Gadling’s 13 stranger than strange sites for Friday the 13th

Happy Friday the 13th! Tributed to being an unlucky day thanks to wives tales, religion and mythology, this is a day when people might think about altering their travel plans. The thought is, why push your luck? Franklin D. Roosevelt was one such person. He never traveled on the 13th. He even died on April 12, 1945. That, my friends, was on a Thursday. That is kind of strange, no?

In honor of a day that’s associated with strangeness, here is Gadling’s list of 13 top stranger than strange sites from around the world. They are not in any order of strangeness. You decide which one ought to be number one. All of them are places we’ve either been to, written about or both.

Even though this is photo is of a Friday the 13th in February, it fits the theme.

1. Baked Bean Museum of Excellence, Port Talbot, Wales

Perhaps a museum dedicated entirely to baked beans is not that strange. (Oh, come on. Of course it is.) What’s more strange than the shelves of 200 items attributed to baked beans is the owner, Captain Beany. In a benevolent strange sort of way, he is baked bean colored–kind of. Plus, he wears a cape. If you go to the museum, you’ll get a certificate saying you were there.

2. Berkeley Pit, Butte, Montana

The Berkeley Pit is strange enough that it was once the subject of a Daily Show segment. This enormous body of toxic water–7,000 ft. long, 5,600 ft. wide and 1,600 ft. deep in Butte, Montana is a result of the town’s copper mining history. Now a tourist attraction as well as a Superfund site, a good look only costs $2. How toxic is the water, you wonder? How toxic does this sound? Back in 1995, a flock of snow geese migrating from Canada landed on the water and died. Scads of them, as in 342 or more.

3. Checkpoint Charlie and Maurmuseum, Berlin, Germany

Even though the Berlin Wall is no more, the museum that started out in a two-room apartment near “Checkpoint C,” the most famous gate in the wall that once stood between East and West Germany, is still there. Check Point Charlie is where foreigners and diplomats were allowed to cross between the two Berlins.

The private museum tells about the history of the Berlin Wall and what went on at the checkpoint. The strangeness comes from the idea that an Iron Curtain existed –and the feeling one gets while reading about the various stories of people’s escape attempts-some successful, and many not. I was there before the Berlin Wall came down. Some of those stories still give me the creeps.

4. Creation Museum, Petersburg, Kentucky.

Even though I’ve passed the billboard to this museum many a time, I haven’t gone here–yet. This museum is dedicated to the idea that the creation story as written in Genesis is word for word true. What about dinosaurs, you ask? Well, according to some of the museum’s exhibits, dinosaurs and people walked the earth at the same time. As strange as this museum may seem, it is no rinky dink establishment, but one of those museums with state of the art interactive displays.

5. Hall of Horns, Buckhorn Museum & Saloon, San Antonio, Texas

Although there are more than one oddball section of this attraction in San Antonio, Texas, one of them stands out as the strangest– the Hall of Horns at the Buckhorn Museum. Even though it’s been years since I bellied up to the bar in the saloon for a Lone Star beer here, I can’t get the images of walls filled with trophy mounts out of my head. There are 1,200 of them from 520 different species. This horn collecting started back in 1881 when the bar first opened. People could bring in antlers for a free shot. My favorite for strangeness in this museum isn’t a mounted trophy, though. It’s the chair made entirely out of horns that looks strangely comfortable.

6. Haunted Prison, Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania

Another gives-a-person -the creeps place is this 1880s prison camp. Set up as a penal settlement and a timber station in 1830, prisoners from Britain were shipped here. This historic site is made up of old houses, cell blocks and even an autopsy room that visitors can wander through. Although Mike attests to its super creepiness, he also pronounces it super cool.

7. The Heidelberg Project, Detroit, Michigan

“Brightly-painted doors, shopping carts, shoes, telephones, old signs, tires, scrap metal, and rusted appliances form a surreal landscape of discarded relics from people’s lives” create an alternative version of abandoned neighborhoods in Detroit. Conceptualized by Tyree Guyton and created by children and artists in the neighborhood, this outdoor art project is Katie’s version of strange. What’s also strange is that people who don’t like it have set the project on fire from time to time. What’s not strange is that whenever a section is burned, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, art is added to it to transform blight into beauty once more.

