World's unexpected tourist attractions
If you imagine you've seen it all, maybe it's time to shake up your travelling life with a hearty dose of the unexpected. OK, you've enjoyed the carnival in Rio, attended the Melbourne Cup and been to the beaches of the Mediterranean. But have you partied in a Swiss city, enjoyed horse racing in the snow, or basked on the sands of downtown Berlin, cocktail in hand as reggae music plays?
And now for something completely different, as the Monty Python catchphrase goes. The world remains an unpredictable place if only you go looking. That doesn't mean you have to be outrageous: no need to skewer your cheeks at a Hindu festival, bog snorkel in England or enter wife-carrying contests in Finland. You can stick to ordinary activities available to even the most timid traveller, yet do them in unusual places for an added twist of surprise and quirkiness. Ignore the Mona Lisa and enjoy outstanding Islamic art at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Hit the ski slopes (or at least slope) in Dubai, or lounge by a tropical lagoon in central Germany, housed in a gargantuan greenhouse that also contains the world's largest indoor rainforest.
If such activities were just gimmicks then they'd be pointless, even if fun. But there are often good reasons to do normal things in apparently abnormal places. Here are 13 experiences that provide tales of the unexpected around the world.
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ARCHAEOLOGICAL WORK IN SPAIN
EXPECTED Static museum displays and roped-off ancient sites.
SURPRISING Not all archaeological sites are off limits to the uninitiated. Volunteers with ArchaeoSpain contribute hands-on excavation and laboratory work at an ancient Roman fortress and learn archaeological methods, legalities and protocols. You can also join seminars on Roman ceramics, culture and architecture.
WHY HERE? Instead of admiring museum artefacts, you have the thrill of finding them, and you'll also understand more about the whole process that lets us understand ancient civilisations. Tourists get static versions of history: as an archaeological volunteer, you contribute to it.
BE ORIGINAL Roman Fortress Pulpon Field School (running August 2-22 this year) costs US$1750 (NZ$2360) including full room and board, training, excursions and medical insurance. There are various other archaeological digs across Spain. See archaeospain.com.
WINTER HORSERACING IN SWITZERLAND
EXPECTED Skiing and snowboarding.
SURPRISING The highlight of February's social calendar in the posh ski resort of St Moritz is White Turf, when beautiful people congregate in art-hung tents around the town's frozen lake to enjoy horseracing in the snow as they nibble on oysters and caviar. Even more thrilling is skijoring, when skiers are pulled behind galloping horses in a grand show of mad courage.
WHY HERE? Join celebrities and billionaires – well, almost – by bagging a ticket in the grandstands for ordinary folk, and enjoy the unusual sight of snow flicked up by horses hoofs on a racecourse backed by ice-encrusted mountains.
BE ORIGINAL White Turf takes place over three days each February in St Moritz. Entry from $26 (standing) and $52 (seated). See whiteturf.ch.
JAPANESE COMMUNITY IN SAO PAULO
EXPECTED More samba than sushi.
SURPRISING This Brazilian megacity is home to more Japanese (600,000) than any other city outside Japan. Many congregate in the Liberdade district, joined by Indonesians, Koreans and Chinese to make up a distinctive "Asiatown" marked by a giant red torii gate and hosting a big Sunday Asian food and crafts fair.
WHY HERE? Sao Paulo has one of the world's few large Japanese immigrant communities in a refreshing change from Chinatowns. The Museum of Japanese Immigration provides interesting historical and cultural insights into an ethnic group established since the 1910s.
BE ORIGINAL Though misleadingly often referred to as Chinatown, the Japanese community concentrates around Rua Galvao Bueno in Liberdade, on a metro station of the same name. See saopaulo.sp.gov.br.
JAZZ BARS IN COPENHAGEN
EXPECTED Little mermaids and chilly vodka bars.
