Haunted House Online Guide Helps You Get Scared This Halloween

haunted house
Trauma Towers at Blackpool, England. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Looking for a haunted house this Halloween season? The online guide Hauntworld will help you find the best one.

Hosted by Hauntworld Magazine, a trade journal for those running haunted houses, it lists creepy attractions in every state in the U.S. and many in Canada too. Most listings just have promotional material from the businesses themselves, while some have garnered numerous reviews and comments, making it as sort of TripAdvisor for scary attractions.

In my old stomping grounds of Tucson, Arizona, there’s Nightfall, which earned nine out of ten skulls. For even bigger scares, check out their Most Extreme and Shocking list. The number one place goes to the Erebus 4 Story Haunted Attraction in Pontiac, Michigan. HauntWorld says “Erebus is by far the most unique haunted house in America because they have monsters, animations, and props that touch the customers some even swallow customers whole. Erebus is a multi-story haunted house with special fx you’ll see no where in the World but at Erebus near Detroit Michigan.”

If you want to get scared on vacation, the international section will help you out. If haunted houses aren’t your thing, the site also lists hay rides, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, ghost tours, and zombie events.

There’s even a section for supposedly real haunted houses.

We are showing you how to eat, drink and be scary this Halloween season. Read more about Halloween on AOL:
7 Creepy Museum Treasures That Will Give You the Halloween Shivers
Disney Halloween: The Scariest Place on Earth
Historic Haunted Houses

Video: Spinning Gold In Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar


Earlier this year in Istanbul, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a man who spins gold thread at the Grand Bazaar. His noisy workshop is tucked into a courtyard off one of the bazaar’s main “streets,” past a few jewelry kiosks and before a reasonably clean but squat-style toilet. Huge fan belts crisscross the room and antique machines creak and spin spools of thread in metallic and bright colors; the spinner (a former footballer, I later learned) works the room like a conductor. Seeing me and my baby peeking in, he ushered us in to have a closer look and took our photo looking around in awe. I had no need for thread (gold or otherwise) and had a slight fear one of us could lose an eye if we hung around the Ottoman-esque machines too long, but it was a treat to find. Dim light made for poor photos, so I was thrilled to find this video of the machine in action on guidebook extraordinaire Rick Steves’ Facebook page.

After living in Istanbul for more than two years as an expat, it took me a while to appreciate the Grand Bazaar as more than a horrible tourist trap. The key to finding the magic in the Grand Bazaar is discovering the nooks and crannies most visitors miss in their hunt for “authentic” souvenirs (likely made in China) and inexpensive fez hats (forget about the irony that the fez was banned here as a means of modernizing and secularizing the country when it became a republic). If you look hard, you’ll still find real artisans, centuries-old family businesses and relics from former empires. If you want to find this guy, leave me a comment and I’ll try to leave a bread trail to him.

USA Today Enters the Travel-Guide Game




With its signature bold visuals and mainstream sensibility, USA Today has entered the travel-planning arena. A new online-only series called Experience Travel launched last week, aggregating the media giant’s deep bank of travel content into easy-to-use overviews of popular destinations and travel themes.

Experience Las Vegas rolled out the series. Upcoming editions will cover cruising, food and wine, beaches, skiing, New York City, the Caribbean and Florida.

If the Sin City guide is any indication, the Experience Travel format offers a simple (and free) get-in-and-get-out way to browse for travel inspiration, insider tips and trends. It’s uncluttered, abbreviated and driven by excellent, enticing photography. The best content is organized into photo galleries for different types of travelers. Tips take the form of the photos caption, often just one sentence.

There’s a booking engine, too, but it simply sends you to an official tourism board’s website to search for hotels, flights, tours and shows from square one. Experience Travel has no functionality built into its content.

That’s fine with me – there are plenty of ways to book travel online. Experience Travel shines as a place for inspiration and ideas. For instance, the Vegas edition presents seven themed photo galleries, for penny pinchers, high rollers, shoppers and the like (gamblers and elopers, you’re out of luck). The Wallet Watcher will learn of an off-the-menu steak dinner for $9 and a 48-hour, all-you-can-watch show pass at Caesars Palace for $119. There are 42 tips for cheapskates alone; unfortunately, too many are watered down and generic. Several amount to something like this: “Hard Rock’s rates can drop below $60.” Great – but when, usually? Some tips are just plugs and simply don’t belong, like the Stratophere’s observation deck for Wallet Watchers. Experience Las Vegas leaves out the admission price – it’s $18 per person, and the thrill rides at the top cost extra. It’s a great place to watch your wallet become a lot lighter.

The sections Best of Vegas and Vegas Buzz are rich with trend features and news pulled from USA Today’s travel page. On the other hand, the sections for Hotels, Restaurants and Shows aren’t curated; they’re broad, rambling lists with scant details. It appears that every accommodation in the phone book is listed, down to the Hitchin’ Post RV Park and Motel. To weed though these unfiltered sections, click “Show Only Editor’s Picks” at the top of the page.

