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Lake Natron

Photo by Thinkstock

It’s not exactly the vacation capital of the world due to its isolated location, but Lake Natron in Tanzania, Africa, is turning heads for what’s appearing from the depths of its alkaline concentrated water.

Almost everything that goes into the lake comes out dead and mummified, appearing to have “turned into stone.” Ash from volcano Ol Doinyo contaminated the lake, creating high concentrations of soda and magnesite that make it impossible for animals diving into the lake to survive.

Photographer Nick Brandt came across “calcified” birds and bats during a trip to the area. He captured images of the animals that he placed in poses as if they were still alive and published them in a new book titled “Across the Ravaged Land.”

Scientists suggest that the animals are confused by the “glassy” reflection of the water and enter the surface, causing them to get trapped and slowly calcify. The only creatures that survive this concoction are alkaline tilapia; fish that have adapted to the lake’s extreme conditions. Flamingos in the area can also survive standing in the water because of the protective skin or “shell” on their legs.

While the views and images from the area are striking, most travel sites say the lake is most appreciated from above as getting to the lake itself can be treacherous. It’s a 5-hour drive from the safari camps of the Serengeti’s Loliondo area and the accommodations at Lake Natron consist of tarp covered tent areas.

Also, with lake surface temperatures soaring above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, a water PH level equal to pure ammonia, and an evaporation rate that is ten times that of the region’s rainfall, it’s not exactly an ideal swimming or fishing hole.

But for the intrepid traveler, the views and science behind the area can make for an unforgettable experience.

Courtesy of Siemens AG, Munich/Berlin

Starting Tuesday, Oct. 8, Londoners will get a first glimpse at the future of the Tube in London. The lnspiro — a full-size model of a futuristic train created by Siemens, the company behind the idea — will be on display at The Crystal exhibition center in Royal Victoria Dock to mark the 150th anniversary of the London Underground.

The world’s first underground railway opened in 1863 between Paddington, in central London, and Farringdon, just north of the city, using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives. Today, the Underground is a public rapid transit system serving 270 stations, including a large part of Greater London and parts of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex counties.

Siemens sees the Inspiro as the Tube’s future. And it’s probably no coincidence that the news of this futuristic prototype comes at a time when the government just awarded funding to the Transport for London to improve the tube service across the capital.

So in a nutshell, here’s quick rundown of the new train’s perks:

  • 30% more space on the train by adding dividing doors between carriages
  • 30% more energy efficient than current models
  • Full air-conditioning across all of its spacious carriages
  • 20% brighter with use of LED lights

Courtesy of Siemens AG, Munich/Berlin

The train can be operated without a driver, which may ruffle feathers at the trade unions if London were to use them in the future. And no word yet on whether the city will make a bid to use the prototype across London. So until then, locals will have to deal with overcrowded trains.

Austin City Limits is here. The annual 3-day music fest kicked off Friday morning in Austin’s Zilker Park, and will draw an anticipated crowd of 6,500 music fans over the coming days.

Just in case you can’t make it to the Lone Star State capital this weekend, though, the event has something new in store for attendees this year: For the first time ever, Austin City Limits will unfold over 2 consecutive weekends. That means if Oct. 4-6 doesn’t work for you, you still have Oct. 11-13 to head on down to Austin. Between now and then, there’s a whole lot in store — here’s a roundup of highlights of Austin City Limits 2013.

The beer alone makes a trip to Austin worth it. This year, Austin City Limits has opened a beer lover’s dream — the brand new, 20,000-square-foot Barton Springs Beer Hall. This playground for beer lovers features 15 brews, from local drinks like Hill Country’s own Real Ale, to brews from around the country. Kick back, drink up and enjoy a game of football on big screen TVs in the hall.

And, of course, there’s food, lots and lots of food. Austin Eats Food Tours will be on-hand, featuring local restaurant delicacies, as well as plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options. Expect to find foodie favorites such as chef Tim Love’s Love Shack, Austin’s Pizza and Second Bar + Kitchen by chef David Bull, alongside new culinary favorites such as La Condesa, Frank and mmmpanadas.

The good part about the money you spend: A portion of funds raised will go toward supporting the Hill Country’s Conservancy’s Violet Crown Trail, a 30-mile hike and bike trail in Austin; additional support will go toward a carbon offset project spearheaded by the Texas Climate & Carbon Exchange.

