15 palace hotels that will make you feel like royalty

crown Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live like a king or queen? While you may not have been born into royalty, you can still live lavishly, if only for a weekend.

While five-star hotels can offer plush bedding, spacious penthouse suites, and high-class amenities, it’s nothing compared to the luxurious living offered at these palace properties. Genuine artifacts from centuries ago adorn the halls, acres of lush gardens, furniture made of gold – no expense is spared at a palace hotel. Not only that, but you’ll be sleeping in the same space as kings, queens, and society’s most elite members once did, long ago.

Sound like fun? Before you start planning your next royal getaway, check out the gallery below.

[flickr image via CSvBibra]

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Eight Underground Cities

As a rule, people generally prefer to live above ground. Whether it’s claustrophobia, prohibitive construction costs, or just enjoyment of the sun, people have generally stuck with above-ground structures across the globe. In instances where above-ground cities have subterranean components, they are often public transit systems, municipal works, or just plain old sewers.
Yet every once in a while, some far-fetched city planner or wealthy tycoon will decide that the cheapest real estate is just one floor down. This gallery collects some of the most eye-popping examples of underground zoning – whether it’s ancient catacombs repurposed for modern use, a billionaire’s dream, or just an organic growth of cities with imposing population density, these underground creations make the Morlocks look downright shabby.

Petra

John William Burgon’s “rose-red city half as old as time” is one of Jordan’s great treasures. While it gained a small amount of fame through association with the popular 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia, the city’s stunning architecture and unique water management methods made it a marvel far before the film. The city was carvedinto the slope of Mount Hor sometime in 6th century BCE, and was fought over by the Romans, King Herod, and even Cleopatra. With a grand theater, their own coinage, and a nearly unassailable fortress, the capitol city of the Nabatean empire was a feat well before it’s time. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and listed by the BBC as one of “40 places to see before you die”.

Basilica Cistern

Just a stone’s throw from the Hagia Sofia (and a couple stories down) lies one of the most impressive wonders of Istanbul.Built sometime around 6th century CE, the structure was a large basilica involved in commerce and the arts. It was later converted to a cistern during Emperor Justinian’s reign to store water for the palace – capable of holding almost 21 million gallons of water. Scholars still haven’t figured out all of the repurposed temple’s secrets: a pair of odd Medusa heads (one upside down, the other on it’s side) grace the bottom of two pillars. Is their positioning to ward against evil spirits, or just to allow the pillars to fit correctly? James Bond also made a brief rowboat trip through the cistern in From Russia With Love.

Coober Pedy

The Australian Outback has some brutal living conditions, and much of the country is uninhabitable by humans. In Coober Pedy, the scorching heat would scare off almost any settler – except for the presence of a huge lode of opal in the area. Residents avoid the over-100F temperatures by living in “dugouts” carved into the hillsides, which allow for more reasonable temperatures. Above ground, the near-wasteland has been used in such films as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Pitch Black. The residents have a good sense of humor about their situation – artist Claus Wirris created the town’s only “tree” out of scrap metal atop a hill in the town.

Moscow Metro

The Moscow Metro is not the highest-volume underground tranportation system – that honor goes to Tokyo. However, the pre-WWII system is one of the most stunning underground structures of any kind. Stalin himself pushed for a “radiant” style, including high ceilings, marble walls, gold anodized lamps, and iconic chandeliers of copper, blue ceramic, and milk glass. 2.3 billion passengers take the Metro each year, and while many other countries are used to exposed cement and grimy ceilings, the Muscovites are still riding in style.

Derinkuyu

The most famous of four major underground cities, Derinkuyu is one of the wonders of ancient Cappadocia. One of the oldest and largest underground structures, Derinkuyu’s massive depths (reaching eleven seperate levels) could hold some 40,000 people with their livestock and belongings included. Likely created as a means for Christians to hide from persecution, the city included a chapel among its many amenities, as well as massive stone doors to secure each level. The cave-dwellers even went so far as to establish travel options – a tunnel connects the massive underground complex to Kaymaklli, another underground city.

Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel

There is little glamorous about the function of this Kasukabe overflow control channel – it simply functions to prevent floods in Tokyo. But given the presence of tsunamis and other hazardous water possibilities, this structure is one of the largest in the world, and can pump out 200 tons of water per second. The main attraction for visitors is the “Underground Temple” – the main water tank’s stunning pillars easily dwarf the viewer. A Range Rover commercial featured the car driving inside the massive structure.

