Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fans of Child Labor Unite! - Baby Boss

I am a big fan of child labor (for proof, see my previous post on Kinderkookkafé). Yes, I know how that sounds and no, I'm not taking it back. Children need to earn their keep, and if it means roughing up those cute little chubby hands, then so be it. Serendipitously, the people of Taiwan agree with this viewpoint and have come up with an ingenious way of disguising child labor as a family attraction.

At Baby Boss in Taipei, children are invited to try their hand at different professions, like construction worker, hairdresser, pizza maker, astronaut, fire fighter. At each job placement, attendants help dress up the kids in convincing costumes, give them a run-down of the job, and let them give the equipment a whirl. It's all very realistic and fun. The fire hoses really spray water, there's a real crane at the construction site, and real pizza gets made (and eaten). At the end of each session, the children are paid in "baby bucks," which they can then spend at the shops within the building. I know. BABY BUCKS. If that's not reason enough to fly to Taiwan immediately, you're obviously a Communist.

Monday, December 22, 2014

And You Thought Your House Needed Work - Upside-Down House

Credit: WonderfulEngineering.com

So here's a trend I never saw coming: upside-down houses. This one, on display at the Tierpark Zoo in Gettorf, Germany, is the the latest in a series of topsy-turvy abodes to be built around the world; some are exhibits open to the public, while others are actual personal dwellings. The interior of these houses are upside-down as well, so the furniture is bolted down (up?) and visitors are required to walk on the "ceilings."

Come to think of it, why live in a boring old right-side-up house when you can live the inverted life? You'd never have to deal with a leaky roof. If a burglar breaks in, he won't be able to steal anything because all the furniture would be stuck to the floor ... er, ceiling. And he'd be very confused. Plus, your neighbors will leave you alone because you're obviously cray cray. Win-win-win. Never has anything made so much sense to me. Excuse me while I go check my local real-estate listings.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Who's Down for Some Hiking? - Haiku Stairs

Did your last vacation include physical activity beyond lifting piña coladas? Is your idea of fun doing a lap around the nearest national park? Do you own a walking stick? If you answered yes to any of these questions, I'm not sure I can be friends with you. You're probably in better shape than I am and look better than I do. But I'll let you in on a secret anyway. There exists in Oahu, Hawaii, a hike that offers fantastic views of the top of Pu'u Keahi a Kahoe. Consisting of steps, platforms and ladders (some completely vertical), the Haiku Stairs, or "Stairway to Heaven," leads visitors more than 2,300 feet up, from Haiku Valley to a peak that rises above the clouds. The rickety 4,000-step path was originally constructed during World War II to provide access to transmission stations at the top of the ridge.

Before you run to grab your walking stick, I must tell you that it's currently illegal to attempt this hike, as no one wants to see "stairway to heaven" become a literal term - although there are plans in the works to reopen the stairs to the public. Trespassers have been stopped by the police, and tickets have been issued, so you have been warned! I do not encourage or condone illegal behavior! Unless you're planning on bringing me back some spam musubi, in which case, carry on.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Is That a Microchip in My Food? - Haohai Robot Restaurant

Caption: Quirky China News / Rex Features

When I was a kid, I was sure that by the time I grew up there'd be robots everywhere, taking care of all the things I didn't want to do. They'd walk the dog, water the plants, attend my company holiday parties. Well, here I am in the future, a proper adult ... with nary a robot servant in sight. What gives?

Turns out I'm living in the wrong country. In Harbin, China, there's a restaurant called Haohai that's staffed by robots. Robots take your order, prepare your food, bring them to your table, even serenade you upon request. Next time I'm in China, I think I'll pop in and try to convince one of these guys to come do my laundry. Just don't tip too badly, or the robots will, of course, revolt. And then the robot apocalypse will be on you.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wreck Diving for the Wealthy - Visiting the Titanic

Did you know that you can go see the Titanic? Like, the famous ship that crashed into an iceberg. Like, the actual wreck at the bottom of the ocean. Like, the real Titanic that carried the Astors and Leo DiCaprio. Well, that last part may or may not be factually correct, but whatever. I can see you're already on board (snicker).

All you gotta do is fork over sixty grand. Oh, I should've mentioned that first? Apologies. But get this - after you turn in that chunk of change, you get to hop on a tiny submersible vessel with Great Canadian Adventure Company in Edmonton and sink 12,460 feet to the spot where the Titanic has been resting for more than a hundred years. Marine biologists accompany you on the dive to tell you what you're looking at and make sure you don't meet a similarly tragic fate on your own nautical adventure. Can't you hear the strains of "My Heart Will Go On" already? That's your cue to start saving your loose change for the trip. Because why pay down your mortgage when you could go on an undersea exploration of the biggest FAIL in history?