For tips on staying in and getting around the city that keeps it weird, check out our Austin City Guide. Plus, if you love music as much as food, you’ll want to take an Austin Foodie Foray. And once you pack up and leave, send us a postcard from Austin — we’ll want to know how it goes!

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. When we compiled our list of Things to Do in October, we sure were betting on Acadia National Park and the Grand Canyon as 2 great spots to spend quality travel time this month. Then a little matter called the government shutdown occurred, and soon enough what seemed like 2 really cool travel ideas turned into one big letdown.

We’re sorry, guys, and for what it’s worth, we’re as bummed as you as we watch the news reports. Since Tuesday’s shutdown, Grand Canyon visitors have been turned away en masse, ditto for Acadia National Park. In fact, all national parks, which “belong to the American people, and the American people should have the right to come in,” are now closed until further notice. We can’t even check out their websites, including the adorable panda cam at DC’s National Zoo.

You don’t have to plan a big trip out West or along the East Coast to realize the impact of this shutdown. Something as simple as a jog around a favorite local park is now off-limits, if it’s under National Park Service stewardship – and lest you think of even trying to set foot on NPS ground, you could face arrest. We wouldn’t want that. But we don’t want you to idle your month away, either.

So in the spirit of American resilience — and because, well, we can’t let the good ole boys and gals in our nation’s capital get us down — we propose these travel alternatives. You will have fun this month – government shutdown or not!

Let’s start with the Grand Canyon. As you drive away, grumbling under your breath that the great off-season trip you were hoping for won’t happen as planned, take heart: The Hualapai people have you covered. This Native American tribe oversees a swath of land to the west of the Grand Canyon – and that includes the part where you’ll find the Grand Canyon Skywalk. Check out Hualapai Tourism (yep, their site is up!) and get Skywalk info.

As for Acadia, well, we’re not going to lie: Its closure is a major blow to leaf-peepers everywhere. But Main’s office of tourism suggests that visitors enjoy the fall colors other ways. “While Acadia National Park is one of our featured attractions, there are so many other things to enjoy in Bar Harbor and on Mount Desert Island,” says Chris Fogg, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. “The area’s brilliant fall foliage will be at its peak over the next few weeks, businesses are open, and there are many ways to enjoy some of Maine’s most beautiful coastline,” he adds.

And let’s not forget the state parks – they’re all open, coast to coast, and they could help save your vacation. Everything from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Red Rock State Park, are open to visitors – check out Wiki’s full list of state parks.

Government shutdown or not, let’s make this a month to remember!

The Standard New York

The Standard, New York in our Extreme Bathrooms slideshow.

Last week, Slate reported on a hotel trend I’ve experienced first hand: “The Fall of the Bathroom Wall.” Opting for open-plan bedroom/bathroom suites, luxury hotels like NYC’s Standard hotels and Paris’ Hotel Particulier Montmartre are knocking down bathroom walls and replacing them with glass, modesty shades -– or sometimes nothing at all.

What these rooms lack in privacy they more then make up for in natural light, space and certainly, sex appeal. But as Slate points out, they also bring “logistical awkwardness when sharing a room with people who were never meant to see you naked.”

I found this out for myself while on a girls’ spa weekend in Florida. Our suite at The W was upgraded thanks to my best friend’s enviable Starwood preferred guest status. However, when we realized the better view and bigger floor plan also came with an all-glass “peek-a-boo” shower, we politely asked to move back to a standard double. We knew we’d be seeing a lot of each other that weekend -– but not that much.

While glass showers and exposed soaking tubs may come as a sexy surprise on a couple’s weekend, they aren’t for every guest. Tell us in the comments: Do you think open-plan hotel bathrooms are a fad or here to stay?

Were you planning on pitching a tent in a national park, taking in the beauty of the national seashore, or examining the art and artifacts housed in any of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and galleries this week?

If so, you’d better make other plans.

In addition to the 800,000 government employees who face unpaid days off now that the federal government has ceased operation, a shutdown spells a number of consequences for travelers, too. In his speech yesterday afternoon, President Obama put it bluntly, “Tourists will find every one of America’s national parks and monuments, from Yosemite to the Smithsonian to the Statue of Liberty, immediately closed.”

