bart’s and extensive exterior shots appeared in the exciting climax of Series 2, but the spoilsports won’t let you visit the roof to act out your Sherlock/Moriarty fantasies.

The phone box that you see in the image above was filled with hand-written notes commemorating the so-called “death” of Sherlock at the end of Series 2:

Touching notes in the Sherlock phone box

Touching notes in the Sherlock phone box

Tapas Brindisa Soho

Tapas Brindisa from Sherlock

Sherlock fan outside Tapas Brindisa Soho (Sherlock Tour)

The window seat in the Tapas Brindisa (then known as Tierra Brindisa) in “Northumberland Street” (actually 46 Broadwick Street) was occupied by Messrs Cumberbatch and Freeman in Series 1. Unfortunately it’s  been refurbished since the episode was shot, so you won’t quite be able to recreate the famous scene exactly:

Brindisa Tapas Soho in Sherlock Series 1

Tapas restaurant scene in Sherlock Series 1

 

Chinatown

Sherlock and Watson in Chinatown (or are they?)

Sherlock and Watson in Chinatown (or are they?)

London’s Chinatown isn’t quite what it seems in the Series 1 episode, The Blind Banker. Yes, Sherlock and Watson are seen walking down Gerrard Street, the iconic Chinatown street in London’s West End, but exteriors and interiors for The Lucky Cat shop were shot at 183 Upper Dock Street, Newport, Wales.

You’ll not find a shop selling Chinese wares there, however – the place was transformed purely for the filming (at the moment it’s a beauty salon called Glamour & Glitz). Upper Dock Street itself was transformed with the addition of Chinese lanterns and painted street bollards. This isn’t the only Newport/London fakery that’s taken place in Sherlock. One of the scenes in a supposed London kebab shop in Episode 1, Series 3 was filmed in Adonis Kebabs, for instance:

Sherlock filming in Adonis Kebabs, Newport (

Sherlock filming in Adonis Kebabs, Newport (tlchimera.blogspot.blogspot.co.uk)

Swimming Pool

Bristol South Swimming Pool

Bristol South Swimming Pool (Bristol Post)

The atmospheric swimming pool that sees the showdown with Moriarty in the last episode of Series 1 was filmed in Bristol South Swimming Pool, where Mark Gatiss learned to swim, according to Sherlockology. It’s a fantastically well preserved Victorian pool complete with poolside changing rooms,  in a Grade II listed building in Dame Emily Park in the city.

 Irene Adler’s House

Irene Adler at Eaton Square

44 Eaton Square in well-to-do Belgravia serves for exterior shots of “The Woman’s” house. The interiors were, again, shot in Newport: in a private residence known as Fields House that’s also been seen in episode “Blink” of Dr Who.

Irene Adler's drawing room, Aka Fields House, Newport

Irene Adler’s drawing room, Aka Fields House, Newport

Let’s hope it won’t be another two years until we can add some new locations for Series 4 and the return of Moriarty!

The Beaked Mask of Venice

The bird-beaked Venice mask

The bird-beaked plague doctor’s mask

We saw this eery beak-masked mannequin on a recent trip to Venice. It’s an excellent way to advertise the mask shop it stands outside of course, and it harks back to devastating times in Venice’s history.

Venice was hit many times by the plague, with outbreaks occurring in 1348, 1462, 1485, 1506, 1575–1577 and, disastrously, 1630–1632 when over 32% of the population died as a result and of course the doctor coming into contact with the sick needed something to protect him. Interestingly, plague doctors were normally less-qualified than proper physicians, who had a habit of fleeing cities once the disease hit.

The mask pictured above represents the type used to protect against the awful smells (miasma) that were thought to spread the disease. There was a respirator within the beak filled with sweet-smelling flowers like roses and lavender, camphor or a vinegar-soaked sponge and eye glasses (very steam punk) to protect the eyes while still allowing the doctor to see.

Plague doctor from Rome

Roman plague doctor from a 17th century engraving. (Wikipedia)

Other key parts of the doctor’s outfit were the long leather or waxed gown that protected the body, the traditional physician’s hat, full length boots, gloves and a wooden cane that was carried most probably to examine patients from a distance and keep people away.

