Month: October 2013

Become The Lazy Tourist

Back in the day, you would never catch me dead staring blankly at a television screen, sitting at my kitchen table eating a meal, or quietly listening to music. Being away on a trip to a faraway land made this even more out of the question – time is of the essence; so why sleep, relax, or eat when you could be exploring?

Even during my too-short semester in Florence, Italy, when I went away for the weekends, I packed every moment full of museums, activities, attractions, and bars. I rationalized this insanity by arguing to myself that during the week I was spending my time enjoying every bite of gelato and every walk down Via Roma. Although I’m glad, in some ways, that I used my time wisely every weekend when visiting other countries and cities throughout Europe, by the end of the semester, my weekly plane trips to these faraway lands left me feeling pretty burnt out.

During one of the last few weeks I spent as a semester-abroad student, my best friend from back in the States came to visit me and we went to Budapest, Hungary with her mother and aunt. For the first time all semester, I didn’t bust my ass trying to find the best prices for every tour and every meal. I didn’t have my guidebook held up over my face, trying to read the map and making sure we had hit every museum on the block. And I didn’t worry.

Instead, I spent a weekend wandering open-air markets, eating at probably-overpriced restaurants, and laying in an awesome bed in – gasp – a chain hotel. I took long showers and read books when I felt like it and I ate a ton of these weird Hungarian pastries. I was a tourist. A lazy tourist, one of the biggest travel blasphemies known to travelers everywhere.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure real Budapest is great, just like all the other international cities were great (for the most part). I’m sure Castle Hill and the Great Synogogue are mind-blowing and very much worth venturing outside instead of just driving by in some lame red tour bus. But I will most likely never know what the inside of the House of Terror looks like or what real Hungarian food tastes like, because I was too busy shoveling strawberry yogurt in my mouth for $15 a pop at the Four Seasons. And that is perfectly okay.

I ate breakfast at the hotel dessert bar and I took idiotic pictures posing next to stern guards and funny statues. I had enough food to go into a coma and I went to bed early. I wandered around a beautiful, historic city with my best friend and I didn’t appreciate one bit of it. Just because you’re a traveler doesn’t mean you can’t be a tourist once in a while.

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The Priciest Places in the World

When you’re a kid, you just know you’re gonna be loaded. You’re not really sure how or why, and you certainly haven’t considered that your only real gift is being able to watch Spongebob marathons for ten hours straight, but it doesn’t matter because you’re clearly destined for filthy money.

Well, you’re not. Sorry. But don’t be sad! Just pretend that you live in one of these badass mansions instead.

1. Antilla of Mumbai, India 

This oddly shaped 1 billion dollar tower boasts 27 floors owned by Mukesh Ambani, the fifth richest man in the world and Chairman, Managing Director and largest shareholder of Reliance Industries Limited, a Fortune Global 500 company and India’s second most valuable company by market value. At 570 feet high, the building has a gym and lounge on each floor, an indoor and outdoor bar, and rooms for the 600 people on staff.

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2. Villa Leopolda of the French Riviera 

Built in 1902 by King Leopold II of Belgium, the extravagant home now houses the Safra family, bought by banker Edmond Safra. With 11 bedrooms and 14 bathrooms, a bowling alley, multiple kitchens, and movie theater, it’s $506 million price tag is anything but shocking.

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3. The Penthouse of London, England 

Located in the residential district of London, Number One Hyde Park is the most expensive apartment in the world valued at $200 million. Sporting wine tasting rooms and a spa, it is also extremely secure with bulletproof windows and a secret tunnel to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

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4. Fairfield Pond in the Hamptons, New York 

Considered the largest residential complex in all of America, the $170 million property is owned by junk bond billionaire Ira Rennert. Over 63 acres, it boasts 29 bedrooms, 39 bathrooms, sports courts, a bowling alley, and a $150,000 hot tub over 100,000 square feet.

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5. Heart Castle in San Simeon, California 

This $165 million mansion was constructed for newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst including 29 bedrooms, 3 pools, a club, and a movie theater. Following Hearst’s death in 1951, in 1957, the Heart Corporation donated the property to the state of California where it is now maintained as a state historic park.