SURPRISING This cool Scandinavian city resounds with jazz sounds from buskers in city squares, artists in clubs and musical celebrities in concert halls. There's a huge variety of jazz venues, including eclectic Jazzhouse (jazzhouse.dk), cafe and record store Jazzcup (jazzklubben.dk), jazz restaurant The Standard (thestandardcph.dk) and the famous Jazzhus Montmartre (jazzhusmontmartre.dk).
WHY HERE? Copenhagen is a leading European jazz and blues centre, and snug bars across the city will have your toes tapping to jazz and your heart warm with hygge, that particularly Danish brand of cosiness.
BE ORIGINAL If you really want to be surrounded by jazz, hit town in either July for the Copenhagen Jazz Festival (jazzfestival2017.com), or February for the nationwide Vinterjazz Festival (jazz.dk). See visitcopenhagen.com.
SWISS MOUNTAIN TOWN IN CHINA
EXPECTED Rice paddies and temples with upturned eaves.
SURPRISING Sitting beside a little lake in humid southern China is an architecturally faithful, replica Swiss alpine resort complete with chalets, chapel and facsimiles of Interlaken's famous Hotel Victoria Jungfrau and Lucerne's historic wooden bridge. Other nods to Switzerland includes veal sausages, fondue, geraniums, Bernese flags and yodellers.
WHY HERE? Because if you went to the real Swiss Alps, you wouldn't be able to snack on dried seaweed, listen to bagpipers, ride a gondola or visit an adjacent tea plantation and enjoy a kung-fu show that involves dancing teapots.
BE ORIGINAL The resort is 30 kilometres east of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, with numerous bus connections. Open daily, entry $30. See octeast.com
A CASTLE IN CALIFORNIA
EXPECTED Hollywood mansions, freeways and sprawling suburbs.
SURPRISING Hearst Castle, which embodies every idealised notion of a European castle, since it incorporates a pastiche of numerous architectural styles, as well as sculptures, paintings, French furnishings and a Roman temple looted from the old continent. It's the early 20th-century creation of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. George Bernard Shaw claimed this is the way God would have built his house – if he'd had the money.
WHY HERE? The castle has glamorous associations; Hollywood's rich and famous once stayed for weekends. Plus it beats anything medieval by having a fabulous swimming pool and its own movie theatre.
BE ORIGINAL Hearst Castle is in San Simeon, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Open daily, entry from $32. See hearstcastle.org.
CARNIVAL IN BASEL
EXPECTED Buttoned-up bankers and straight-laced Calvinists.
SURPRISING Carnival might normally be associated with Latinate cities such as Rio or Venice, but the Swiss equivalent Fasnacht is just as lively, and nowhere more so than Basel, where it features two big parades, music concerts and a wonderful show of lanterns. Costumed partygoers roam the city centre and brass bands oompah into the wee hours.
WHY HERE? Drummers, piccolo players, strange-sounding music, multi-coloured costumes and a downtown that erupts in merriment all prove the Swiss can let their collective hair down. Fasnacht has traditions dating back to medieval times, including a masquerade and dance of death that provides a melancholy note to the joyous celebrations.
BEACHES IN DOWNTOWN BERLIN
EXPECTED Concrete in a city 200km from the coast.
SURPRISING Golden sands, deckchairs under jaunty parasols, potted palm trees and reggae-playing cocktail bars: welcome to summer on the Spree riverbanks. Berlin has numerous artificial beaches, including Oststrand (oststrand.de), Capital Beach near the train station, one behind Hamburger Bahnhof art museum and another by the floating Badeschiff.
WHY HERE? Urban beaches are a worldwide trend, but Berlin's scene remains one of the best. It isn't just for suntans and swimming but for socialising at many bars such as family-friendly Yaam (yaam.de), techno-pumping Club Der Visionaere (clubdervisionaere.com) or easy-going Strandbar Mitte (monbijou-theater.de), with its samba dance evenings.
BE ORIGINAL Berlin's urban beaches unfold between May and September. Many are free, but you may have to rent deck chairs. See visitberlin.de.