While air travel and Amtrak service is not expected to be impacted by the shutdown, a number of popular tourist attractions have begun closing their gates, locking their doors and barricading their entrances. Here’s a rundown of just some the locations that are currently affected by the government shutdown.

National Parks

All of the National Park Service’s more than 400 parks, national monuments and historic sites are currently closed as a result of the government shutdown. On the National Mall in Washington, DC, monuments have begun to be barricaded and fountains turned off — a huge disappointment not only to expectant travelers but also to the 24 couples who were scheduled to get married on the National Mall during the month of October. The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Alcatraz Island, Independence Hall, the Cape Cod National Seashore, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park are all be among the temporarily closed sites, which collectively average about 715,000 visitors per day in October.

As a result of the shutdown, all the parks have been closed today to visitors effective immediately, but travelers already camping in the parks have 2 days to pack up and leave.

Smithsonian Museums and Galleries

Visitors to Washington, DC, hoping to take advantage of the capital’s incredible array of free museums are out of luck today. Don’t count on seeing the Hope Diamond or Dorothy’s ruby slippers — all 19 Smithsonian museums and galleries have shut their doors, including the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of American History and the Museum of Natural History. This also includes the National Zoo, leaving many upset at the new reality that the “panda cam” has gone dark.

So what should visitors to Washington, DC, do today? There are a number of museums not affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution – visit the International Spy Museum, the Newseum, the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Building Museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the National Geographic Museum or the Phillips Collection.

American Military Cemeteries Abroad

Twenty-four American military cemeteries spread throughout the world have also been forced to close as a result of the shutdown. Anyone looking to pay their respects at any cemetery operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission will have to reschedule their visit.

What Else?

Be sure to check with your local passport agency before showing up today – while agencies will remain open, those located in federal buildings have been forced to close their doors.

While you wait for some of America’s most popular tourist attractions to re-open, explore (virtually, of course, since you can’t actually visit) the incredible natural landscapes and historic monuments that make up our country’s National Park sites. Then, test your knowledge with our National Parks Quiz – you’ll be an expert by the time congress gets their act together.

 

Breaking Bad tour

Meet the Trolley Guys: Jesse Herron (left) and Mike Silva, owners of ABQ Trolley Tours

“Yo, yo, yo, 1 4 8 3 to the 3 to the 6, to the 9, representin’ the ABQ.” With the final episode of Breaking Bad now here, fans of the landmark series can’t get enough of Albuquerque these days – and Albuquerque locals Jesse Herron and Mike Silva, founders of ABQ Trolley Co., are delivering on the goods.

For the past year, this business duo has offered visitors a custom-tailored tour of Breaking Bad’s shooting locations, from Saul Goodman’s office to Gus’s Laundromat. Hop aboard the trolley with these guys — Silva, with his Walter White-inspired black porkpie hat; Herron with a jersey sporting the words “Pinkman,” and get ready to embark on one wacky 3.5-hour odyssey through the heart of the show. And just in case you can’t make it to Albuquerque this season, fret not – this tour isn’t breaking bad anytime soon – here’s what ABQ Trolley’s Jesse Herron has to say.

Traveling Type: What does your Breaking Bad tour cover?
Jesse Herron: The tour is 3.5 hours — it covers about 38 miles around Albuquerque and the show’s major recurring locations: Jesse’s house; Walt’s house, Los Pollos Hermanos, which is about 20 minutes from the center of town, Jesse and Jane’s duplex, Walt’s condo, Saul Goodman’s law office in the Northeast Heights, the A1A car wash, Gus’s house, Gus’s laundry, Mike’s house is on there this season, too … the locations are spread out all over town. There are also many minor locations that riders will recognize seeing briefly from the show. There’s also Breaking Bad trivia with very cool prizes donated from local businesses.

Jesse Pinkman's house

Jesse Pinkman’s house (Photo: ABQ Trolley Co.)

Where do Breaking Bad visitors come from?
Last season it was mostly locals just because they snatched up all the tickets when news of the tour broke locally — this season it’s probably a 50-50 split between locals and visitors from all over the US and the world, like Germany, Australia, the UK, Mexico, the Netherlands, Paris, Singapore and the Philippines.

