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Faded, clown-themed motel that backs onto a plague pit


Tonopoah, NV's Clown Motel is a relic of the Gold Rush town's faded glory years, and it is filled with clowns. Hundreds of clowns stare from every corner, the walls are hung with clown-portraits, and there is a "historic miners' cemetery" out the motel's back door, wherein rest the mouldering corpses of the victims of a mysterious epidemic that is only known as "Tonopah plague." Redditors who've stayed at the Clown Motel have taken to this thread to one-up one-another with tales of the establishment's freaky weirdness. Norwegiancoconut dropped a link to this gallery of photos from a previous stay.

America's scariest motel is haunted... by hundreds of clowns

Japanese arcade recreates gritty walled city of Kowloon


Kawasaki's Warehouse arcade, near Yokohama, is a fantastically detailed, gritty recreation of the old walled city of Kowloon, near Hong Kong. The Tokyo Times photos depict a place that's like a fevered Gibson dream, and note that there's an accompanying, spooky soundscape. This is going on my must-see list for our next Japan trip.

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Exaggeration postcards: sight-gags-by-mail

Retronaut rounds up a series of "exaggeration postcards" from 1907-1967, representing a golden era of visual-comedy-by-mail. Hard to characterize the Texas Jackalope card as an "exaggeration," though -- it's more of an out-and-out lie (albeit a beautiful one).

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Beautiful, illustrated vintage Wisconsin postcard


Phil Are Go has done the world the kind service of posting a hi-rez scan of a gorgeous, vintage souvenir of Wisconsin postcard, lavishly and wonderfully illustrated with everything the state has to offer.

Wisconsin, your post card is here.

Winchester Mystery House gets permit for overnight stays and on-site booze


The Winchester Mystery House is San Jose, CA's legendary tourist attraction, built by Sarah Winchester, widow of the heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, who believed that she was haunted by the spirits of Native Americans who'd been murdered with the guns and designed and ordered the construction of over 160 rooms that she designed by means of automatic writing in a special seance room.

It's just been granted a permit to allow for overnight stays in the house, along with the right to sell booze throughout the property. Now I know what I'll be doing the next time I'm in northern California.

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Russian Olympic official to reporters: stop complaining about hotels or we'll release CCTV footage of you in the bathroom


Dmitry Kozak, Russia's Olympian deputy prime minister warned a Wall Street Journal reporter that he would release hidden-camera footage of journalists in their hotel bathrooms if they continued to complain about the substandard hotels in Sochi.

Just a reminder for anyone thinking of travelling to Sochi after the Olympics for a spot of tourism: according to Russia's deputy prime-minister, the hotel bathrooms have surveillance cameras that watch you in the shower.

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Reporters document Sochi's Potemkin hotels

As journalists descend on Sochi for the most corrupt Olympics in history, they're discovering the region's Potemkin hospitality industry. The hotels that were meant to billet them while they reported on the games are half-built, unbuilt, falling to bits: but at least they've had their portraits of Vladimir Putin installed. Slave labor just isn't what it used to be.

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What Mount Everest and the Grand Canyon have in common



"North Rim Grand Canyon Cape Royal," for Shutterstock by Erik Harrison.

Mount Everest isn't the only natural wonder experiencing a ridiculous increase in tourism --and, with it, trash, ecological damage, and risk. At the Arizona Republic, Brandon Loomis writes about the massive increases in athletic backcountry tourism at the Grand Canyon. It's easy to see the similarities to previous stories you've read about crowds of hikers on Everest. Just last month, Loomis writes, 224 rim-to-rim hikers — people who march down one side of the canyon and back up the other in a day, a vertical change of 10,000 feet — converged on a rest area all at once.

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Europeans petition Bob Iger to save Disneyland Paris from its long decline


A multilingual petition to Bob Iger asks for Disney's CEO and top management to do something about the (frankly, pretty terrible) condition of Disneyland Paris, a park I've stopped visiting (though it's closest to me), due to the poor staffing, poor maintenance, bad (and expensive) food and hotels, and large number of out-of-service attractions and shows.

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Cool-looking science book I am ordering immediately

Guidebook for the Scientific Traveler, published in 2010 and written by Duane Nickel, promises to be a tour guide to chemistry and physics points of interest all across the United States. (Thanks Tim Heffernan!)

Rich New Yorkers hire disabled "guides" to Disney World in order to skip lines (according to NY Post, anyway)

The (awful and not usually very trustworthy) New York Post reports that rich New Yorkers pay thousands of dollars to an Orlando area service that rents out disabled people to accompany them to Walt Disney World in order to jump the lines. The article says that there's a word-of-mouth underground in New York's priciest private schools, in which parents pass on the details of the service, which is allegedly called Dream Tours Florida:

Passing around the rogue guide service’s phone number recently became a shameless ritual among Manhattan’s private-school set during spring break. The service asks who referred you before they even take your call.

