Budapest: Central European playtime
The wooden box must be torn apart Jenga-style, each block pulled out in a set order to free the remote control inside. Once released, random button-pushing makes the vacuum cleaner on the table roar into life, sucking the plastic bag through a tiny hole inside the locked cabinet. In the bag is a key — that’s another part of the puzzle solved.
Parapark in Budapest kicked off the mushrooming trend for room-escape experiences. The idea is simple: you’ve an hour to get out from a locked basement by solving puzzles. Teamwork is key — sometimes two people must trigger an event, simultaneously, on opposite sides of the basement to progress — and the time constraint creates real intensity; bursting through that exit door with seconds left on the clock is the cue for hysterical whooping.
Dingy basements aren’t the only places to play games in Budapest, though — Széchenyi thermal baths always seem to have a sizeable contingent of chess-playing old men willing to take on all-comers in the shallows.
How to do it: Parapark group entry from £21; Széchenyi thermal baths from £10.50 per day. Return from Manchester with Ryanair from £41. Two nights at Hotel Eurostars Budapest Center from £60 per person.
Seville: Tapas trawl
Through a forest of hams hanging from the ceiling, Casa Moreno’s kitchen comes into view. It consists of a toasting machine, and nothing else. The cuisine on offer is basically different types of dead pig, with toasted bread and maybe a smidgeon of cheese. But by heavens, it’s perfect.
This wouldn’t be an obvious starting point for a gourmet exploration of Seville — it looks like a nondescript backstreet general store — but Shawn Hennessy knows better. She casts a rigorous eye over Seville’s tapas scene via her food blog, and runs tasting tours. Next is family-run Bodeguita Romero. “It’s all comfort food home-cooking,” says Shawn. “By law, you must have the pringá. Once you’ve had this here, you won’t want a pringá anywhere else.” It’s a sandwich stuffed with pork, chorizo and black pudding… and she’s right — the fat soaks majestically into the bread.
But the tapas mission isn’t limited to old-school spots. At hip — and rammed — Eslava, out come the honey-glazed ribs, egg-topped mushroom cake, and a cuttlefish ‘cigar’ with squid ink inside. The full-on experimental phase of the tapas trawl is go…
How to do it: Shawn Hennessy’s tasting tours from €60 (£42) per person. Budget an extra €20-30 (£14-£21) for food along the way. azahar-sevilla.com/tapas-tours Return from Stansted with Ryanair from £58. Two nights at Hotel América Sevilla, £43 per person.
London: Cultural freebies
Well, this is fantastically grisly. A scorpion has been dissected to show its nervous system. An ox’s brain has had its bloody vessels injected with dye to make them more prominent. Then comes the infant kangaroo taken from its mother’s pouch and the procession of human skulls.
One of the less well-known of London’s free museums The Hunterian Museum, at The Royal College of Surgeons is a godsend for anyone who loves gawping at body parts in jars.
So while hotels may cost an arm and a leg, a couple of days rattling through cultural attractions can be remarkably cheap. Hours can be spent at the big museums without risk of boredom, or even coming close to seeing the whole collection. The British Museum’s prodigious colonial pilfering spans the globe, the Natural History Museum is like a zoo for stuffed animals, the V&A does design and fashion peerlessly, while the Science Museum is all gurgling volcanos, space and the Big Bang. And that’s before you come to the Imperial War Museum, National Gallery, Museum of London and the quirkier small fry.
Berlin: History walk
One of the paving slabs on Bernauerstasse turns out to be a memorial, engraved with the name Rudolf Urban and the date he died: 17 September 1961. One of hundreds killed trying to get to the west side of the Berlin Wall; in his case, sliding down a rope from his first-floor apartment.
Many such stories are told on signs along Bernauerstrasse, alongside surviving fragments of the wall that once divided a city, plus murals depicting escape attempts, and friends and family waving to each other across the divide.
There were, in fact, two parallel walls: one on the border; another 100 metres inside East Berlin; a ‘death strip’ inbetween was guarded by machine guns and dogs. Few made it across alive.
The 96-mile Berlin Wall Trail, which skirts the perimeter, offers fascinating insights. Between Kreuzberg and Treptow, for example, a canal became the death strip. At Nordbahnhof station, an exhibition reveals the Wall even extended underground, with trains passing nonstop through ‘ghost stations’ in East Berlin. Then there’s the train driver who ploughed through the barricades to a new life in the West.
Leeds: Weekend at the cricket
The Beefeaters rise up and burst into a rousing rendition of God Save The Queen. All around, the jockeys, bananas, airline pilots and Big Birds stand to join in.
This happens every 20 minutes or so, when the Queen returns to the stand with a new pint.
It’s not the real Queen, of course — it’s doubtful she’d choose to sit in Headlingley’s notoriously raucous Western Terrace, where fancy dress and impossibly long ‘beer snakes’ — made from empty plastic beer cups — are the norm.
It’s such silly distractions — whether in Leeds or any other host city around the world — that go a long way to making a day at a Test match so utterly pleasant. Even without the occasional outbreak of top-level sport, it’s a day in the balmy sunshine among a generally knowledgeable and good-humoured crowd, with beer flowing from the bars and little earpiece radios so you can listen to the radio commentary.
The feeling at the end of the day is generally similar to that after being on a boat on a sunny day — a relaxed, blissful contentment.
How to do it: The cheapest advance tickets at Headingley are a surprisingly reasonable £30.
Read more in the October 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)