What surprises people on your Breaking Bad tours?
In the case of locals, they’re surprised that some of the sites — like the Laundromat Gus operates – have been around for years, and they have been driving past it without even noticing it for years. Same goes for Saul’s law office — it would be difficult to identify if someone didn’t know where it was and the fact that there is not, in fact, an inflatable statue of liberty adorning the roof. For out-of-town visitors, a lot of times they expect to see Albuquerque as just a desert — they’re surprised it’s not 115 degrees here … that we do have 4 seasons, there’s a river here, mountains, we have the largest urban forest in America here, one of the best preserved stretches of Route 66 is here, and there’s volcanoes. I think visitors arrive not knowing exactly what to expect but they leave blown away by the landscapes, culture and attractions here.

Is Breaking Bad’s portrayal of Albuquerque fair?
I don’t think Breaking Bad’s portrayal of Albuquerque would be something that would keep a fan of the show from coming to visit. A Breaking Bad fan would never say, ‘I’m not coming to Albuquerque because there’s a meth problem there.’ It’s not a problem here, and that’s not what the show is about — and in no way does Breaking Bad glorify meth or drug use. The locals that say they don’t like the way the show portrays Albuquerque are often the same people who have never seen the show. And, let’s not forget that it’s a TV show, it’s fiction! The show really highlights all things Albuquerque — from the local hamburger chain, local shops like Gertrude Zachary Jewelry to showing the characters drinking local beer, it’s all pretty accurate, down to the zip codes and neighborhoods.

Breaking Bad tour

Stop by Gus’s house (Photo: ABQ Trolley Co.)

How has Albuquerque embraced Breaking Bad?
I think that a lot of the locals are enjoying the new attention that Albuquerque has received because of the show. A handful of businesses have really embraced the show and are having fun with it. There’s a Breaking Bad beer, a Biking Bad [bike] tour, Breaking Bad bath salts (called ‘Bathing Bad’) … Marble Brewery is offering Heisenberg/Walter White-themed beers… you can even buy a sheet of blue candy from Great Face & Body that comes with a mallet and smash it up like Walt and Jesse do on the show.

With the show winding down, how are your tours doing?
This season of Breaking Bad, the tours sell out months in advance and are sold out through the end of October. For those people not booking months in advance, the next best thing is our Best of ABQ city tour — Tuesday through Sunday, twice a day, we have an 85-minute trolley tour of Albuquerque, and if you’re a Breaking Bad fan, we’re pretty accommodating — when you board the trolley (and you let us know you are a fan) we can point out 5 or 6 different locations – like Jesse’s house, the Crossroads Motel, the Railyards, Tuco’s headquarters … visitors can also see the Denny’s showcased in Seasons 4 and 5. Plus, a restaurant in East downtown called the Grove, seen in Season 5, so there’s quite a bit to see on just the city tour.

And what happens when the show ends?
Even though Breaking Bad is coming to an end, we are keeping the tour going — the Bad tour will return next April. We’re going to keep Breaking Bad’s legacy alive in Albuquerque well into the foreseeable future. As long as visitors come to see Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s Albuquerque, we will be here to show it to them.

Photo by Marco Secchi/Getty Images

Last January, the Costa Concordia cruise liner sank off the Italian island of Giglio, leaving 32 people dead and several unanswered questions. This week, an $800-million massive salvage effort by a 500-person crew — the largest of its kind — righted the 114,000-ton vessel. Three things we’ve wondered in the year since the tragedy took place.

Who was responsible for capsizing the cruise liner? The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, still faces multiple manslaughter and causing a shipwreck charges and is due back in court on September 23. Lying low since his house arrest was lifted, Schettino claims he’s been made a convenient scapegoat for the tragedy, according to The Guardian. Five employees of the Costa Cruise company have already been convicted of multiple manslaughter and negligence charges.

What happened to the 2 lost victims? So far authorities have found no sign of cruise waiter Russel Rebello and passenger Maria Grazia Trecarichi’s remains. Rebello was last seen helping passengers off the ship. Trecarichi was celebrating her 50th birthday with her 17-year-old daughter, who survived.

What’s still inside the wrecked ship? Divers worried a “toxic stew” of rotting food, spilled oil, paint thinners, insecticides and liters of carbon dioxide would be leaked if something had gone wrong and broken the ship apart, CNN reports. Costa Cruises still hopes to return passengers’ possessions found amongst the abandoned tableware, shoes and mattresses.

