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October 31, 2011

Struth! Small guy with a big thirst


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that one of the most-photographed statues in Germany's famous Heidelburg Castle is not that of any celebrated member of the nobility, but of an Italian dwarf with a drink problem.

Officially born Pankert Clemens in Italy's South Tyrol, he made his way to Heidelberg where he sought work at the Castle around 1720, and on seeing his odd stature and behaviour, Prince Karl Philip of the Palatine appointed him Court Jester and Keeper of the Tun – then, and still now, the world's biggest wine barrel.

Clemens performed at countless royal events at the Castle, and was soon dubbed "Perkeo" after forever replying "perché no?" (Italian for "why not?") whenever asked if he wanted another glass of wine.

It's said that in his later years he lived on nothing but wine, drinking an alleged 5- to 10-litres or more a day .

When he fell ill close to his 80th birthday, the court doctor ordered him off the wine for at least a week, and to drink water in that time.

A protesting Perkeo reluctantly agreed – and died the next day.

 

October 22, 2011

Razor: Underbelly tour of the real Kings Cross

Kings Cross street scene from Underbelly Razor

by Nahrain John e-Travel Blackboard

A Sydney suburb that technically does not exist, a string of public murders with no witnesses and a hidden addiction to sex and drugs, the colorful yet dangerously thrilling past and present of Kings Cross comes to life as travellers near and far discover the Underbelly of the precinct.

Accor and Two Feet & A Heartbeat gathered a small contingent of travel professionals last night to explore the suburb made famous after its secrets hit the airwaves in Aussie TV show, Underbelly.

Exposing the mysteries that locals once took to their pre-mature graves, the walking tour disclosed details of the early 1900s prostitution leadership of Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine, the drug and alcohol control of Abe Saffron and the alleged current day underground activities of John Ibrahim.

Words like the Carousel Club, The Tunnel, Juanita Nielsen, the Venus Room and Donny the Glove will be forever engraved into a tour participant's mind as they digest the stories of the suburb and question its reality.


Darlinghurst Road at dusk (R Eime)
Tour guide and also a cast member in the current series of Underbelly Razor Kim Knuckey said the area has gone through many changes and explained that the increase in drugs and sex came with demand from the docks.

With up to 20,000 people living the suburb and up to 5,000 visitors stopping by he stressed that its underground activities do not make it any more dangerous than other precincts.

“People ask me how safe it is and it is as safe as anywhere else,” he explained.

“It’s probably not safe like any place after midnight and out front of pubs and bars where people can get a bit rowdy.”

See also: Underbelly Homepage at NineMSN

For details of the Underbelly Kings Cross Tour and the special ‘Crimes and Passions’ package, contact Mercure Sydney Potts Point on 02 9397 1777

October 17, 2011

Beijing's Weekend Market Offers Genuine Local Treasures

Panjiayuan weekend market is one of the best places to shop in China. Its history goes back to when traders from remote provinces brought goods old and new from all over China each weekend to sell and trade.
It became famous for its antiques, as people would bring in old pieces of ceramics, furniture, jewelry and other goods.

While its still a great place to shop, the antiques tend to be fake. Its also forbidden to export real antiques so you could get them taken off you at the airport.

Best to stick to newer and inexpensive goods. We find it’s a wonderful place to buy gifts and souvenirs for our friends at home. For $10 or $20 you can buy something quite unique (at least from an overseas perspective).

Most tour companies in China will take their clients to commission shopping markets where prices are fixed and they receive a big share of the price.

Things you find in the weekend market will be perhaps ten percent of the cost of buying the exact same thing in a commission tourist market with a bit of bargaining. If you are learning Chinese it’s a great place to get some practice, but if you don’t the vendors still know how to communicate using basic Engish.

The China Guide (www.TheChinaGuide.com) does not do any commission shopping, we just want you to have an honest and genuine shopping experience.