Can you imagine lying in a fever, scared stiff that your time has come, being tended to by someone wearing an outfit that must surely disturb you even more?

The beaked mask appeared not just in Venice, but throughout Europe. It’s been immortalised in this historic city, however, by its appearance in the Commedia dell’Arte (through the character of the Medico della Peste) and the Carnavale, where it’s still one of the most common masks seen in the annual festival.

Traces of the plague in Venice

Lazzaretto Vecchio is a quarantine station where visitors and residents exhibiting signs of the plague were transferred. It’s an island near the Lido and one can imagine that life there couldn’t have been the slightest bit pleasant during the worst of the plague years. In 2004-2005, 92 burial locations were discovered on the island, with the remains of some 1500 victims and their artefacts uncovered.

At the moment, Lazzaretto Vecchio can’t be visited, although this will change – preparations for a new archaeological museum were being made when the graves were found.

Another quarantine island is Lazzaretto Nuovo which can apparently be visited on a guided tour, although the link to a site with more information isn’t currently working. (Here it is, just in case it comes live again http://www.lazzarettonuovo.com/)

 

Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute (Wikipedia)

Plague Churches

Another remembrance of the plague are the impressive churches built as thanks for deliverance from this terrible disease (and to hasten the end of the latest outbreak).

There’s a procession to this day in commemoration and it crosses from the city of Venice to the grand church of Santa Maria della Salute along a temporary bridge of barges and wooden boards, taking place every year on November 21st.

The construction of Salute began in 1631, a year after the disease hit in 1630. Other plague churches include Il Redentore on Giudecca, which was finished in 1592, a number of years after around 25% of the population had died in the 1570s outbreak, San Rocco, San Giobbe and San Sebastiano.

Some historians believe that the devastation reeked by the plague on Venice caused the downfall of this previously immensely powerful city, and where traces of the disease have largely disappeared in Europe, it still hangs over Venice to this day: with a little help from a strange beaked mask.

Walking London: Hidden And Not So Hidden Gems

Walking London, there’s something new to see around every corner. I’ve lived here for eight years now and I never cease to be amazed. It may something historic, entertaining, jaw-droppingly gorgeous, sadly neglected, about to disappear, or it may be downright queer. Whatever, it’s all good fun.

Here are a selection of photos I’ve taken on recent walks around the city – some of the sights I’ll be going into in more depth in later posts.

Britain at War Experience

Britain at War – Closed January 2013

The Britain at War Experience in Tooley Street is a London museum I never got to visit. If you haven’t visited you’ve left it too late as well because as of January 2013 it closed for good – the redevelopment of London Bridge station put paid to it. The exhibits however have been bought by an organisation called the Bay Trust, so they may well pop up somewhere else in the near future. One exhibit I hope doesn’t disappear is the V2 rocket strapped to the side of the building and visible from Platform 1 of London Bridge station. It surprised the hell out of me when I first it from the station, I tell you.

v2 rocket London Bridge station

The very surprising V2 Rocket at London Bridge

Here’s a video of the Britain at War Experience.

One of the best things about urban life is spotting new street art and just because Banksy’s art is now more well known for its monetary value than anything else there’s a ton of other stuff waiting to be uncovered. I was touched by this little illustration. (Can’t remember where I saw it, though).

death to traffic lights

Death to Traffic Lights

The George Inn off Borough High Street in Southwark is the only galleried inn left standing in London (fires, bulldozers and  World War Two bombings have put paid to the rest) and was  a major stop-off for the horse-pulled coaches coming to London in the 17th century.

The George Inn, Southwark

The George Inn, Southwark

It’s owned by the National Trust these days, but don’t let that put you off – it operates as a normal pub. The ubiquitous Charles Dickens gave it a short but sweet mention in Little Dorrit “if he [Tip Dorrit] goes into the George and writes a letter”.

Decoration at Cross Bones Graveyard

Decoration at Cross Bones Graveyard

Above is a recent photo of one of the newer decorations added to the gates at Cross Bones Graveyard, where the remains of thousands of prostitutes, children and the destitute lie. A monthly vigil is held at the site in memory of these unfortunates. The International Union of Sex Workers hope the graveyard will be  “…the first World Heritage site dedicated to sex workers… a permanent garden of celebration and remembrance to honour their lives.” Read more about Cross Bones.

