Museum Month: Mütter Museum In Philadelphia

The Mütter Museum is not for the squeamish. Brimming with medical oddities, pathological specimens and antique medical equipment, it’s where you’ll find a book bound in human flesh, dried severed hands, a two-headed baby in formaldehyde, Albert Einstein’s brain and a collection of objects that have been swallowed and removed. There’s also a nine-foot-long human colon that contained 40 pounds of fecal matter (it was once part of a sideshow act called “the Human Balloon”) and the body of “the Soap Lady,” whose corpse turned itself into a soapy substance because of the chemical properties of the soil she was buried in. Visitors can “ooh” and “ahh” at a collection of 139 human skulls in neat rows, or check out the tallest human skeleton on display in North America, which stands tall at 7.5 feet right next to the skeleton of a dwarf.

Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter originally began collecting these strange items, which were donated to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1858 for the purpose of medical research and education. To this day, the museum exists with that goal in mind – as well as for the shear purpose of shocking and amazing the general public. As the collection has grown, there are now over 20,000 items on display in jars and cases around the museum. Check out the museum’s YouTube station to be introduced to some of the curiosities of the exhibits.

TripAdvisor Names Best Hotels For Families

family travelWant to know where to travel with the kids? TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel review site, has named their top family-friendly hotels in 25 markets around the world, based on those ranked highest by travelers who identified themselves as traveling with family in their reviews.

The good news? The hotels on the list aren’t too pricey – the average rate is $274 per night with larger properties averaging $292 in the US (100 rooms or more) and small properties in the US averaging just $131 per night.

Here’s the full list:

Top 10 World Large Hotels and Resorts

  • Treasure Island Resort & Holiday Park, Biggera Waters, Australia
  • KeyLime Cove Resort and Water Park, Gurnee, Illinois
  • Rocking Horse Ranch Resort, Highland, New York
  • Hope Lake Lodge & Conference Center, Cortland, New York
  • Protur Bonaire Aparthotel, Cala Bona, Spain
  • Holiday Village Rhodes, Kolimbia, Greece
  • Beaches Turks & Caicos, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
  • Aparthotel Playa Mar, Port de Pollenca, Spain
  • Alfagar II Aparthotel, Albufeira, Portugal
  • Aquafantasy Aquapark Hotel & Spa, Selcuk, Turkey

Top 10 U.S. Large Hotels and Resorts:

  • KeyLime Cove Resort and Water Park, Gurnee, Illinois
  • Rocking Horse Ranch Resort, Highland, New York
  • Hope Lake Lodge & Conference Center, Cortland, New York
  • Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Orlando, Florida
  • WorldQuest Orlando Resort, Orlando, Florida
  • Woodloch Pines Resort, Hawley, Pennsylvania
  • Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa, Orlando, Florida
  • Marriott’s Harbour Lake, Orlando, Florida
  • Floridays Resort Orlando, Orlando, Florida
  • Homewood Suites by Hilton Anaheim-Main Gate Area, Garden Grove, California

Top 10 U.S. Small Hotels and Motels:

  • Pollace’s Family Vacation Resort, Catskill, New York
  • Starlight Motel & Luxury Suites, Ortley Beach, New Jersey
  • Lampliter Oceanside Resorts, Wildwood Crest, New Jersey
  • VIP Motel, Wildwood Crest, New Jersey
  • Echo Motel & Oceanfront Cottages, Old Orchard Beach, Maine
  • Sierra Sands Family Lodge, Mears, Michigan
  • Park Vue Inn, Anaheim, California
  • Country Inn & Suites Hershey at the Park, Hummelstown, Pennsylvania
  • The Suites at Hershey, Hershey, Pennsylvania
  • Sun Viking Lodge, Daytona Beach, Florida

[Flickr via GomiGirl]

Upcoming exhibition will debunk Mayan prophecy of the end of the world in 2012


An exhibition coming to Philadelphia will tackle this year´s hottest pseudo-archaeological topic: the Mayan prophecy that the world will end in 2012.

“Maya 2012: Lords of Time” at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology will explain the Mayan civilization’s complex interlocking calendar systems through interactive displays and a rich collection of art and artifacts. These calendars developed out of an advanced knowledge of astronomy and an obsession with the cyclical nature of astronomical events such as the solar and lunar years, eclipses, and the movements of the planets.

