Monday, September 21, 2009

What Would Jesus Do on Vacation? - Holy Land Experience

The Bible comes to life at the Orlando theme park Holy Land Experience. Because why get a picture with Mickey when you can get one with Jesus? This isn’t really my kind of place – not because of my religious views, but because there are no coasters. It’s a shame, because there are so many great names for rides for a place like this: Heretic’s Fall; Red Sea Flume; Wrath of God. The possibilities are endless.

Instead, there are shows and exhibits. You’ll get to experience Jerusalem circa 66 AD, and dine on Middle Eastern fare at the concession stand. The misting stations are a bit anachronistic, but perhaps after a few hours of baking under the Florida sun, they can also be seen as minor miracles.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

In the Dark - Blindekuh

I'm not sure I like the concept of eating in pitch-black darkness, like at the flagship "dark restaurant," Blindekuh, in Zurich, Switzerland. The entire dining room is without a hint of light, and the restaurant is staffed by blind servers who are able to zip efficiently around the patrons hesitantly stumbling to their seats. Maybe I have trust issues--How do I know there's really a steak on my plate and not a stick of dynamite?--or maybe I just don't like repeatedly stabbing myself in the face with a fork full of salad.

But even I've gotta admit, the concept is cool. Eating in the dark undoubtedly heightens your sense of taste. I also like that I can go through an entire meal with spinach in my teeth, and my dining companion would be none the wiser.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No Mousetraps Allowed - Karni Mata Temple

Now here's a real game changer. You know how when you see a rat, your instinct is to grab your hair, scream, and run in the opposite direction? Well, at Karni Mata temple in Deshnoke, India, which is inhabited by approximately 20,000 rats, your goal is to get one of the little critters to scamper over your feet for good luck. These rats ain't vermin - they're reincarnated locals. So put the glue traps away and show some respect.

Plates of milk and sweets are left out to attract the mice to visitors. I'm a big-time animal lover, but I'm not sure I'd be able to handle this place. My cat, on the other hand, probably dreams about visiting Karni Mata the way I do the Taj Mahal.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A New Kind of Water Park - Underwater Sculpture Park

Let's face it: Art is too easy to access nowadays. You just pay a fee at the museum entrance and in you go. Well, here's an artist who decided to make you work a little to view his pieces. Jason de Caires Taylor created an underwater sculpture park in the Moliniere Bay off the coast of Grenada. The pieces sit in the bay and can only be accessed by divers, or viewed from above by snorkelers and glass-bottom boat riders.

The statues and other sculpted pieces are eerily beautiful, like perfectly preserved beings from a shipwreck. There's a circle of children, a man at his desk, and other timeless favorites. But you'd better hurry if you want to go; the water sets the mood and provides interesting light, but it's also slowly destroying each piece. I want to go because I can't remember the last time I took in an art installation in a swimsuit.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Give This Place a Michelin Star for Ambiance - El Alux

Why dine in a well-lit, aboveground establishment when you could dine in a cave? I mean, Per Se may be the epitome of fine dining, but does it have STALAGMITES? I know. When I put it that way, you'd look like a fool NOT to be making a reservation right now for El Alux in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

The restaurant is situated in a real live cave, and your meal includes a ten-minute tour of this natural wonder. Then it's time to dig into your food. I love that you can get your fill of beef carpaccio and spelunking all in one convenient location. Now if only they could also squeeze in a tour of Chichen Itza...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

There's Even a Moat - Wing's Castle

So where would you say this place is? England? Scotland? Try UPSTATE NEW YORK. The owners of a property in Millbrook decided a couple of decades ago that they would build themselves a castle to live in, complete with a moat that doubles as a swimming pool. They call it Wing's Castle.

Mr. Wing built the entire castle by himself, and continues to add to it today, while Mrs. Wing gives tours of their home on weekends. For me, the bathroom was the best room - it's situated in one of the turrets and looks every bit like I'd imagine a bathroom would in a castle. But instead of a chamber pot, there's an actual toilet. Guess there are some modern amenities that are too wonderful to pass up.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Snowboarding? Yawn - Volcano Surfing

If you love to snowboard and frequently fantasize about outrunning a stream of hot lava, volcano surfing is the sport for you. Near León in Nicaragua, you can hike to the top of a volcano called Cerro Negro, take in the view, then ride all the way down on a piece of plywood.

