More fun to read about than actually go to these obscure places

“Atlas Obscura — An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders” by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton (Workman, 470 pages, $35).

“Atlas Obscura — An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders” was released on Sept. 20 and it has quickly become a top 10 best-selling book at Amazon.com. This guide to over 600 locations around the world is an expansion into print of some of the bizarre information you’ll find on the Atlas Obscura website. This massive undertaking is likely to appear on many gift lists during the upcoming holiday season.

In their introduction Atlas Obscura co-founders Joshua Foer and Dylan Thuras explain that their website and this companion volume are “a cabinet of curiosities meant to inspire wonderlust as much as wanderlust. In fact many of the places in this book are in no way ‘tourist sites’ and should not be treated as such.”

The book is organized by continent, and many of the sites and objects described within are accompanied by photographs. Here are some examples of unusual attractions that Atlas Obscura has chosen to include in this collection:

The Trick Fountains of Hellbrunn Palace. A 17th-century Austrian ruler designed booby-trapped fountains for his palace gardens. Each fountain area had one spot where he could stand and stay dry as his guests were suddenly being drenched with water. Oh, the hilarity, right? Bring a raincoat.

Oymyakon. A village in Siberia near the Arctic Circle is the coldest place on the planet where people reside year-round. The coldest temperature recorded there was 90 degrees below zero. The 500 residents consume lots of reindeer meat. The ground never thaws. In July temperatures can rise into the 70 degree range, as warm as it ever gets.

Saddam Hussein’s Blood Qur’an. On the occasion of his 60th birthday, the Iraqi dictator had a request; he wanted a Qur’an to be created that would be written in his own blood. Through the course of regular blood donations Saddam Hussein, if we are to believe the stories, donated 50 pints of his own blood for this project. The 605-page sacred text was on display behind glass at a Baghdad mosque. It has been concealed in a vault since the 2003 invasion.

Karni Mata Rat Temple. Twenty thousand rats are scurrying around inside this temple in India. They are venerated as part of a Hindu tradition. You must take off your shoes before entering. It is believed to be good luck if one scrambles across your bare foot. If you accidentally misstep and crush a rat you will be expected to replace it with a rat made out of solid gold.

Canadian Potato Museum. Located in the town of O’Leary on Prince Edward Island, visitors to the Potato Museum will know they are getting close when they spot the fourteen foot tall fiberglass potato speared upon a giant pole. There’s a Potato Interpretive Center as well as a restaurant thatserves many hearty spud-based dishes.

Cincinnati’s Lost Subway. Three sites in Ohio are featured:The American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Chateau Laroche in Loveland, and the remains of the never completed Cincinnati subway system. Voters approved the project in 1917. Ten years later when the money ran out, the project was halted. Tunnels and four subway stations are still down there, having never been used.

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