Senate House - University of London

Senate House – University of London

The wonderful thing about a good guided walk is the research put into it and even if you only come away with one or two new things it’s been worth it, in my opinion. Yannick Pucci puts a lot of work into his walks and  I think I can say that everyone who was on the Art Deco Bloomsbury tour one blustery Saturday was well satisfied with the tidbits learned.

This photo is of one my favourite buildings, the Senate House, administrative centre of the University of London and I’m sure Yannick won’t mind me saying that this was intended to be part of a much larger site. At 370m in length it would have completely changed the character of this literary part of London. The scale was pulled back when critics like George V said it would look too much like a battleship. Read this article for images of the beautiful detailing on the inside of the building.

Syd's Coffee Stall - Shoreditch

The Oldest Coffee Stall in London – Syd’s

Another tour guide I go out with regularly in London is Ken Titmuss. aka Old Map Man. He introduced me to a couple of local gems on his Shoreditch walk. There’s Syd’s coffee stall that’s still run by the same family (above)…

…and a 500 year old morgue that looks like a garden shed:

Shoreditch morgue

Shoreditch Morgue dating from 1500

Yes, that really is a morgue – and it has a connection with Jack the Ripper.

More on these two anachronisms in a later post.

As long as you’ve got the energy to cope with the crowds, you never do tire of London :o)

Great American Beer: A Random Perspective

Beer review

This is a guest post by my dearest husband, Andy McNamee. (Pic credit ursonate)

There are many things which make America a wonderful country (I’m not an American by the way, just to clear that up at the outset). These include the stupendous beauty of large swathes of the country, the genuine friendliness of the people, and the easy accessibility of really good hamburgers.

While all of these were good reasons for me to look forward to our recent two week drive through the American west, another key attraction for me was the choice and variety of great American beer (by which I mean beer that tastes of something, not the ubiquitous flavourless carbonated p*ss which continues to try to take over the world) served in friendly and interesting bars.


Coors beers (tripadvisor)
Coors beers (Tripwow)  

And I’m delighted to say that I wasn’t disappointed – while I didn’t exactly adopt a rigidly scientific approach, I did manage to sample a reasonable number of brews across four states, some of which had me vaguely wondering if emigration to the US could really be that complicated.

By way of background, I’m not a beer techie, so I haven’t really got much to contribute on brewing processes, cask versus keg, chilled versus room temperature – all those things proper beer geeks get really worked up about. In the UK, I really like British ales, which I think suit our climate and temperament, regardless of whether they come from a national producer or a local micro brewery. However, in the US, most of the draught beers I drank came from local breweries, serving their local area, and happy to do so. Much of what I drank was pale ale, for the very simple and (to me) compelling reason that I really really like pale ale, and it was my holiday.

Rocky mountain oyster stout

Rocky mountain oyster stout Wynkoop Brewery

We kicked off in Denver, which as the city in which Coors is based, has a long beery association. I managed not to drink any Coors at all while I was there (with one exception noted later) but we did visit the Wynkoop Brewing Company for a long lunch.

There are lots of local craft breweries in Denver – the Wynkoop is one of the oldest. The choice of beer to accompany lunch was a tough one. I started with Silverback Pale Ale, which was an excellent pint and beautifully hoppy, but reasonably strong at 5.5%, so in the interests of staying awake for the afternoon I switched after a couple of pints to Railyard Ale, an amber beer which was marginally lower in alcohol. Railyard is apparently one of their most popular session beers and I can see why – easy to drink and tasty without being the strongest flavoured beer in the world.

