The Don't Bother Travel Guide: 101 Places Not To Go
The Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and the pyramids in Egypt are all likely candidates for a traveler's Must-See-Before-I-Die list. The Seattle Gum Wall, the Beijing Museum of Tap Water and the Montana "Testicle Festival"? Not so much.
These are just a few of the un-recommended destinations you'll read about in Catherine Price's 101 Places Not to See Before You Die. In this anti-travel guide of sorts, Price takes it upon herself to go to terrible tourist destinations ... so you don't have to.
She takes a break from her travels in Turin, Italy, to talk with NPR's Renee Montagne about some of the places that can safely be crossed off your bucket list.
Karostas Cietums Prison Hotel, Liepaja, Latvia
There are a number of skippable destinations that can be generally categorized as "odd places to sleep," and this prison turned hotel in Latvia easily falls onto that list.
"It's not like they took the prison and tried to like spice it up and turn it into a luxury resort," Price explains -- it really looks like a prison.
The hotel boasts that 150 people were shot there. "Ever since the first years of its existence it has been a place to break people's lives and suppress their free will," the hotel's website explains.
"Guests" of the prison sleep on iron beds or prison bunks. For an extra-special occasion, you can arrange to be abducted at your workplace and delivered to the hotel.
"They walk the fine line," Price says, "between places you genuinely wouldn't want to see ... but also places that are kind of interesting." She says several of the entries in the book fall under that category -- destinations you experience just for the good story afterward.
Tunnel At The Demilitarized Zone Between North And South Korea
While working on a project in Korea, Price had the opportunity to visit the DMZ. She expected it to be a "Berlin Wall-type thing" and was surprised to find "it's actually more of a sidewalk curb" with North Korea on one side and South Korea on the other with "soldiers on either side just staring at each other."
The tunnel is an organized tourist attraction -- visitors are told to store their personal items in cubbies, don helmets and step onto a little train. Price says she was "lulled into complacency because it kind of seems like a Disneyland ride." But that didn't last long. "All of a sudden, with no explanation, they take you down into this narrow, claustrophobic tunnel blasted into solid rock."
Lest you mistakenly think the tunnel was designed with an invasion in mind ... think again! North Korea insists it's just a coalmine.
The Museum Of Tap Water, Beijing
In 2001, Price says, an edict was issued that required Beijing to open 150 new museums by 2008. Hence a museum devoted to the fascinating history of ... tap water.
The museum is full of artifacts from the early days of Bejing's tap water system, which dates back to 1908. On display are coupons that people brought to water stations to receive water, and stethoscopes that were used to detect leaks in the pipes.
The irony of the whole museum, Price says, "is that Beijing's water is not safe to drink from the tap."
Blarney Stone, Blarney, Ireland
Legend has it that if you kiss the Blarney Stone -- built into the Blarney Castle in Ireland -- you'll be granted great gifts of eloquence and flattery. (And, also, possibly, contagious disease.)
Price isn't buying it. "When I hear about a destination whose main attraction is giving you the chance to kiss a piece of stone that's been kissed by hundreds of thousands of people, that is not something that I personally need to do," she says.
Needless to say, representatives from Blarney Castle's tourist department were none too happy to find out the stone was on Price's list of places not to visit before she dies.
"I actually had a very sweet exchange with the woman in charge of the marketing for the castle," Price says. "And she would like [everyone] to know that you can actually request a special cleaning of the stone before you kiss it, if you would like."
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, Calif.
The giant house in downtown San Jose was built by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester gun company. The story goes something like this: Grieving the untimely deaths of both her husband and her daughter, Winchester sought counsel from a psychic, who told her that her family members had been murdered by the souls of people killed by Winchester guns.
The psychic told Winchester to move west and build a house for these angry spirits -- and that as long as she kept adding on to the home, the spirits would not kill her, too. With millions of dollars to burn, Winchester built for decades, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Price explains. The result is a sprawling, 160-room mansion -- a maze of dozens of hallways, chimneys and stairways leading nowhere.
Price says she showed up with the "expectation that somehow it was going to be interesting" but ultimately was disappointed. "The truth is that we don't know for sure if that story is true. There's no furniture in the house, it's just ... basically empty rooms."
She says she left the house feeling the way she does after a "binge on fast food -- like I'm really full and also completely empty."
Museum Of Anatomy, Turin, Italy
Price has continued her travels through Europe and Asia and still frequently comes across destinations ... that aren't -- such as the Museum of Anatomy in Turin. With its dried-out body parts and fingers preserved in formaldehyde, the museum is not something Price felt she really "need to do" on a hot Turin afternoon. But the creepiest part is that the museum is lorded over by the skeleton of its founder.
Price explains: "He left a note in his will saying, 'I don't want to be buried, I don't want to be cremated, I want to be preserved using the techniques that I myself developed and be put on display in the museum.' So there's this skeleton with his brain, preserved by his own methods, sitting at his feet. Very weird."
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