Thus the Panjiayuan weekend market is fit onto our itineraries as often as possible.

STRUTH! Oktoberfest Carnage


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that if you thought patrons at this year's Oktoberfest in Munich were pretty good at tossing down the amber stuff, they were anything than remiss when it came to getting stuck into the tucker as well.

This year's 6.9-million visitors drank their way through 7.5-million litres of beer, about half a million more litres than last year, and to go with it chomped down steaks and other cuts from 118-roasted oxen, 53-calves, thousands of roast chickens, truck loads of pork knuckles, and pork sausages whose consumption was counted in the tens of thousands each day.

But revellers who came from across Europe and as far away as the United States and Australia for the three weeks of the festival that's just ended, must have found all that beer and food a bit taxing on the memory: amongst 4570 items handed-in to the Lost & Found office were 1045 passports, 390 mobile phones, a walking frame, two un-matching crutches, a set of dentures – and a Viking helmet and 48 children.

"We are still trying to find owners for many of these items," a spokesman said a week after the festival closed. "But at least all the 48 children were claimed."

The history of Oktoberfest goes back 201 years to when Bavaria's Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen and invited the townspeople of Munich to join their wedding party on a public green called the Theresienwiesen, just outside the city centre.

Oktoberfest is still held there to this day, with fourteen massive beer tents – some holding up to 10,000 people – erected just for the occasion and dismantled straight after so that the green can revert to public use.

Next year's Oktoberfest will be held there from September 22 to October 7.



PRISON-BREAK EARNS CONVICT A PARDON



David Ellis

OUR early colonial governors usually gave convicts a ticket of leave as a reward for good behaviour, not one for breaking out of prison.

But such was the case with notorious Western Australia bushranger and serial jail-breaker, Joseph "Moondyne Joe" Johns.

Joe earned himself ten-years in England for stealing some bread, bacon and cheese with another man in 1848, and after several years in prison was transported to the penal colony of Western Australia.

He was granted an immediate ticket of leave on arrival, but soon after was arrested for stealing an unbranded stallion and branding it with his own mark. He broke out of his police cell, stole the horse again, killed it and cut the brand off the body to destroy the evidence against him – earning three more years for his efforts.

Joe was released early but was soon charged – wrongly he maintained until his death – with pinching a steer, and after being given another ten years absconded from a prison work party. After being re-captured once more, he was sentenced to twelve more months in irons – and after trying to cut the lock out of his cell door, yet another six months.

Joe then managed to slip his irons and with three other escapees staged numerous hold-ups on the roads around Perth and robbed a general store. When finally tracked down 300km north east of Perth, he got another five years on top of his many outstanding sentences.

And determined that he should not escape again, a special cell was built for him in Fremantle Prison – authorities showing it off to Perth's newspaper as "escape-proof, built of stone and lined with railway sleepers secured by 1000 nails."

So confident too was the-then State Governor, John Hampton that he jocularly told Joe in front of witnesses: "If you get out again, I'll pardon you."

But he'd underestimated Joe, who by now had been dubbed "Moondyne Joe" after a rugged bolt-hole he had to the north-east of Perth and where he collected occasional rewards for finding escaped cattle and horses.

To keep him occupied in Fremantle, he was put to work breaking a pile of stone next to the wall inside the prison grounds.

He worked assiduously under the watchful eye of a full-time guard, daily  piling-up the broken stone until the guard could see only his head, chest, and swinging arms and sledgehammer… and not realising that for every few blows at his rock pile, Joe was adding a blow at the prison wall. 

On March 7 1867 he made a last whack at the wall, dropped to his knees and crawled through a hole to freedom.

He remained free for almost two years, being re-captured in the most-bizarre circumstances: Dressed in a wheat sack with two empty 9-litre wine barrels tied to his chest and back, sheepskin-covered boots to hide his tracks, and with a canvas bag around his neck containing skeleton keys, a brass tap and a lantern, Joe broke into the Swan Valley's Houghton Winery to fill his two barrels with wine.