My other half went for a three taster flight – Wixa Weiss, Patty’s Chile Beer, and Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout. The Wixa Weiss had (Julie said) aromas of banana and tobacco, and the chile beer had a definite chile flavour without any of the heat. Interesting and slightly weird but wouldn’t fancy spending an evening supping it. The stout did in fact contain Rocky Mountain Oysters (aka bull testicles) and apparently began as an April Fool joke on YouTube but stayed on the menu as a result of customer demand. I’m not a big stout fan but Julie liked it – coffee and chocolate, she said, and no apparent testicle flavour. (Editor – for more strange beer flavours, see 10 Strange Beer Flavours). The Wynkoop Brewery is well worth a visit, not just for the beer – people are very friendly and it’s a beautiful old building in a converted warehouse near the railway station.

Next beery highlight was in Gunnison, a small Colorado town up in the mountains, and home to both the Western State Colorado University and to the Gunnison Brewery, a tiny brewery operating on a site in the town main street, with a bar restaurant attached. They brew small amounts of high quality stuff, using (they say, and I believe them) local ingredients when they can.

We called in for a couple of pints before dinner across the street, and liked it so much we came back after dinner for more. In hindsight, we should have eaten there too – if their burgers were as good as their beer, we would have had an amazing meal. Highlight for me was Apollo’s Remedy, an American Pale Ale, which was one of the best beers I drank on the whole trip. Refreshing, tasty, hoppy, served in a friendly bar full of what looked like a mix of students and locals – lovely stuff indeed. My only regret is that, given that the Gunnison Brewery is so small (albeit perfectly formed), I’m not likely to see Apollo’s Remedy in my local in north London anytime soon.

Durango steam train

Durango steam train (Wikipedia)

Heading on from Gunnison, we hit Durango, a self-consciously old western town but home to a number of local breweries. I was slightly hamstrung by the fact that our accommodation, very comfortable as it was, was about 12 miles out of town, and I was the only driver, so my beer consumption was limited.

But a couple of highlights were the Jackrabbit Pale Ale at the Carver Brewery Company and a pint of Ska Pinstripe at the Olde Tymers Cafe. Carvers is the sort of place I wish was round the corner from where I live – great range of beers, excellent food (my rodeo buffalo burger was fantastic) and very friendly staff. The Jackrabbit ticked all the pale ale boxes on a hot day- I could quite happily live there.  The Pinstripe, an amber ale, went very well with my Cobb salad in the Olde Tymers. My main regret about our visit to Durango was that there were so many other microbreweries we didn’t visit – but we’ll be back some day and we’ll stay in the centre of town…

Dam Bar and Grille (with replica dam)

Dam Bar and Grille (with replica dam)

We spent a couple of days near Lake Powell, in northern Arizona, where I found the best beer of the holiday, Lumberyard IPA. Lake Powell itself we decided we could take or leave to be honest, in comparison to some of the other great places we visited, but Page, the local town near the lake, was a very friendly place with a couple of good bars and at least one really excellent Mexican restaurant.

I found Lumberyard in the Dam Bar & Grille, in the centre of Page and all I can say is, if you ever visit, have the baja burger and fries and a pint or two of Lumberyard IPA and you will leave a better, happier and more spiritually uplifted person than you arrived. Best burger of the holiday plus the best pint – what more can I say? Lumberyard, brewed in Flagstaff, Arizona (another very fine beer town), was probably the hoppiest, bitterest beer of the holiday (my other half wasn’t keen on it for this reason) and pretty strong with an APV of 6.1% but I l loved it. I was even happier when I found out they served it in the Lake Powell resort where we were staying, thus removing the complication of the car.

I’ve restricted myself here to thoughts on the local draught beers we tried but there were lots of other good beery things on our trip – the first pint of orangey Shocktop on arriving late at night at our hotel in Denver to find they’d screwed up our reservation, the off licence in Page where you could assemble your own 6 pack from a huge range of bottled craft beers, the consistently good Coors Blue Moon Belgian White beer (though I know the purists aren’t keen…) and finally Uinta Wyld Extra Pale Ale, a lovely Utah beer which we never found on draught anywhere but a few bottles of which actually made me want to visit Mormon-dominated Salt Lake City.

Beer drinker of the year

I’m not an uncritical admirer of the US, and I wouldn’t claim after a couple of holiday there to know the country well. But I do know there are lots of things that Americans are good at and one of them is beer. E pluribus cerevisia.