Salt Cathedral

The Salt Cathedral of Wieliczka, Poland is fairly literal in its etymology. A former rock salt mine, the cathedral carved out by the miners for daily prayers was ultimately expanded and turned into a tourist attraction, continuing on after salt production ceased in 1996. Counting Goerthe, Chopin, Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton among its visitors, the site has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978. In addition to a stunning underground lake, the cathedral prominently showcases its namesake material – several of its statues and even the chandeliers are made of raw or reconstituted rock salt.

Kish

Another ancient aquaduct, the underground city on the island of Kish showcases their Kariz – underground water storage facilities essentially similar to the cisterns of Europe. The small waterways of the Kariz can be traversed by boat tour, and the masonry is supplanted by stunning coral in several areas. The island is also a free trade zone, and several investors have planned future renovations and commercial expansions to the 1,000-year-old site.

Traditional holiday beverages from around the world

holiday beveragesAmericans aren’t very creative when it comes to traditional holiday beverages (do, however, look for my upcoming story on Boulder’s banging mixology scene, which includes some killer contemporary winter cocktails). Historically, though, we’re more of an eggnog/mulled cider/hot chocolate kind of society.

I’m not knocking our Christmas beverages of choice. Properly made, they’re delicious, and certainly festive. But some countries really know how to roll when it comes to holiday imbibing (especially Latin America. One word: rum.).

Below, a compilation of some of the more interesting boozy holiday beverages from around the world that can be easily recreated in your own kitchen. Online recipes abound, and all of these are (almost) as tasty sans alcohol.

Coquito: Puerto Ricans are great because they’re not afraid to embrace their love of saturated fats (lard, coconut milk, etc.) or rum. In case you’ve been living under a rock, coconut is the new fat du jour (read more about its health attributes here). Everything in moderation, including moderation, as I always say.

Coquito recipes vary, but in general, this rich, blended Christmas concoction is a froth of spiced rum, condensed milk, coconut milk or cream of coconut, vanilla, and spices such as cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Some versions may include ginger or ground nuts, but it’s always served chilled, in a small glass. Heavy, yes, but both sexy and satisfying. Add some eggs, and you’ll have ponche, the Venezuelan or Dominican version of eggnog.

Mulled wine: Variations on this warm, spiced, sugared, and otherwise enhanced wine (usually red) are served throughout Europe. There’s Nordic gløgg redolent of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and bitter orange (and perhaps a helping of aquavit). It’s very similar to German glühwein made with lemon, cinnamon sticks, cardamom or ginger, and cloves; in Alsace (the French region bordering Germany), they also add vanilla bean.

In Bulgaria, greyano vino contains honey, peppercorns, and often, apple or citrus. Polish grzane wino is more of a traditional mulled wine, but they also make grzane piwo, in which mulled beer (try a Hefeweizen or Belgian ale which are lighter and sweeter) is substituted for the wine. Na zdrowie (“To your health”)!

[Photo credit: Flicker user Akane86]holiday beveragesPonche Navideño: Not to be confused with those other luscious ponches, this Mexican version is made with sugar cane, apples and/or pears or citrus, raisins, prunes, and tejocotes–an indigenous fruit used by the Aztecs, who called them texocotl. Add tequila, brandy, or rum; heat, and instant fiesta. At Christmastime, ponche vendors can be found on the street, ladling out cupfuls of good cheer.

Another popular Mexican holiday beverage is champurrado, a version of atole (warmed cornmeal thinned to a pourable consistency) flavored with chocolate. It tastes much better than it sounds, and is delicious on a chilly day.

Sorrel Punch: This Jamaican Christmas drink is made from the petals of a species of hibiscus (jamaica in Latin America), locally known as sorrel. In Australia it’s known as rosella, and where it makes a lovely, delicate, fruity red jam. This isn’t the same plant Americans know as sorrel or French sorrel. That’s a bitter wild green, which would make for a truly revolting cocktail, unless you’re one of those people who find wheat grass juice “refreshing.”

Dried hibiscus buds can be purchased at Hispanic or Caribbean markets; the recipe varies, but it’s usually some combination of the flowers, sugar, smashed fresh ginger, water, lime juice, and rum (dark is more traditional than light). Mix, stir, turn on your light box (fellow Seattleites know what I’m talking about), and crank your fave reggae CD. It ain’t the islands but it’s a nice change of pace from all that mulled wine.
holiday beverages
Wassail: Did any American not grow up hearing about or actually going “wassailing,” aka carolling? This mulled British cider is synonymous with knocking on stranger’s doors and breaking into song. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to hit the wassail bowl after mandatory childhood post-carolling; parents should remember that singing in public is the worst possible form of torture for a geeky, tone-deaf pre-teen. Wassail has been a Christmas classic across the pond for centuries, so I’m sure generations of British children suffered the same fate.

