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Power of Poison

This Exhibit Could Kill You

Deadly vines in the jungles of Colombia, toxic witches’ brews, and a noble woman with a lethal ring. A new exhibit in New York takes a peek inside the dark world of poison.

Who knew poison could be so much fun?

Crowds of people of all ages are piling into the nearly pitch-black exhibition, “The Power of Poison,” at the American Museum of Natural History to immerse themselves in all things concerning the sinister toxins. But in between being terrified by scary stories out of the jungles of Colombia and trying to solve murder mysteries, visitors are also being reminded of how poison is relevant to our daily lives in both good and bad ways; theobromine in chocolate gives dogs seizures, but research on the foxglove flower, which causes heart attacks in animals, has helped create heart disease drugs for humans.

The exhibition is broken up into four major sections: poison in nature, poison in myth and legend, villains and victims, and poison for good. The first of these is more of an anti-travel brochure for Colombia, detailing the Chocó rain forest plants and animals’ use of poison for survival. The ubiquitous dangers, ranging from golden poison frogs to deadly vines and scary ants, may be almost more frightening than the vestiges of the drug wars. But the show’s curators aren’t trying to just shock and entertain viewers; they want to explain the reason for all the toxicity. The exhibit points out, for instance, that immobile plants face over 500,000 types of insects who want to feed on them. Their best defense is poison.

Perhaps the most fun part of the exhibition is the section on poison in myth and legend. Starring Snow White, Romeo & Juliet, witches, mad hatters, a Chinese emperor, and Harry Potter, the show delves into the history of poison and pop culture. Most visitors will know the story of the Mad Hatter (hatmakers exposed him to mercury that left him “mad”), but some may not know the legend of Emperor Qin, who united China, but in his zealous quest for immortality drank mercury. He went so far as to have rivers of mercury set up in his tomb, along with his famous thousand-soldier strong Terracotta Army.

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The 2014 Travel Best List

International Happy Hour

A Bar—and Country—Divided

One bar in the former Yugoslavia has the distinct honor of straddling a disputed border. Enjoy a beer in two different countries…just don’t let the guards catch you crossing the line.

It's the day after Christmas in Slovenia, and it's unusually mild for this time of year. The temperature is a balmy nine degrees accompanied by a springtime-like drizzle of rain; perfect weather for driving into the middle of former Yugoslavia for an interview and a few cold beers. 

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Jeff Campagna

Obrežje is a small settlement in eastern Slovenia. By eight in the evening, the village is quiet and glowy and glistening from the rain. On the eastern edge of Obrežje is a sleepy little border crossing into Bregana, Croatia. And right smack dab on that borderline is Kalin Tavern and Inn—a quaint 180-year-old establishment that is awkwardly straddling the two former-Yugoslavian republics.

As I arrive, I notice a string of cement flowerpots blocking the road right outside the tavern. Apparently, these were put in place shortly after the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 to prohibit the passage of cars over the border. Unable to resist, I walk over to the flowerpot-barricade and stretch one leg over onto Croatian soil. As if on cue, a yellow light turns on inside a small guardhouse about a hundred feet away on the Croatian side, and a border guard starts to make his way down to the barricade in the rain. I feel like I am in a John Le Carré novel and scurry into the tavern in hopes of avoiding an “international incident.”

Go for the Gold

Stage Your Own Winter Olympics

While we may not all be able to compete in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, here are some incredible places to plan your own competition and try out a few of the most exhilarating events.

Ski-Jumping, Park City, Utah

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Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty

It’s the Winter Olympics at its most mentally chilling: Lycra-ed figures in oversize skis hurtling down jumps, launching off at 55 mph, dangling midair, then landing safely (hopefully) on the slope below. These must be the bravest (or daftest?) athletes at the party. So join them! Utah’s Olympic Park, near Salt Lake City, hosted the 2002 games. The paraphernalia’s still there, with expert coaches to guide squeaky-bummed beginners off six-feet-high jumps – or higher, if they dare. If not, the Extreme Zipline starts at the top of the K120 ski jump, so amateurs can experience the thrill (and terror) of making the leap.

Admission to Utah Olympic Park is free; guided tours cost $11, and run daily on the hour from 11am to 4pm.

Work It!

Best Luxury Boot Camps

New year, new you, right? In 2014, getting back into shape doesn’t have to be so brutal. At these wellness retreats, the staff will kick your butt—and then spoil you silly.