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Bryce Canyon: A Helluva Place to Lose a Cow

Bryce Canyon Strange and Weird Bryce Canyon - Photo by Quirky Travel

We were lucky enough to get to see some fabulous National Parks on our latest road-trippin’ holiday in the U.S. – lucky because two of the best closed with the government shutdown just a few days after we’d visited…

The one that knocked our socks off was Bryce Canyon. It’s a magical place where fairy folk and wicked queens most likely frolic;  and where a painter with a fondness for red and an avant-garde sculptor must surely have been let loose a long time ago. (NB look out for the two tips at the end).

Bryce Canyon Mythology

Bryce Canyon hoodoos Petrified Legend People – Photo by Quirky Travel

The Paiute Indians who inhabited the area after earlier tribes like the Fremont and the Anasazi had moved on, found a way to explain the existence of the weirdly-shaped red rocks.

They believed that Legend People (To-when-an-ung-wa) used to inhabit the canyon. These people were animals, lizards and birds who looked human and were bad because they used up too much of the land’s resources. Because of this unacceptable behaviour, the mighty god Coyote lured the Legend People to what was supposed to be a celebration banquet, but instead turned them to rocks.

These would-be banqueters became the hoodoos that now make Bryce such a special place to be in, and the manner in which they’re clustered together near the rim reflects the panic that ensued when the Legend People realised what was happening to them. The red of the hoodoos is the war paint they were wearing at the time of their transformation.

The name the Paiute gave the area is a very suitable Agka-ku-wass-a-wits (red-painted faces). Or it may be

What’s a Hoodoo?

bryce-canyon-17
Thor’s Hammer hoodoo – Photo by Quirky Travel

The word hoodoo, according to this post, was brought to America by black slaves who used it to refer to something approximating a jinx. It was picked up by Native Americans from fur trappers who were using it to refer to evil spirits or forces.

The formation that is a hoodoo is a totem-like column of soft stone that has survived only because it’s capped by a ‘hat’ of harder stone. It’s been shaped over millions of years by the vagaries of the weather.

Queen Victoria, Bryce Canyon

Queen Victoria Hoodoo (www.geo.de)

As in all these places many of the limestone hoodoos of Bryce Canyon have been given names, including:

Queen Victoria
The Chessmen
Wall of Windows
Thor’s Hammer
Tower Bridge
The Poodle
The Sentinel
Queen’s Castle
The Hat Shop
Wall Street

Visitors and Settlers

Dutton and Powell

The Paiute were still living in the area when they first explorers and  settlers arrived, including geologists and explorers Captain Clarence E. Dutton and John Wesley Powell. Some of the Paiute names for area features have stuck, apparently because of them:

Paunsaugunt: home of the beavers. (A plateau above Bryce.)

Paria: muddy water of elk water. (The river running through it.)

Panguitch, water or fish. (A nearby lake.)

Yovimpa: point of pines. (An area above the canyon – there’s an excellent view from Yovimpa point that many visitors miss – including us…)

Ebenezer Bryce

ebenezer-bryce-and-wife Serious People, the Bryces (dailykos.com)

One of the first Mormon settlers in the area and the man the canyon came to be named after was Scottish shipyard carpenter Ebenezer Bryce. He  built a track to help transport the timber he was harvesting in the area and the visitors who used it began to call the canyon at the end of the track Bryce’s Canyon.

It may be apocryphal, but Ebenezer is said to have told an admirer of the hoodoos, “It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow”. Even though he and his family moved away from the area to Arizona, his name will always be associated with the place.

The Canyon isn’t his only claim to fame – he designed the oldest Mormon chapel still in continuous use, Pine Valley Chapel, even though he had never designed one before. He did it on the condition that he was allowed to build it like a ship.

3 Tips for Visiting the Canyon

An excellent hike is the Navajo Loop combined with the Queens Garden Trail. It took us about 1.5 hours and we’re not spectacularly fit (to put it mildly). BUT start at Sunset Point and end at Sunrise point – not the other way around. The slope up to Sunset Point is fierce. Early morning is better as it gets quite crowded near the points, and not everyone seems to agree with me that it’s nice to appreciate magnificent areas like this quietly. Plus the light’s better at this time of day.