Cola de mono: Although Chile is better known for its pisco sours (Peru also claims this libation as its own, but both countries produce it and they’re still duking it out over who actually invented this potent grape brandy) and wine, Christmastime means a glass of “monkey’s tail.” Combine aguardiente (sub pisco or a neutral firewater) with milk, coffee, vanilla bean, and cloves. I have no idea what this has to do with the tail of a monkey, but it’s a cute name. Uh, bottom’s up.

[Photo credit: eggnog, Flicker user elana’s pantry; wassail, Flicker user jeremytarling]

Removing Red Wine Stains

Ghostscrapers – Top ten post-apocalyptic abandoned skyscrapers

abandoned skyscrapers

When city plans exceed reality, or the money dries up, or people simply leave in a mass exodus, skyscrapers vacate and slowly decay. High winds thrash through broken windows. Rats live undisturbed amongst decades old rubble. Stairways lead to doors that may never open again. The ghost of ambition’s past arrives in the present like a howling specter, creating eyesores, dangerous conditions, and free housing for opportunistic urban survivalists.

These abandoned skyscrapers range from forsaken structures aborted long before their doors opened to icons from a bygone era. While a slumper like Detroit has its fair share of empty giants, even cities with tiger cub economic growth like Bangkok are not immune to the plague of creepy abandoned high-rises. South America brings vertical favelas to the list, and Poland has a tower named after a pop-culture villain. And even San Francisco, a city with a high recreational scooter to human ratio and droves of individuals who see the world just beyond the tip of their nose, has its very own abandoned skyscraper.

From North Korea to Venezuela, these structures differ in their stories and circumstance, but each is a fine glimpse at post-apocalyptic urban decay.


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abandoned skyscrapers

Michigan Central Station
Location: Detroit, USA
Stories: 18 floors
Story: The Central Station was finished during the advent of the automobile – 1913. The Beaux-Arts style of the classical building recalls a time when Detroit possessed the resources and momentum to rightfully emulate Parisian architecture. Its old school ambition is not lost on current Detroit residents but its function certainly is. It is a doorway into a forgotten world and a poster-boy for urban decay. The graffiti and dilapidation tells the story not just of Detroit’s acrimonious decline but also the abandonment of rail travel in the United States. At its peak during the 1940’s, 200 trains left this station daily. Today, none. While rail travel is receiving some political buzz in Washington, the fate of this gorgeous structure is uncertain. Many have flirted with re-purposing the old building, from the Detroit Police to casino developers, but for the moment it stands quietly on the outskirts of the modern world like an old ornate wrench that fits no bolt.
Abandoned since: 1988

abandoned skyscrapers

Ryugyong Hotel
Location: Pyongyang, North Korea
Stories: 105 floors
Story: This massive pyramidal structure (above, furthest left) is a 105 story symbol for the absurdist ambitions of Kim Jong Il and the hermit kingdom. It has been under construction (on and off) for decades. It has been called the world’s most hideous hotel. It is an unnecessary extravagance in a country that can barely feed its people. The project was abandoned after the fall of the Soviet Union due to Soviet subsidies to North Korea coming to an end. The hollow shell stood vacant for decades, just towering above the city – a failure too large to ignore but too painful to acknowledge. The North Koreans spent years denying the structure’s existence, removing it from photographs and excluding it from maps of Pyongyang. Too much shame, it seems, in the very obvious failure. Construction on the structure resumed recently with Egyptian architectural firm Orascom leading the project. It is slated for completion in 2012, to sync with the 100th birthday of Eternal President Kim Il Sung, deceased since 1994.
Abandoned since: 1992, currently under construction