Unbeknown to him a team of police were searching nearby for a suspected drowning victim, and in the early hours of the morning the winery's manager, Charles Ferguson invited them to his cellars for a rewarding drink.

Mistakenly thinking he'd been ambushed, Joe made a dash for the door but was immediately grabbed. "You've got me at last," he shrugged, then asked Mr Ferguson: "Can you give me a drink, I've not had time to get one myself."

Mr Ferguson obliged before Joe was led away, a judge giving him yet another 12 months in irons on top of his earlier sentences.

But that was not the end for Moondyne Joe: he wrote a petition to new State Governor Frederick Weld, pointing-out Governor Hampton's promise to pardon him if he ever escaped again.

To his surprise – and the community's – Governor Weld granted him a ticket of leave.

Joe died of senile dementia in 1900, and to mark the night he was recaptured in their cellars, Houghton Wines have a range of wines called The Bandit with which to raise a glass to him.

They've also a function room and a gallery named after Moondyne Joe at their 175-year old (this November) Swan Valley winery.

 
 

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

 

[] MOONDYNE Joe: a rare photo of the colourful if notorious Western

   Australia bushranger and serial jail-breaker.

[] EXTRAORDINARY cell created specially to house Joe – built of stone and

   lined with railway sleepers secured by 1000 nails. 

[] HOUGHTON Wines "The Bandit" wines named after Joe.

[] MOONDYNE Gallery at Houghton's Swan Valley winery – it was here that

  Moondyne Joe was caught trying to pinch some wine.

 

(Photos: Houghton Wines)

 

TROOPSHIP’S DEATH A MINEFIELD OF STUPIDITY


David Ellis

WITH increasing Japanese activity in the South Pacific in late 1942, America had urgent need to bolster its base on the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu,) where it was readying for a massive assault on Japanese-occupied Guadalcanal.

And the quickest way to get its troops there was to commission the luxury 840-passenger cruise liner President Coolidge, and to jam more than 5000 men into hastily-created mass-dormitories.

Coolidge then sailed post-haste from San Francisco to Santo by way of New Caledonia. But although commissioned by the Army and carrying American troops and supplies that ranged from guns to Jeeps and food supplies, the ship was still a Merchant Marine vessel, under a civilian captain.

And so bizarrely her Master, Captain Henry Nelson was not given the most vital information about his final destination because it was considered Top Secret and therefore not for civilian eyes – and that was the lay-out of American mines in the channel leading into Santo's harbour to prevent any Japanese intrusion.

Thus on the morning of October 26 1942, Captain Nelson lined-up the President Coolidge at the entrance to Santo's Segond Channel, and fearful of Japanese submarines, moved his 22,000-tonne ship quickly towards the safety of the American's Navy buoys.

Minutes later the radio on Coolidge's bridge crackled into life from shoreside: "STOP! You are entering a…."

The rest of the warning message was drowned-out as a mine blasted a massive hole in Coolidge's hull at her engine room. Captain Nelson ordered instant full-astern – and this time a second mine blew a hole in Coolidge's stern.

The quick-thinking Captain Nelson then swung his ship towards shore, planning to beach her, but she ploughed up onto a hidden coral reef instead. Over 5000 troops and crew were ordered to abandon ship, slithering down ropes, nets and Jacob's Ladders hastily thrown overboard – being told to leave all possessions aboard for recovery next day after damage was assessed.

That next day never came. Just before 11am the once-proud luxury liner gave a violent death-shudder and slid backwards off the reef, rolling at the same time onto her port side and settling with her stern submerged in 70-metres of water and her bow in 20-metres.

It was an ignominious end for a ship that once-boasted a Musician's Gallery in the First Class Dining Room, the most opulent of guest cabins, lounges with marble fireplaces including above one an-almost priceless statue titled "Lady and a Unicorn," and one of two swimming pools even having an artificial sand beach.