8. House on the Rock, Spring Green, Wisconsin

The House in the Rock is one of those sites that is almost beyond words. Scott does a fine job encapsulating in this Gadling post why this creation of Alex Jordan’s is one of the strangest places he’s been. As Scott explains it, every inch of this place is filled with something to gawk at and wonder about on a do-it-yourself kind of tour. From what Scott describes, it sounds like each area of the multi-faceted building is bursting with all things wild and wonderful. I’m wondering about that “car with a heart shaped spa tub, towing a pyramid filled with elephants.” Scott snapped a picture of it. Yep, it’s strange alright.

9. Longwan Shaman Amusement Park, Changchun city, China

This park may not be any stranger than any other amusement park except that it has the world’s largest penis. Don’t you think this is a strange centerpiece for an amusement park? According to what Willy found out, the structure celebrates the area’s shamanistic culture. I guess that’s as a good a reason as any to have a 30-ft phallus made out of steel and straw.

10. Mao Zedong’s Tomb, Beijing, China

At Tienanmen Square, inside a mausoleum situated so you can’t miss it, is a crystal coffin similar to what Sleeping Beauty had while she awaited her prince. Inside the coffin, looking totally unkissable, lies Chairman Mao Zedong. If a “pickled” former head of state available for public viewing isn’t stranger than strange, than what is? Along with Mao’s dead body that looks as if it’s shrunk over the years so that his head seems out of proportion to the rest of him–seriously, he doesn’t look right regardless of the fact that he’s dead–the timbre of the experience adds to the oddness. There’s no talking, no stopping, and no moving out of the single file. The scene is one where creepy organ music would be fitting. (I’ve seen Ho Chi Minh as well, but Mao looks stranger–and so was the experience.)

11. Museum of Broken Relationships, Croatia

This is not a museum you have to go to Croatia to see. Broken relationships may be coming to you. This traveling show, created in Croatia, was last seen at Singapore’s Fringe Festival. Featuring items from people who have suffered from a broken hearts, the collection is a mishmash of love letters and objects from relationships that turned into sad, sad, tales of loss. One of the strangest items on display is a leg prosthesis that was donated by a war veteran. He had the misfortune of falling in love with his physiotherapist.

12. Museum of Forensic Medicine, Bangkok, Thailand

Located in Siriraj Hospital, this museum gets high marks for pairing the ick factor with strangeness. What will you see if you go to this museum? “Elephantiasis testicles, severed heads, Cyclops babies, murder weapons, blood-stained clothing, hanged corpses” etc., etc, etc.

13. North Korea

If you haven’t read Gadling alumni Neil’s posts on his travels to North Korea, do. Neil’s whole trip was filled with strangeness. Because Neil is not that strange, I’m assuming that the strangeness came from the country. If you’re in doubt about this, please read Sean’s open letter to Dear Leader Leader, Kim Jong. In addition to having one of the strangest world leaders, North Korea has Traffic Girls. Armed with white anklets, whistles and batons, these women whom Neil found fetching direct Pyongyang’s few automobiles.

For more Friday the 13th lore check out this article in The Valdosta Daily Times. That’s where I found out about FDR.

Tragedy changes downtown Bozeman, Montana: A tourism blow

Each year we’ve gone through the outskirts of Bozeman, Montana on our way to Butte from Billings. Each year, before we head for Montana, we say we’ll go to Bozeman, at least for a day. It’s been touted as being a western town success story. Boutique type stores, galleries, and eateries are housed in wonderfully restored buildings that capture the flavor of when the west boomed as the railroad was built and mining thrived.

Some friends of ours who live in Montana have told us that Bozeman has lost some of its wild charm as it has swung more upscale over the years. Unfortunately, last week, Bozeman was delivered a blow that will be a hard one to get over. Due to a massive explosion due to a gas leak, five of the historic buildings downtown on Main Street were destroyed and several damaged. The woman who managed the gallery in the building where the leak happened was killed.

