5 Prisons for Law-Abiding Citizens

In this lull between fun summer TV like “True Blood” and the fall premieres of network television shows, many people have been binge watching the Netflix comedy, “Orange is the New Black.” Set at a women’s prison in Rockland County, New York, the series has generated new interest in jail. (From the outside, at least.) Here are five notable prison museums around the world with flexible visiting hours for an easy escape.

Alcatraz, San Francisco, CA
Built as an “inescapable” prison on an island off San Francisco, Alcatraz has had quite a few famous inmates, including Al Capone. The federal prison was closed in 1963 and has been a museum for several decades. In addition to the prison museum, it also has the country’s oldest lighthouse and a permanent exhibition on the historic Native American occupation. Tickets are a steep $30 and up per adult, but they include transportation, since you can’t make it off “the Rock” alive.Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA
Another stop on Al Capone’s “jail tour,” this Center City Philadelphia jail has been the set for several films including “Twelve Monkeys” and the Transformers sequel, and many TV shows about ghosts and jails. The self-guided audio tour (narrated by Steve Buscemi!) details the history of the prison, active from 1829 to 1969. Regular tickets are $14, and look out for special events; the Halloween Haunted House is especially popular.

Gestapo Headquarters and Pawiak Prison, Warsaw, Poland
Telling another part of the Holocaust, these two related historical sites in Warsaw show what it was like to be interrogated and imprisoned in the gruesome Nazi occupation. Part of the Polish city’s excellent collection of museums, they are free to visit and well-maintained, though very somber.

Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa
The isolation of the small island near Cape Town made it a fitting site for a leper colony, a military training station and a place for political prisoners. Nelson Mandela was the most famous of former inmates for 18 years; he was one of dozens imprisoned during apartheid. Tickets are about $22, including ferry transportation to and from the mainland, a bus tour of the island and “interaction” with a former prisoner. President Obama visited the island and museum this summer, and was “deeply humbled” by the experience.

Tuel Sleng, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The secret prison of Pol Pot, dictator of Cambodia in the 1970s and leader of the Khmer Rouge, Tuel Sleng is now a museum cataloging the genocide perpetrated there. The museum contains the 6,000 detailed photographs and records of inmates left by prison staff, though as many as 30,000 were said to have been detained, tortured and murdered there. The museum is preserved as it was found in 1979, and is an important site, along with the “Killing Fields,” documenting and memorializing the victims of this dark regime.

Would you visit a prison?

Melville – where to have fun in Johannesburg

On my recent trip to South Africa, I spent a day exploring various neighborhoods and finding out where to have fun in Johannesburg. There was so much I didn’t know I didn’t know about Johannesburg, like the fact that gold was mined there for 90 years, evidenced by the enormous mountains of unearthed yellow sand, most of which to this day are still waiting to be removed. Or, that the Dutch East Indies Company scooped up land there to plant lemon trees and other fruits and vegetables so their ships could stop there and pick up supplies to thwart scurvy. The biggest meteorite ever recorded landed just 60 miles south of Johannesburg, and last but not least, there’s this neighborhood called Melville where all the cool people hang out.

Johannesburg is home to a vast array of wealth and poverty “developing apart” to this day (“apartheid” means “developing apart”). For example, there is posh Sandton, where the wealthiest residents work and reside in gated mansions, and destitute Soweto, where the residents who don’t live in cobbled-together shacks squat in old factory worker dormitories called The Hostels and get in trouble regularly for stealing electricity from the streetlights. Like Los Angeles, the city is spread out and feels like a collection of independent communities — and you can’t really get from one to another without a car, as the buses never seem to come and even the taxi system is considered extremely sketchy. There is a train called the Gau which goes to the airport, but its stops are very limited at this point. I stayed in Sandton at The Saxon Hotel, a former residence-turned-hotel where Nelson Mandela famously wrote Long Walk to Freedom, but shopping at Gucci isn’t really my speed, so I asked around and then told my Abercrombie & Kent guide I’d like to spend some time in Melville, Johannesburg (among other places, but Melville was my favorite).

%Gallery-107956%If Johannesburg is LA, Melville is Silver Lake. Melville immediately struck me as artsy and cool, and I felt instantly at home in the comfortable, stylish restaurants and cafes with indie-rock vibes and friendly people of all colors. One of the first shops I spotted was a vintage clothing store — a good sign, as that’s an amenity which, in my book, is a cornerstone of any fabulous neighborhood — then a bookstore, a sushi place, and then Love Revolution, a cozy coffee shop with an educated hipster appeal. While Melville has some great bars, there’s no loud, scenester-y dance clubs which would attract the kind of crowd that might disturb the laid-back peace. As I wandered, I encountered a few locals selling souvenirs on the street, and while no one gave me the New York hassle, there were definitely a few vocal shoutouts offered free of charge. In other words, this neighborhood isn’t just cute restaurants and shopping for yuppies, it has a certain gritty, bohemian character.

If you find yourself in Johannesburg, I would highly recommend spending a Saturday or at least a meal in Melville, where you can get a proper (and nifty!) taste of life between the superlative worlds of Sandton and Soweto. Check out the gallery for a peek inside some of the most charming establishments; a mini tour of Melville, Johannesburg.

[Photos by Annie Scott.]

My trip to South Africa was sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

Daily Pampering: The Nelson Mandela Platinum Suite in South Africa

When you’re one of the most revered men in the world, your own suite at one of the top luxury hotels in the world is just part of the package that comes along with being you. In the spirit of sharing and world peace, however, this particular suite named after Nelson Mandela is available to the general public.

