Take A Walk On The Wacky Side: Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade

April 29, 2010

Here’s a sad side effect of the time I spent living in New Orleans: Once you’ve been to Mardi Gras, most other parades seem downright dull by comparison.  The one notable exception, of course, is Pasadena’s annual Doo Dah Parade.

This year’s event—the “34th Occasional” version of this terrifically tongue-in-cheek sendup of the city’s stuffy Rose Parade—rolls down a new route along Colorado Boulevard in East Pasadena this Saturday morning at 11.  What thankfully hasn’t changed is the full-on wackiness of the festivities.

pasadena doo dah parade

My kind of parade float!

Just how oddball can a parade actually be, you ask? Well, part of what makes the Doo Dah Parade so much fun is that you never know quite what to expect, though long-time crowd favorites like the Men Of Leisure synchronized napping team, the BBQ & Hibachi Marching Grill Team, the Benzedrine Monks, and the official band Snotty Scotty and The Hankies are all expected to return for 2010.

For details on the official parade route and after-party—not to mention finding out how you can be in next year’s Doo Dah Parade—visit the event’s website here

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Birdwatching Bonanza: How To Add 800 Species To Your Life List In One Trip

April 27, 2010

If you’re one of the millions of serious birders in North America, sooner or later you’ll find yourself running out of new indigenous species to add to your life list.  When you reach that point, you’ll want to check out the mind-boggling array of global birdwatching expeditions put on by the nice folks at Birdquest.

birdwatching tour birding life listThis 30-year-old British operation offers tours to just about any exotic birdwatching destination you can imagine, and a few you probably can’t (seriously, how many people do you know who’ve been birding in Djibouti?).  They bill their outings as “The Ultimate In Bird Tours” and, with regularly scheduled expeditions to all seven continents, it’s hard to argue that point.

Birdquest’s worldwide network of tour leaders include leading field ornithologists, professional bird artists, and authors of well-respected field guides for several prime birding destinations. This expertise generates impressive results for their guests, who often go home with hundreds of new additions to their life lists.

If you consider yourself a truly hardcore birder, however, you’ll want to check out Birdquest’s World Record Bird Tours.  On an upcoming “megaquest” to Kenya, for example, they hope to break their own record of spotting an amazing 835 species in one trip.  Wow.

Add encounters with a variety of non-feathered friends from polar bears to Sumatran tigers, and you have wildlife expeditions that definitely qualify for the title of extraordinary experiences.

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Extraordinary Event: RoboGames Gives You The Chance To Say “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto”

April 23, 2010

RoboGames Domo Arigato Mr RobotoFor those of us who grew up on sci-fi movies and television shows like Forbidden Planet and Lost In Space, the idea of a world full of robots seems like some far-off fantasy.  Which is precisely why this weekend’s RoboGames—a three-day event certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the planet’s largest open robotics competition—seems like such an extraordinary experience.

This six-year-old San Francisco-area geek-fest features the highly imaginative creations of individuals and teams from more than 20 countries, competing in dozens of events ranging from soccer to sumo.  The stars of the show, of course, are the battling bots that come in sizes from 5.3 ounces to 340 pounds.  But there’s a more civilized side to the event as well, including robots who make music and mix a mean cocktail.  There’s even a chance to meet techie celebrities, including MythBusters wiz-kid Grant Imahara.RoboGames robotics competition

For an entertaining look at what to expect, check out CNet’s great RoboGames audio slideshow.  And if you go, remember to say thanks—or should we say domo arigato—to all the automatons you meet.

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Extraordinary Ecotourism: How To Make This An Earth Day To Remember

April 21, 2010

earth day ecotourism adventuresSitting here on the eve of Earth Day’s 40th anniversary, I know you’re already being bombarded with endless suggestions on how to mark the occasion, from local Earth Day celebrations designed to raise awareness of the planet’s plight to simple environmentally-friendly lifestyle changes you can make to show Mother Nature some love.  Unfortunately, based on prior experience, I also know that most of our friends and neighbors are likely to have forgotten all about the subject by this time next week.

Which is why I’m suggesting that you spend just a few minutes on this Earth Day considering a handful of once-in-a-lifetime adventures that offer the opportunity to feel like you’re really giving something back to the natural world.  There are any number of organizations that could use your help with ongoing research projects based in some of the most fascinating—and, in many cases, drop-dead gorgeous—spots on the globe.  The fact that these ecotourism expeditions also qualify as truly extraordinary experiences you’ll be talking about for years to come, well, that’s just a bonus.

