Well it’s Sunday, and talked about my favourite cities and other places regularly, and I wanted something a bit different to write about, and then I thought – ‘weird’ – I must have travelled to some pretty weird destinations in my life. What did I find out there that left me feeling it was, well, pretty strange? Didn’t have to be a city – although it could be – but just something that I guess tickled me as a bit offbeat, different, or…. WEIRD. So anyways, I had a think, and here’s the list that I came up with!
Well, this one had to be included, didn’t it? The City of Marble, modelled and dreamt up by the first leader after the Soviet Union, known as ‘Turkmenbashi’. I have to admit, I wasn’t as ‘weirded-out’ by Ashgabat as I thought I would be when I planned to go there, and I put that down to expectations. I knew what I would see there before I went. And I was on a controlled tour as well, being driven around. When you are left to you own devices, things can seem weirder.
Nevertheless, a city where drivers get fined if their car isn’t sparkling clean and white or silver, a city built on ego and spending at will with more marble than any other city in the world, with an encased Ferris Wheel, monuments left, right and centre, and roads and roads of marble apartment buildings with few occupants, is going to qualify as ‘other-worldly’ at the very least! And there is without a doubt a very eerie feeling when you are out and about in Ashgabat.
The World of Sardines, Lisbon
A quick one here. Who thought that sardines could be so popular that they could have an entire store dedicated to them. In fact, there’s more than one but my eye was first brought to see this shop in Central Lisbon. Like something from many years ago, this shop had something sort of ‘music hall’ about it, a little bit of sardine-themed ‘Vegas’ in the heart of the Portuguese capital. All sorts of sardine souvenirs, including sardine-shaped chocolates which we just hoped didn’t have actual sardines inside. A spot for a selfie, a little movie, it was truly… something else!
The Bund Tunnel and Pudong Skyline, Shanghai
So, this might surprise a few people. Actually I found there was something odd in general about Shanghai, I’m probably the only person to think so but it is a funny place in my mind, with so many different parts to it that are just totally different from each other, from downtown to the French Quarter, and then you have the river walk and the Bund Tunnel.
The Bund Tunnel is like an amusement ride I guess, a sort of underground cable car that takes you from the main side of Shanghai under the Huangpu River to the Pudong side. You look across at Pudong and you can’t help but wonder what decade it is, because elements of it including this strange tower with a sphere in it have a very 1970s feel to it.
And then you ride the Bund Tunnel with it’s lightshow, music and narration. It’s just frankly bizarre and seems to serve no purpose. I mean it’s not that impressive, but it is slow. I read about it when I was in Shanghai and knew it was something I wanted to try out. But all I was left with was the feeling of ‘huh’.
So this probably was weird for me because frankly I arrived in Togo’s capital of Lome not knowing a single thing about the city. For a capital, Lome is a pretty small city, but then Togo is a pretty small country. Already we are talking about a place which isn’t frequented by a lot of visitors, and most of them are either African from neighbouring countries, or French. But actually, all in all Lome was the most pleasant of the West African capitals I stopped in.
It mixes a bit of colonial buildings with 1970s’ modernist structures, and that’s what made Lome weird to me I think because I just didn’t expect it. In the 1970s there was an oil boom for Togo, and as countries tend to do, they used the money to try and make their capital look special. Today the boom is long gone but the buildings remain, some with domes, chrome coloured windows, and oddly shaped facades. They are very much of the time, but they are the largest and most noticeable buildings in Lome. Today they are generally homes to banks and financial institutions. Meanwhile, life goes on, the kids play soccer and the men play Ludo. Yes Ludo – the board game. Why that should be popular in West Africa, I haven’t the slightest notion.
The Big Pineapple, Australia
On Australia’s Sunshine Coast, a region where indeed, they grow many a pineapple, is one that stands out above all else, the BIG Pineapple. It’s 16 metres high and located on a plantation you can visit (and from memory – I was a kid – take a little toy train ride around) and believe it or not is one of the main symbols of the Sunshine Coast.
But it’s not just the pineapple – Australia likes strangely oversized attractions. There’s the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, a Big Ram in Goulbourn, and even a big Koala in Daswells Bridge, Victoria. Why if I could I might just set off on a ‘Big Things’ tour of Australia. But right now that’s not possible! But yes, we like our ‘big things’ here, and frankly there’s something a little weird about that.
Oh, you’ll no doubt think of Astana as ‘NurSultan’, but to me it will always be ‘Astana’. Finally, the city that really would probably weird anyone out. Unlike Ashgabat, I could travel around freely without guide in the Kazakh capital, and I won’t ever forget the weird collection of strange and different buildings I saw here.
It’s weird enough that it’s located where it is – in the middle of nowhere. Like Ashgabat, not that many people live in Astana, it feels like it’s waiting for them to arrive. The restaurants were quiet, as were the streets and waiting for a bus took ages. But there’s an old part to the city, when it was called something else, a part that is very Soviet with pipelines above the ground, some thin, some big, crumbling buildings waiting to be demolished to fit into this grander plan. Another city the vision of a President, this time Nursultan Nazarbayev (do you see where the new name comes from?), who employed British architect Norman Foster to design things like the Palace of Peace and Accord – a giant glass pyramid, amongst others.
There’s the Byoterek, a giant lollipop tower where you can good views of the city, and two giant gold samovars. The President’s Palace isn’t to be sneezed at, and the Khan Shatyr Shopping Complex is this sort of tent, with a roller coaster at the top. Nothing seems to go together, it’s all over the top and then you struggle to get around because taxis are hard to find and the bus system is infrequent. I do hope to return to Astana one day and give an update on its progress and if it’s changed at all. And to see if there are any new buildings that weren’t there in 2011.
So – what weird things are left for me? Please tell me! Comment below and if there is something I should see, well, point me to it!