Tower of David
Location: Caracas, Venezuela
Stories: 45 floors
Story: The Tower of David, one of the tallest buildings in Latin America, is the quintessential slum-scraper. There is no government interference, just 2500 squatters carving up its 45 stories for purposes ranging from housing to business. The building includes apartments, home-brew PlayStation arcades, beauty salons, and perhaps the most suspicious dentistry operation in the new world. While the current occupants have yet to climb higher than the 30th floor, it is only a matter of time before the anarchic housing market pushes residences higher towards the dilapidated rooftop helipad – a symbol from Caracas’ forgotten banking boom.
Abandoned since: 1994, never completed

abandoned skyscrapers

Buffalo Central Terminal
Location: Buffalo, USA
Stories: 20
Story: The Buffalo Central terminal has been looted for artifacts, vandalized by bored delinquents, used for art exhibitions, explored by ghost hunters, and even sold for $1. It is a gorgeous old structure plagued by a series of humiliating footnotes, caught in a perpetual fall from grace. But it was not always so. At a time, the Buffalo Central Terminal was an important hub servicing hundreds of trains daily. Still an Art Deco architectural masterpiece, the structure possesses a prominent tower worthy of superlatives, and its halls are said to be haunted by ghostly apparitions waiting for trains that will never arrive. Last Halloween, the TV show Ghost Hunters filmed a 6 hour marathon in the creepy old building. It is possible to tour the structure and even get hitched in its lofty halls. Click here for more information.
Abandoned since: 1980

abandoned skyscrapers

Szkieletor (Skelator)
Location: Krakow, Poland
Stories: 20 floors
Story: The tallest building in Krakow is a a hulking skeleton of a structure unofficially named after the villain from He-man – a show extremely popular in Poland in the early 1980’s. Construction began in 1975, but the Pols ran into economic troubles. Today, the building is primarily a backdrop in which to drape massive advertisements. It is also a constant reminder of the decades old malfeasance of Skelator – an urban Castle Grayskull looming on the Polish horizon.
Abandoned since: 1981, never completed

PacBell Building
Location: San Francisco, USA
Stories: 26
Story: Once the tallest building in San Francisco, the PacBell building is a Neo-Gothic marvel abandoned last decade. Completed in 1925, the giant is capped with 13 foot tall art deco Eagles looking out over the great San Francisco expanse. While the building was purchased in 2007 for $118 million, it has since been left to decay quietly in its own upscale way. Unlike most abandoned skyscrapers though, this one still has some life in it. Security guards patrol the ground floor, and the tower is lit up at night. A couple of brave urban explorers over at Bearings snuck past the guard and explored the tower’s heights. Check out their first hand account of the abandoned skyscraper. The PacBell Building will likely be repurposed into condominiums in the coming years.
Abandoned since: 2005

abandoned skyscrapers

Edificio Sao Vito
Location: Sao Paolo, Brazil
Stories: 27 floors
Story: The original vertical favela arrived on the scene in the late fifties with the intention of providing housing to Sao Paolo’s middle class community and expats. Before long though, the building fell into disrepair and became an overpopulated den of urban plight – a favela that sprawled up. As basic services and utilities declined over the years, tenants began disposing their garbage out the window and obtaining illegal electricity. Many of the Edificio’s 624 apartment units were split into two – stressing the already shaky infrastructure of the building known as “Balança mas não Cai” (It shakes but does not fall). By the eighties, the tap water was polluted and only one of the three elevators partially worked – making its way halfway up the building. Edificio Sao Vito was formally evacuated in 2004, though crackheads and drug dealers have taken to the abandoned structure like moths to a flame. Allegedly, the Mayor of Sao Paolo tried to demolish the building because it obstructed his otherwise pleasant view. While this bit of urban lore may or may not be true, the building has been flirting with demolition for the last decade. At the time of reading its graffiti flecked concrete walls may simply be dust.
Abandoned since: 2004

abandoned skyscrapers

Book Tower
Location: Detroit, USA
Stories: 38 floors
Story: Construction began on the Book Tower in 1916, just a few years after Henry Ford transformed auto-making forever with assembly line production. It is the old style of high-rise – more a kin of masonry than a child of steel and glass. For years, the classic structure with an ornate copper roof stood for the old world extravagance of Detroit. Now, it has taken on an altogether different metaphorical role as a sad reminder of when the eminent address spoke for the industrialist success of one of America’s finest cities. The property has changed hands many times in the last decade and plans exist to drop hundreds of millions in restoring the old-school giant.
Abandoned since: 2009

abandoned skyscrapers

Sathorn Unique
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Stories: 49
Story: During the Thai tiger economy of the 1990’s, skyscrapers grew all over Bangkok in a display of Thailand’s new-found economic prominence. This one never completely grew up. Crows circle the pinnacle and rats call its lower levels home. Locals, convinced its hallways are haunted, stay out of the ghostscraper. Expat urban spelunkers have explored the building and returned to Khao San Road with stories from its upper reaches. The verdict: it is a dilapidated mess. The future of the Sathorn Unique remains unclear but perhaps someday it will be finished. For now, it looms on the Bangkok skyline with many other abandoned skeletal structures.
Abandoned since: 1997