“It’s insider knowledge that very few have and share carefully,” said social anthropologist Dr. Wednesday Martin, who caught wind of the underground network while doing research for her upcoming book “Primates of Park Avenue.”

“Who wants a speed pass when you can use your black-market handicapped guide to circumvent the lines all together?” she said.

“So when you’re doing it, you’re affirming that you are one of the privileged insiders who has and shares this information.”

Rich Manhattan moms hire handicapped tour guides so kids can cut lines at Disney World [Tara Palmeri/New York Post]

Chinese tourists say crooked NZ tour-operator took them to a "buffet" that was really a church soup-kitchen

Chinese tourists say a crooked tour-operator who'd promised them the best sightseeing in New Zealand and a buffet dinner instead took them to a bunch of public parks and then dumped them in the line at a soup-kitchen:

"I thought it was a real bargain, but the main reason we decided to go with him was because we thought it would be handy to have a local guide who spoke Mandarin," he said.

"I was shocked to find out later from media reports that the Christmas lunch was a charity lunch for the poor and homeless, and that most of the places we had been taken to were free and were not meant for tourists."

A TVNZ Christmas Day news report said Chinese tourists on organised tours were among the 2800 people at the Viaduct Events Centre for the annual charity lunch.

Chinese visitor says tour operator told him charity event was Govt treat. (Thanks, Juha!)

The medical implications of space tourism

This article from the British Medical Journal should give aspiring space tourists some food for thought. The basic gist: Traveling into the heavens is not really comparable, physically and medically, to Earth-bound travel. In fact, up until now, extreme physical fitness has been a major factor in how we select space travelers. What happens when less-fit people start flying? What happens to sick people? These are questions that matter a lot, given the fact that current astronauts report everything from reduced eyesight to potentially dangerous immune system changes. (Via The Inkfish blog)

Photos of a simpler time ... in North Korea

Retro DPRK is a blog that collects images of North Korea from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Getting into North Korea from the United States and Western Europe is not easy today. But up until the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was even more difficult. If you weren't also from a Communist country, chances were good that you weren't going to get even a glimpse of the place.

But, at the same time, North Korea was also promoting itself through propaganda, and as a tourist destination for citizens of the USSR. Christopher Graper — who leads tours into North Korea today from Canada — has scanned scenes from postcards and tourism brochures — rare peeks into the little-documented history of a secretive country.

The collection blends familiar scenes that wouldn't look terribly different from American advertisements of the same era with an amusingly odd sensibility (who wouldn't want a whole book of postcards documenting every detail of Pyongyang's new gymnasium?) and quietly disconcerting scenes like the one above, where a seaside resort town appears eerily empty — like a theme park before opening time.

Retro DPRK

Thanks for pointing me toward this, Gidjlet!

The risks of visiting volcanoes

In 1993, Stanley Williams survived a close-encounter with a volcano. A volcanologist, he was standing on the rim of Colombia's Galeras volcano when it erupted with little warning. Six of his scientific colleagues and three tourists were killed. Williams fled down the mountain's slope — until flying rocks and boulders broke both his legs. With a fractured skull, he managed to stay conscious enough to huddle behind some other large boulders and dodge flying debris until the eruption ended and his grad students rescued him.

Williams and the other scientists were there to study Galeras, and hopefully get a better idea of what signals predicted the onset of eruptions.

This is something we still don't understand well.

While volcanologists have identified some signals — like distinctive patterns of small earthquakes — that increase the likelihood of an oncoming eruption, those signals aren't foolproof predictions. There are still volcanoes like Galeras that give no warning. And volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens. In 2004, that volcano gave signals that it would erupt. And it did. Sort of. The Seattle Times described it as "two small burps and a lava flow". Basically, the signals don't always precede an eruption, and even when they do happen it doesn't tell you much about how big any ensuing eruption will be.

And that presents an interesting question, writes Erik Klemetti at Wired's Eruptions blog. How close to volcanoes should tourists really be? That's a question with real-world applications. This year, New Zealand's White Island volcano has been ... rather grumbly. Even as tourist boats continued to ferry people over for a view of the crater.

