Sunday, May 27, 2012

Offbeat Museums of America

I saw a recent list of an interesting cross-section of weird and offbeat museums in America. With this being Memorial Day weekend, the summer vacation and travel season is now underway. If you find yourself in these cities, you might stop and check it out.

Pizza Brain is the world's first museum dedicated to pizza. And guess what—it's also a restaurant serving (you guessed it) pizza. It's the brain child of Brian Dwyer, the Guinness World Record holder of pizza memorabilia. It is located in Philadelphia's Fishtown neighborhood.

Located in the heart of New York City's Lower East Side, the Tenement Museum pays homage to New York's immigrants. It traces the history of a single tenement building constructed in 1863 and located at 97 Orchard Street. From the outside it doesn't look any different from any other building in the area, but inside is the story of the waves of immigrants arriving in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. The building was condemned in 1935, which is where the museum's focus ends.

Located in Washington D.C., the museum was created in 1976 by the Department of Agriculture as a result of Japan's Bicentennial gift to the U.S. It now contains three pavilions—Chinese, Japanese, and North American—with approximately 150 living sculptures among viewing stones and strolling paths. What makes this museum a special treat is its tranquility…a moment of Zen.

There are several museums dedicated to this topic. Our fascination with crime and forensics is obvious. Just check out the number of televisions shows—both entertainment programs and documentaries—that deal with solving crime with forensics. Glore Psychiatric Museum located in St. Louis, Missouri was once housed in State Lunatic Asylum No. 2. Founded in 1903, the museum is a history of treatment of mental illness including treating patients possessed by witchcraft or demons. The National Museum of Crime and Punishment is located in Washington D.C. and opened in 2008. It contains artifacts and interactive exhibits including an FBI shooting range, high speed police chase simulator and various forensics techniques. There are also historical exhibits, forensics workshops, and CSI summer camps for teens.  And if you happen to be in Los Angeles, check out the Los Angeles County Coroner's gift shop.

Located in Bellingham, Washington, the museum has been around in various stages since 1985 and moved to their current home in 2001. You'll find lots of gadgets and complicated objects that look like they came out of a steam punk scenario but in reality changed the course of history and modern life, items paying tribute to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Enrico Marconi and Nikola Tesla.

Located in Las Vegas, Nevada, the museum houses the neon signs no longer being used by casinos, chapels, restaurants and other businesses. Vegas' iconic art used to be sent to the scrap yard. In 1996, the non-profit Neon Museum began preserving the city's legacy in a 3 acre lot referred to as Neon Boneyard. At the moment, you must call ahead and make a reservation to visit the Neon Boneyard. The museum has assembled an outdoor gallery along the east end of Fremont Street and is available free to the public 24 hours a day.

Located in Baltimore, Maryland, this innovative museum houses such oddities as an enormous ball made out of more than 18,000 bras, a replica of the ill-fated Lusitania constructed of nearly 200,000 toothpicks, a floor mat created out of hundreds of toothbrushes, an extensive Pez collection, and sculptures made from Styrofoam cups. In the spring the museum hosts the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race where entrants create wacky sculptures that travel on both land and sea on a 15 mile dash.

Located in Roswell, New Mexico (where else?), it is the result of the famous (or infamous) UFO crash in Roswell in1947. At first identified as a UFO by the Air Force, they quickly recanted and declared it a downed weather balloon thus beginning decades of cover-up accusations. The furor finally died down until 1978 when a UFO researcher started interviewing locals who claimed to have seen the debris and said it was part of an extraterrestrial craft. From that, the stories expanded and Roswell became the world's most famous UFO crash.

Other museums to get honorable mention are three Barbed Wire Museums—the Joseph F. Glidden Homestead & Historical Center in DeKalb, Illinois; The Devil's Rope Museum on Route 66 in McLean, Texas; and the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum in LaCrosse, Kansas. And final honorable mention goes to the Museum Of Bad Art in Boston which houses…you guesses it…a collection of bad art. 

Have you come across any odd or unusual museums in your travels?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

So…You Want To Own An Entire Town?

Have you ever been fascinated with the idea of buying a town? Owning the entire thing—land, buildings, streets—along with the perks such as being the mayor and chief of police, being able to set down the rules and institute local laws. And, of course, along with that also comes the responsibilities and obligations to the town and the residents.

Owning a town is not such a far-fetched idea. From time to time small towns and villages will come on the market for sale. There are, of course, exceptions but the desire to buy a small town generally falls into three categories:

1) Someone with a lot of money who's looking for a hobby, usually an ego thing of being able to claim ownership of a town and a personal zip code.

2) Someone who is trying to create a 'green community' usually a commune type settlement or an artist's colony.

3) A family project where they want a place to live away from the confines of the city where they can ranch or farm but also have already established businesses and rentals.