Over 5000 men made it to safety but two went down with the Coolidge: Fireman Robert Reid was killed in the engine room in the first explosion, and US Army Field Artillery Captain Elwood J. Euart, who went back to the Coolidge after first escaping, rescued several injured men before being fatally trapped himself.  There is a memorial to him today onshore near the wreck.

After the sinking, America's Commander South Pacific, the bluff Admiral William "Bull" Halsey (who had been appointed to the post on arriving in New Caledonia just days before Coolidge sailed for Santo,) had Captain Nelson put before a Court of Inquiry charged with negligence. That Court recommended even further charges, but a subsequent Military Commission of Inquiry found Captain Nelson not guilty, saying that he "had not been given all available tactical information, most notably the placement of mines…"

An angry Halsey and the Navy Department referred Captain Nelson to a third investigation, this time by the Coast Guard, but it too absolved him and he was finally totally cleared of any blame.

President Coolidge is today one of the world's greatest wreck dives, with easy access to vast areas that are still littered with now-coral-encrusted cannons, guns, Jeeps, trucks, ship's furnishings, medical supply bottles, engine-room controls, hastily-abandoned personal items ranging from piles of troops' helmets to an officer's large upright typewriter – even Captain Nelson's bathroom hand-basin.

And that precious statue of the "Lady and a Unicorn" is still in place above the now-lopsided marble fireplace, while the wreck is also home to a myriad variety of reef fish, sea turtles and moray eels.

Travel agents have fly-and-stay packages to Santo that can include diving the Coolidge, or visit vanuatu.travel

                                                    …………………….



PHOTO CAPTIONS:



[] TROOPS wade ashore from the President Coolidge as she remains upright.

[] STILL escaping as Coolidge begins leaning to port before finally sinking just

   before 11am on October 26 1942

[] CORAL-encrusted cannons are amongst the myriad finds for divers on

   President Coolidge today.

[] ENGINE room controls are amongst other easily-found items of interest.

[] ADMIRAL William "Bull" Halsey had Coolidge's, Captain Henry Nelson put

   before three enquiries: he was absolved of any blame.



(Photos with thanks to Vanuatu Tourism Office)


Struth! Jersey cops by the dozen



Jersey.JPGIN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says the British Crown Dependency of Jersey in the English Channel has a population of 95,000 – and an amazing thirteen police forces.

It's because of a custom that goes back to the 13th century when the local people – a mix of British and French as the island is actually closer to France than England – first began appointing a voluntary Vingtenier (from the French vingt for twenty) to look after the safety of every twenty local households.

As the population grew and people were grouped into an eventual twelve parishes, each parish continued to appoint a growing number of Vingteniers who were given differing ranks from Constables-Officers up to their chief who is known as a Centenier.

Today each of the twelve parishes elects its own required number of these still-voluntary police for a period of three years to work on foot and mobile patrols, carry out speed checks, help with crowd control at major events, assist with missing persons enquiries, and are responsible for checking licenced premises and enforcing curfew times.

They are usually required to be on-call 24-hours a day for voluntary work one week a month, and even the thirteenth police force, the official States of Jersey Police consisting of 240 officers, cannot put a person before a magistrate without a parish Centenier being in court to jointly present the charges.


October 16, 2011

Air Cruising: 21st Century Flying Ships

The boutique-sized "Manned Cloud" will reintroduce the art of 'slow travel'
By Roderick Eime

With more and more attention focused on our lust for fossil fuels, exciting innovations have allowed us to revisit some early 20th Century technology – the mighty airship.

The Graf Zeppelin in 1927
While the disastrous Hindenberg explosion of 1937 effectively ended the glorious reign of the German zeppelins, the latest technology airships use inert helium and exotic material airframes to stay aloft. The modern hull shape is even designed to provide aerodynamic lift to the aircraft.

