Love hotels and Turkish baths: ultimate urban thrills

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Palio in Italy (AAP)

Try a sample of these diverse experiences to get under the skin of city life.

1. Haggle at the Marrakesh Souk

A million miles from the modern air-conditioned shopping mall, the traditional North African souk is a bustling, chaotic, colourful public market that covers numerous laneways containing small shops. The biggest in Morocco is located in Marrakesh, and is actually a collection of smaller souks selling specific merchandise. You can find areas dedicated to carpets, clothing, spices, metalwork, musical instruments and a vast array of other goods. Haggling is standard practice, but always do it with a smile.

2. Go Green at the St Patrick's Day Parade

You'd expect to find the largest parade to mark St Patrick's Day in Dublin; but it's actually in the USA. New York's annual St Patrick's Day Parade is a huge event, the proud descendant of the first march back in 1766. Unusually, there are no motorised vehicles of any sort in the march, but over 150,000 people take part in the procession, including police, firemen and members of Irish societies from across the world. Onlookers enter into the festive spirit, donning green clothing, wigs and face paint, for an occasion when everyone is Irish for a day.

3. Enjoy a Turkish Bath in Damascus

The old quarter of Damascus, the capital of Syria, is an absolute delight for those who enjoyed the stories of Scheherazade in the Thousand and One Nights. This part of town is a classic Arabian city, a maze of interesting little streets and beautiful architecture, with an elegant mosque and the remains of a Roman temple thrown in. A simpler highlight, however, is partaking of a traditional Turkish bath; the city has several baths going back centuries. After a dose of healthy water and steam, it's time for a relaxing mint tea before returning to the bustling outside world.

4. Check into a love hotel

In a country like Japan, where privacy is hard to come by in crowded family dwellings, a couple in an amorous mood needs somewhere to go. Their answer is the love hotel, a Japanese institution, which allows rental of a room for a couple of hours during the day, or overnight. These lodgings are often pretty flash, with fashionable or eccentrically designed rooms offering everything for a night of bliss. If you're lucky, you may score a room with a karaoke machine!

5. Attend the Ceremony of the Keys

It's well known that the Crown Jewels are kept in the Tower of London ... but another fascinating aspect of the fortress is the locking-up ritual that takes place each evening. At 9.30pm, a select number of visitors who've applied in writing are admitted to view the palace guard, the Beefeaters, perform their nightly task of locking the tower gates. What's remarkable is that the nightly Ceremony of the Keys has taken place without fail for over 700 years ... even during the Blitz of World War II. It's a very English tradition in action.

6. Shop till you drop at the West Edmonton Mall

You may think your local shopping centre is big — but wait until you see the West Edmonton Mall, located in Alberta, Canada. The biggest shopping complex in North America, it covers a vast area of 57 hectares, and holds over 800 shops and 100 places to eat. On top of the retail therapy, it offers recreational activities including rides, a water park and an aquarium. If you're really tired after a day of non-stop shopping here and need a rest, the mall even contains two hotels, one of which offers themed rooms from Polynesian to Igloo.

7. Watch the Palio

If you'd like a thrilling alternative to the Melbourne Cup, you can't go past the Palio of Siena, Italy. This exciting horse race is held twice a year, in July and August, pitting horses and riders from 17 districts against each other. After an impressive pageant, the contestants race three times around the attractive city square, known as the Piazza del Campo. The winner is defined as the first horse to cross the finishing line, with or without its rider. Siena's residents take the race extremely seriously, laying bets and cheering their champion on. It's a spectacularly colourful and exciting race in a beautiful urban environment.

8. Stroll the Bund in Shanghai

From the mid-19th to mid-20th century, China was host to major trading settlements housing merchants from Europe and America. One of these, the International Settlement in the city of Shanghai, evolved into China's financial headquarters. Its major buildings were located along the Bund, a stretch of road next to the Huangpu River. Revived in recent decades, the Bund is now an attractive thoroughfare with a fascinating collection of architecture, including buildings in gothic, baroque, renaissance and art deco styles. It's an intriguing place to experience the city's more recent mercantile history.

9. Do the Tango in Buenos Aires

Not only is the tango a sexy dance, it had a notorious beginning, being first played in the brothels of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the 1880s. Over time it moved into the mainstream, while still maintaining its sensual edge. Now visitors to the Argentinian capital can catch up with the dancing skills of the city residents via tango courses for foreigners, conducted by local schools and instructors. You can also attend the Tango Festival in late February, and follow guided tours retracing the history of the dance.

10. Visit the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall was not only a concrete symbol of communist oppression, but a solid barrier which divided a city. From 1961 to 1989, the wall snaked through the former German capital, patrolled by East German guards who would shoot to kill anyone who tried to scale the barrier and escape to the West. Although it was unapproachable on its eastern side, on the west it was covered with graffiti protesting its existence. Nowadays not much is left of the wall, but you can see stretches of it here and there, including the East Side Gallery, an open-air art display near the Oberbaumbrücke bridge.

User comments
The Bund is currently a massive construction site and hardly worth the visit, except to savour the views from Bar Rouge over to Pudong.