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's Not Bad for You If You Live in It - Palacio de Sal

I'm a member of Team Salt. Don't get me wrong - I love me some sweet, too, but salt is what keeps me going through the day. It looks like the people who run Palacio de Sal in Bolivia have somehow gotten wind of my vices and decided to exploit them - by building the world's only salt hotel, on the banks of the world's largest salt flat. The walls of the hotel are made entirely of salt, as are the ceilings and the furniture. The guest rooms are shaped like igloos, only they're made from salt blocks. I know. Let the licking commence!

Actually, there's a strict policy against licking at this hotel, as the point of it is to provide a therapeutic atmosphere, not a delicious one. Which is kind of like saying, "Here's a kettle-cooked potato chip ... now RELAX IN IT." I guess I'll have to settle for the meals prepared by the hotel's dining room, which specializes in dishes made with sugar. Nah, I'm kidding. It's salt.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Annoyed With Someone? - Alnwick Poison Garden

Credit: Slate.com

Maybe your boss is a real jerk. Or maybe you're going through a not-so-amicable divorce. Incidentally, there exists in Alnwick, England, a public botanical garden that features an exhibit of more than a hundred species of lovingly cultivated and displayed poisonous plants. To appease my legal team, I must state, unequivocally, that poisonous plants are not the answer to your problems ... even though they're fairly easy to obtain and largely undetectable in the system once ingested. But again, NOT THE ANSWER. Let's move on.

So this poison garden is the real deal. All the plants within it have the ability to harm, with the worst offenders being actual killers. The gardeners who work here wear gloves, and visitors are only allowed in as part of a tour group. Otherwise the gates to the garden are kept locked. Because some of you look like you can't be trusted.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Seeing Pink - Lake Hillier

You know that fantasy that everyone has about diving into a pool of strawberry milk and just swimming and sipping, swimming and sipping ... no? Just me? OK, well lucky for me, there exists a lake on Middle Island, Western Australia, that resembles a pool of strawberry milk. Except that it's not strawberry milk at all, it's a body of super-pink salt water that probably wouldn't be very smart to drink (emphasis on "probably"). No one really knows why the lake is this color, but scientists think that it's the work of microalgae that live within the lake's salt crusts. MICROALGAE. Just when you thought algae couldn't get cuter.

Whatever the case, visitors aren't allowed to swim or boat in Lake Hillier. Which is probably a good thing, because otherwise I'd be forced to get over my intense fear of dingoes and book a trip to Oz immediately.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Tree House of One's Own - Hotell Hackspett

Last time I stayed at a hotel, I thought to myself, "Why is this hotel situated on a street and not in a tree?" OK, I didn't, but after seeing pictures of Hotell Hackspett in Västerås, Sweden, I did. Because what's not to love about a tree house hotel perched 40 feet off the ground? You come and go using harnesses, the view can't be beat, and you're completely safe if the zombie apocalypse occurs while you're on vacation. Time to book a ticket to Sweden, amirite?

Just don't expect an in-room Jacuzzi, or even running water. You get bottled water, a bed, a hot plate, a fridge, a dry toilet ... and a TREE HOUSE. If you're anything like me, a girl from Queens who grew up with a love of tree houses but a tragic dearth of trees, you'll agree that this hotel is a dream come true.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Turning the Tables on Dinnertime - Kinderkookkafé

I've often heard that restaurants are the most difficult businesses to run. Well, if this is true, why, may I ask, is there a restaurant in Amsterdam that's completely staffed by CHILDREN? At Kinderkookkafé, kids ages five to twelve make the food, serve it, clean up, and bring you the check. It is literally child's play, and guess what? It's a huge success, to the point where you typically need a reservation to get a table.

Before you call child services, don't worry, the restaurant is also a legitimate daycare. There are a couple of grownups on the scene, helping the kids read recipes and making sure no boogers make it into your soup. Parents are typically the ones dining at Kinderkookkafé, but completely unrelated patrons are welcome as well. I know what you food snobs are thinking. Is there a decent grape juice list? You'll have to dine in to find out.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Most Romantic Place on Earth is in ... the Ukraine - Tunnel of Love

Photo by Oleg Gordienko

Last Valentine's Day, did you get your significant other a dozen roses and declare yourself the greatest soul mate in the world? Prepare to be shamed. Because what you COULD have done to more adequately express your love was fly your significant other to Klevan in the Ukraine to take a stroll through the city's Tunnel of Love. The gorgeousness of the naturally occurring setting speaks for itself.

