Europe's April Fools
In honor of April Fool's Day, here's a roundup of some of Europe's stranger sights and experiences.
|The "Barbary Apes" of Gibraltar are waiting to monkey around with you.|
Everyone knows you can play hide-and-seek with Scotland's Loch Ness monster, but did you know you can monkey around Gibraltar, at the tip of Spain? The Rock is home to about 200 "Barbary apes" (actually, tailless monkeys). Although cute, keep your distance and beware their kleptomaniac tendencies; they'll ignore the peanut in your hand and claw after the full bag in your pocket. Legend has it that as long as the apes remain in Gibraltar, so will the Brits.
In Switzerland's Bern, join the local merchants, students, and carp in the Berner Swim, a lunchtime float down the Aare River. The Bernese, proud of their health and their clean river, have a wet tradition. On hot summer days, they hike upstream five to 30 minutes and float back down to the excellent (and free) riverside baths and pools (Aarebad) just below the Parliament building. While the locals make it look easy, this can be dangerous — the current is swift. If you miss the last pole, you're history. If the river is a bit much, you're welcome to enjoy just the Aarebad pools.
Salzburg's 17th-century Hellbrunn Castle offers another way to get soaked. The attractions here are a garden full of clever trick fountains and the sadistic joy the tour guide gets from soaking tourists. At the touch of a button, paths (and pedestrians) get doused and benches turn into fountains. It's silly fun, especially with kids or on a sunny day. (€8.50, www.hellbrunn.at)
Rome's St. Ignazio church is a riot of Baroque illusions. As you walk into the church, admire the dome. Keeping your eyes on the dome, walk under and past it. It's false. The flat roof has been skillfully painted to look like a dome. When the church was built, a nearby monastery didn't want its light blocked by a huge dome. (Free, daily 7:00–12:30 & 16:00–19:00.)
|Rome's Pyramid was built during one of those times when Egypt was trendy — over 2,000 years ago.|
Rome has another unusual sight: a pyramid. If you haven't been to Egypt, here's your next best stop. Built in 12 B.C. as a tomb for the Roman Gaius Cestius, the pyramid is about 90 feet tall, and was later incorporated into Rome's city wall (free, viewable any time, Metro: Piramide).
London's Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum is a hit with aficionados of tea or coffee. This small museum passionately tells the story of each drink. The owner, Mr. Bramah, who comes from a big tea family, wants the world to know how the advent of commercial television, with breaks too short to brew a proper pot of tea, required a faster hot drink. In came the horrible English instant coffee. Tea countered with finely chopped leaves in tea bags and it's gone downhill ever since. (€4, www.bramahmuseum.co.uk).
Brussels' Manneken-Pis, a statue of a little boy urinating, is the mascot of this great Belgian city (apparently symbolizing the city's irreverence). You'll find this little squirt three blocks off the main square, La Grand Place. He'll probably be aiming through some clever outfit. By tradition, costumes are sent to Brussels from around the world. Cases full of these are on display in Brussels' City Museum.
Another corny sight in Brussels is the gigantic Atomium. Newly renovated, this giant silvery molecule — with escalators connecting the various "atoms," and a restaurant with a view in the top sphere — was the cheesy symbol of the 1958 Universal Exhibition held in Belgium.
In Paris, the Sewer Tour takes you along a few hundred yards of an underground water tunnel lined with interesting displays, well-described in English, explaining the evolution of the world's longest sewer system. If you lined up Paris' sewers they would reach beyond Istanbul. (€4, Saturday - Wednesday 11:00-16:00, located at Pont de l'Alma.)
Europe's odd sights offer a sense of balance to a traveler's perspective. Knowing that Paris, home of the stately Louvre, offers Sewer Tours makes this grand city seem less intimidating and more human.