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In Las Vegas, the Price is Right

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I recently went to Las Vegas for the first time, for my best friend’s bachelorette weekend. Now before you get carried away with visions of sheer hedonism that you think must have ensued, keep in mind that none of us drinks or gambles, and some of us are easily scandalized. So what do a band of tame, teetotalling girls do in Sin City, you ask? We managed to find plenty to keep us occupied, from the bountiful buffet at our hotel, the fabulous Bellagio, to Cirque du Soleil’s dazzling water spectacle O, to an over-the-top feast at Alain Ducasse’s Michelin-starred Mix, at the top of Mandalay Bay (our closest encounter with debauchery came when our waiter confessed he was a former Chippendales dancer). We wound up having a fabulous—if somewhat low-key—time, but the highlight of the weekend was, shockingly, testing our luck at the Price Is Right Live!. Yes, as in that Price Is Right.

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Hollywood Sign to Become Hotel?

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Tinseltown rumor has it that the Hollywood sign, that iconic beacon of glamour, could be cast in a new leading role: that of a luxury hotel. 

The fate of the sign, first erected in 1923, has recently been in question as real estate investors who own the adjacent land indicated that they were willing to sell it to developers for building luxury homes. In February, the Trust for Public Land and the Hollywood Sign Trust began an emergency fund-raising campaign to buy the 138 acres and save the sign. 

The Los Angeles Daily News recently reported that a Danish architect, Christian Bay-Jorgensen, met with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to propose that a luxury hotel, incorporating the 9-letter sign, be built on the site.  His plan calls for each letter to be rebuilt 90 feet tall (twice their current height) and enclose lavish guest rooms with enviable views of the city.  The rest of the hotel would be built behind the letters and would, in Bay-Jorgensen’s plan, include public spaces that could serve as locations for awards ceremonies.

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San Francisco Detours Into Reality Tourism

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New York Times | Visitors know all too well this pretty city’s sights, what with the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and the clang-clang-clangy cable cars.

But now San Francisco’s civic boosters have decided they want to add a highly unlikely stop to the tourist itinerary: the Uptown Tenderloin, the ragged, druggy and determinedly dingy domain of the city’s most down and out.

And what is the appeal?

“We offer a kind of grittiness you can’t find much anymore,” said Randy Shaw, a longtime San Francisco housing advocate and a driving force behind the idea of Tenderloin tourism. “And what is grittier than the Tenderloin?"  READ MORE

Photo credit: Philip Matthews

Ryanair Confirms: ‘We are serious about charging a toilet fee’

201004-b-bathroomjpgRyanair, the ultra-budget Irish airline known for its low fares and numerous surcharges, confirmed yesterday what had long been rumored: It is serious about charging passengers to use the toilet. If it goes forward, it would be just the latest in a long line of airline industry fees that have dogged travelers over the past several years. The news comes on the heels of yesterday’s announcement from Spirit Airlines that it would begin charging passengers a carry-on luggage fee of up to $45. When I wrote the Spirit blog item yesterday, I said the only fee that could be worse would be a toilet charge.

Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

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Air Comet Cabin Crew Bares All

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Euro Weekly News |  A dozen stewardesses from bankrupt air line Air Comet have posed in the nude for a special calendar. The 1,200 copies of the saucy calendar is being sold over the internet for 15 euros. The calendar is the last resort of the 672 Air Comet stag which have been left unemployed after the air line went bust last December and many without pay for the past six months.

Air Comet had tried and failed to create a niche in the market by offering cheap flights to South America, but dropping demand due to the recession caused the airline to collapse leaving hundreds of passengers stranded at various airports. It is calculated that Air Comet’s owes it creditors an estimated 160 million euros, five of which are thought to be unpaid staff wages.

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Photo credit: Augusto Robert/Handout

Thieving Baboons Wipe Out S. African Vineyards

201003-b-baboon-4jpgAFP |  Baboons with a taste for Chardonnay grapes are terrorising farmers in South Africa's Western Cape wine region, munching tonnes of grapes ready for harvesting, local media reported on Monday.

Farms in the Franschhoek Valley had been emptied by rampaging Chachma baboons, who sneak into secured plots and help themselves with top grade grapes, The Times newspaper said.

"They can easily wipe out up to two tonnes of grapes a week when you are not watching, and that makes about 1,500 to 2,000 bottles of wine," said Mark Dendy-Young, farm manager of La Petite Ferme.

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Photo courtesy of the South African Tourism Bureau

Forget the Staycation, Plan a WEIGHcation

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That’s right, make your next vacation a nauseatingly good time with a tour of competitive-eating sites. As documented on Man vs. Food, the weekly show on Travel Channel, there are tons of food challenges to earn participants fame, free food, and the booby prize: major heartburn.

In case you’d like to do a national tour of eat-this-ungodly-amount-of-food-in-this-very-short-amount-of-time offers, Coupon Sherpa,  a site devoted to coupon codes and promotions, compiled this list of free-food challenges.

Here are some of our top picks:

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Obscura Day: Celebrate Offbeat Travel

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Obscura Day, “an international celebration of wondrous, curious, and esoteric places,” is March 20.  Find offbeat treasures in your own hometown, or wherever you plan to be that day.

There’s something for everyone:

Tours for the science nerd

+ In Palo Alto, CA, visit one of the world’s largest working pneumatic tube systems, a 4-mile network through Stanford University Hospital that works to “shuttle specimens and paperwork around at 18 miles per hour”

+ Head to Dunedin, New Zealand to see the Beverly Clock, a 146-year old science experiment, powered solely by atmospheric changes

+ Tour Reed College’s nuclear reactor in Portland, OR (controlled by undergraduates, God help us)

+ Take a tram ride 65 stories below street level through the Kansas Underground Salt Museum built on an actively mined vein of salt that stretches from Kansas to New Mexico. (The world’s oldest organism was found here!)

+ Stroll the poison garden at Northumberland, England’s Alnwick Castle

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Hackers Expose Security Flaws with 'Elvis Presley' Passport

201002-b-elvisjpgLondon, England (CNN) | In the name of improved security a hacker showed how a biometric passport issued in the name of long-dead rock 'n' roll king Elvis Presley could be cleared through an automated passport scanning system being tested at an international airport.

Using a doctored passport at a self-serve passport machine, the hacker was cleared for travel after just a few seconds and a picture of the King himself appeared on the monitor's display.

Adam Laurie and Jeroen Van Beek, who call themselves "ethical hackers," say the exercise exposed how easy it is to fool a passport scanner with a fraudulent biometric chip.

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Luge Yourself on a Mountainside

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The news of the accidental death of a member of the Georgian luge team before the Olympics has made each competitive run down the icy track in British Columbia more difficult to watch. And yet the sight of the riders whizzing past, banking up curves, and rocketing down chutes, continues to thrill.

If fear of your own mortality and the prevalence of rainbow-colored Lycra get-ups hasn’t dampened your chronic need for speed, test your mettle with an icy joyride down one of the four combined tracks for bobsled, luge, and skeleton in the U.S.

+ Olympic Center, Lake Placid, New York: Plonk down $75 at the track built for the 1980 Winter Olympics, wedge yourself into a bobsled between a professional driver and a brakeman and shriek the half-mile length of iced track. For a mere $60, you can go it alone on a tiny skeleton sled, face-down and teeth rattling, your chin bouncing a heart-stopping few inches above the ice.

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