Now while designers are pre-occupied with massive craft to carry freight and mining equipment, the positive offshoot of this promising technology is the revival of that most romantic of luxury air travel, the passenger airship.

There is no debate about the massive resurgence in ocean cruising, so it follows that the slow travel formula can just as easily be applied to the air.

One alluring project is the so-called 'Manned Cloud", a flying boutique hotel proposed by Frenchman, Jean-Marie Massaud. Environmentally friendly, ultra-luxurious and styled to resemble an airborne whale, it is the equivalent of a luxury private yacht carrying 40 passengers at a speed of 130kmh. It will travel 5000 km (Sydney – Perth) in just 72 hours.

In 1927, the only round-the-world zeppelin flight was completed with Australian adventurer, Sir Hubert Wilkins aboard. The same airship, LZ127, made 144 ocean crossings carrying 13,110 passengers with a perfect passenger safety record. It seems reasonable that such a feat could easily be replicated with the significantly enhanced technology available today.

The massive Aeroscraft flying cruise
ship does not require a runway
One obstacle then as it is now is the cost. A one-way ticket across the Atlantic on Hindenberg in 1936 cost $400 – roughly $6000 today – for the 3-day journey. Prices would certainly be similar today, but remember some of the best boutique ships are already charging over $1000/day.

On a more cruise ship-like scale is the Aeroscraft, a 200m long behemoth capable of carrying 250 passengers from Sydney to Singapore at 280kmh in hotel comfort. The beauty of the Aeroscraft is that, as a vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) craft, it requires no runway. "You can land on the snow or you can land on the water," says designer Igor Pasternak. "It's a new vision of what can be done in the air."

Flightseeing with the massive
Aeroscraft flying cruise ship.
Unlike its dirigible ancestors, the Aeroscraft is not lighter than air. Its 400000 cubic metres of helium only hoist two-thirds of the craft's weight. The rigid and surprisingly aerodynamic body-driven by huge aft propellers generates enough lift to keep the mammoth airship and its 400 tonne payload aloft while cruising. During takeoff and landing, six turbofan jet engines assist.

Not surprisingly, cruise companies have expressed an interest in this concept which is tantalisingly close to realisation, however the company is likely to gain initial sales from heavy lift cargo and military applications before any luxury cruising airships appear.

Notwithstanding, the move to more responsible, relaxed travel is growing and airships consume a fraction of the fuel and produce a similarly meagre carbon by-product, it is only a matter of time before these graceful giants reappear above us.


October 08, 2011

Catalina Island: 26 Miles Across the Sea

Catalina postcard
by Roderick Eime, editor of Adventure Cruise Guide
“Twenty-six miles across the sea
Santa Catalina is a-waitin' for me
Santa Catalina, the island of romance
A tropical heaven out in the ocean”

