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12 Awesome Pop-Culture Tours

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Sometimes, it’s not enough to watch your favorite TV show or listen to a legendary band’s music; you also want to immerse yourself in the experience.

1. Game of Thrones: A Unique Tour of Croatia

The epic HBO series famously films in remote locales around the world, including Northern Ireland, Morocco, and Iceland (standing in for the Wall, where the Night’s Watch spends its frozen days and nights). But if you’d prefer not to succumb to frostbite, take this tour along the Adriatic Coast: GoT obsessives spend four days visiting Croatian filming locations, including Dubrovnik, which hard-core fans will recognize as Seven Kingdoms capital King’s Landing. (But be prepared to call in a Lannister debt if you book the tour: The trip costs $3200.)

2. Hunger Games Unofficial Fan Tours

You probably wouldn’t want to live in Panem, the nation at the center of The Hunger Games, or participate in the titular bloodbath at the series’ center. But on these tours, Katniss superfans come pretty close to seeing the world created in the films. You can choose to visit North Carolina, where DuPont State Recreational Forest was transformed into the Arena in the first film, or Atlanta, Georgia, to see the spots used as President Snow’s mansion and the cornucopia in 2013’s Catching Fire. There are also immersive, weekend-long trips meant to simulate the experience of actually participating in the Games—but maybe save those for the really die-hard fans.

3. BBC’s Sherlock Locations Tour

Travel as Sherlock and Watson do—in one of London’s iconic black taxi cabs—during this three-hour jaunt, which visits some of the sites used on the BBC series. Among the spots fans will see: St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where—spoiler alert!—Sherlock fakes his death in the second series; the exterior of Charles Augustus Magnussen’s office; and, of course, 221B Baker Street. (Tour-goers also get a free cuppa at Speedy’s Cafe, the coffee shop next to the detectives’ office.)

4. The Doctor Who Experience

How do you properly celebrate a show that’s been on the air, in some iteration or another, for five decades? You give it a gigantic space in Cardiff, Wales, and fill it with enough props from the series to satisfy the biggest Whovian. This immersive experience opened in 2012 and includes artifacts from the show’s more than 50 years of existence: Costumes worn by every Doctor, from William Hartnell to Matt Smith, are on view, along with creepy models of some of the Doctor’s biggest foes, such as the Weeping Angels and the Daleks. (And like the Doctor himself, the experience regenerates every so often, with new props added on a rolling basis.)

5. Highclere Castle

Downton Abbey’s upstairs-downstairs drama has its basis in reality: The show is filmed at this 5000-acre estate in Hampshire, England, which serves as the home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. In fact, the story of Lady Almina, the fifth Countess of the castle, parallels that of Lady Grantham: She married into British aristocracy, and converted the home into a hospital during World War I. So what will Downton addicts see? The exterior is immediately recognizable, but fans can also explore the house itself; the bedrooms and library are among the rooms that were used as locations on the show. 

6. The Field of Dreams Site

It’s unlikely that if you visit this site, a mysterious voice will lead you to your destiny, or summon the ghosts of long-gone athletes. But still, fans of the 1989 Kevin Costner weepie can check out the Dyersville, Iowa farmhouse featured in the film, as well as its cornfields and the famed baseball diamond. Visitors can run the bases or take in a game—the Ghost Players will take the field, of course—and since the flick will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2014, expect special events throughout the year.

7. Warner Bros. Studio Tour London

Muggles can immerse themselves in Harry Potter’s world—from Privet Drive to Diagon Alley to the Great Hall at Hogwarts—at this Leavesden studio, which opened to the public in 2012. Each section of the site is stuffed with props from the Harry Potter films, including the Knight’s Bus, a enormous scale model of Hogwarts Castle, and the many treasures in Dumbledore’s office. But it’s also interactive: You can pretend you’re in a Quidditch match by riding a broom in front of a green screen, or find out what Butterbeer actually tastes like once and for all. 

8. Sex and the City Sites Tour

This three-and-a-half hour bus tour takes groups of SATC fans to more than 40 spots used on the show. It hits three neighborhoods: Midtown (The New York Public Library, Tiffany & Co.), the Meatpacking District (Buddakan, schmancy boutiques), and Greenwich Village (the Magnolia Bakery, duh). And yes, for those who are curious: the tour claims to be R-rated, so it won’t shy away from the show’s, uh, racier settings. 