The biggest problem is funding. Banks do not look at generally run-down isolated villages as good collateral.

Here's an example of some small towns and villages recently on the market for sale.

Henry River Mill Village, North Carolina:
On sale for $1.4 million, this was the location used as the downtrodden community of District 12 in the film The Hunger Games. The property covers 72 acres and has over 20 buildings. The town's current owner says he's had several interested potential since the release of the movie…and lots of tourists with cameras.

Pray, Montana:
Also on sale for $1.4 million, this 5 acre town is located 30 miles from Yellowstone National Park and has been privately owned since it was founded in 1909.

Buford, Wyoming:
Auctioned off on April 5 for $900,000, this approximately 10 acre town is reportedly the second oldest town in Wyoming, located 28 miles west of Cheyenne and just north of the Colorado border. It was built in 1866 for railroad workers. Businesses included in the sale were the Buford Trading Post consisting of a convenience store and gas station, U.S. Post Office boxes, a cellular tower with lease, and five other buildings.

Monse, Washington:
Originally put up for sale in 2003 with an asking price f $575,000, this 60 acre town about halfway between Seattle and Spokane included an old schoolhouse, 7 houses, a general store and post office. In spite of that, it remained unsold for several years until the owners split up the land into parcels.

Courbefy, France:
This French village was put up for auction in February for an asking price of euro 300,000 (approx. $400,000 U.S. dollars at that time), but no one bid on it. The owners had run it as a luxury hotel and restaurant, but abandoned it in 2008. The bank has plans to put it up for auction again. The property, located 280 miles southwest of Paris, also includes a tennis court, horse stable, swimming pool, and more than a dozen buildings.

Scenic, South Dakota (pictured above):
Originally put on the market for $3 million, the 12 acre town plus surrounding land for a total of 46 acres remained unsold for 2 years until the price dropped to $799,000 in July 2011. The property was purchased by a church which was established in the Philippines in 1914. Someone from the church is living in the town and working on repairs, but the group's plans are still unknown. There is a post office in the town and, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, no decision has been made about whether it will be closed as part of the moratorium on post office closings.

Garryowen, Montana:
Put on the market in 2008 for $6.5 million, this property is near the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument where, in 1876, Sioux and Cheyenne warriors defeated Custer's 7th Cavalry. The property includes a trading post, museum, office complex, bed and breakfast, post office, gas station, restaurant, and a 4000 sq. ft. residence.

The Grove, Texas:
Purchased in 2008 for $200,000, The Grove was founded in 1859 as a farming community and eventually turned into a ghost town in the 1930s when the highway was rerouted away from the town. The woman who purchased the town was the granddaughter of the former owner of the town's general store.

Eustis, Florida:
Downtown Eustis (not the entire city) was listed on eBay in October 2008 for $7.8 million, but there weren't any takers. The 4 city block downtown area of the city is still for sale at approximately $1 million per block.

Rocky Bar, Idaho:
In June 2007, 9.8 acres comprising about half the ghost town of Rocky Bar sold for $250,000 giving the new owner a hotel, mine, wading pool, town jail, plus timber and mineral rights. He plans to restore the old buildings to their original 1800s.

Palisade, Nevada:
The 160 acre town was purchased at auction in 2005 for $150,000. Located halfway between Reno, Nevada, and Salt Lake City, Utah, the 135 year old town was once a railroad connection for nearby mines and included a cemetery. According to local legend, an assassination attempt on President Herbert Hoover was thwarted in 1932 when dynamite was found on a railroad trestle minutes before his train was scheduled to pass through there on the way to Palo Also, California.

Bridgeville, California:
Is currently on the market for the third time in four years, the 64 acre riverfront town has an asking price of $1.35 million which includes riverfront lots, 10 rental houses, and a building leased by the post office..

Have you ever had a desire to own a town with your personal zip code? You may find that the economic inconveniences far outweigh the prestige perks. Prospective owners quickly realize that owning a town, handling the responsibilities and obligations to the residents, is a bigger job than they thought and a lot more costly. They need to maintain the public areas including streets and sidewalks, keeping the all important infrastructure in good condition such as clean water and power and sewer, and keeping the rental properties in good repair.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Light Sleeper's Guide To Hotel/Motel Etiquette

For those of us who live in the States, we're coming up on the Memorial Day holiday weekend (May 26 - 28, the unofficial start of the summer vacation season.

A few months ago I read an article outlining 6 things you shouldn't do in a hotel/motel. I thought it would make a good blog so I set it aside, to be revived when vacation time arrived. So…here goes.

Whether you're staying in a budget motel or a luxury hotel, there's one thing you can count on…while in your room you can hear noises from the rooms on either side of yours and also from the hallway.