There has always been a fragile relationship between volcanoes and tourism. Volcanic features are some of the most fascinating in the world – just look at the millions of people who visit Yellowstone or Crater Lake National Parks for but two examples of hundreds of volcanic tourist attractions around the world (and that doesn’t even consider all the extinct volcanoes or volcanic deposits that can create amazing landscapes as well). However, with the splendor of volcanic features comes the danger that you, as a tourist, are visiting an active volcano. Sometimes, that danger is low, where either the volcano has been dormant for thousands of years, but the signs of magma beneath are still visible. However, the danger can appear to be low in some places but in reality, you are literally putting your lives in the hands of tour operators when you make the visit.

Read the full story

Read Stanley Williams' account of surviving the Galeras volcano

Photo by Michael Rogers, via GFDL and CC

Norwegian hotel calls cops on man because they got his name wrong and thought he used an assumed name; police arrest him in the nude; hotel charges him for the room

Matt sez,

Sorry, this is in Norwegian but it's definitively a story that deserves more attention. In summary, Norwegian Dagfinn Bjelland visits Clarion Collection Hotell Atlantic in Norwegian town of Sandefjord. The reception spells his name wrong, which then makes them suspicious he checked in under a fake name, because apparently no-one goes by the name they typed in. They call the police, who show up and confronts him, and for good measure while he's naked in shower! After some clarification and searching his room they accept the wrong name and the police leave. However, the guest is of course furious and leaves. And does he get his money back? No - and the comment from the hotel director Kari-Ann Norén is "He had used the room and our facilities".

Not only is the story itself bad, but the attitude from the hotel and police is remarkably offensive. The hotel director just states "we have a lot of problems with prositution and drug dealers", while the police spokesman states that "we had our reasons to investigate the tip". According to the story he was neither charged for anything or there was any particular reason for the search than the name being misspelled. But regardless they all imply that the treatment is justified for reasons they can't or won't share.

Dagfinn (31) anholdt naken etter at hotellet stavet navnet feil

Dutch government scraps "weed cards" - foreigners will still be able to smoke weed in Amsterdam's "coffee shops"

The new Dutch government has scrapped plans to issue "weed passes" to permanent Dutch residents, and require these passes in order to purchase cannabis products in Amsterdam's famed marijuana "coffee shops." Other cities will be free to ban foreigners from their own cannabis coffee shops, should they choose, but the national government will not impose this upon them.

Incoming Dutch government ditches 'weed pass' plan (via Reddit)

The Eighth Continent: Searching for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

20 AUGUST—34°42' N 140°19' W

In the middle of the night, I dream that I am at the wheel of a great ship, sailing the Pacific Ocean. A hundred and fifty feet of steel, crowned with a dozen broad sails, forces itself forward through the waves. The rigging creaks with the roll of the ship. Water hisses along the lee rail. I adjust the wheel, peering at the binnacle to see our heading.

We’ve been at sea for nearly a week, and for weeks more we have no hope of seeing land. What we do hope to see, though, is something much rarer, something that amounts to a new and dark wonder of the world.

We are aboard the Kaisei, sailing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

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How to: Lower tourists into a volcano

So, say you're an Icelandic tour company, with access to an extinct volcano (or, at least, a volcano that hasn't erupted in 4,000 years). And say you want to offer tours inside of said volcano, to tourists who don't have the rappelling experience to get themselves down and up the steep sides of the volcano's crater. How do you do it?

We use a system normally used to carry window cleaners outside of skyscrapers, an open elevator system. A basket that holds 5-6 persons is connected to a crane that has been placed vertically over the crater opening. Massive cable wires move the basket up and down the bottle-shaped vault. The 120 m/400 ft journey takes about 10 minutes to complete.

I really dig this solution!

Inside the Volcano tour, operating in Iceland through August 20.

Via Marilyn Terrell

World's scariest zip-line

A tour operator in Nepal runs what they claim is the world's fastest zip-line, a 1.8km run that drops 600m and attains speeds of 160km/h. Watching the helmetcam sections of this video actually made the blood drain from my face.

What is Zip-flyer?
Basically, zipline is a cable mechanism used for transportation across a river, gorge etc. In our context, it is a piece of recreation equipment consisting of a cable stretched between point of different elevations, a pulley, and a harness or a bar for attaching a rider, who moves by gravity. Zip-flyer Nepal also works with the same mechanism and is categorized as an adventure sports.

How long is it and what would be its max speed?
Well, its 1.8 km long and has the speed of 160kmph making it the world’s most extreme ride.

Welcome to High Ground Adventures (via Neatorama)

Secret history of the near-construction of a lifesized Starship Enterprise in downtown Las Vegas


Gary Goddard tells the story of the near-construction of a life-sized Starship Enterprise replica in downtown Las Vegas. Goddard successfully bid to build the attraction as part of the 1992 competition to revitalized Vegas's sagging downtown and bring back tourist traffic that had been sucked away by the strip, but the project was scuttled at the last minute when Stanley Jaffe, then CEO of Paramount, got cold feet. The Enterprise was scrapped and replaced by the "Fremont Street Experience," which stands there today.