If you’re attending the ranger’s astronomy evening, check beforehand how many telescopes are likely to be used that night. Although we had expected eight, there were only two on the night. The queues for them were enormous.

Ruby’s Inn Best Western has microwaves in each of its rooms and there’s a very decent supermarket on site if you’ve had enough enormous on-the-road meals to last a lifetime.

Have you been to Bryce Canyon and if so, do you have any tips? Leave them below for future visitors :o)

3 Wonderful & Strange Singapore Destinations

Haw Par Villa Laughing Buddha

Haw Par Villa Laughing Buddha (Pic gratuitousgeek)

This is a guest post by Gaby Lucius writing for holidayplace.co.uk.

In the course of my travels, I’ve had some pretty run-of-the mill vacations.  You know, the kind where you spend your time lying on the beach, checking out the buffets and throwing back a few drinks at the hotel bar.  While there’s nothing wrong with laid back getaways, the vacations I look back on most fondly are the ones where I experienced something out of the ordinary.

My husband and I recently went on a two week excursion to Singapore and these three particular strange Singapore destinations made it a trip I’ll never forget.

Human-headed crab at Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa

I had to start with Haw Par Villa because it is, hands down, one of the weirdest places I’ve ever experienced.  Mike heard about it from a friend who told us that it wasn’t to be missed.  He was right!

Opened in 1937 by founders Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, Haw Par Villa was created as a venue for learning about traditional Chinese values.   The park houses over 1,000 statues and 150 dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese mythology and folklore.

The park is a bit run down, but it somehow just adds to the peculiar ambiance of the place. Our favorite (and the most famous) exhibit was the Ten Courts of Hell, which featured grisly depictions of Hell in Chinese mythology and Buddhism.   It was gory, violent and absolutely marvelous!  Just a note to readers, that particular exhibit isn’t what I would call child-friendly. [Editor - am particularly loving the name "Filthy Blood Pond" in that link].

Besides the awesomeness mentioned above, there are plenty of other interesting statues to enjoy and almost all are accompanied by the recounting of a Chinese legend.

You will do a ton of walking, so wear comfy shoes and bring water.  Mike and I spent nearly three hours exploring and loved every moment.

Night Safari

 

Night Safari

Night Safari

I really, really love animals.  I’m of the opinion that no trip is complete without some manner of animal interaction, whether it be at a zoo or in the wild.  While looking through some travel guides, I stumbled upon the Night Safari and was instantly smitten with the idea.

Here’s the lowdown.  The Night Safari is an open-air zoo set in a tropical forest that is only open at night.   It is divided into eight geographical zones, and can be explored on foot or by tram.  Since the animals are separated from guests by natural barriers rather than cages, you have the opportunity to get very up close and personal with them.

Mike and I read quite a few reviews and decided to follow the advice of former visitors.  We arrived at 7 PM on a weeknight, and ate a leisurely dinner at the Ulu Ulu Safari Restaurant while the crowds bum rushed the zoo entrance.  We rolled into the park around 8:30, avoided the lines by purchasing our tickets online and skipped the show in favor of enjoying the zoo less crowded.

We took our time on the paths.  If you’re patient, you can really see the animals doing their thing.  As for the tram, it was fun, but a bit crowded.

Oh!  One last thing; be sure to wear some mosquito repellant.  Holy bloodsuckers, Batman!

MINT Museum of Toys

MINT Museum of Toys

MINT Museum of Toys

Mike and I are both comic book geeks, so when we heard about the wall of Silver to Platinum age comics at the MINT Museum of Toys, we had to see it.

The Mint Museum of Toys was purpose-built as a museum for toys, to showcase the personal collection of Chang Yang Fa.  Let me tell you, Mr. Chang has one hell of a collection!  MINT stands for “Moment of Imagination and Nostalgia with Toys” and since the majority of the vintage toys are in mint condition, the name fits well.

Over 50,000 toys from all over the world can be seen, including Disneyana, Astro Boy, Batman, and Tintin.  One of the coolest things about the museum is that its custom designed to protect the fragile toys from the environment.  The museum has no windows so UV-rays are prevented from reaching the exhibits.   The acrylic shelves are formatted with LED lights and are designed so that shadows cannot be cast on the toys.  The building itself is incredibly beautiful and has won quite a few architectural awards.