When the Four Preps famous song hit the charts in 1958, no-one thought to actually check the measurement. It was just a song after all. So they were four miles out, no one seemed to care and the song has become an anthem for the eclectic paradise 22.3 measured miles from Long Beach.
However you look at it, Santa Catalina Island (or just Catalina) is certainly one of the more unusual cruise ship ports. It has a casino where gambling is banned, a herd of bison left behind after a film was shot, almost no cars and was a secret training base in WWII. The main town, Avalon has a Third Street but no First or Second Streets, the Post Office doesn't deliver the mail and the local cabs deliver for Avalon's pizzerias.
Archeologists reckon Catalina’s been inhabited for about 7000 years, but by the early 19th Century, the native Pimungans had died out or dispersed and the Spanish moved in, renaming it Santa Catalina in 1602. Smugglers, hunters, miners and ranchers ruled in waves until the 20th Century when Hollywood and the California glitterati took over, building the quaint holiday village that persists today.
Modern cruise ships at anchor off
Avalon Harbour
Located 22 miles (35km) offshore from Long Beach, one million tourists each year travel by ferry from the ports at Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point and it’s a regular and popular stop for several cruise lines. Carnival Paradise brings 2000 visitors every Tuesday and there are also occasional visits by Celebrity Millennium. Next year sees Carnival Inspiration and Celebrity Century. HAL’s Amsterdam and The World are also slated.
The little town of just over 3000 residents is like its own time-warp movie set and the island has a strong connection with Hollywood too. It’s been the setting for over 200 movies and associated with names like Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan, Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable, Doris Day, Natalie Wood (who drowned) and Phil Hartman (who was murdered), while top name musicians Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Harry James and Benny Goodman regularly played at the casino.
And while Catalina's Bird Park was once one of America's biggest with 8000 species in 500 cages covering 4ha, it was scaled down during WWII when the island was a troop base; and finally closed in 1966.
Avalon with classic steamers, SS
Catalina and SS Avalon
Contemporary postcard showing Avalon with classic steamers, SS Catalina and SS Avalon c.1930
From 1924 until 1975, the stalwart steamer, SS Catalina ran a regular service which included carrying 800,000 servicemen to and from the island during WWII. For many years she ran parallel to the 1891-built SS Avalon and the two made a fine pair of stately vessels. Sadly, what was left of the SS Avalon sank in 1964 after a fire and the SS Catalina followed her demise in 2010 when the remains of her abandoned hull was cut up for scrap.
Whether transported by the modern fast ferries or by cruise ship, most visitors will happily wander the streets, stopping by any of the 30-something cafes and bars - like the circa-1946 Marlin Bar, complete with period décor. The more active can cycle, swim, play golf or go on the wildlife eco-tour. For the aquatic guests there is sea kayaking, snorkelling or fishing plus there is even scuba diving with Scuba Luv for serious divers keen to explore the fascinating kelp beds just off the wall at the casino or one of the several wrecks such as the mysterious Ningpo, a former Chinese slaver and smuggling ship reputedly 200 years old when she went down.
For visitors looking for something to do a few days before or after a cruise, there are quality hotels like the superb Avalon Hotel or newly renovated Pavilion Hotel plus a host of B&Bs to choose from. A stay of a few days will allow anyone to really explore this unusual location and maybe take part of observe one of the upcoming events like the marathon or triathlon, fishing tournament, Halloween parade or Jazz festival. The fascinating museum is always paying tribute to the many celebrities who passed through this tiny island sanctuary.
For full details on Catalina Island, see the official site: www.catalinachamber.com

October 03, 2011

WHAT’S IN A NAME – IT’S ALL ABOUT MARKETING

ROTHENBURG: postcard-perfect street scene
David Ellis

WHERE would we be without the ubiquitous marketing men and women of this world?

To say you've surfed Ehukai Beach on the north shore of Hawaii's Oahu island doesn't sound nearly as exciting as boasting you've survived a tube on the Banzai Pipeline – even though Ehukai (it means 'sea spray') and Banzai are one and the same.

And what about Vanuatu? When the iconic cruise-liner Fairstar started visiting out-of-the way destinations in the 1970s, one of her stop-over's was a tiny, unoccupied island called Inyeug in the far south

The name Inyeug had little appeal to cruise lovers, so the ship's PR man at the time, Ron Connelly "renamed it" Mystery Island. Now its one of the best-known "mysteries" in the South Pacific.

So it was when travel wholesalers started selling guided tours of Europe in the 1950s and wanted a catchy phrase to describe a 350km stretch of road that wound its way through the centre of Germany.

THE town's famous Christmas stores are open year-round
It stretched from Würtzburg on the River Main down to Füssen on the Swiss border. Füssen is where Mad King Leopold's Neuschwanstein castle is located, the one that inspired Sleeping Beauty Castle in California's Disneyland in Anaheim.

Drawing on the beauty of the towns and villages through which it passed, the travel experts dubbed the road the Romantischer Strasse (Romantic Road).