There’s a chance you may wipe out during your run, in which case, you’ll come up looking like a sheepish chimney sweep. Better yet, since Cerro Negro is an active volcano, you may ACTUALLY GET WIPED OUT. I know. Where do you sign up? My recommendation is to get out there before someone decides to come in and build a ski lodge that sells those overpriced (yet admittedly delicious) chili bread bowls.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bridge to Middle Earth - Cherrapunji Root Bridges

Who needs to build a bridge, when nature can do it for you and make it a gajillion times cooler looking? In Cherrapunji, India, the Ficus elastica tree produces a second set of roots higher up on its trunk, and the locals encourage these roots to grow across rivers by laying down betel nut tree trunks as a base. The result is like a scene out of Lord of the Rings.

The finished product is so strong that it can hold up to 50 people, and it only gets sturdier with time, since it's still growing. The oldest ones have existed for half a century. Each new bridge takes about ten to fifteen years to grow. I don't know about you, but I'm willing to give AWESOMENESS some time to happen.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Welcome to Hell - Darvaza Crater

Admit it: You've always wondered what being in hell feels like. Can it really be THAT hot? Don't you become numb to the sensation of melting skin after a century or two and then it just doesn't bother you anymore? Well whatever the case, you can peer at the closest thing that we have to hell on earth in Turkmenistan, where there exists a giant hole that's been on fire for almost four decades.

The Darvaza Crater isn't a natural occurrence - the Soviets were drilling in the area in the 1970s when they hit a natural gas cavern, causing poisonous fumes to leak out. In order to neutralize the poison, they decided to set the crater on fire. And it's been burning ever since. I'm not sure a large, fiery pit should ever be a tourist attraction, but you have to admit it's pretty awesome.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chicken Teriyaki With a Side of Stealth - Ninja New York

The last time you were consuming chicken teriyaki at a Japanese restaurant, did you think to yourself, "Boy, I wish this was being served to me by a ninja." No? Well, the owners of Ninja New York did. It's a restaurant where the skilled assassins leap out like dark shadows as you meander along an eerie path to get to your table ... then appear at your table to take your order and tell you about the specials.

The decor evokes a 14th-century feudal village in Japan, and the prix-fixe meal is presented with ceremony, employing everything from white smoke to samurai swords. The a la carte menu features dishes with intriguing names like "floating sashimi" and "choco wasabi salmon," but the item that really caught my eye was the "ancient short rib." I picture a wise but frail old short rib who spouts advice such as "You have much to learn about fine dining, young grasshopper." At which point, I'll gobble him up.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Leave the Hair Dryer at Home - Icehotel

So by now you've probably heard about the original Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden - a hotel carved out of ice and snow, furniture and all. But did you know that the hotel only exists from December through April, after which the whole place melts down and turns into the Torne river? Then the following December, the hotel is rebuilt with a whole new layout. Is it me, or are the Swedes sickeningly handy, with their annually reconstructed icehotels and their chain store of inexpensive, build-it-yourself furniture?

I'm not a big fan of freezing, but I would stay in the Icehotel for the chance to live in a temporary work of art. The hotel is even considered one of the Seven Wonders of Sweden. Yes, there is such a thing. I hope lingonberry juice and those yummy little meatballs made the list. Which reminds me, my Blërg end table has collapsed on itself and I need to make an Ikea run this weekend...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Holey Experience - Diggerland

Digging is a lost art. It's therapeutic, it's satisfying, and there's no right or wrong way to do it. The problem is we don't have many opportunities to dig nowadays. Try doing it on public property and you get fined. Try doing it in your backyard and your neighbors call the cops to investigate.

Diggerland in Kent (also home to Dickens World) addresses all your digging needs. The theme park lets kids as young as five operate everything from dump trucks to giant diggers. You can dig holes, move dirt around, basically make a mess. And the park is also available for parties of the corporate and bachelor variety. Because if there are going to be drunk people operating heavy machinery, you want them all contained in one park.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Best. First Date. EVER - Ithaa

Want to impress that special someone in your life? Here's how it's gonna go down. Step 1: Grab said special someone and jump on the next flight to Maldives. Step 2: Make reservations at Ithaa, located 5 meters below sea level. The restaurant, which is reached by descending a staircase enclosed in a tube off of a dock, offers diners panoramic views of the Indian Ocean while they dig into their seared fillet of reef fish. Step 3: Reap the rewards.

