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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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David Copperfield’s Penthouse of Wonders

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There are countless things I never thought I’d do: solve a thorny calculus equation; pacify an enraged mama polar bear with my calming gaze; stroll the 57th-floor roof deck of David Copperfield’s penthouse with a blood-orange harvest moon rising behind me, a jazz-swing cover of “Black Hole Sun” sounding around me, and the flat immensity of Manhattan unfolding before me.

And yet, thanks to Travel + Leisure, one breezy evening last September I found myself doing just that. Not the math and bear part, of course—but attending a party chez Copperfield. To publicize his private-island resort on Musha Cay in the Bahamas (more on the news there in a minute), the magician gave us a sneak peek of his New York City home.

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Hollywood Sign to Be Renamed...for a Day

201002-b-hollywood-signjpgNBC Los Angeles |  The Hollywood sign might look different Thursday—as in, completely covered.

Trust For Public Lands, a nature conservation group, said it has reached a deal that would protect a huge swath of land above the Hollywood sign from being developed into luxury homes. The group's president, Will Rogers, said Monday that the Trust secured an option to buy the rugged 138-acre parcel for about $12 million from Chicago-based Fox River Financial Resources.

As part of its initiative to save land near the sign from development, Trust for Public Lands wants to cover the sign with a shroud that reads, "Save the Peak."

Credit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

 

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In South Beach, Burger King Goes Glam

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Well, maybe not glam, but Burger King’s new "Whopper Bar" in South Beach, Miami—an industrial-chic, “boutique” rendition of the distinctly unglamorous orange-themed fast-food chain—will grill you up something called a “Black & Bleu Steakhouse XT” (oh la la, beyond-fries French).

Care to wash down that seven-ounce, flame-broiled beef patty with a nice cold beer? The Whopper Bar offers a selection of artisanal American brews, serving everything from, uh, super-hip Budweiser to luxe Miller Light.

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British Holiday Inns Debut Human "Bed Warmers"

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- Bed made...check!
- Guestroom cleaned prior to arrival...check!
- Mini-bar fully stocked...check!
- Wireless internet working...check!
- Hotel staff member warming bed...ch—wait, what?

One of the more notable traits of a worthwhile hotel is its attention to details. Whether it's a personalized welcome letter from the G.M., goodies for your accompanying canine companion, or just the personal touch that comes with staff greeting you by name when you walk through the lobby, it's the little things that really entice guests to keep coming back again and again.

But Holiday Inn is taking that attention to detail just a little bit further....In a new campaign, three of the hotel's some 1,300 properties—two in London and 1 in Manchester, England—are offering their guests the option to have their beds warmed up prior to arrival. Not by heated blankets. Not by hot bottles of water. But by willing staff members outfitted with fleece...onesies!

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Going Overboard: A "Titanic" Museum?

 

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Planning a roadtrip to Dollywood next year? While you're in the kitschy wonderland of Pigeon Forge in eastern Tennessee, be sure to add the brand-new Titanic Museum to your must-see list. The three-deck replica of the ill-fated ship will guarantee an educational (albeit ridiculous) experience in addition to riding the roller-coasters at the buxom blonde's theme park.

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The Best Travel Jacket Ever?

That’s me and Pepper, just back from a stroll about the grounds of Chateau Orwoll. I’m wearing the Quantum Jacket from ScotteVest, or SeV, which I wish I had had with me a month ago during a two-week multi-country trip, because it’s the best travel jacket I’ve ever worn. The main reason it’s so great? Storage.

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London's Claridge's Hotel Unveils Galliano Xmas Tree Today

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I'm dreaming of a Dior Christmas. Provocative designer John Galliano's holiday on ice now rises next to the grand staircase at Claridge's, a frozen confection enlivened by a lurking snow leopard, dragonflies and parrots. So whenever I holly go lightly through this glittering Art Deco lobby on Brook Street in London's Mayfair district for the next month, my season will be brightened by this Arctic orchid tree from Dior's outré elf.

Shane Mitchell is a special correspondent for Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of Claridge's

 

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