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The Most Haunted Places in the World

With Halloween approaching fast, many of us are flocking to the nearest “haunted” attractions – the Headless Horseman in New York, The Beast in Kansas City, or the 13th Gate in Baton Rouge. However, cheap thrills under a fake house are very different than the real thing. If you’re looking to fork over $25 and then laugh as you hold your boyfriend’s hand, visit the attractions. But if you’re really looking to check out some ghosts, then visit some of these most haunted places in the world… or just read about them.

1. Aokigahara, Japan‘s Suicide Forest, located near the base of Mt. Fuji, is the second most popular spot in the world for suicides (to the Golden Gate Bridge). Also known as “Japan’s Death Forest,” nearly 100 suicides occur there every year, although exact numbers are unknown since as of recent years the government has stopped publicizing the numbers in order to curb attempts. The “Sea of Trees” is so thick that even at midday, it often remains eerily dark and is mostly devoid of animals because of the cold and rocky ground that is also shrouded with over 200 caves.

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2. The Catacombs of Paris, France keep the remains of over six million people in piles of human bones which litter the 186 miles of underground tunnels which date back to Roman times. By the end of the eighteenth century, when cities began to pile up their own bodies (and disease), Paris officials decided that the tunnels should be used as an underground graveyard instead. Many people have lost their own way while trying to explore the pitch-black maze, which sparked Paris to form their own police division dedicated to patrolling the tunnels.

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3. Edinburgh Castle of Scotland is located in the most haunted city in all of Europe, possibly the world. Deep in the depths of the Castle, dungeons and a labyrinth of tunnels lie beneath which were used for imprisonment and torture over the centuries. The vaults were once used to quarantine and entomb victims of the plague. Archaeological evidence points back to the Iron Age, so Edinburgh may be the longest continually occupied site in Scotland, making it for a popular ghost destination. Take one walk through cobblestoned Gothic and rainy Edinburgh and you’ll almost expect to come face-to-face with the paranormal.

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4. Eastern State Penetentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is considered to be the world’s first “true” penitentiary, built in 1829, which originated and encouraged solitary confinement as a form of rehabilitation. In true solitary confinement format, prisoners lived alone, ate alone, and exercised alone in individual yards. When an inmate left his cell, a guard covered his head with a hood so that he remained in confinement through and through. Although this system was abandoned due to overcrowding, it is widely believed to have caused mental illness among its prisoners. It operated as a regular prison from 1913 until its closing in 1970, during which time it famously housed Al Capone. After its closing as a prison in 1971, strange happenings started and never ceased to be reported from its stone walls.

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5. The Amitville House in Amityville, New York is the famous site of the brutal family murder in which 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo, Jr. shot and killed his parents and four younger siblings on November 14, 1974. However, the real haunting started a little over a year later, when the Lutz family, knowing about the prior murder but choosing to buy the place based on its great price and upscale amenities, moved in and experienced subsequent horror. The Lutzes’  said they began experiencing strange things such as footsteps untraceable to any family member’s movements, mysterious and pervasive odors, green jello-like substances leaking from walls, toilet water turning back, swarms of houseflies and eyes peering in from outside the windows.

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The Best Place I’ve Ever Been

Being that I spend a lot of free time scourging travel blogs on the Internet, there is one phrase that I often come across that really gets under my skin…

It was the best place I’ve ever been. 

Oh yeah, really? The best place you’ve ever been, huh? The most beautiful, fraught with culture and life, brimming with excitement hiding underneath the budding underbelly? Somehow, I doubt that.

Not that I don’t believe a place can be like that, because they are. And that may be the exact issue… that there are many places like this. There cannot be one best place you’ve ever been, because that’s like throwing every destination into prepackaged, nicely organized ribboned boxes, when let’s get real here, Seattle doesn’t have a whole lot in common with Sydney. More accurate phrases would be New Orleans is the craziest city I’ve ever been to. Paris is the most lovely and lacy city I can imagine. I’ve never had so much barbecue as I did in Kansas City. 

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I can’t really blame people though when they ask me what’s the best place you’ve ever been? because as a journalist, it is exactly these questions that must be asked, this searching for extremes, simply because we want to hear what the hell you can possibly say. On the contrary, being trained as a journalist, you learn to never yourself state these extremes, because you lose your credibility with these dramatic and overused phrases when you’re supposed to stay without a side at all times possible.

However, the way a person responds to these questions says a lot. But a quiet wonder, a shrug of the shoulders, a damnnn I really have no idea… Now it’s those responses I listen awfully closely too. Because those are the ones who have seen the world and live to tell it enough that you have to ask first.