The only hitch is you'll have to deal with hundreds of sea creatures giving you the evil eye as you chow down on their cousin. Okay, I've given you the tools. Now use them.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What Calm Sounds Like - Bamboo Forest

Living in America, my experience with bamboo plants was limited to the dinky “lucky bamboo” that you decorate your desk at work with. Which is why the bamboo forest on the outskirts of Kyoto, Japan, is so awesome to witness. Picture thousands of densely planted bamboo stalks, each hundreds of feet high, shading you from the sun overhead and creating an atmosphere of calm and meditation. A passing wind rustles the leaves and knocks the stems together to play a gentle tune. I’m getting all Zen just thinking about it.

I recommend running out to get your piece of tranquility now, before a rogue band of pandas comes along and gobbles it all up. It could happen.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Blog From the Crypt - Capuchin Catacombs

This probably happened to you after your last vacation because it certainly happened to me: I returned home and thought, "I didn't see enough corpses on that trip." If you've been irked by the same realization, spend your next vacation in Palermo, Sicily, where the Capuchin Catacombs are located.

For a mere 1.5 euros you are permitted to descend into an underground labyrinth of dead bodies, the oldest of which was entombed in 1599. Most resemble the Crypt Keeper - skeletons with stubbornly clinging tufts of hair and disintegrating clothes, but some of the newer bodies were preserved using a secret embalming method and remain remarkably intact. The pièce de résistance is the perfectly preserved body of a 2-year-old girl who died in 1920. Now why would you buy a gelato when you could put that money toward visiting this attraction TWICE?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere - San Alfonso del Mar Pool

The ocean is overrated, am I right, people? All the waves and sand - it's all so annoyingly natural. That's why I'm dying to swim at the pool at the San Alfonso del Mar hotel in Algarrobo, Chile, which is the size of an ocean, but refreshingly man-made. The world's largest pool takes up 20 acres of space, is filled with seawater, and costs $2 million a year to maintain.

Best of all, the pool is located right next to the ocean, so you can make fun of all the poor saps you see splashing in the Pacific. They THINK they're having a good time. Now if only the San Alfonso del Mar would add a wave machine and import some sand...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Crappy Idea - Modern Toilet Restaurant

Freud would have been all over this one. At Modern Toilet restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan, the theme is ... well, toilets. You sit on a toilet. You eat out of miniature urinals. The desserts are named things like "green dysentery" and "bloody poop" (kiwi and strawberry ices, respectively). "Well, that's just gross," you say. But is it? Maybe you've got it backwards. Maybe eating on a table is gross. Maybe using regular bowls is wrong. I don't know why that would be, but maybe it is. Did you ever think of that?

Okay, I have no case. But does it help to know that the restaurant is a hit and has become a chain, with branches springing up in China, Malaysia, and Kuala Lampur? No? How about the fact that despite the theme, the restaurants are all very clean, with reportedly tasty dishes? Still not convinced? What if I tell you that the restaurant is meant to be interactive art - the point is to shock and confuse the senses? Okay, now you're coming around. I knew that if I made it pretentious enough you'd be on board.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Barrels Are for Amateurs - Devil's Pool in Victoria Falls

Life's too short to spend at the Y. From August through December each year, the amount of water gushing over Victoria Falls, on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, drops off a bit. This makes it possible for people to hang out in a shallow area, called Devil's Pool, at the top of the falls - mere inches from the 420-foot plunge to a watery grave below.

You must now shut down your computer, pack your floaties and run, don't walk, to the nearest international airport. I know I don't have to tell you twice. And don't forget to attach the strap to your waterproof camera, mkay?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hey, a Giant Uvula - Corpus Museum

If you find the words "giant uvula" stimulating and you don't even know what it means, you belong at Corpus, near Amsterdam in the Netherlands. It's a 115-foot museum shaped like a sitting man. Again: THE BUILDING IS SHAPED LIKE A PERSON. I know. I'm running out to get a lifetime membership today.

And as if that weren't enough, the entire inside of the building is the guy's anatomy. You enter through a wound in his leg and travel upwards, viewing things like cheese getting digested and synapses getting fired in the brain. Oh, and the man burps when you jump on his tongue. I know. Make that the gold club lifetime membership. 

Friday, July 31, 2009

Don't Be a Baby - Diving With Sharks

Swimming with dolphins is for babies. Grown-ups swim with SHARKS. And not while safely enclosed in a wire cage, either. Wire cages are for babies. Grown-ups swim with sharks in the OPEN WATER. If you are a grown-up, you'll do well to fly to Long Island in the Bahamas, where you can sign up to descend 30 feet into the water and watch sharks being fed in their natural habitat.

