Vacation in the Hood Edition

Several months back I took the family to a very small town a friend had told me about, Homosassa, Florida. What’s in Homossasa? Not much, to be honest. Not even a stoplight. Homossasa’s claim to fame is a very small national park on which rests the remains of a pre-civil war era sugar mill. Down the road, not 500 yards from the park and the sugar mill ruins is Homossasa’s other point of interest, a printing museum. Of the two, the museum is far more interesting.

The museum is housed in a small building, in the front of which is a small cafe where you can get a really good cuban sandwich. In the back nearly every square inch of floor and shelf space is packed with antique printing paraphernalia. Typesetting machines, printing presses, typewriters, and drawers and trays of moveable type fonts. Proprietor, sandwich chef, and congenial tour guide, Joe Andersen, literally gushes the history of each machine in his collection to anyone who’ll listen.

Homossasa is on the Gulf Coast side of Florida’s pennisula, Merritt Island National Wildlife Reserve is on the opposite coast and is home or rest stop to a bah-gillion species of migrating birds, insects, and water creatures. From Monarch Butterflies to manatees, if you want to see it then this is one of the best places to catch a glimpse.

Neither place is more than two hours from my house and I only discovered them in the past year. I guess I’m not so bad; some people live their whole lives within a few miles of where they were born and never realize the interesting places nestled in geographical nooks around them.

The point of this bit of rambling is that you don’t need to book a week at Disney, or travel 1500 miles to bunk in your sister-in-law’s cellar to go on a vacation. You can take mini-vacations right near your home and all you’ll need is some petro, some time, a bit of curiosity (and possibly some insect repellant), and your trusty iPhone.

I’ll admit that checking out points of interest around you was tougher in the past. You really had to know at least a little about what you are interested in before you could mount a decent Internet search, and searching while sitting in front of your computer at home didn’t always allow for spontaneous adventuring.

All that’s changed since we have iPhones and similar devices. iPhones come equipped with the Maps app, which great if you know what you’re looking for, but what if you want some suggestions to kick off your adventure?

Enter Wikihood, a free app that offers up info about points of interest around you or anywhere in the world.

Wikihood is a bit buggy, and in some places there really isn’t a lot of info just yet, but it’s stable enough to work well, and the info there is should be enough to get you out and discovering.

The interface is pretty simple. Type is a location or let the app use your current location and it scans Wikipedia for important places around you, then displays that info in an easy to read list that includes pictures and data about the places listed. It’s pretty cool and always informative.

There are a few things I wish Wikihood would do that it can’t at the moment, like handle searches for keywords like “park,” or “museum” and limit the search to my location. Still, what Wikihood does show you is goodness. It’s a great compliment app to Google Earth and I wish the two where connected somehow.

Anyway, check out Wikihood. There are versions for your iPad and iPhone.

Next up is UpNext 3D Cities.

Wha-zat? Think of it as Google Maps, but with a 3D twist.

UpNext 3D Cities let you download city maps which you can then explore on your iPad, displaying street names and buildings in a cool 3D relief. What’s cooler still is that you can then touch any of the buildings and get information about it and what’s inside.

Let’s say you’re in D.C. near the Washington Monument and want to know what’s in the buildings in your immediate area. UpNext 3D Cities can use your current location to pinpoint you, then you touch each 3D building around you. You can find coffee shops, museums, or other interesting places quick and easy.

Currently there are only a few cities available for downloading, but you can grab them for free (Note: it’s best to download the city maps over WiFi, especially if you’re on a limited data plan.)

UpNext 3D Cities is a nice app and a great way to find stuff if you happen to be in one of the cities it supports.

If you do happen to be traveling in one of the many major cities and airports, and need to quickly find out what are your options for food, shopping or other services then you won’t find a more useful app than Point Inside Maps for Airports and Malls.

Point Inside shows you where the nearest restrooms, coffee shops, news stands and more are, and it gives you gate location as well so you’ll always know where you are and what’s around you.

What I really like is the “quick-find” button in the upper right corner of the screen. Press it, then select an icon representing Food, Restrooms, Money Services, or “Special” and Points Inside instantly shows you the locations. The “Special” shows local vendors that may be offering discounts.

Point Inside Maps for Airports and Malls is a handy app to to have. Grab it before you go.

Well, that’s a wrap for this week.

More freebies below with direct links.