Let the uni­verse be your guide

Best stargaz­ing spots across the world

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - ROBERT BE­VAN

THE wheel of heaven fas­ci­nates. From an­cient zo­diac tem­ples to fu­tur­is­tic plan­e­tar­i­ums, there are nu­mer­ous ways for trav­ellers to be guided by stars. Cleopa­tra’s skies: See the stars as they ap­peared to Cleopa­tra in 50BC carved into the sandstone ceil­ing of the tem­ple to Osiris at Den­dera, Egypt. But you’ll need to head to Paris, not the Nile, to do so, as the ceil­ing was ripped out by Napoleonic arche­ol­o­gists and is now pinned in place at the Lou­vre. The Egyp­tians want the Den­dera Zo­diac back, as it’s the only com­plete map of the an­cient world’s heav­ens. More: lou­vre.fr. Starry, starry nights: Es­cape city light pol­lu­tion on a stargaz­ing tour. Mauna Kea in Hawaii, Lake Tekapo in New Zealand and our own Uluru of­fer gaz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and tours of suf­fi­cient ink­i­ness. Or try Ke­jimku­jik in Nova Scotia, a 400sq km Dark Sky Pre­serve and one of 12 across Canada.

Ad­vanced in­door stargaz­ing is avail­able in San Fran­cisco at the Cal­i­for­nia Academy of Science’s dig­i­tal Mor­ri­son Plan­e­tar­ium, which is like a fair­ground ride through the uni­verse.

For more im­pres­sion­is­tic stars, pick up the brochure from the tourist of­fice and fol­low the Van Gogh trail through Ar­les, Provence. Linger at dusk on the quay where the sub­lime Starry Night Over the Rhone was painted in 1888, one of a num­ber of noc­tur­nal views of the town by the artist. More: ar­les­tourisme.com. Steer­ing by the stars: Among the most beau­ti­ful nav­i­ga­tional in­stru­ments are his­toric as­tro­labes in­cised with plan­e­tary or­bits and de­vices. Bos­ton’s Har­vard Univer­sity has a clutch, as does the Museo Galileo in Florence and Madrid’s Museo Naval. But the world’s largest dis­play (170 as­tro­labes among its 18,000 items) is at Ox­ford Univer­sity’s Mu­seum of the His­tory of Science housed in one of the world’s old­est pur­pose­built museums (1683). More: mhs.ox.ac.uk. As­tro­nom­i­cal clocks: Re­li­gion met science in the as­tro­nom­i­cal clocks of medieval Europe. The 1410 Prague Or­loj on the old town hall is one of the few still work­ing, af­ter be­ing saved by lo­cals from a Nazi ar­son at­tempt. Death in the form of a skele­ton strikes the hour while fig­ures of all 12 apos­tles step out above its zo­diac face (it is an astro­labe too). Head south­east to Olo­mouc, the old Mo­ra­vian cap­i­tal where the Nazis also at­tacked the stars and moons of the town clock in its 14m-high niche. It was re­con­structed un­der com­mu­nism with so­cial­ist re­al­ist fig­ures of ath­letes, fac­tory work­ers and sci­en­tists in­stead of saints: More: olo­mouc.eu. Do the bossa nova: Best ef­forts couldn’t save Can­berra’s Mount Stromlo ob­ser­va­tory from the 2003 bush­fire in­ferno, but you can still sur­vey the South­ern Cross through a te­le­scope, glass of wine in hand, cour­tesy of the Can­berra As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety, which or­gan­ises pub­lic view­ing nights. Check dates for Sun­set Bossa Nova Beers & Bites. More: rsaa.anu.edu.au/cas. Things are look­ing up: The Royal Ob­ser­va­tory at Green­wich (or ‘‘the home of time’’, as it likes to style it­self) has the old­est ob­ject you could pos­si­bly touch: a 4.5-bil­lion-year-old me­te­orite. At the Bene­dic­tine Kremsmun­ster Abbey in Aus­tria, as­cend an 18th­cen­tury sky­scraper, a nine-storey nat­u­ral his­tory mu­seum lay­ered with cu­riosi­ties that in­clude pocket sun­di­als; it’s crowned with an ob­ser­va­tory and chapel where monks could con­tem­plate the mean­ing of the cos­mos.

In Jaipur, in the In­dian desert state of Ra­jasthan, the 1727-built Jan­tar Man­tar, Ma­haraja Jai Singh II’s ar­chi­tec­turally scaled out­door ob­ser­va­tory, is as sculp­turally pleas­ing as it is se­ri­ous Mogul-era science. More: in­cred­i­blein­dia.org. Star treks: Crane your neck as you climb the grand stair­case of Lon­don’s St Pan­cras Re­nais­sance ho­tel. Above is a vault of gold leaf stars. This richly gothic rail­way ho­tel has just been re­opened af­ter ly­ing empty for decades. Once de­scribed as ‘‘too beau­ti­ful and too ro­man­tic to sur­vive’’, it is the near­est you’ll get to staying at Hog­warts: St Pan­cras pro­vided inspiration for the film ver­sion of the school for wiz­ards. More: mar­riott.co.uk.

The dig­i­tal Mor­ri­son Plan­e­tar­ium in San Fran­cisco

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