9. Twin Peaks Fest

Looking for a slice of cherry pie and some damn fine coffee? Head to North Bend, Washington, where an annual celebration of David Lynch’s über-weird early-’90s series has taken place for more than 20 years. One of the centerpieces of the weekend-long event is a three-hour bus tour showcasing filming locations from the series, including the waterfall at Snoqualmie Falls (featured prominently in the opening credits) and the Weyerhaeuser sawmill, which stood in for the Packard Mill on the show. (And if you really want to sample that famous pie, take a detour to Twede’s Diner, also known as the Double R Diner on the show.) 

10. Magical Mystery Tour Liverpool

Of all the Beatles tours out there—and trust us, there are plenty—this one has one of the biggest perks for dedicated fans: It’s a two-hour bus ride on a replica of the vehicle used in the band’s 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour. (Nevermind the fact that the film wasn’t exactly a hit when it first premiered.) Along the way, tour-goers visit the church where John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time; spots that provided inspiration for songs like “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”; and the Cavern Club, the Liverpool venue where they built up a pre-Beatlemania following. 

11. Lord of the Rings Tours and Experiences

Middle-Earth may not be real, but Queenstown, New Zealand is—and several tours offered by Southern Lakes Sightseeing take fans of Frodo & co. to locations used in Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films. Two of the longer tours take visitors on journeys along the trails traversed by the Fellowship, while a shorter tour focuses exclusively on the weapons and props used in the movies, including Aragorn’s hunting knife and Gimli’s ax. (And yes, you can handle and take photos with the weapons—but carefully.)

12. Kramer's Reality Tour

Remember the Seinfeld episode where Cosmo Kramer launched the J. Peterman Reality Tour? That was a spoof on Kenny Kramer's Reality Tour, an actual bus tour run by the inspiration for Michael Richards' character. The bus visits famous Seinfeld scenes and gives you behind-the-scenes info. You might see, for example, "the place where Kramer and Newman got the black market shower heads." Or learn that "there is an actual Russell Dalrymple, Lloyd Braun, Becky Gelke, John Mollica, Al Niche, and even a person called 'The Drake.'"

Despite Jerry's claim that "nobody wants to go on a three hour bus tour of a totally unknown person's life," the Kramer Reality Tour is still going strong more than 15 years after the show's finale. Book your Spring/Summer 2014 tour now! Think your $37.50 ticket comes with a bite-size 3 Musketeers?

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13 Tricks and Tips to Get the Most Out of Google Maps
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It’s hard to imagine life without Google Maps. Memorizing routes and printing out driving directions seems like a distant memory in a world where a detailed map of any location is available at a moment's notice. Still, you could be using it more. Google’s popular software is packed with secrets, tricks, and Easter eggs beyond what you might expect. Ahead of the popular tool's update later this year, here are 13 ways to get the most out of Google Maps, from one-handed use to offline location tracking.

1. CHECK WAIT TIMES AT YOUR FAVORITE RESTAURANT

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Before you head out for dinner, use Google Maps to see if you’re about to waste an hour standing in line. Just search for the name of the restaurant on your desktop browser or in Google Maps for iOS and Android. Then, scroll down to the Popular Times chart and select a specific time. There, you'll see how long the wait usually is at that time and make your plans accordingly.

2. SEE HOW STEEP YOUR BIKE RIDE WILL BE


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There’s nothing worse than unexpectedly hitting a big hill while riding your bike. Next time, plug your route into Google Maps and ask for biking directions. You’ll see a graph that shows the steepness of each part of your trip and be able to avoid those big inclines in the future.

3. ADD MULTIPLE DESTINATIONS TO YOUR TRIP

Google Maps typically defaults to simple point-A-to-point-B for directions, but it’s easy to add an extra stop to your trip. In a browser, press the “+” icon under your destination. On Android or iOS, tap on the three horizontal dots in the top right corner to pull up a menu and then select “Add stop.”