Because of the economic downturn that has also affected downtown Bozeman, there’s a fear that the downtown might have difficult time recovering. The New York Times article, where I read about this news, also covers the other ways economic difficulties have influenced Bozeman’s recent development projects.

With this explosion has come the anxiety about leaks in old gas lines, probably something all older towns ought to think about. Now that I’ve found out about Bozeman’s recent hardship, I have more of an urge to swing through town this summer to buy something. It’s the least we can do.

If you browse through the photos of crd who took this picture of Main Street in Bozeman, you can see more results of the explosion.

Budget Travel: Butte, Montana

Summary: Butte, a town in the southwestern part of Montana, began as a group of gold and silver mining camps in the 1870s. When copper mining boomed, it grew into one of the wealthiest spots in the United States. During WW I, Butte was called “The Richest Hill on Earth.” Never mind that Jon Stewart’s the “Daily Show” made fun of Butte a couple years ago. It’s one of those towns with a unique place in American history that is evident at every corner.

The reason for the Daily Show fun-poking is the Berkeley Pit, the now shut down open copper mine. When the mine closed, it resulted in a lake of toxic water that has since become a tourist attraction. Like I said, never mind that. Butte, unlike what the Daily Show reported, has much to offer the traveler who is looking for a wonderful time that is easy on the wallet. For that reason, Butte has been experiencing quite the tourist boom over the past few years. This is a town that blends hard scrabble and artsy–the old with the new.

As people have discovered Butte’s charm and splendor, some have moved here bringing their money with them. Historic brick and stone Victorian-style buildings have been lovingly restored, and Butte’s can-do spirit has thrived. Evel Knievel was born and raised here, for example. Still, this is a city where laid back might as well be its middle name. You can walk to most places of interest, although, hopefully, you’re fond of walking up long hills. Butte has a doozey.

Getting in: Although Butte itself is a budget-worthy destination, getting there can be pricey. Flights to Montana are generally expensive, although regional airlines offer cheaper options to certain destinations. Delta flies into Butte’s Burt Mooney Airport, but Frontier Airlines flies into Bozeman, 85 miles away. There’s an economy priced RT flight from Phoenix to Bozeman in May for $202, for example.

Also check out Horizon Airlines or flying into a city like Salt Lake City, Denver or Seattle where you can rent a car and drive the rest of the way. We’ve done the Seattle and Denver fly and drive ourselves. A friend of ours flew from New Jersey into Salt Lake City which is 5 1/2-hours away. Frommers recommends this option for the same reasons that I do. It gives you the chance to enjoy the vast landscape in between.

Butte is also on a Greyhound route, although having a car is so worth it for the off the beaten path destinations like Philipsburg. The scenery alone makes Philipsburg, located on the Pintler Scenic Highway not far from Georgetown Lake, worth the drive. If you arrive on a Greyhound, consider renting a car for the day so you can explore more easily.

Where to Stay: The range of places to slumber varies from national chain motels to family run establishments. Most are within walking distance of downtown, but some are closer than most. The Super 8 is one less expensive option. For a historic Butte experience, try the Finlen Inn located downtown. Camping is also possible, although if you’re tenting it, you’ll have RV company. For a comprehensive list of lodging options, check out Montana Big Sky Country, the official state travel information Website.

What to See: You can’t miss Butte’s mining history, no matter from which angle you explore its hills. The headframes where miners were lowered below the ground are a prominent part of the landscape. For a close look at what was once Butte’s glory days of copper mine prosperity, head to the Copper King Mansion. Once owned by William Andrews Clark, one of the three copper mine barons, the 34-room mansion is also a B&B and has been kept to look like it did when the Clark’s lived there. Tours for adults are $7. Children are $3.50. If you’re an overnight guest, tours are free.

On the other end of the mining life spectrum is what is left of Butte’s Chinatown. The first Chinese people came to Butte in 1868 to work in the mines, eventually starting businesses like laundries, restaurants and dry goods stores. Their numbers grew to more than 2,000 until discrimination laws pushed most of them out of Montana. Two attractions not to miss are the Wah Chong Tai Company and Mai Wah Noodle Parlor buildings. Now connected, they serve as the museum of the Mai Wah Society with a purpose to preserve and highlight Butte’s important Chinese-American history.