This was only the first step in removing and scrapping the 952-foot ship, and soon, all eyes will turn to Schettino’s trial. For now, we’ll leave you with time-lapse footage of the Costa Concordia being righted. The 19-hour, Monday-into-Tuesday operation has been condensed into roughly 30 seconds by BBC.

Start your moon gazing. Sept. 19 marks this year’s Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, which commemorates the end of summer … and the advent of a new season, similar to the American Thanksgiving. According to Chinese tradition, this annual harvest celebration occurs on the 15th day of the eighth month, on Chinese calendars, typically in September or early October, around the autumnal equinox.

That timing spells a good reason to hit up NYC’s diverse neighborhoods: In NYC’s Chinatown, you’ll want to try to the sweet tasty mooncakes, which have been flying off pastry-store shelves over the past few days in anticipation of the holiday. The round cakes are a symbol of the full moon and good fortune. And who wouldn’t want to eat to that?

On the West Coast, LA Chinatown will host its 75th annual Mid-Autumn Moon Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21. The festival, which will take place in Chinatown’s Central and West Plaza, will include hands-on cultural workshops and cultural performances, as well as a busy Asian night market.

Can’t make it to LA or NYC? Check out these other top things to do in September to round out the month. One way or another, look out your window tonight: There’s bound to be a bad moon rising.

With Hispanic Heritage Month now underway, mark the month-long commemoration with a weekend trip. Hundreds of national park sites and cities nationwide, from Florida’s Ybor City to California’s Santa Barbara Mission, highlight the rich cultural heritage and contributions of Latino-Americans with roots in Spain, the Caribbean, Mexico and Central and South Americas. Here are some of our top picks for Latino-American heritage sites worth exploring in both the continental US and its territories.

1. San Juan, Puerto Rico
Go sightseeing in San Juan and explore colonial-era forts like Castillo San Cristóbal, powder houses, bastions and even an old city wall. Only 12 national park areas in the United States (and its territories) have been named World Heritage Sites; this is one of them. Dating back to the Spanish Colonial era, San Juan was one of the key frontiers of Spanish conquistadors due to its prime location at the western edge of the Caribbean.

2. Santa Barbara Mission, California
See the “Queen of All Missions” in Santa Barbara, CA. In the late 1700s, Spanish Franciscans founded the Santa Barbara Mission, the tenth of 21 missions to be founded by the order. Today, the mission continues to be an active church. Take a tour of the grounds, including the mission’s historic cemetery, which serves as the final resting place for Native Americans and early settlers of Alta California, as well as the historic garden, which contains plants representative of the Mission era (1769 to 1836), including olives, grapes and citrus trees.

3. San Antonio, Texas
Texas’ most-visited city is imbued with Hispanic heritage, having been founded by a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries in 1691. Some of San Antonio’s top attractions speak to its Hispanic and Latino heritage — see Historic Market, the largest Mexican shopping center in the city, and Mission Concepcion, founded in 1716 by Franciscan friars (and the best-preserved of the Texas missions). Plus, enjoy these other fun things to do in San Antonio, and chow down at the best San Antonio River Walk restaurants before checking into any of these San Antonio River Walk hotels.

4. Castillo de San Marcos (St. Augustine, Florida)
Constructed by the Spanish between 1672 and 1695, Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental US — complete with plenty of ghost tales. Located on the shores of Matanzas Bay in St. Augustine, FL, the fort’s dark history includes inquisitions, massacres, starvation and one twisted love triangle, in short a great lockdown investigation for the Ghost Adventures team. Learn all about Castillo de San Marcos’ history, as well as the unsettled spirits at the old St. Augustine fort.

5. Ybor City, Florida
Known as Tampa’s Latin Quarter, this historic neighborhood northeast of downtown had to make our list. Founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers and their thousands of immigrant workers predominantly from Spain, Cuba and Italy, Ybor City still holds tight to its cigar-making roots. Take a trip to Tampa to get a history lesson in cigar making — plus, sink your teeth into a Cuban sandwich at local favorites like La Tropicana.

6. El Morro National Monument
Head to New Mexico to see El Morro National Monument. In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors discovered this shaded oasis in the western desert; today, see graffiti left behind by previous visitors — signatures, names, dates and (sometimes embellished) stories of their travels on the great sandstone promontory.

For more places to visit nationwide, check out this list of American Latino Heritage sites.

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