Well, don't actually fly there around Valentine's Day, because the Tunnel of Love is just a bunch of sticks at that time of year. But do go in the spring, when the leaves are blooming and the air is all full of possibilities ... and maybe some radioactive fallout? (Chernobyl is nearby.) Just be careful to avoid the train, which barrels through the tunnel three times a day. I have it on good authority that getting mowed down by a locomotive is considered not very romantic.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bigger Is Better - Monster Truck Bus Tour at Showcase of Citrus

At Showcase of Citrus in Clermont, Florida, you can pick oranges off trees, buy farm-fresh produce ... and take a ride in a monster truck bus. That's right, it's part monster truck, part bus, and it's billed as the world's largest 4x4. I've never been prouder to be an American.

The one-hour ecotour begins with a climb up a very long stepladder to board the truck-bus. What takes place next is no monster rally, but it's still pretty fun. You drive through ponds, hurl oranges at cows to eat, maybe even take a turn at the wheel. The tour ends in the farm's parking lot, but unfortunately does not include the experience of rolling over a row of parked cars. Seems a little anticlimactic to me. Maybe I'll put in a suggestion on Yelp.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Health Code, Shmealth Code - Japanese Cat Cafés

If you're the sort who likes a sprinkling of cat hair in your morning coffee (and, c'mon, who isn't), then the cat cafés of Tokyo may be your cup of tea. Cats literally roam these coffee shops, twining through the legs of customers, peering aggressively at their shoelaces, and generally being their intensely-cute selves. Patrons pay a cover fee to sip a hot beverage of choice while they play with the resident kitties.

There are many such cafés all over Tokyo, ranging from straightforward Starbucks types to more whimsically themed places such as Temari no Ouchi. The first cat café actually appeared in Taiwan, but has since been enthusiastically embraced by the Japanese - AND, in answer to my fervent prayers, cat cafés are scheduled to open all across the United States this year. Health codes were a pesky hindrance that delayed their existence in this country until now. So cat lovers of the U.S., rejoice. Or, if the idea of sharing your morning cuppa with a herd of cats creeps you out, then maybe this blog isn't really for you. Get outta here ... scat! Scram!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Got Vertigo? - Rock of Guatapé

Elevators are for wusses. Real vacationers climb stairs. At least that's what the tourism board of Antioquia, Colombia, is banking on. The town's Rock of Guatapé, a 10-million ton, 200-meter tall rock is its biggest (snicker) attraction, and those who wish to reach the top must climb up 649 steps. It's 649 steps with an awesome view, but still 649 steps. Maybe stretch a little first.

Lucky for you, there are vendors at the summit selling snacks and beers. Because the wisest thing to do before descending a massive outdoor stairwell is to throw back a few bottles of South American alcohol. I think I'll put off my visit until they decide to construct a revolving restaurant at the top. And maybe one of those motorized chairs that go up and down the handrail.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

World's Cutest History Lesson - The Teddy Bear Museum

When was the last time you had a history lesson taught to you by a teddy bear? If your answer is "never," then you'd better get your unfortunate butt down to the nearest airport and hop on a plane to Seoul, Korea, which boasts the world's cuddliest attraction, the Teddy Bear Museum. Visitors are treated to endearing exhibits of teddy bears reenacting pivotal points of Korean history, as well as famous scenes from around the world, such as Da Vinci's "The Last Supper." It is seriously as charming as it sounds.

And just when you thought teddy bears couldn't get any cuter, the museum features the world's smallest teddy bear, at 4.5 millimeters. Go. Just go. But don't blame me if you are, in fact, adorabled beyond recognition.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fairy Real Estate - Mackworth Island

So you don't believe in fairies? Silly grownup. Then explain to me why there's a whole island off the coast of Portland, Maine, that's covered with fairy houses. If fairies didn't exist, they wouldn't need houses, would they? That's some foolproof logic right there.

On Mackworth Island, which is accessed via a causeway from the city, visitors are encouraged to construct fairy houses for the island's mystical inhabitants. The island is literally covered in tiny homes. But before you rush out to Home Depot, here are the rules: All the building materials have to be natural items found on the island. So twigs, shells and leaves are ok. Pavers, granite countertops, and Terrazo flooring, not so much. Even with these building restrictions visitors have constructed some pretty awesome homes. I saw some pieces of real estate that I'd pay good money for. Except then I'd probably get into a bidding war with a fairy with deep pockets and likely lose out. Story of my life.

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