How to buy travelers' confiscated and lost items
Transportation Security Administration officials at airport checkpoints have confiscated millions of items annually since 9/11; chain saws, fuzzy handcuffs, nunchucks, and ulus (round Eskimo chopping blades) are among the craziest. The contraband is turned over to state surplus agencies, and our recent story Leftover Loot details where you can puchase it in stores and online.
Not only is more stuff being confiscated, but the amount of lost and mishandled luggage is rising. On the eve of Thanksgiving—when an estimated 27 million passengers are expected to be flying—the New York Times reported that all major airlines have had increased difficulties with baggage in 2007. ("One in every 138 checked bags was lost during the first nine months of this year, compared with one in 155 bags a year earlier.")
After 90 days, an unclaimed bag's contents are put up for sale at the aptly named Unclaimed Baggage Center (UBC), a 40,000-sq.-ft. store and the biggest tourist attraction in tiny Scottsboro, Ala. The UBC has seen its own share of oddities, from a suitcase full of Egyptian artifacts dating to 1500 B.C. (sold to Christie's) to a 5.8-karat solitaire diamond ring (bought by a couple from Tennessee for $23,000).
More than 7,000 items arrive daily, and spokeswoman Brenda Cantrell cautioned that the privately-owned UBC can't take requests to search for anything specific. Disgruntled callers are instead invited to make a trip to Scottsboro—as are interested shoppers. The press-savvy store's website allows you to take a tour and read about surprising finds, but not to make online purchases.
According to Cantrell, the UBC has only one documented case of a retrieved lost possession: A man passing through on business picked up a gift for his wife, who had the unexpected pleasure of being reunited with lost ski boots that had her initials monogrammed inside.
A photo of assorted goods for sale at the Unclaimed Baggage Center (courtesy of the UBC).
Now you see this museum, now you don't
You know those sorta-bookish, sorta-edgy glasses Johnny Depp is always wearing? I became obsessed with them recently when I decided I needed glasses, so I did some research. It turns out that they're made by Moscot, and the company's flagship store is right here in Manhattan, on the Lower East Side. The shop has been open for more than 90 years and is something of an institution. A travel destination? Unless you share my optical obsession, probably not. I just learned, though, that the shop is turning its first floor into a temporary museum, which, to my mind, earns it instant travel-worthy status. The collection will consist of never-before-released black-and-white photographs of the Lower East Side from the 1930s to the 1970s. As any New Yorker will tell you, before the neighborhood was taken over by American Apparel, Whole Foods, and more hipsters than you can shake a leg warmer at, it was home to one of New York's most prominent immigrant communities. With such a rich, eclectic history to draw from, these photographs are bound to be interesting. The collection will only be up from November 23 to December 31—here and gone before you know it. If you visit, be sure to head upstairs to the retail shop and check out the eyeglasses. Turns out my vision is fine, after all (and I would never be able to pull these off anyway), but maybe you can come up with an excuse to buy a pair. Moscot Museum, November 23 through December 31 Grand opening: November 23 1 p.m.—7 p.m. Regular hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 1 p.m.—7 p.m. Saturdays: 1 p.m. - 6 p.m. Sundays: 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. 118 Orchard Street (at Delancey) Subway: F train to Delancey Street) MORE BY BETH COLLINS Traveling for the food. A new online tool makes trip-planning easier. Flickr can help you buy a camera.
A new home for contemporary art in Beijing
We just can't blog fast enough to keep up with the breakneck pace of Beijing's development, which extends well beyond its Olympics-related construction. Earlier this week, the city welcomed the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA). One of China's few non-profit, privately funded arts organizations, the UCCA will host lectures and screenings of experimental films—in addition to contemporary shows, such as an inaugural one on the Chinese 1985 New Wave movement. The UCCA's spare galleries, exposed support beams, and 31-foot-high ceilings recall the Bauhaus-style building's original function as an electronics factory. It's a natural fit for the 798 art district in Beijing's northeastern Dashanzi neighborhood, which got its start in the 1990s, when massive factories were converted into galleries, boutiques, and cafés. UCCA, 798 art district, 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu, 011-86/(0)10-8459-9269, ullens-center.org, 30 RMB (about $4); closed Mondays. Photo of an exhibition hall, courtesy of the UCCA. EARLIER: The Great Wheel of China and Complete Coverage of the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Pisa's leaning tower gets "toppled"
If you've been planning to visit the world's most tilted tower, you're going to need to exchange those plane tickets to Italy. The Guinness Book of World Records says you'll need to fly to Germany instead. According to a Reuters news report, the upcoming 2009 edition of Guinness has ruled that the record belongs to a church steeple in the small village of Suurhusen, Germany. The Slate Tower, built in the 15th century, tilts at an angle of 5.07 degrees, while the famous Pisa tower only tilts at 3.97 degrees. Whether this is something to celebrate, I leave up to you. After all, the tilting is generally due to shoddy construction and poor planning. But the fact that each structure is still standing after hundreds of years means that the work couldn't have been that bad, right? RELATED Dream Trips: Leaning Tower of Pisa RELATED Trip Coach: Germany for the Holidays Suurhusen photo by edwardyanquen via Flickr and Creative Commons Pisa photo by Argenberg via Flickr and Creative Commons
Lock it up
It's gotten chilly here in the Northeast, which ultimately gets me daydreaming about a day at the beach. To me, there's nothing better than spending a day on the sand and swimming in the salty blue. But if you're like me, the pockets of your swimsuit are often full of the essentials: Cash, ID, keys, perhaps a cell phone—though there's no way I'm taking a call. So what's a beachgoer to do with all that stuff when it's time to take a dip? I don't know about you, but bobbing around with my back towards the horizon and my eyes focused on a towel-covered pile is not my idea of a good time. That's why I love the TravelSafe 100 from Pacsafe, a manufacturer of innovative, anti-theft travel gear. The lightweight portable safe can be secured to just about anything, such as your chaise lounge—plus, it's lined with stainless steel cables making it slash proof, snatch proof, and tamper proof. It retails for $40 at pacsafe.com, a small price to pay for beachy peace of mind. MORE BY DAVID LAHUTA Delta's food for thought.