For a fun, interactive tour, head to the World of Mining Museum to don a mining hat complete with a head lamp for a trip underground into a once active mine. There are chances to operate the machinery. After wards, take time to wander among the buildings of “Hell Roarin’ Gulch,” a reproduction of an 1890s mining town.

Part of mining lore is the disaster stories. Butte’s biggest disaster was on June 8, 1917 when an accident in the Granite Mountain mine ignited a fire that killed 168 men. Toward the top end of Butte is the Granite Mountain Memorial, a tribute to the men and their families. The view from the memorial’s vantage point is stunning.

As with any mining towns, brothels were part of the scenery. Butte’s no different. The Dumas Brothel, in operation from 1890 to 1982, is now a museum.

Wandering among Butte’s downtown shops offers a variety of antique stores, gift shops and galleries. Check out Garden of Beadin, a bead store with EVERYTHING, Jail House Coffee (housed in the original jail), and the Butte Silver Bow Art Foundation for starters.

For entertainment value, there’s nothing better than the National Folk Festival and Evel Knievel Days. The National Folk Festival is a music lover’s dream. Last summer was the festival’s first year in Butte. There are two more summers before it moves to its next venue.

Evel Knievel Days happens every July. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen motorcycles ridden by daredevils fly around the Wall of Terror. Both festivals are FREE and downtown. A good friend of mine swears by the Ai Ri Rah Festival, the largest Irish festival in the Rockies. I haven’t been to it yet, but it sounds fabulous.

The Old Butte Historical Adventures walking or trolley tours is one way to dive into Butte’s intriguing past. Tour guides, who know the inside scoop of particular buildings and the stories of the people who made Butte happen, can point out details you’d otherwise miss.

Where to eat: For dining, and to keep with Butte’s historic past, head to Pekin Noodle Parlor. This Chinese restaurant opened in 1916. It’s been operated by the same family ever since. The curtained booths use to serve as brothel stalls. For Mexican food, try La Hacienda, and if you eat meat, you can’t go wrong with Pork Chop John’s. The pork chop sandwich is tasty and cheap.

VRBO, Vacation Rentals by Owner has an easy to navigate new look

The newly designed website of VRBO–Vacation Rentals by Owner is a snap to use. Clicking on a particular region of one of the maps is one way to zoom in on a specific destination. Click on a state, for example, and whoosh, there you are browsing the bounties.

In each state, rentals are divided into regions. I went to Montana and then to Butte which pointed me to four vacation home rentals, two with rave reviews from people vowing to return, and two where people haven’t left comments.

The world map gives you the option of heading to a specific continent and then narrowing down to a country search. Or you can browse the list of locations, also on the home page.

The homepage also has a section divided into two categories: Family Reunion or Group Travel, and Cabin Rentals and Beach Rentals. This is another design element that helps narrow a search.

If you have no idea what country or state will capture your fancy, start clicking away at the various options. Photos and detailed descriptions help with the yay or nay sorting. See what captures your eye.

With 110,000 vacation rentals and 21,000 worldwide locations, VRBO is great place to find that vacation spot to suit your needs. For people who are looking to post their vacation rentals, check this site out. You’ll be in good company.

Last Chance Ranch in Montana offers dinner in a tipi

If you happen to be near Helena, Montana, here’s an option for an outing you probably can’t find in your own back yard. I wouldn’t have known about it myself if I hadn’t picked up Section D of today’s The Montana Standard this morning while staying at my friend’s house in Butte.

The article on The Last Chance Ranch caught my attention. The ranch offers an old-fashioned wagon ride through the forest to dinner in one of two tipis. The dinner, a home-style cooked prime rib feast, includes a performance by Bruce Anfinson who is well known in these parts as the Charlie Russell of music. Charlie Russell was a western style artist whose work now fetches thousands of thousands of dollars. I mean thousands.

Anfinson says that he aims to give people a slice of the real Montana that he loves. Songs reflect Montana history and culinary traditions. Expect huckleberries. The ranch, now owned by Anfinson, is 102 years old, and according to the article, this is a well-worth it western experience.

Here’s the Web site link for the ranch with info about how to register for the dinner.