abandoned skyscrapers

Sterick Building
Location: Memphis, USA
Stories: 29 floors
Story: Once the tallest building in the southern United States, the original “Queen of Memphis” is a ghostly skyscraper, boarded up and decaying from the inside. The late Gothic architectural marvel once shuttled around thousands of workers, from stockbrokers to barbers, in its eight high-speed elevators. It has been the domain of urban explorers and desperate vagrants ever since being completely abandoned in the late nineteen-eighties. While inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places preserves its era appropriate charms, the future of the towering structure is unclear. Perhaps a redevelopment boom in downtown Memphis will reignite a need for the large ghostscraper.
Abandoned since: 1980s

top flickr image via country_boy_shane

The Polish Spa Town That Time Forgot

The Polish spa town that time forgot.Set in the pine-laden Beskid Sadecki mountains in southern Poland and not far from the Slovakian border, Krynica attracts hordes of tourists. The town’s long promenade is the center of action: flanked by the usual 19th-century Central European spa town Art Deco and neo-classical architecture, the promenade is frequented by water-sipping strollers, purple-haired geriatrics who like to pass out on park benches, and mustached men trying to convince passersby that they really want a photo-op with a sad-looking monkey on a chain or a depressed miniature horse. There are no backpackers or even flashpackers or jetsetters here.

Nearly all of the hordes of tourists in Krynica come to parade their diseases down the promenade, sipping the apparently healing mineral water that bubbles up from springs, and awaiting their next spa treatment. The reason? This town of 11,000 people is one of Poland’s most popular heath resorts. The Polish spa town that time forgot.


How many Poles does it take to make a spa town flourish? In the case of Krynica, the answer is just one. When Jozef Dietl, the father of Polish balneology (the science of the medical application of baths) declared in 1856 that the town’s natural mineral springs were curative, Krynica became the center of sanative relief for this Central European country. It’s not a place for the young, or even the young at heart. The nightlife scene, for example, is mostly limited to several dancehalls, where visitors party like it’s 1949.
I didn’t have a disease, but I did have an assignment from a magazine editor who was working on a European spa package article. When she found out I was going to be in Poland for another assignment, she came to me with orders: “Just go to Krynica and spend the day getting spa treatments.” I’ve never been into spa travel. I usually go somewhere for a singular reason: to eat (and then write about it) or just because I’m curious about the place, but I never gravitate toward this kind of pampering.

But here I was, sitting on a bench reading a brochure about what was in store for me. Krynica-Zdroj, as it’s officially called, is historically known for treating illnesses of the stomach, diabetes, menstrual cycle disturbances, and, according to the brochure, “states after conservative operations of genital organ.” As I watched geriatric spa goers limp by on the promenade, I feared the worst.

Taking my editor’s orders, I marched into the spa at the ’70s theme park Panorama Hotel and steeled myself. I scanned the menu of treatments, many of which seemed incomprehensible and some almost seemed like a threat. Measurement of Pressure? The President’s Armchair? The Scottish Whip? I didn’t want to ask. Instead, I blindly pointed to a small handful of treatments on the list.

A frumpy women in her early 60s whisked me into a white-tiled room and fired a slew of Polish orders at me. I only understood her hand gestures: disrobe. When I got down to my boxers, she put up the palm of her hand to halt right there and then waved me to stand against the wall. Ten seconds later, this granny was blasting two high-pressured water streams at me. I felt less like I was getting treated for a disease and more like I was a victim of the Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, the communist-era secret police. After a few more minutes of punishing high-pressure water, I was escorted into a massage room. The strapping, blond Zoltan explained he was going to give me a “sport massage,” which in Polish massage speak meant he’d be punishing my back and shoulders for 45 minutes. As Zoltan pounded and punched away, grunting and breathing heavy, his sweat dropping on me, I wondered who was getting more out of this: me or him. When he was done abusing my back, he let me go to a hot whirlpool so I could soak off the pain that was just inflicted on me by the water-firing granny and Zoltan. Eventually, my spa day ended with the President’s Armchair: a leather chair with what felt like a bowling ball inside moving up and down my back, as speakers in the headrest blasted Polish rock.


Celebrating the end of my day’s worth of torture, I ate surprisingly artery hardening, yet delicious pork-stuffed potato pancakes and cheese-filled pierogis.

I hopped back on the bus to Krakow early the next morning hoping that I never come back to Krynica. Or, rather, that I never have a real reason to come back.