The Rhine leading the blind: A blindfolded walking tour in Cologne, Germany

To prove that travel and urban exploration need not be limited to mere sightseeing, and can provide a rewarding multi-sensory experience, one man has introduced blindfolded walking tours to the German city of Cologne.

Axel Rudolph created Blindwalk in order to lead sightseeing tours that do not actually involve sight. Wearing snugly fitting sleep masks, and clasping the backpack of the person in front of them, up to six participants are lead by a tour leader like a group of helpless ducklings or third graders on a field trip through Cologne’s historic city center. This may sound like a recipe for disaster, with tourists stumbling over cobblestones and curbs while being assaulted by honking cars and exhaust fumes. But Rudolph believes that by foregoing our reliance on our eyes, our other senses are accentuated and we can appreciate the nuances of city life that are normally overlooked. The sounds of chirping birds or a passing train; the feel of a breeze blowing off the Rhine River and the cool, damp stonework of the Cologne Cathedral; the smells of coffee and Kölsche beer being brewed. As the tour members slowly grow accustomed to this unseen world, the city can be appreciated in an entirely new way.

Participants in Rudolph’s tours have almost universally embraced these walks, with very few people “cheating” by lifting up their blindfolds. The tours, which include a picnic and wine-tasting (all enjoyed blindly, of course) cost 35 Euros. If you understand German, or don’t mind using Google Translate, check out their web site for more details.

Emirates Airlines to build cable car across London’s Thames River

The skyline of London is already studded with iconic landmarks – the London Eye, the (leaning tower of) Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral. But now, Dubai’s Emirates Airlines wants to contribute to this vista by paying for the installation of the UK’s first urban cable car.

The £60 million ($93 million) project, of which Emirates will pay £36 million in a 10-year sponsorship deal, will be completed and open to the public in the summer of 2012, in time for the London Olympics. The Air Line, as the cable car is appropriately named, will span the Thames River in south London, connecting the ExCel London convention center and the O2 Arena, two future Olympics venues. At capacity, the cable car will be able to transport 2,500 riders via 34 gondolas along the one kilometer route.

So, in less than one year’s time, if you don’t mind participating in an enormously expensive advertising campaign, you will have one more option to experience spectacular views of London.

Take a peek behind the city’s locked doors during Open House New York weekend

One of the most eagerly anticipated events in New York (well, at least by me) is happening during the weekend of October 15 and 16. Open House New York, now in its ninth year, offers public admission to city sites normally off-limits. Hundreds of venues across the five boroughs, representing locations of historical, cultural, architectural, or religious significance, will throw open their doors and provide admittance and tours to curious visitors.

Some of the participating venues are normally open to the public, but on this weekend will provide specially-tailored tours and behind-the-scenes access. For example, you can walk along a closed-off section of tourist favorite elevated park the High Line; explore the Chrysler Building’s art deco lobby with an architectural historian; or peek behind the curtains at Lincoln Center with the design team responsible for transforming the performance space.

Other opportunities will unlock doors to venues never seen by the public. Check out, among many, many other listings, a blacksmithing forge in Brooklyn, a wooden shipbuilding studio in the Bronx, a Freemasons’ lodge, artist studios, and private homes.

Visit their web site to see how you can pack your weekend poking around unexplored corners of the city. Many venues anticipate crowds and long lines, and some require on-line reservations, so be sure to plan ahead.

[Photo credit: Flickr user H.L.I.T.]

Extreme hot-tubbers suspend Jacuzzi from Swiss bridge

I have a friend in Michigan who lives in a house with an outdoor hot tub which has never been used. He believes that it simply isn’t worth the effort of filling it, cleaning it, and maintaining it. Clearly, my friend would be persona non grata with the members of the Jacuzzi Association.

The Jacuzzi Association (or l’Association Jaccuzzi) is an informal Swiss non-profit dedicated to fostering its members’ creativity and sense of camaraderie through extreme hot-tubbing. The group designs and builds their own hot tubs which they then place in some of the most precarious and unlikely spots. In the past, they have hosted Jacuzzi parties on top of a frozen lake, at the bottom of a cave, in a parking spot in downtown Geneva, and at the summit of Mont Blanc. That last feat required 20 participants each hauling 45 pounds of specialized gear in a pre-dawn ascent in order to enjoy an 100-degree bath on the Alpine peak.

Not to be outdone by past accomplishments, the Association recently threw their most logistically demanding pool party on the Gueuroz Bridge, in Switzerland’s Valais region, on October 1. More precisely, they built the hot tub under the bridge, on a specially designed platform hanging by wires attached to the bridge 150 feet above. Potential hot tubbers had to then rappel down to the platform, suspended 450 feet above the gorge below.

If you have the urge to bathe in unusual locations, and possess the right combination of courage and love of the absurd (not to mention a basic understanding of French), check out their web site for membership information.

[Photo credit:]

Tour operator Gap Adventures forced to change name after losing lawsuit to The Gap

Since 1990, Toronto-based Gap Adventures has been known for their adventurous, active, and immersive group tours, as well as their commitment to sustainable tourism and contributing back to the community. One thing Gap Adventures will no longer be known as, however, is, well, Gap Adventures.

American clothes retailing behemoth The Gap filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the Canadian outfitters, claiming they unfairly made use of the word “gap,” thereby confusing consumers and achieving an undeserved level of success. Unfortunately for Gap Adventures, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the United States District Court in Manhattan agreed. Rather than appeal this decision, and thus spend millions in legal fees and years tied up in court, Gap Adventures’ CEO Bruce Poon Tip relented and accepted the lower court’s ruling. So from now on Gap Adventures will now be known as G Adventures.

Gap Adventures, sorry, G Adventures has long been a favorite among backpackers and other independent-minded travellers who would normally never consider booking an organized trip. Similar to Australia-based Intrepid Travel, they eschew the tour buses and cattle herd-like trappings of the traditional package tour, instead relying on local transportation, homestays, and authentic experiences. G Adventures will continue to offer trips dedicated to off the beaten path and responsible travel, albeit now under a much more generic moniker. Poon Tip hopes that along with the new name will come a renewed effort to market the company’s offerings to U.S.-based travelers.

So if you ever sought out to purchase a pair of cargo shorts and instead ended up on a river boat down the Amazon, I guess you now know who you can blame.

[flickr image via Anthony Lui]