Museum of the Weird
Museum of the Weird
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Since about 2000, the slogan of the capital of Texas has been “Keep Austin Weird”. Now, y’all, I’ve been to that part of the US, and I will say “weird” wasn’t my main takeaway. Rather, top tacos, BBQ, and music; bats under a bridge; and cowboy-boot-induced blisters come to mind. Austin was hip and friendly and the place I saw Snoop Dogg perform. On a sliding scale, it’s far cooler than weird, but who am I to argue with the city’s Independent Business Alliance, which adopted the phrase to promote small businesses?

My visit was for South by Southwest. Consumed by this annual film, media, and music conference, I sadly missed out on the Museum of the Weird. The tiny, old-school dime museum comes complete with shrunken heads and dusty mutant taxidermy animals. Likewise, there was no pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Junk, a backyard bijoux Sagrada Familia made over decades from all manner of detritus. Scores of tourists flock to both — which goes to show that humans like their wanderlust with a side of wacky.

If you start to add it up, you’ll soon have a mountain’s worth of books and websites and groups dedicated to strange travel destinations, dark tourism, and oddball roadside stops all over the globe. Come to think of it, that peak of peculiar would be a great meta destination.

For real attractions of the kooky kind, the Lone Star State is generally a good option. Texas Monthly magazine compiled a list of curious things to see on a drive in its hood that includes a replica Stonehenge. As journalist Emily McCullar wrote, “[W]ith a modesty uncharacteristic of most Texans, [it] was built two-thirds the size of the original.” There’s also a museum dedicated to barbed wire, the 14m-tall Tex Randall cowboy sculpture and, my personal favourite, Barbadilla, the 9m-long metal armadillo created by sculptor Joe Barrington. She keeps watch outside Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap.

Madly scaled attractions are a must. If you get a kick out of Bathurst’s Big Pineapple, then might I suggest booking a trip to New Mexico to see “the world’s largest pistachio”? It’s 9m tall and sadly only a sculpture, but it would easily fit into the 9 000-tonne Ohio building that looks like a basket. Throw in Australia’s 40-tonne Larry the Lobster and you’d have a peculiar picnic.Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 70 000 tourists visited the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone every year.

Of the 1986 nuclear reactor explosion and the surrounds, the International Atomic Energy Agency says, “Although some of the radioactive isotopes released into the atmosphere still linger (such as Strontium-90 and Caesium-137), they are at tolerable exposure levels for limited periods of time.” That said, having to leave a piece of clothing behind post-tour because it might have become too radioactive was a risk visitors took. Talk about a high energy excursion.

Mexico’s Isla de las Muñecas ups the creep factor. This manmade attraction is, as the name suggests, an island festooned with hundreds of decaying dolls. Schlepping to see a bunch of one-eyed plastic babies on an island in the canals outside Mexico City — no thanks! Rather, I’d head back to the beginning, to Texas and a destination far more Wanted-worthy. I’d park my Lexus outside the Elmgreen & Dragset art installation on Route 90. You can’t go into this desert boutique built to the aesthetic specifications of an actual Prada store, but you can stand outside, swoon over the shoes, and then… hit the road in search of the next very big thing.

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