The “big idea” was building the ship itself at full-scale. That was the main attraction. That being said, we also knew we would have to have some kind of “show” on board. So, conceptually, it was to be a “tour” of the ship, with all of the key rooms, chambers, decks, and corridors that we knew from the movie. There was to be the dining area for the ship’s crew (where you could dine in Star Fleet comfort), and other special features. There were also one or two interesting ride elements that we were considering including a high-speed travelator that would whisk you from deck to deck. But we were really just getting into the show aspects when everything came to a head. During this time, as we were working out the conceptual design and plan, a licensing contract was negotiated for Paramount Studios with the terms and conditions, including a substantial rights payment up front, and on-going revenue participation, all subject to the approval of the Studio Chairman, which “would not be a problem” if the project was approved. As you can see, from the designs we’ve shown here, we got pretty far down the road, with drawings, renderings, engineering studies, construction cost estimates – about $150,000,000 (in 1992 dollars) — we were ready to go. I had Greg Pro working on it, I had Dan Gozee (long time Disney Imagineering illustrator) on it, and we were really into the whole idea. Everyone was excited. This was going to be a world-class iconic project that would become an international sensation from the moment it was announced...

So with everyone in the room, I take Mr. Jaffe through the project. With the art, the plans, the overall concept. After my spirited “pitch” everyone was beaming – everyone except Mr. Jaffe. Mr. Jaffe thanked us for the effort, and he congratulated us on creating a bold concept and presentation, and then went into a speech that went something like this:

“You know, this is a major project. You’re going to put a full-scale ENTERPRISE up in the heart of Las Vegas. And on one hand that sounds exciting. But on another hand, it might not be a great idea for us – for Paramount.” Everyone in the room was stunned, most of all, me, because I could see where this was going. “In the movie business, when we produce a big movie and it’s a flop – we take some bad press for a few weeks or a few months, but then it goes away. The next movie comes out and everyone forgets. But THIS – this is different. If this doesn’t work – if this is not a success – it’s there, forever….” I remember thinking to myself “oh my god, this guy does NOT get it….” And he said “I don’t want to be the guy that approved this and then it’s a flop and sitting out there in Vegas forever.”

NOW IT CAN BE TOLD: THE “STAR TREK” ATTRACTION THAT ALMOST CAME TO LIFE in 1992. (via /.)

Everyday Swedes take over management of nation's Twitter account

The Swedish tourism agency has convinced the government to turn over management of the official national Swedish Twitter account to everyday Swedes, on a rotating basis, to show the world what a swell place full of swell people Sweden is. I want brokep to run the account for a week.

“No one owns the brand of Sweden more than its people. With this initiative we let them show their Sweden to the world,” says Thomas Brühl, the CEO of the country’s tourism agency VisitSweden.

Curators of Sweden is certainly an interesting idea; a variety of Swedes, including an editorial writer, a founder of an advertising agency with his own farm, a suburban writer, a priest, a teacher and a coffee-drinking trucker lesbian are all lined up to take over the account in coming weeks. The plan is that they will portray a diverse range of values, skills and ideas from across the country.

It's interesting in that this combines the best aspect of live theater with the Internet -- that is, the ever-present possibility that someone will do something absolutely insane in a highly public forum while acting in an official capacity.

Sweden lets citizens take over its official Twitter account. This is either genius or insanity. (via Runnin' Scared)

Home Secretary to OccupyLondon: you're scaring the tourists

Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary, has asked the OccupyLondon protesters to move away from St Paul's cathedral so that tourists won't get the wrong idea about the place.

Pablo Escobar tour of Medellin lets you walk in the footsteps of a banal crimelord

Walk in the footsteps of one of South America's banal monsters with the Pablo Escobar tour of Medellin. The four-hour tour culminates with a handshake and photo-op with Escobar's brother, Roberto, who will answer your questions. You could ask him about his brother's feral hippos.

Yet, failure seems unlikely, given the huge interest in a man who, through cocaine trafficking and murderous ruthlessness, rose to become the seventh richest person in the world before being gunned down by police on a Medellín rooftop in 1993. It is not uncommon to see backpackers traversing the country with a copy of Killing Pablo, the 2001 biography by Mark Bowden, in hand.

Rodríguez adds that he does not have a problem with Escobar's story being told, but he is against him being mythologised. "I don't think there should be museums or tours or anything making him out to be a legend," he says.

In Pablo Escobar's footsteps (via We Make Money Not Art)