It costs $15 to get in, but I think it’s definitely worth it.

If you’re planning on taking a holiday to Singapore, I can’t stress enough how essential it is to visit Haw Par Villa, the Night Safari and The MINT Museum of Toys.  Don’t miss these fabulous destinations or you’ll regret it!

When she’s not jet setting to strange locales, faking her way through foreign language phrasebooks and eating things that would make Andrew Zimmern cringe, Gaby Lucius enjoys writing freelance for holidayplace.co.uk.

5 Unusual Cultural Customs Around the World

This is a guest post by freelance travel writer Cheryl Brown.

The beauty of world travel is that you get to experience different cultures and their traditions and customs. Taking yourself away from your own familiar world and seeing something completely alien to you is always an enriching experience and the world is full of unique customs. Here are five of the most unusual cultural customs that you might come across.

El Colacho - baby-jumping

El Colacho. Pic credit The Guardian

El Colacho

This Spanish custom has been around since 1620, and involves the unusual activity of ‘baby jumping’. Originally, the festival was intended to keep the devil at bay, where jumpers wearing devil costumes run down the street, leaping over babies laid down on mattresses.

As you might expect, injuries occur from time to time, but the festival remains a popular one and is unlikely to be disbanded any time soon.

Monkey Buffet Festival

Monkey Buffet Festival Pic Credit www.festivals-holidays.com

Monkey Buffet Festival

This particular festival is fairly young – only starting in 1989 – but has since proved to be a great money-maker to the local economy in Lop Buri, Thailand, attracting thousands of interested onlookers each year.

In this particular town, Macaque monkeys have free reign all over the town, often stealing food, clothes, and generally being pests. Rather than trying to stamp out this annoyance, however, the locals honour the monkeys each November by putting on an enormous buffet spread for them, consisting of cakes, candy, and fruits.

The monkeys converge on the tables and cause quite a stir, with thousands of tourists and locals attracted to watch. It is certainly an interesting way of celebrating these mischievous monkeys, and an entertaining one at that.

Blackening of the Bride

Blackening of the Bride. Pic credit www.smashingtops.com

Blackening of the Bride

Most brides like to look as pristine as possible before, during, and after their wedding, and that is what makes this particular custom so interesting. The blackening of the bride is a Scottish tradition that involves friends and family covering her in mud, fish sauces, syrup, spoiled milk, feathers, and all sorts of other nasty things before the wedding. In the Orkneys it’s the groom who’s the victim and occasionally its both bride and groom.

One idea behind is that if the couple can take such humiliation, then all other issues they might face in their marriage will feel insignificant by comparison. Consequently, it is said to lead to a happy marriage for them, allowing them to overcome any and all problems with ease. [Editor note: Another theory is that it helps keep the faeries at bay :o)]

Bullet Ants ritual

Bullet ants ritual. Pic credit Oti the Lis

Bullet Ants Coming of Age Ritual

There are a host of different coming of age rituals from around the world, none more unusual than that endured by young men of the Satere-Mawe tribe in Brazil.

This ritual isn’t complicated, but it’s certainly both painful and a real test of character. For 11 hours, the youngsters put their hands in gloves filled with bullet ants – critters with the highest rating on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index as you can get. These ants get their name because their stings feel like you are literally being shot with a bullet, so you can only imagine what it’s like having to endure relentless stings like this for eleven hours.

If you endure this, you can truly call yourself a man.

Tibetan Sky Burial

Different cultures bury their dead in various different ways. In Tibet, the sky burial is common. With this ritual, the deceased body will be marked with a series of cuts and then positioned on a high mountaintop where it is exposed to the local animals and elements. The ritual is known to show generosity and a way of giving back to nature, just as we,  take advantage of nature’s bounty ourselves.

[Editor Note: No way was I going to add a picture of this!!]

If you are thinking about going travelling, or planning your round the world flights, why not consider including some of these great destinations in your itinerary and take the chance to see some of these unusual customs.