Though the company’s release described the series as a set of “travel planning tools and information,” its strength, at least at this early stage, is on the information.

[Photo credits: Moyan_Brenn and Taberandrew via Flickr]

A Personal Lament To The Death Of Guidebooks

Death of guidebooks - Frommer's bookshelfIt was with a heavy heart that I read the news last week that Frommer’s guidebooks will cease to be printed. The guidebooks were purchased by Google last summer, and as of this year, the entire future list of titles will not be released. With the takeover of digital apps, social media, and user-generated content, we knew this was coming, but it still feels like the end of an era. It’s become fashionable for any traveler (especially for writers, including our own bloggers) to be dismissive of the printed guidebook, claiming they get all their tips “from locals on the road” or via social networks, possibly demurring to an occasional read of Lonely Planet. Let’s dispense with the tired traveler vs. tourist argument; we can all benefit from practical info for navigating a new place, and no matter how “local” you go, there’s nothing wrong with visiting the museums and attractions for which a destination is known. Even as an active member of the “new media,” I mourn the death of guidebooks like that of a friend.

The greatest gift of the digital age to the traveler is online trip planning. I’d never want to go back to the days of travel agents and phone reservations. I’ve spent hours on the Internet booking flights, reading hotel reviews and soliciting advice and recommendations from friends, but guidebooks have always been the heart of my pre-travel ritual. Each year, after we had narrowed down the destinations to a few (often places where American Airlines and Marriott coincided, back in the days where work travel generated a fair amount of status, miles and points for free vacations), my husband and I would spend a few hours at a bookstore, poring over the guidebooks for points of interest, relative costs of travel and local events that might happen during our travel dates. Back when I worked at Conde Nast Traveler magazine, my desk was next to the research department, making me feel like a kid in a candy store. Shelf after shelf of guidebooks, atlases and travelogues gave me a keen eye for what features are the most useful in a printed travel companion.In addition to having the most current information, I look for an efficient presentation (while I love travel photography, I don’t care for it in my guidebooks, taking up valuable real estate and showing me things I hope to see myself) with detailed maps, a short phrasebook and menu guide, as well as a point of view in a guidebook. I had always made fun of Rick Steves and his fanny-packed followers, but in Portugal, I discovered his “back door style” is really quite helpful for navigating crowded tourist attractions and distilling fun facts about a museum’s history (look elsewhere for nightlife advice, though). My respect for Mr. Steves solidified with his book “Travel As A Political Act,” particularly due to his advocacy for travel to Muslim countries and the importance of getting a passport. Time Out city guides offer a surprising depth of cultural sidebars in addition to nightlife listings. Occasionally, you might be lucky to stumble upon an indie series like the gorgeously-designed Love Guides to India or Herb Lester‘s guides to the “usual and unusual” in Europe and the U.S., but these were often only discovered once you reached your destination. Lonely Planet was usually a given, having the widest range of places and most annual updates, but my heart belonged to Arthur Frommer.

Frommer’s guides were never the hippest or most inventive, but I liked their no-nonsense and concise layout, stable of local writers and the personality that shown through the pages with “Overrated” tags and honest advice. I loved the history behind the Frommer’s brand, imagining how Arthur’s original “Europe on $5 a Day” changed the way Americans travel and opened up a world of travel daydreaming and practical trip planning. Writer Doug Mack recently published his own book, “Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day” using Frommer’s 1963 book as his only guide. Vintage guidebooks are priceless slices of the past, whether it’s a reissued Victorian guide, or a handbook for your trip to the USSR (the later is now one of my prized possessions). In 50 years, what will people learn about how we traveled to Asia from Facebook photo albums and TripAdvisor reviews?

Destination and books chosen, I relished my New York commute armed with guidebooks before the trip. While I hated to ever brandish a guidebook while traveling, I didn’t mind being seen with it on the subway, where people might see me and think, “There’s a girl who’s going places! Literally, to Chile!” I imagined a stranger might strike up a conversation, offering their tips for their aunt’s restaurant in Santiago or their best friend’s guesthouse in Valparaiso (I was evidently envisioning a live version of Twitter). Even now that I do float travel questions over social media, I first try to research via a custom Google search that limits results to my trusted sources, ranging from travel writer friends’ blogs to big media like New York Times’ travel section and, of course, Frommers.com.

During a trip, I’d carry a book in my purse during the day, but I only removed it for surreptitious glimpses of a map if seriously lost. While in a museum, I might allow myself the luxury of reading the book in full public view. In the evenings, I might peruse the book before dinner, not for restaurant recommendations, but for hints on what neighborhoods and streets might yield the most options. My husband has always loathed making reservations, even in our own city, preferring to rely on instinct, menu/curb appeal and highest density of locals. At the end of the night, I liked going back to read more about the places we’d seen, learning about the backstories of a city, and understanding the cultural importance of the names we saw on statues.