One of these calendar systems is the so-called Long Count, which starts a new cycle every 1,872,000 days, or approximately 5,125 solar years. The current cycle ends on December 21 or 23, depending on which scholar you believe. Most scholars say the Long Count doesn’t actually end on this date, it merely starts another cycle. The other Mayan calendars keep going too. No Mayan text says the world is supposed to end this year. In fact, some Mayan inscriptions actually mention dates later than 2012. They don’t mention anything about cosmic vibrations, visiting UFOs, or any of the other bullshit theories being bandied about either.

Dr. Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, said in an interview that the ancient Maya felt the end of a cycle was cause for celebration. Anthropologist and Maya specialist Dr. Judith Maxwell did what the New Agers didn’t bother to do and actually asked the Maya what they thought. While the ancient civilization is gone, the Mayan culture is alive and well in Mesoamerica and Mayan shamans, called daykeepers, told Maxwell that the end is not coming.

Apparently the exhibition organizers agree there’s nothing to fear. The exhibition runs from May 5, 2012 to January 13, 2013.

So the world isn’t going to end in 2012.

This ranks top on my list of “unsurprising news of the week.” I’m 42, and I have a hard time remembering a year that the world wasn’t supposed to end. Some hack writer or religious conman is always trying to scare us into thinking the world is going to end. The sad thing is, people embrace this nonsense. The world is not ending this year. You still have to deal with the consequences of your actions and you still have to shoulder your responsibilities. Chances are you will have to do that for many years to come. Chances are you will grow old and live through many more of life’s ups and downs.

That’s not a bad thing.

Center for PostNatural History showcases human-altered lifeforms

center for postnatural historyWe live in a world of genetically modified cotton, BioSteel™ goats, and pluots – in other words, a world where much of the nature surrounding us isn’t actually so natural at all. For this new world, Pittsburgh now has a new museum, the Center for PostNatural History, which aims to explore the complex interplay between culture, nature, and biotechnology. Opening on March 2, the museum will provide a unique look at how humans have profoundly influenced the very foundations of life on this planet, particularly in the areas of selective breeding and genetic engineering.

Director and curator Richard Pell says: “The Center for PostNatural History serves as a jumping-off point for thinking about how people shape the living world around them. Humans have been slowly domesticating plants and animals for thousands of years and during the last 35 years we’ve begun altering the DNA of organisms in very specific ways. A good portion of the living world is, in a sense, a cultural artifact reflecting the desires, needs and fears of human society. The CPNH is a place to explore that idea.”

The center aims to compile and preserve a comprehensive catalog of “postnatural” specimens – including some that will undoubtedly resemble something right out of a sci-fi movie. It will be open to the public on Sundays from 12 to 6 p.m., or by special appointment.

[via Grist]

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: From steel town to scenic city

pittsburghWhile many people still visualize Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to be an old steel city, the hilly town has certainly changed a lot in the last 30-40 years. My first impressions when arriving were that the lit up hillsides, public art, modern architecture, colorful bridges, scenic rivers, diverse restaurants and lively club scene made Pittsburgh seem a lot more eclectic and trendy than industrial. If you’re visiting Pittsburgh, here is a guide to help you navigate the best the city has to offer based on your preferences.

For a mix of history and food

Visit the Strip District. The area was home to many industrial innovations (it’s where Andrew Carnegie began doing business in the iron and steel industry) as well as a once booming produce industry, a legacy that can still be tasted through ethnic food shops, cafes, markets, and restaurants. Use Penn Avenue as your main focal point, and veer off as necessary. Make sure to stop in the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. for traditional Italian groceries and natural alternatives to processed cheeses, sauces, soups, and meats, as well as Mon Aimee Chocolat for unique varieties of organic and artisanal chocolate. For those who love vino, Dreadnought Wines offers glasses and accessories as well as specialty wines and educational classes, like “Cooking with Wine” and “High Brows and Low Brows- Can You Taste the Difference?”. A stop in Penzeys Spices is a delight for the nose as visitors can walk around and sniff the many herbs and seasonings out on display, as well as ask questions about the products and get free recipes. Want to educate yourself on the city’s history and culture? A visit to Senator John Heinz History Center allows you to explore Pittsburgh’s past and present through six floors of exhibits on local sports, companies, heroes, innovations, artifacts, and more. My favorite parts were sitting in an old-fashioned trolley and walking through a life-sized replication of a traditional early-1900′s home.