To point you in the right direction, here’s a look at two reputable operations that offer a wide range of ecotourism adventures you’re bound to find both rewarding and fun:

Earthwatch Institute

Founded in 1971, this international non-profit organization pairs volunteers with scientific field researchers working on wildlife conservation and related projects.  They offer a broad array of intriguing hands-on programs, ranging from helping Peruvian ecologists study pink dolphins in the Amazon jungle to working to reduce the decline of cheetah populations in Namibia.

Responsible Travel

As one of the first companies to promote the idea of environmentally-friendly travel, this decade-old operation offers one-stop shopping for literally thousands of remarkable ecotourism programs.  With this many offerings to choose from, there’s a good chance you’ll find something of interest, from observing whale sharks in the Seychelles to doing population surveys of elephants in South Africa’s Tembe National Park.

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SeV Travel Vest: A Wearable Carry-On Bag

April 19, 2010

Scottevest travel vest reviewIt happens every Spring: The weather at your destination is a tad too warm for a coat, but not balmy enough that you feel comfortable traveling sans outerwear. My elegantly simple solution to this recurring dilemma?  Scottevest’s Travel Vest.

Unlike similar vests that make you look like you just got off the bus from Dorkville, this thoughtfully-designed garment actually looks pretty stylish.  In wearing it on dozens of trips over the past nine months, I’ve also found its combination of warmth and breathability kept me from both shivering and sweating.

The real beauty of this product, however, lies inside.  As part of the company’s line of “technology-enabled clothing,” this vest features nearly two dozen pockets sized to hold everything from a cell phone to your shiny new iPad without bulges that make you look like a crazed shoplifter.  The sleek exterior also hides a surprising number of clever details, including discrete tabs inside the collar designed to keep your earbuds ready for deployment and a tethered microfiber polishing cloth that beats the heck out of whatever you’re currently using to buff the smudges off your sunglasses or iPhone screen.

If there’s a downside to the design, it’s that there are so many places to put stuff you may find yourself resorting a law enforcement-style pat down of your upper torso as you try to remember which of the vest’s 22 pockets you left your camera in.  That said, this occasional game of gadget hide-and-seek ends up being a small price to pay for the convenience of being able to take off the vest, send it through the TSA’s X-ray machine, and sail through the metal detector without wondering if you’ve forgotten something that will mark you for additional screening.

Put it all together and I wouldn’t be surprised if you ended up making this wearable carry-on bag a regular part of your travel wardrobe regardless of the season.

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5 “Prudent” Ways To Blow Your Tax Refund

April 16, 2010

how to spend your tax refundNot that you could tell it from the checks I had to write to the U.S. Treasury yesterday, but the Internal Revenue Service says the average American’s tax refund has actually grown by about 10 percent compared to last year.  Which means there will be an awful lot of folks with an extra $3,000 or so burning a hole in their pockets over the next few months.

Now, I understand that prudence probably dictates it’d be wise to bank all that dough for a rainy day.  But, honestly, that doesn’t sound like very much fun now, does it?

So here’s my compromise: Five affordable once-in-a-lifetime adventures you’ll be talking about from now till next April 15th:

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Tanks For The Memories: 2 Unforgettable Tank-Driving Adventures

April 14, 2010

Tank Driving adventuresOf all the extraordinary experiences I’ve had over the years, the chance to take the controls of a 55-ton British Chieftain battle tank has to be among the most memorable.

Unfortunately, the Dallas-based operation that gave me that opportunity is no longer in business.  The good news, however, is that I’ve found a couple places that still allow ordinary civilians to have similar tank-driving adventures:

Lazer Tanks

This small mom-and-pop shop located just north of Reno, Nevada is now the only place in North America where individuals and small groups can spend time in the driver’s seat of Cold War classics including a Soviet-era T-55 battle tank and BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle.

Tanks-A-Lot

Think of this well-established British operation as a military hardware theme park, where you can run British Chieftain tanks on a dedicated off-road course that includes the uniquely geeky thrill of driving one of these massive machines over a parked car.  They also usually have a number of tanks for sale in case you’d like to bring home the ultimate souvenir!