It caught on instantly and tourism quickly boomed, especially in what is arguably the most beautiful of all the settlements, Rothenburg ob der Tauber ('Red town overlooking the Tauber River'.)

Before the coining of the name Romantic Road, Rothenburg still had a country air about it, with the occasional cow or sheep wandering along its cobbled alleyways.

Not today. Although the buildings in the walled township still look like something out of a mediaeval fairytale, the majority of them have been turned into mini-museums, hotels and gift shops.
        
And it's probably one of the few places in the world boasting stores that sell nothing but Christmas decorations the whole year round, and which follows-on from the fame of the town's December Christmas market (Christkindelmarkt).

INYEUG Island in Vanuatu no longer a
mystery now that it's called Mystery Island
People who couldn't make it to Rothenburg in December to wander through the market while sipping gluhwein, the hot spiced red wine that the Germans drink in the lead-up to Christmas, felt cheated. So the Käthe Wohlfahrt company stepped into the breach and opened two specialty stores that sold Yuletide decorations 52 weeks of the year, shipping them to whatever part of the globe tourists came from.

Today many smaller shops also sell similar Christmas decorations year-round in Rothenburg.

One of the best ways to get the feel for the town is to take a walk around the top of its perimeter walls and climb some of its massive towers. The tourist authorities offer local historians as guides. And after dark there is an especially entertaining walking tour led by Rothenburg's so-called mediaeval 'night watchman'.

There are several festivals, the most famous in September when the town stages its Master's Draught Festival. This commemorates an incident in 1631 when the townsfolk were saved from death by the mayor who accepted a challenge from invading troops to drink more than 3-litres of wine in one gulp. Straight down the hatch! And yes, it can be done – in fact every day of the festival the locals will show you how.

HAWAII'S Banzai Pipeline: conjures up
more thrills than saying you've surfed Ehukai Beach.
There's also a crime and punishment museum with displays of such torture instruments as the iron maiden, finger-screws, the rack, and a steel cage complete with the metal gag that was once clamped onto a hapless victim's tongue.

There is also St Jakob's church with an ornate altar, the work of Tilman Riemenschneider, a famous sculptor and woodcarver. It is known as the Heilige Blut Altar (Holy Blood Altar) and allegedly houses a drop of the blood of Jesus Christ. No one can explain how it hasn't evaporated during the intervening 2000+ years…..
        
And make sure you try out a local delicacy – Schneeball. As its name (snowball) suggests, it is a round, doughnut-like cake. In mediaeval times it was a made with left-over dough and powdered with sugar to make it palatable. These days it is a dainty tidbit, often covered with chocolate or caramel.

As the locals would say, Mahlzeit!


Struth! Clam Coke an Open and Shucked Case


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says that when US Customs and Border Protection officers at Washington Dulles International Airport did a random search of a  bag belonging to a visitor from El Salvador, they didn't quite expect what was inside.

Because amongst everything else was a plastic package containing eighty clams.

That alone was enough to have them asking questions, but they had even more when they found that fifteen of the clams couldn't be opened – because they had been super-glue shut.

And the reason? When they x-rayed and finally managed to open the suspicious fifteen, they allegedly found not clam meat, but instead small plastic packages of cocaine inside each one.

The bag's owner has been charged with attempting to smuggle 152 grams of cocaine with a street value of US$10,000 into the United States.

A Customs and Border Protection agent told newspapers: "Its certainly one of the oddest smuggling attempts we've seen…"

Which is saying something, considering past hauls have included cocaine packed into statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, stuffed with giblets into frozen chicken carcasses and mixed-in with powdered soups.

They have also confiscated 40kg of sheep meat in one man's suitcase, fourteen giant African snails in another's, elephant tails in one person's backpack, and a dried hedgehog in another, and heroin soaked into a pair of a woman's legwarmers.

It makes the-once-considered risqué stuffing of illicit concoctions into women's bras seem pretty ordinary.