Once I moved abroad to Istanbul in 2010 and constantly clutched a smartphone, my guidebook usage slowed, but I never fully gave it up. English books were expensive and travel plans were made much more freely (weekend in Budapest on Friday? Why not, when it’s a two-hour flight?), but I still tried to cobble together some basic info before going to a new country – stuff like: how much to tip, the best way to get to the airport and the going cost of a bottle of local wine. Basically, stuff that could be found in a guidebook. In many eastern European countries, I found the excellent (and free) In Your Pocket guides, produced by expats and natives, with tips on everything from happy hours to hidden Soviet murals. The guides are available in various digital forms, but I always preferred to find a paper copy, easy to roll up in a purse and read cover-to-cover like a magazine. I experimented with various Kindle books and documents and apps to collect the many links and tips I found before a trip, but found a lot of limitations: poor maps, advice from inexperienced travelers, lack of context and real “meaty” content. Especially when I was stuck with a lack of Wi-Fi, a dead battery or a setting where it would be unwise to flash any form of technology, I’d yearn for an old-fashioned book.

After I return home, I can’t say exactly what happens to my guidebooks. I don’t revisit places often, so I tend to pass on books to other travelers, leave them in airplane seat pockets, or recycle them when I have to purge books. I always liked the idea of keeping them on my bookshelf, a visual reminder of where we’d been, like passport stamps in your living room, but my shelf space can’t keep up with my wanderlust. Many travelers like a printed book so they can make notes and annotations in the margins, but I consider a book a sacred space to be left pristine, though my books are accessorized with receipts, ticket stubs and bar napkins. I keep these artifacts in duty-free bags and hotel envelopes, possibly for a scrapbook I will never make, or for future generations to marvel at the fact that we once paid for hotel Wi-Fi.

Now that we’ve reached the end of an era, what’s to come in the next? Now that anyone with an Internet connection can tap into a local network, or crowdsource restaurant recommendations, is Mr. Frommer and his ilk destined to become a relic of travel, like steamer trunks and airplane ashtrays? I’d say that until apps and social media can overcome the limitations of user-generated content, there’s a niche for printed guidebooks, but the choice of print over digital is more visceral. We need guidebooks as long as there are people who love browsing in bookstores, who appreciate a beautiful map, and who don’t give a damn about being a traveler or a tourist, as long as they are going somewhere.

[Photo credit: Gluten Free Mrs. D via Twitter]

Gadling Guide Review: Bradshaw’s 1862 Guide To London

George Bradshaw was responsible for the development of a series of railway timetables that were an icon of British Victorian travel – they’re mentioned by Sherlock Holmes, Phileas Fogg and there was a 1876 music hall song called “Bradshaw’s Guide.”

I reached my destination, and was going to alight
When she placed her hand upon my arm, and said with much affright
‘Oh Dear Sir, don’t leave me, all alone to ride
What shall I do without you and the Bradshaw’s Guide.’

If you’re fond of Baedeker’s Guides – the essential red, leather-bound book that’s also an icon of the Grand Tour years of travel – you may also find the Bradshaw appealing. You probably want a vintage one, sold for a pretty penny on eBay, perhaps, but for a mere tenner, you can pick up a reissue of “Bradshaw’s Illustrated Hand Book to London and its Environs.”

A new version of this isn’t going to have the magical ticket stubs or marked pages that one that’s been used in the late 1800s would have, but it does have the pretty little engravings of London’s monuments. It’s got the cramped, hard to read type of 1800s guidebooks, exhaustive details and information that has zero value for today’s traveler – though it would be an amusing exercise to travel with this book as a guide.

What I love about it, though, is what I love about all old guidebooks – the practical information for travelers of another time. Current guidebooks put this stuff at the front; in the Bradshaw’s London guide, it’s all in the back.

There’s an entire section devoted to London churches, complete with the names of their ministers. There are several pages of postal regulations. The table of money for all nations does not include all nations by a long shot, but it does include Prussian, a nation, which no longer exists. There’s a list of “Dissenting Chapels,” begging the question: what is a dissenting chapel? The “Places Worth Seeing” section is alphabetical and lacks description, but opens with cemetery Abney Park. (I looked it up elsewhere; it does indeed seem to be worth seeing, still.)

It’s fun to open the book at random, pick a location, and then, turn to the web to see if it’s still in existence today. This reissue of Bradshaw’s Guide to London is not going to help you if you’re walking around modern London – it neglects to include even one map – but if you’d like to take a virtual tour and do some time travel as well, it’s good fun.

“Bradshaw’s 1862 Guide to London” is available on Amazon for about $10.

[Image: Crystal Palace, London, 1851 via Wikimedia Commons]