Pure Kauai, Hawaii

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Steve Ogle/Getty

Use the island’s stunning nature as a gym—surf lessons, kayak excursions, rainforest hikes, and beach runs—at Pure Kauai bespoke fitness vacations. Guests are set up in private cottages or villas, then catered to by personal trainers, health-minded private chefs, personal assistants, and wellness practitioners from massage therapists to intuitive healers and astrologists. Although vacations can be as active or as mellow as guests wish, the sports instructors and personal trainers are prepared to kick it into high gear. Quite a few celebs have stayed with Pure Kauai to get in shape for a role.

Getting there: fly to Kauai. There is a five-night minimum stay.

Pushing the Limits

2013’s Extreme Explorers

From a seven-year journey tracing the history of humans to a man attempting to be the first to walk the entire length of the Nile, meet some of the craziest adventurers of 2013.

Paul Salopek: Following Humankind

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Author Salopek’s feet connect him to the earliest travelers as he leads camels across Ethiopia’s Afar desert. (John Stanmeyer/National Geographic; National Geographic)

Our apologies to all other explorers; journalist and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek’s journey tracing the history of mankind is virtually unbeatable. Embarking from Ethiopia, the cradle of civilization, Salopek has undertaken a 21,000-mile, seven-year-long walking tour to trace human migration. His “Out of Eden Walk” will end in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America. Salopek is filing dispatches to National Geographic throughout his trek, which readers can follow in real-time, and, for each 100 miles traveled, he pauses to record the milestone with a panoramic photograph, ambient noise recording, and an interview with the closest person. He started the journey in January 2013 and, with his top day reaching 34 miles walked, still has six years to go and innumerable pairs of shoes to wear through.

Parker Liautaud: Antarctica’s Coast to the South Pole

Pop

Champagne Goes Rogue

As you raise a glass of bubbly this New Year’s, you’ll be celebrating a new era in rule-breaking American sparkling wines.

New Year’s Eve has long been associated with a Champagne toast and the promise of new beginnings.

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Glowimages/Getty

This festive, effervescent tradition dates directly to the 19th century, when Champagne houses began catering to individuals with new fortunes acquired during the Industrial Revolution. Symbolically, the custom reaches back much farther—to 496, when King Clovis of France converted to Christianity for his wife, Clotilde. He ushered in a new era in France and sparked a ritual by which new French kings began their reign in the city of Reims, celebrating afterwards with Champagne toasts. (The wines were still back then, but they were festive all the same.)

Until recently, Champagne houses have generally remained large operations.  Established houses make the vast majority of their bubbly brews from a mélange of grapes grown by multiple vignerons throughout the entire Champagne appellation. The final wines are usually blends of several vintages and aim to create a “house style” for consistency. Some of those houses have established American outposts. Champagne Roederer’s California counterpart is called Roederer Estate. Taittinger’s American offshoot is Domaine Carneros. Piper Sonoma is the American sibling of Remy-Cointreau’s Piper-Heidseick Champagne Brand.

Escapes

Best Travel Reads of the Year

From new surfing records and Mexico’s overlooked getaway to crazy underground adventures in NYC and the best airport restaurants, escape with this year’s entertaining travel reads.

Andy Jacobsohn, January 30

After chasing a record-setting wave for a dozen years, the veteran surfer may have ridden a 100-foot monster off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal. All that remains now is for Guinness to certify it as a world record.

The Daily Beast’s Best 2013 Travel Reads

David Guttenfelder/AP; Danny Lehman/Corbis; The Skinny Dipping Report

Breathtaking

Sights That Make You Feel Small

Think the world revolves around you? Think again. These awe-inspiring sights—towering mountains, vast deserts, endless skies—will put you back in your place.

Mass Games, Pyongyang, North Korea

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Reuters

Scary and spectacular in equal measure, North Korea’s Mass Games personify the country’s totalitarian politics—and serve as a strikingly well-ordered reminder that we are all just one of seven-odd billion souls strutting and fretting on this globe’s stage. Granted, not every earthling is gathered in Pyongyang for this event, but it sometimes seems like it: at the games, ranks of meticulously organized dancers and gymnasts (around 100,000 in all) create a visual display not of personal skill, but of perfect synchronicity. This is masses of humanity working together, greater than the sum of its parts.

The Games are held from mid-August to mid-October. September to October is less humid and more pleasant than summer in Korea. 

Live Lobsters Not Included

Crazy Lobster-Trap Christmas Trees

Fishing villages in New England have gotten creative and embraced a new take on the average old Christmas tree: ones made from lobster traps. Let the competition begin.