So how do you make it out of this activity with all your limbs? The idea is that the sharks are eating the chum being given to them, so they won't eat you. Foolproof, right? Just don't sue me if you try out this activity and get ripped to shreds. I am only the messenger. You're the person who let a blog goad you into swimming with freakin' sharks.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

When Gambling With Money Isn't Enough - Insanity at the Stratosphere

I enjoy thrill-seeking as much as the next sicko, but an attraction in Las Vegas really had me questioning why I pay good money (when I could've been losing it all at Hold 'Em) to wet myself. It is called, appropriately, Insanity.

Insanity is an amusement park-type ride at the top of the Stratosphere hotel's observation deck. It consists of a circle of chairs held up by a metal arm. You get strapped into one of these chairs, and the arm brings you out over the edge of the tower so you're dangling 900 feet in the air. Then it starts to spin. Then the chairs TILT FORWARD so you are facing the drop to the faraway Vegas landscape below and hysterically wondering why you've put yourself on the fast track to imminent death. As much as I love thrills, this ride is just all kinds of wrong. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vacation in Squalor - Dickens World

Who hasn't wished they could live like a filthy 1800s street urchin? At Dickens World in Kent, U.K., you and your family get to experience the unsavory underbelly of 19th century London, right down to the inefficient sewage disposal. There's a Great Expectations boat ride, a town square populated by morally challenged Dickensian characters, and a Victorian school featuring a nasty schoolmaster. 

Kids misbehaving during the trip? Threaten to get the season pass. Personally, I find the concept for this theme park refreshing. There's nothing like traveling back to a time before the advent of proper hygiene and social services to make my own life look a little brighter. Is it me, or is it wonderful to not have to rely on mysterious benefactors and impromptu displays of fisticuffs to get by in life?

What the Neck?! - Giraffe Manor

So at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya, you get to sleep in four-poster beds, take in sumptuous multicourse meals, and, oh yeah, have breakfast with a giraffe. Literally. I'm talking you're buttering up your freshly prepared scone and suddenly Geoffrey's head is coming through the window and he's yanking the baked good right out of your hands. And guess what, you can't even yell at him or whack his butt with a rolled up newspaper because it's a giraffe sanctuary, and giraffe abuse is definitely frowned upon. All you can do is admire those dangerously long lashes while he puts away your gourmet breakfast.

If being taken advantage of by a giraffe is your cup of tea, fork over a mere 600 bucks and stay a night. The manor itself is gorgeous, and a herd of giraffes roams freely on the estate, sidling up to you as you stroll the grounds and poking their heads into rooms like the freakishly tall peeping toms that they are. There's even a family of warthogs on the grounds. I know. It's impossibly adorable. If you haven't already left this blog to look up airfare to Nairobi, I have nothing else to say to you.

Not So Tough Now - Jellyfish Lake

If you told me there's a place where I can swim with jellyfish and not get stung, I'd tell you that you're shadier than a Craigslist posting. But it's true. Jellyfish Lake on the island of Palau is an enclosed body of water that contains hundreds of the suckers, sans stingers. They have no predators in their private lake, which is why they've lost their natural defenses over the course of millennia. Save your urine for another aquatic emergency.

So go ahead: Mosey on down to Palau, slap on some snorkel gear, and jump in Jellyfish Lake. You can make faces at them all you want - they can't get you back. Evolution is cruel like that.

The Fine Art of Making Instant Noodles - Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum

The last workshop you attended was probably on how to become a successful blogger, or some equally useless subject. If you want to receive a real life lesson, head over to Osaka, Japan, where they're offering chicken ramen-making workshops at the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. That's right, you learn how to make your own ramen, and I'm not talking about boiling up some water and dumping it over dehydrated noodles. I mean from scratch, starting with flour and water!

What's more, they make you put on a chicken-themed doo-rag while you knead the dough, run it through a noodle-maker, and draw your own design onto the wrapper. (I repeat: You wear a CHICKEN-THEMED DOO-RAG.) Next, a workshop attendant deep-fries your creation to preserve it and seals it into the bag you designed. Then you get to bring your ramen home and eat it on a day when you're super hungry but too drunk to cook and too poor to order in. How is it that you haven't yet placed a long-distance phone call to Osaka to reserve a spot at this workshop? 

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