4. TRAVEL THROUGH TIME WITH STREET VIEW

Street View is a fun way to explore neighborhoods all over the world, but it’s also a treasure trove of old photos. Just launch Street View in your browser and click on the clock-shaped icon in the top left corner. From there, you can browse through all the pictures Google’s taken over the years for any specific spot.

5. MEASURE DISTANCE

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If you’re using Google Maps in your browser you can easily measure the distance between any two locations. Right click somewhere on the map and select “Measure Distance.” Then, click anywhere else to see how far away it is.

6. USE GOOGLE MAPS WITHOUT AN INTERNET CONNECTION

If you’re traveling and you know you won’t have any internet, you can download a map of the area ahead of time. Pull up that location in Google Maps on your phone. Then, open the settings menu and select “Offline maps” to save it. When you arrive, you’ll be able to view the map without any service and even track your location thanks to GPS.

7. SEE YOUR ENTIRE GOOGLE MAPS HISTORY

Google Maps tracks you everywhere you go, and you can pull that information up whenever you want. Head to this website to see a detailed map of all the places you’ve ever been. If that creeps you out, you can also click on “Manage Location History” to switch this feature off.

8. ZOOM IN AND OUT WITH JUST ONE FINGER

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Pinch-to-zoom works fine most of the time, but if you only have one free hand it’s not that easy to do. Thankfully, there’s another option that only requires one free finger: Tap twice on your smartphone screen and then hold your finger down on the spot you want to get a closer look at. Google Maps will zoom in, and from there you can adjust the scale by sliding your finger up and down.

9. REMEMBER WHERE YOU PARKED YOUR CAR

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The next time you park your car, boot up Google Maps and tap on the blue dot that shows your location. When a menu pops up, select “Set as parking location” to leave a marker on your map for later so you can easily find your car when you’re ready to leave.

10. TURN THE STREET VIEW ICON INTO A UFO

If you want to have a little fun with Pegman, the yellow Street View figure, just search for Area 51 in Google Maps. Then, grab the man-shaped icon and hover it over the map to make him transform into a flying saucer.

11. SHARE YOUR LOCATION WITH FRIENDS

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If you’re meeting a friend, this feature makes it easy for them to track you down. Open Google Maps on iOS or Android and pull up the options menu (located in the top left corner) and select “Location sharing.” From here you can decide how long to reveal your location and who to share it with.

12. MAKE A LIST OF YOUR FAVORITE SPOTS.

Google Maps makes it easy to store all your favorite restaurants (or parks or book stores) in one spot. Tap on a location and hit “Save.” Then, select “New list” and give it a name. Now, you can add new locations to your existing lists. You can also share lists with friends, and they’re even accessible when you’re offline.

13. CHECK OUT SKI ROUTES.

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Google Maps has information on almost 100 ski routes from across the United States and Canada. Head to this webpage to start planning your next ski trip.

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Shopping Malls Might be Dying, But Miami Is Planning to Build the Largest One in North America
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Shopping malls and the "American Dream" are two things that are often said to be dead or dying, but one developer sees it a little differently.

Part shopping outlet and part theme park, American Dream Miami is slated to become the largest mall in North America when it opens in Miami-Dade County, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. Indeed, "mall" might not be the best word for this mega-complex. In addition to retail outlets, plans are in the works for an aquarium, water park, ski slope, live performing arts center, Ferris wheel, submarine ride, skating rink, and 2000 hotel rooms.

The project is being developed by Triple Five Group, which operates the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada—currently the two current largest shopping and entertainment centers on the continent. It also owns the American Dream Meadowlands in New Jersey.

This announcement comes at a time when shopping malls are being shuttered across the country. More than 6400 stores closed last year, and another 3600 are expected to go out of business this year, according to Business Insider.

American Dream Miami will cost $4 billion and cover 6.2 million square feet. Developers hope it will attract tourists as well as local thrill seekers who want a closer entertainment option than Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando. Developer Eskandar Ghermezian was reportedly inspired by a comment made by his daughter, who complained there was nothing to do in the area when it rained.

Critics of the project, however, called it "American Nightmare," arguing it would harm the environment and cause traffic congestion. The developer still needs to obtain several permits before construction can begin.

[h/t Sun-Sentinel]

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