We're always excited to discover a Christmas tree that isn't a "tree" at all. Like the one made of wine bottles at Seattle's Hotel Vintage Park, the 2,130-foot tall "tree" of lights on the side of Italy's Mount Ingino, and Lithuania's recycled plastic bottle spruce. But for more than a decade, a new holiday tradition has been brewing in some of New England's most charming coastal towns: lobster trap Christmas trees. And the competition to build the best of the bunch has gotten heated. We're not about to get in the middle of a friendly fishing village rivalry, but take a look at the different ways in which five towns are putting their personal stamps on the lobster trap tree trend.

Gloucester, Massachusetts

Lobster Trap Christmas Tree

David Brooks

The seaport made famous in Sebastian Junger’s A Perfect Storm is the city that started the lobster pot madness in 2001. And Gloucester's Lobster Trap Tree—which measures 45 feet in height—has become a community-wide effort: local lobstermen donate 350 traps, which are stacked by volunteers, adorned with hundreds of donated buoys which have been painted by area kids, then topped with a star with the help of the fire department's hook and ladder. "No one 'owns' the tree," says Rebecca Borden, resident and interim executive director of Cape Ann Art Haven, a community art space which has helped to oversee the tree’s assembly for the past six years. It also runs the January Buoy Auction + Family FUN night to benefit the organization, which has seen buoys sell for as much as $750 apiece. "It is truly an event that brings out the best in the Cape Ann community," says Borden of the holiday festivities.

Bottoms Up

Drink-All-You-Want Holiday Wine

Wondering what to drink while you’re preparing your Christmas feast? Sommelier Jordan Salcito recommends the little known appellation of Bugey-Cerdon for wines that are fresh, lively, and low on alcohol—perfect for sipping all day long.

“Whoever receives friends and does not participate in the preparation of their meal does not deserve to have friends.”
– Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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Getty

During the holidays, everyone wants to talk about what to drink along with dinner. We are bombarded with recommendations for Cru Beaujolais with Thanksgiving turkey, Champagne with New Years, and robust red wines with a Christmas roast. But an equally important question is what should one drink while preparing these holiday feasts? What’s the perfect holiday daytime drink?

I bring this up because there is a perfect holiday wine, and it’s one that not nearly enough people know about. This piece, in short, is an ode to a wine from the tiny French appellation of Bugey-Cérdon, historically known as a “Christmas wine” and one of the most versatile, quaffable wines around.

Soak It Up

Last Gasp of Summer

Instagram’s Coolest Pools

Instagram’s Coolest Pools

From a submerged Bar Refaeli to a Mediterranean idyll, a voyeur’s look at the stars’ sun-soaked scenes.

Books

Brainy Beach Reads

Dive In!

Where to Take a Moonlit Dip

Zambian Safari

Wildlife, Storytelling, & Dung, Oh My!

Of Tails and Tales

Of Tails and Tales

Wildlife, storytelling, dung, and other things I encountered on my Zambian safari.

Globetrotters

Dispatches from Around the World

Marseille’s Comeback Tour

Marseille’s Comeback Tour

The bouillabaisse is just as tasty, but Europe’s 2013 Capital of Culture now has a lot more to offer. Anna Watson Carl reports.

A Climber's Paradise

The Gem of Morocco

Serengeti

Walking With Wildebeests

West Bank

My Palestinian Vacation

Choo-Choo

The Most Charming Ride of a Lifetime

Global Marvels

What a World!

The Secret Life of Cappadocia

The Secret Life of Cappadocia

More than a natural wonder, Cappadocia's formations have been a safe haven to many. Nina Strochlic reports.

What a World

The Craziest House Ever Built

What a World

Turkmenistan’s Door to Hell

conde-nast-traveler

End of an Era?

Covering Burma in the 1980s

The Good Old Travel Guide Days

The Good Old Travel Guide Days

Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet Publications, remembers the fun early days of travel guide writing, but says they're not over yet.

Beacher's Madhouse

L.A.'s Craziest Nightclub

It's A Madhouse!

It's A Madhouse!

Miley Cyrus’ fav new haunt is Beacher’s Madhouse, the craziest club in Los Angeles.

Just Like Rodman

Most Structured Trip Ever

Visit North Korea!

Visit North Korea!

Take the vacation of a lifetime—in beautiful North Korea? That’s Uri Tours’ pitch. Lloyd Grove reports.

Directions

A Love Letter to New York

Maps of the Heart of Manhattan

Maps of the Heart of Manhattan

In ‘Mapping Manhattan,’ explore the city via 75 New Yorkers’ personal geographies. By Allison McNearney.

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