Over one-and-a-half million Brits visited Florida last year, most attracted by the fantastic beaches and world-class theme parks, such as Disney World and Universal Studios. But for the more adventurous traveller, Florida has a wealth of quirky, offbeat and downright weird attractions on offer. I spoke to Chris Backe, who writes the popular One Weird World blog. He seeks out unusual places to visit around the world.
“There’s more to the state than the mouse,” said Chris. “I’ve uncovered close to a hundred places that will be mentioned in my new book, What the Florida, due out on June 1st.”
Chris said the type of places he seeks out are, “bizzare, off-beat, weird, unique and just kind of quirky,” adding, “They’re places that you look at them or hear the story behind them and you think ‘that’s interesting’ or ‘I didn’t know that.’ Places that often aren’t found in the local guide books.”
Chris told me that one of his favourite quirky attractions is called Solomon’s Castle in Ona, Florida. “A handyman started building it with the aluminium printing plates, discarded by the local newspaper. He continued creating the arts and crafts inside too.” An added bonus is that you can actually stay a night in the castle after your visit – they offer B&B rooms.
If you’re into nature and wildlife, then Chris recommends a trip to the Reptile World Serpentarium. “This is basically a reptile park where they do venom extraction shows, live, in front of your face, twice a day,” said Chris. “Seeing it for yourself and watching the people working so well with the snakes, to get the venom from them – it’s something I thought I’d never see.”
And if you were a child of the seventies, there’s another attraction that Chris has unearthed, the Tupperware Museum, that will bring back all sorts of memories. “One thing I found interesting about it was that I was reminded of the history of these products,” said Chris.”On display were some of the cups and bowls that I used as a kid – my parents had Tupperware and 35 years on, they still have those cups and bowls and they’re still perfectly useful today. It shows the quality and longevity of the products.”
Chris says most of the quirky attractions have reasonable entry fees, around $10 to $20 each. But there are a few that are completely free. His favourite is a sort of graveyard for Ford trucks. “Harvey’s Truck Collection in Crawfordville is a large collection of rusted Ford trucks. The owner collected them after they were used and he just lined them up in chronological order and let the full rustic beauty come through, I guess.”
A slightly more eerie attraction is the Koreshan State Historic Site, as Chris explained. “This is where a utopian cult lived in the 19th century. They believed the entire universe existed within a giant hollow sphere. The leader died in 1908 and as the cult wound down, they donated their land, buildings and plants they’d imported to the state,” said Chris. “They brought in plants and trees from African sausage trees to Japanese bamboo. Florida made it into a state park. This is one case where it’s a ghost town, because no one lives there anymore, but thanks to the way it’s preserved, you can still get a sense of the place.”
Visit Chris’ website, OneWeirdWorld.com to start exploring more unusual places to visit around the world. And his guidebook, What the Florida, will be out in June.