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Never A Dull Moment: These 3 Unique Events Will Give You Lots Of Tales To Tell

April 12, 2010

Spock Days Vulcan AlbertaEven if this is your first visit to XTRORD.com, it won’t take long for you to figure out that this isn’t your typical “travel” website.  No stale tales of traditional vacation destinations or generic activities like cruising.  No “hot tips” about new low airfares to Europe or last-minute discounts to some mega-resort in the Caribbean.  Mainly because that stuff bores me to tears.

Instead, you’ll find these pages filled with reports of truly extraordinary experiences you never knew existed.  The kind of once-in-a-lifetime adventures that will give you great stories to tell for years to come.

Which brings me to a handful of upcoming events that seem especially novel.  But, please, don’t take my word for it—get up off the couch and go see for yourself:

No BS Event

Test your arm against the locals in Beaver, Oklahoma’s World Cow Chip Throwing Championship (Warning: The record here is an amazing 182 feet!).

To Boldly Go…

Be “transported” to another  world as Trekkies take over the small Canadian town of Vulcan, Alberta June 11-13 for a three-day Spock Days/GalaxyFest party that’s out-of-this-world.mooning of the Amtrak

Full Moon Fever

Join hundreds of fun-loving locals for the 31st Annual Mooning Of The Amtrak Day as they, ahem, greet each and every one of the three dozen Amtrak passenger trains that roll past Laguna Niguel California’s Mugs Away Saloon.

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The BIG Picture: Website Offers Easy Way To Create 360-Degree Scrollable Panoramic Photos

April 9, 2010

As someone who’s had more than his fair share of truly extraordinary experiences, I can tell you virtually all of them share one recurring problem.  Namely that they’re filled with amazing moments that typical digital photos just can’t do justice.

Easy way to create panoramic photosWhich is why I found myself intrigued by the free browser-based digital photo app just introduced by the folks at Dermandar.com.  While it’s still a work in progress, the website makes it ridiculously easy for even the least tech-savvy traveler to create surprisingly high-quality, full-screen scrollable panoramic images without the need for special cameras, tripods, or software.

Just shoot a series of pics with any digital camera—even the one in your cell phone—taking care to keep part of the previous frame in each new shot.  Then go to the website, upload the photos, and the app creates seamless panoramas in about five seconds that allow you to drag your cursor across the image to peruse views up to 360-degrees.  From there, the app lets you share them with far-flung friends and family members via email or Facebook or even embed them in your website or blog.

While no technology can ever replace the feeling you get when you’re right there in the middle of a truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventure, the immersive images this simple app lets you create may be the next best thing.

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Adventures In Aviation: Zeppelin Flights

April 7, 2010

zeppelin flights san franciscoIn a world where many people have come to view flying as an ordeal to be endured, there are still lots of us for whom the act of leaving terra firma behind remains an adventure to be savored.  If you’re one of us, you owe it to yourself to book a seat on the first zeppelin to take to the skies above the U.S. in more than 70 years.

The company responsible for the zeppelin’s return to America, Airship Ventures, offers one- and two-hour flight-seeing tours around San Francisco Bay in the 246-foot helium-filled Eureka, as well as occasional cross-country flights as they reposition the zeppelin for tours in southern California or Monterey (if you have your private pilot’s license you can even take a turn at the controls). Between the zeppelin’s gentle flight characteristics—three 200-horsepower engines in rotating nacelles allow pilots to make this 747-sized airship hover, climb, and descend like a helicopter—and its huge panoramic windows, there simply isn’t a better platform for airborne rubbernecking out there.

Then, of course, there’s the sheer rarity of the experience.  The Eureka is the largest airship in existence and one of only three zeppelins operating anywhere in the world, facts that should earn you some bragging rights back home.

Ultimately though, all that grown-up appeal vanishes the moment you climb aboard.  From aerial views of Alcatraz and the city’s dramatic skyline to an amazing Golden Gate fly-by, even serious “been there, flown in that” aviation geeks (umm, like me for instance) are likely to find themselves with their noses pressed up against the glass like wide-eyed 10-year-olds.

In the end, it’s this sense of wonder that makes these zeppelin flights such an extraordinary experience.  Even for all those poor jaded folks who insist they don’t like flying.

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