1) Hitting The Snooze Button On The Clock:
If you're going to set the alarm for an early morning wake-up…please, please, please don't prolong the rise-and-shine by continually hitting the snooze button for an additional 8 minutes of sleep with each tap. There's a good chance that the person in the room next to yours had not intended to wake up that early…wake up again, and again, and again.

2) Animated conversation in the hallway:
It's amazing how oblivious some people can be to their own voices. They have no concept of how loud they're talking in the hallway outside people's doors at the break of dawn as they're going to the restaurant for an early breakfast or late at night when returning from the cocktail lounge. Either way, they are waking people who would rather be sleeping.

3) Repeated courtesy calls from the front desk:
Following check-in there's the 'is everything satisfactory' call. Later that evening there's the call asking if you need anything. Then, just as you've gotten to sleep, there's a call reminding you of the no smoking policy. You inform the desk clerk that you don't smoke and he says that someone on your floor called to report that they smelled cigarette smoke. Then you do the foolish thing (which prolongs the phone call) and ask why they're calling everyone on the floor at that late hour to remind them of the no smoking policy rather than sending someone to the floor to sniff around and find where the smell is coming from. But your question doesn't seem to faze the clerk or penetrate his consciousness with the realization of how ridiculous his phone call is.

4) Staying at a facility hosting a youth sports competition:
Oh, the joy of having the kids running up and down the halls at all hours of the night, randomly knowing on doors at 2am

4a) And closely related:
Being the unfortunate overnight guests staying on the same floor as the inconsiderate parents who sent their rowdy children into the hallway to play until they were exhausted. Perhaps the children were ready to fall asleep, but you are too angry to get to sleep.

5) Spreading germs throughout the restaurant buffet:
Nothing more off putting than watching someone coughing and sneezing on the food as they go through the buffet line. And equally unappetizing is watching someone picking through the rolls by hand until they find the one they want or watching someone dipping their hands into food trays rather using the provided tongs to pick up various food items even if those items are considered finger food.

And finally…a specific point made in the article I read—
6) Discharging bodily fluids all over the room:
The sheets are changed daily. The bedspreads, pillows, furniture upholstery, and carpeting are not. 'Nuff said?

Any particularly annoying hotel/motel incidents that you've encountered in your travels?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dark Chocolate and Red Wine

It's good for you—it's bad for you. And the debate goes on. What do you think?

I've seen several surveys lately about the health benefits of dark chocolate and red wine. Since both items are of definite interest to me, I took a definite interest in those surveys. :)

Two surveys about dark chocolate…well, actually one survey listing the benefits of dark chocolate and another survey about how to raise your HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol versus the LDL bad cholesterol) mentions dark chocolate and red wine. And several surveys about red wine.

First the cholesterol survey which appeared in Everyday Health. It listed 7 ways to increase your good HDL cholesterol including such logical things as: exercise, quit smoking, cut sugar intake, eat purple foods (i.e., grapes, plums, raspberries, eggplant), eat fatty fish. Number 6 on that list is "nibble dark chocolate" with nibble indicating moderation. And number 7 on the list is "sip red wine" with sip also indicating moderation.

The survey about dark chocolate was conducted by researchers at San Diego State University and lists 10 benefits. It also stresses moderation. According to this survey dark chocolate: decreases stroke risk, boosts heart health, fills you up (because it's rich in fiber with dark chocolate being better at this than milk chocolate), may fight diabetes (eating chocolate increases insulin sensitivity thereby reducing the risk for diabetes), protects your skin (due to the antioxidants in dark chocolate), can quiet coughs, boosts your mood, improves blood flow (cocoa has anti-clotting and blood-thinning properties), improves vision (increased blood flow to the retina), and finally the survey states that chocolate can make you smarter (due to increased blood flow to the brain).

Now, some of those might sound as if they're reaching a bit to find those positive aspects of eating dark chocolate. I, for one, have chosen to believe them! :)

And on to the subject of red wine. I've read several articles with titles such as: The Truth About Red Wine And Your Health; Women Who Drink Moderately Less Likely To Gain Weight (accompanied by a picture of a glass of red wine); Daily Alcohol Drink May Reduce Risk Of Stroke In Women; Red Wine—To Your Health!; and Green Tea, Red Wine And 5 Other Ingredients To Stop The Clock.

These articles first and foremost stress moderation. Benefits derived from having a glass of red wine every day are NOT increased if you increase your red wine intake. In some instances, the health benefits are not only negated, your health risks are increased if you increase your intake.

Red wine is rich in antioxidants, flavonoids and resveratrol being the two main types. Doctors have linked a number of significant health benefits to drinking red wine: reduction of heart disease, protection against cancer, protection against neurological disorders (such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's) and other health benefits (such as dental health).

So…nibble that dark chocolate and sip that red wine. Who would have thought those words would be an Rx for good health! :)