Rough Guides author Steve Vickers takes a look at the latest travel news and weirdness, including a new, Ferrari-branded theme park and the rise of virtual tourism.
No more battling to see the Terracotta Army
In 1974, farmers discovered thousands of life-sized soldier statues buried in the dirt near Xi’an, in central China. Forty years on, the Terracotta Army is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. But seeing the soldiers for yourself could be about to get much easier. According to the government-run People’s Daily, tourists from 51 countries (including all EU member states, the US and Australia) will soon be allowed to spend 72 hours in and around Xi’an without needing a visa. The new policy is expected to be operational within months, and will let tourists with onward flights from Xi'an’s international airport see the Terracotta Army without battling through complex visa forms.
Manchester to Hong Kong route is go
Want to fly direct from the UK to Hong Kong? Right now, you’ll have to get yourself to a London airport first. But this December, Cathay Pacific will start running flights from Manchester, making it the second British city with a direct scheduled service to China. Boeing 777s will make the trip four times a week, leaving Manchester at noon and arriving in Hong Kong in time for breakfast the next day. Reckon on paying at least £600 for a return trip – more if you want to go for Christmas.
Ferrari Land in the fast lane
A theme park based around Ferrari, the proudly Italian carmaker, is going to be built in… Spain. Ferrari Land will open at PortAventura on the Costa Daurada in 2016, complete with racing simulators, the world’s first Ferrari-themed hotel and Europe’s highest rollercoaster. The €100m attraction is expected to be slightly smaller than the original Ferrari theme park, which opened in Abu Dhabi in 2010, and is the latest in a growing list of odd, corporate-branded attractions that includes Atlanta’s World of Coca-Cola and Finland’s Angry Birds Land. What can we look forward to next? Cadbury World? Oh wait…
Really see the world
Within a few years, "seeing the world" could take on a whole new meaning. An aerospace company in Arizona has devised a plan that would allow tourists to fly high into the stratosphere, admiring the curvature of the earth from above. Tucked inside a tiny space capsule, passengers would be lifted to a height of around 30km by a helium-filled balloon. After a two-hour sightseeing session, the capsule would be released and glide back to earth with a parachute.
Paragon Space Development Corporation says the trips could begin within the next three years. Unfortunately, ticket prices don’t compare favourably with a traditional two-hour flight. The company has set the cost at $75,000 per person, including inflight champagne and a ride back to the start point, which could be up to 300 miles away from where the capsule ends up, depending on the wind conditions. Although spending that much cash would leave most travellers feeling considerably lighter, they won’t experience weightlessness. For that, they’d have to book one of Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered flights into suborbital space, which cost a dizzying $250,000 per head.
World history in 100 objects
Can the story of human life be retold using only 100 objects? The Manarat Al Saadiyat arts centre in Abu Dhabi is now displaying a collection of 100 treasures shipped across from the British Museum, which show the development of the world’s cultures across time and space. Items selected for the 100-day-long exhibition include a priceless statue of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses the Great and a brand-new Emirati-designed car that can be driven with the feet alone, leaving hands free for other tasks. Just like the British Museum in London, the exhibition is free to get into – simply turn up and look around.
Final call: virtual tourism
It’s too early to say whether this will work, but the idea is interesting all the same: a travel show presented in virtual reality, allowing deskbound tourists to experience new places without actually travelling. Christian Wolf has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his web series, which would use high-definition 3D cameras and binaural microphones to capture the way humans hear and see the world, and then guide viewers on virtual tours. There isn’t a pilot episode yet (and you’d really need a 3D screen or an Oculus Rift headset anyway), but you can get a feel for the concept with this Youtube video from Cape Sebastian, Oregon. Plug in your headphones and go fullscreen.