I’m the proud owner of the complete Poirot DVD box set. It’s pretty addictive watching a moustachioed David Suchet (as Hercule Poirot) solving crimes with his little grey cells in overdrive. However, I’m under no illusions that real crime is anywhere near as neatly solved as Agatha Christie would have us believe.
Whilst Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime is Poirot-less, it does contain more than enough genuine artefacts and stories to keep whodunit fans in suspense. I’d already read crime writer Val McDermid’s book (of the same title), which acts as the official companion to the exhibition, so I had an inkling about some of the displays and their place in the history of forensics. If you haven’t already bought the book and don’t have time to read it beforehand, try to get your hands on a signed copy from the Wellcome shop.
You want the truth? Not everyone goes on holiday to relax (though mainstream travel adverts might try to persuade you otherwise). Sure, it’s nice enough to do nothing for a few days, but soon the novelty wears off.
Instead of waiting for boredom to set in, take things up a gear and do more of what you love, surrounded by people with the same mad passion for music, media or history as you. I’ve lined up a shortlist of specialist holidays to keep you on your toes.
Capture New Orleans with National Geographic Expeditions
This photo workshop puts you in the midst of effortlessly cool New Orleans, led by Tyrone Turner, a National Geographic photographer. From your base in the French Quarter you’ll visit Jackson Square, Café du Monde, and one of the city’s famous cemeteries, in between attending workshops and getting to know the nightlife scene. In 2015 there are four different departure dates for the trip, and prices start at $1,595pp ( £1059pp at the current exchange rate) without a hotel, or $2,175 (£1444pp) with a hotel, based on two people sharing.
The Portuguese capital is associated with WWII spies and dimly lit cobbled streets, but at face value it would seem to be missing the deadly undertones of cities like Paris (bloody revolution, catacombs, the Père Lachaise Cemetery) or London (plague pits, the Great Fire, Jack the Ripper).
As with most major cities, there are the inevitable ghost stories associated with Lisbon, and the ghost tours that go hand in hand; it would be naive to say that death doesn’t have a global entertainment value. Last year there was even a play called Dark Tourism, devised by local dance and drama group Silly Season, staged in a theatre on Rua Garrett. But if you want something more concrete, more respectful, there are plenty of options – you just have to know where to find them.
Imagine a cemetery where the decor mirrors the state of the city surrounding it; imagine elegant plinths crumbling away and rusting railings guarding them. This is the reality of Cementerio Colon, a sprawling 140 acre site in the Vedado district of Havana, where the lines of graves are so long that there are actual streets carving up each section.
There’s as much decay here as in the city centre, but there’s also a sense of belonging, with the tributes left to loved ones being much more personal and emotional than anything you’d encounter back in the UK. Yet many of the graves are poorly maintained because the relatives left behind have escaped Cuba and managed to emigrate elsewhere, leaving some corner of the cemetery to fall into obscurity in their absence. This is what I found when I spent a morning inside the gates…
There’s no better way to spend New Year’s Day than in the company of thousand-year-old mummies, their well-preserved bodies having survived the greed of looters and centuries of exposure to the elements at the Chauchilla Cemetery. Well, it’s at least a more poignant start to January 1st than I’ve ever enjoyed before, albeit with the familiar thump of a hangover, this time from Peruvian wine, lurking in the background.
Throughout my sixteen days in Peru, I was struck by the resurgence of death as a theme, even away from the obvious attractions such as the cemeteries and pilgrimage sites. I found it time and again on the roadside, on the painfully dated telenovelas screened on daytime TV, and in the religious iconography covering everything from portraits to jewellery. Here I’ve examined some of the best examples of the theme emerging.
“This place gives me the creeps,” said the American tourist next to me. “It’s so ghoulish. Don’t you agree?”
Let’s just say I didn’t. The Sedlec Ossuary, situated an hour’s train ride from Prague in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kutna Hora, was one of my main reasons for visiting the Czech Republic. This is the world-famous resting place for some 40,000 bodies, arranged artistically by a wood carver, at the orders of a local family back in 1870.
As the centenary of the Great War approaches, it’s fair to say that things are already hotting up on the tourism and publicity front.
Whilst I unfortunately missed the WWI talk at World Travel Market last year, due to clashes in my schedule, I did manage to pick up some poppy seeds from the Visit Flanders area and I will be planting them (despite my not-so-green fingered gardening ‘abilities’) in an effort to bring a part of this very real, global event home – I think that offering poppy seeds is a great marketing tool, but also a really personal way to get people involved. After all, the Great War was something that touched the lives of normal citizens and changed the future and fortunes of a whole generation.
This week’s #TTOT (The Travel Talk on Twitter) chat topic is one that is very close to my heart: ‘Dark Tourism’. Regular readers will know that, not only does my blog name relate to all things deadly, but much of my content does too – in fact, I’ve only just enjoyed a Death and Debauchery tour of London, which opened my eyes to some of the tragic and traumatic stories that the city has to tell. Less recent exploits have included exploring Boston’s Granary Burial Ground, the wreck of the Mary Rose in Portsmouth and the Memorial to the German Resistance in Berlin.