For a list of businesses in the Strip District, click here. To keep up to date with events in the area, click here.pittsburgh If you love boutique shopping

Shadyside is home to myriad non-chain boutiques and upscale shopping in a quiet neighborhood. Use Walnut Street or Ellsworth Avenue as your focal point, and from there you can branch off as you wish. Some of my favorite stores to browse included Ten Toes for shoes, Francesca’s Collections for clothing, Feathers for housewares, Gardell Designs for handmade jewelry, and S.W. Randall Toys for a fun trip down memory lane.

Click here for a list of shops in Shadyside. To learn about news and happenings in the area, click here.

pittsburgh For the artsy traveler

Visit the Andy Warhol Museum, one of the four Carnegie Museums in the city. While it’s $20 to get in ($10 for students), you’ll get the chance to view over 8,000 pieces and installations by the artist, who was a Pittsburgh native, as well as his film and video work.

Another unique art museum worth checking out is The Mattress Factory, which features contemporary “room sized works called installations”. The unusual art is created by in-house artists participating in the museum’s residency program.

You can also take a stroll down Ellsworth Avenue in the Shadyside area where many galleries are located, including Aspire Auctions, Gallerie Chiz, Maser Galleries, Mendelson Gallery, and Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery.

For those who like street art, Pittsburgh is filled with beautiful graffiti works. A walk around almost any of the urban areas, like the Strip District (pictured), Downtown, or South Side, will guarantee a free look at some of the city’s most colorful and creative outdoor masterpieces.

tapa If you’re a hipster

Head over to South Side, which is where you will find an array of clubs, bars, ethnic restaurants, eclectic coffee shops, art galleries, theatres, and funky stores. Visit The Exchange for vintage records, City Theatre for live performances, and The Zenith for vegeterian food, antiques, and an art gallery all under one roof. There’s also a really quirky coffeeshop called The Beehive Coffeehouse & Dessertery that has a hippie vibe and features speciality teas, pinball machines, delicious sandwiches, and a lively bar at night. For those who want something upscale with a large, interesting menu, Ibiza Spanish Tapas and Wine Bar is a great pick, with dim lighting, indoor and outdoor seating (in the winter they have a heated awning up), a knowledgable and friendly staff, and a huge menu of tapas as well as main courses. I would highly recommend the shrimp couscous, the pork chop topped with spinach and goat cheese, and the small plate of grilled scallops with mango sauce (pictured). For something a bit more low key, Mario’s South Side Saloon offers a fun atmosphere and delicious bar food.

If you go 1 mile east of South Side, you’ll hit Station Square, another trendy area with shopping, dining, and nightlife. For those who want to dance, Buckhead Saloon hosts live DJ’s on Fridays and Saturdays and is usually packed with a young, energetic crowd. They also serve bar food and delicious pizza by the slice for when those beer munchies hit.

pittsburgh For photographers and those who want to take in the view

A ride on the old-fashioned trolley at Duquesne Incline on West Carson Street makes for a unique way to see the entire city. The ride mimicks a similar route that was a coal hoist from about 1854 or earlier. For $4.50 round trip per adult, you will be taken up one of the very steep hills overlooking Pittsburgh to the top observation deck. There is a mini museum with historical facts and photographs as well as telescopes to get a close up view. The trolley runs until 12:45 AM, so it can be a good idea to go once during the day and once at night to see the city’s two different personalities.

There is also a 22-mile coastal walk called the Three Rivers Heritage Trail that allows you to experience the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. It’s also an excellent way to view the skyline and bridges from an array of focal points.

If you’re hungry or if it’s a little too chilly to be outside, stop at Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 and ask for a table near the window. The restaurant sits right on the water and gives great views of the skyline, hillside, Points State Park, bridges, and Heinz Field, especially at night when the city is all lit up. The venue is owned by former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bette and is a trendy restaurant with the feel of a sports bar. Side note: They serve the most amazing Spinach and Artichoke dip I’ve ever had as they add prosciutto and serve it with warm pita bread triangles.

pittsburgh If you love sports

The Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District mentioned above is also home to the Sports Museum. Here you will be able to learn about big name sports in Pittsburgh like football, hockey, and baseball, as well as lesser known athletics like marbles, bridge, ballroom dancing, and competitive eating. Moreover, because Pittsburgh is home to three major league sports teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL), the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL), and the Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB), it can be a fun experience to go to a live game. Click here for team information and schedules.