The intimate Saxon Boutique Hotel, Villas & Spa, located in Johannesburg, South Africa, features the Nelson Mandela Platinum Suite as its top tier accommodation. The 400-square-meter suite is located on the second level of the hotel, with access via a private elevator and/or staircase. The suite is decorated with sophisticated African flair, and consists of two inner-suites, a guest powder room, an open plan lounge and dining room, a fully equipped kitchen (with its own butler’s entrance).

Guests of the Platinum Suite are afforded complimentary round-trip airport transfer via a Mercedes sedan, and VIP assistance on arrival, including meet-and-greet at the airport via the diplomatic channel around passport control. In the suite, guests are treated to Champagne on a nightly basis, complimentary minibar with soft drinks, waters and a selection of beers, replenished daily. If that’s not enough, a housekeeper and butler are on hand to cater to your every whim.

The cost of this peaceful palance? Rates start at ZAR 35,000 per night – approximately $5,103 USD.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Ardeonaig: South Africa in Scotland

Tucked away in Loch Tay is Scotland‘s best-kept secret. Ardeonaig brings a touch of South Africa to the simultaneously rough and enchanting countryside, fusing two cultures that one would not expect to see interwoven. The resort offers only a couple dozen rooms, most of which are freestanding thatch-roofed cottages scattered across the property. Each is quite large, accommodating two with plenty of space, and the small accompanying patios give you a chance to soak in the crisp local air.

Every inch of Ardeonaig offers a glimpse into the life of owner and executive chef Pete Gottgens. The rooms are named for friends and family members, a nice alternative to the room numbers that we’ve come to expect. In the main building, large photographs from Gottgens’ childhood line the walls, along with original paintings by his sister. Several living room-style lounges are offered, where you can relax with an espresso or glass of wine. It’s about as far as you can get from traditional hotel chains.

To understand the essence of Ardeonaig, you have to look past the guestrooms and lounges and sit for a meal. Seating is available in two rooms, which are served by the same kitchen. Don’t look for a static menu: the contents change daily. Gottgens serves what is fresh, so he is constrained by availability – though when you see what he creates, it’s hard to imagine limits. Carefully planned meals reflect an expertise honed over decades. The lessons began when Gottgens was a teenager, leaving South Africa to wash dishes in Switzerland. He later left for London, where he refined his culinary skills and ultimately opened a series of restaurants – catching the attention of Nelson Mandela along the way. In fact, “chef,” as he is called, became the civil rights leader’s preferred chef in London and engaged him to prepare meals for various official events.


Gottgens, while in London, would disappear to Perthshire, when possible, to fish in the quiet surroundings afforded by the Scottish countryside. One day, he flipped through real estate listings – with no particular plans to act – and saw an ad for a vacant hotel. On a whim, he decided to take a look … and fell in love. Another bidder beat him for the property, but it only took three months for the buyer to become seller. Chef scrounged the down payment, hoping to satisfy the difference through operations (which, fortunately, he was able to do).

While every aspect of the guest experience is a priority, the kitchen is understandably Gottgens’ domain. He appears in alleys in the dark hours of the morning to meet fishermen and their latest catches. What they bring to tk is what comprises the menu. A local hunter who carries hares to the back door defines the evening meal.

The one constant at Ardeonaig is the wine. Lifelong relationships give Gottgens access to small batch wines that are hard to come by. Because of this, pairing is difficult. Unlike most chefs, he’s happy to alter his style to match the wine, “respecting the effort” that has already been bottled. The wine is already there, he says, so it only makes sense for him to consider it when he sets to work.

For at least one meal, dine at the chef’s table, situated in the immaculate kitchen. Gottgens is more than happy to showcase his team’s work as it occurs and hides nothing. The secret ingredients are the vast knowledge and profound energy that he brings to his craft. Neither can be replicated.

The kitchen closes when the last guest arrives, a rule that tk has imposed and by which he abides. From a hospitality perspective, Gottgens doesn’t want guests to arrive and go to bed hungry. He concedes, however, that there’s an economic reason, as well. “If you’re going to eat somewhere else or eat here, we’d rather have you eat here.”

When you’ve finished your evening meal – whatever the hour – you can walk to your cottage or be driven by a golf cart. Sensors turn the exterior lights on as you approach. Climb into your large, warm, soft, bed, and start to dream about what Gottgens will serve for breakfast.

[Photos thanks to Ardeonaig]

Cathedral of St. John the Divine, one of the world’s biggest churches

It’s a lovely thing when a Gadling reader posts a comment that leads us to another post. Such is the case with Moody 75’s comment “Dude, Manhattan has what is claimed to be the largest cathedral and Anglican church and third largest Christian church in the world” on my post “Temples and churches to visit in New York City.

Sure enough, Cathedral Church of St. John, The Divine is definitely one that I would like to see myself. From the picture, it looks familiar and perhaps I’ve passed by it on my way to somewhere else, but next time I’m in New York, I’m heading here.

First of all, its history is one that reflects the times and economic struggles. This is not a church that found easy funding at all junctures or has had enough people to build it over the years ever since the cornerstone was put in place in 1892. The Great Depression and World Wars 1 and 2 are only part of what has thwarted progress, although since it is the largest Anglican church in the world–and one of the world’s largest churches, one can make the point that there is tenacity and dedication at work here. Plus, the history reads like a Who’s Who. I’m impressed.

This is a church that seems to reflect aspects of American culture and because of its stature has attracted important people to speak here and perform such as Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Leonard Bernstein. Madeline L’Engle who died this past year, even set a novel in this cathedral.

Along with giving tours, the church offers concerts and performances to the community. The next one, January 13, is called “Let My People Go: A Service of Liberation.” There will be various performances and singing along with a talk in commemoration of the end of the transatlantic slave trade.