mapping it out

Get your vacation personalized via Pittsburgh startup ViaHero

From Tribune-Review: Lynne Bangsund and her daughter Krista wanted to go to Cuba, but they didn't want to go with the standard guided tour.

"We both speak a little Spanish, and we didn't really want to go with 30 other people," Bangsund said.

So, when they found travel site ViaHero online, they decided to give it a try. They got a personalized itinerary prepared by a bona fide Cuban guide for a fraction of the cost of a travel agent, Lynne said.

"It was amazing, we had the entire trip planned," she said. Not only did they get to see sights they wouldn't otherwise have known about, Bangsund said the pair felt like they had an edge over other travelers. As they made their way around Havana, they encountered other tourists at restaurants. "They would be waiting but we had all our reservations planned ahead of time."

When it launches in Japan in May, East Liberty-based travel startup ViaHero will add a third island country to its small but growing portfolio.


An AlphaLab alumni company, ViaHero creates customized travel guides that allow travelers to experience their destination like a local. Rather than compensating the hotel or airline trying to sell the most expensive trip, ViaHero relies on the person providing the expert advice (the "heroes," if you will) to create the best possible travel experience.

"People really value the local insight they wouldn't have access to otherwise," said ViaHero CEO Greg Buzulencia. "You'd have to go through thousands of reviews on a site like TripAdvisor to get this depth of information."


ViaHero has started small, launching in Cuba and Iceland as its first markets. The company uses a blend of Airbnb hosts, freelance tour guides and local travel writers, many of whom come with their own audiences, to help plan the trips for customers.

With Cuba a relatively new destination for American travelers and Iceland becoming a more popular destination due to low-cost airfares, ViaHero has found a niche within the very crowded online travel space.

Buzulencia says the typical customer for ViaHero is an experienced international traveler, who might have visited a place with a tour guide in the past but wants a more authentic and independent experience.

Read about how ViaHero works at the Tribune-Review.

β€” Tribune-Review

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Hometown hero

James Conner's Steelers jerseys are gonna be gold

We already know that someone somewhere is printing T-shirts this late.

All because this happened tonight:

And Steeler Nation rejoiced!

Read about more about Conner from Jerry Dipaola at the Tribune-Review.

Let's never forget:

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they got burned

WTF happened at Fyre Fest in the Bahamas?

It was supposed to be a weekend of bliss, booze and bops. Instead, it was chaos.

Organizers of the much-hyped Fyre music festival in the Bahamas canceled the weekend event at the last minute Friday after many people had already arrived and spent thousands of dollars on tickets and travel, the Associated Press reports.

Fyre Festival organizers announced the cancellation of what they previously billed as a "once-in-a-lifetime" concert along the lines of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Southern California.

The scene didn't look so good:

People had already begun arriving in the Exuma islands for the first of two weekends that was to include performances by Blink-182 and others.

The event's website put it differently: "Due to circumstances out of our control, the physical infrastructure was not in place on time and we are unable to fulfill on that vision safely and enjoyably for our guests."

They said they were working to arrange charter flights to Miami for people who had already arrived in Exuma and said inbound flights had been canceled.

Fyre Festival, produced by a partnership that includes rapper Ja Rule, had promised "culinary delights and luxury" over this weekend and the second one in May. Organizers had relied on models and other minor celebrities to heavily promote the festival as a glitzy destination event. It was unclear from the website if the second weekend would also be canceled.

William N. Finley IV was live tweeting the entire bungle:

The Bahamas tourism ministry had expected it to be one of the largest such events ever held in the island chain east of Florida.

But attendees complained bitterly about disorganization, a lack of accommodations and inadequate food in social media posts.

And they were furious (and some furiously funny).

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There goes our childhoods

Say bye to Hi-C Orange at McDonald's

McDonald's will begin phasing out Hi-C Orange on May 1, according to a memo posted this week on Reddit. A representative for McDonald's told Eat This, Not That that all locations will stop carrying the drink after July.

According to the memo, the chain is introducing a new "proprietary" beverage called Sprite TropicBerry that will be served exclusively at McDonald's locations. It's part of the company's partnership with Coca-Cola.

McDonald's website touts Hi-C Orange Lavaburst as "packed with crisp citrus flavor," but customers won't be able to enjoy it for much longer.

You may still have time to order the drink because McDonald's locations are advised to keep selling it until their current supply is gone.

Read more about the switch at AOL.

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cultural recognition

Some dude has named plants after Ahnuld & Danny

So, "Twins" might not be the height of sophisticated culture.

Right? Even with lines like, "Thank you for the cookies. I look forward to tossing them."

But now an Australian scientist has given the film a bit of a cultural boost by naming a genus of Australian pea flowers, Daviesia schwarzenegger and devito, after the two leading actors in the film.

(That would be Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, of course.)

The 1988 comedy follows the laugh-filled notion that Schwarzenegger and DeVito were part of an embryo split to craft the perfect child. However, Ahnuld's character ended up with all the good stuff (strength, intelligence) and DeVito got the scraps.

And that's basically the idea with these plants: The Daviesia schwarzenegger is larger and more robust, and the Daviesia devito is smaller and weaker.

Australian National University Professor Mike Crisp has identified 131 sub-species of plants in the Davesia genus β€” these are but two of them. They're found in southeast Australia, and they are in trouble.

"Both species are at risk of extinction, because they appear to be confined to tiny remnant patches of bushland in a region that is largely cleared for wheat farming," Crisp said in a statement.

"These plants are ecologically important members of the communities of plants in which they grow. They're nitrogen fixers, playing an important role in the Mallee region where the top soil is very denuded and the nutrients are depleted. It's essential to have nitrogen fixers to replace those nutrients."

Here's hoping they'll be back.

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scary as sh*t

The streetlamp that will haunt your dreams

A Massachusetts city known for celebrating the occult is drawing attention after its mayor snapped a photo that appears to show a scowling face trapped in a streetlamp.

Many on social media say it looks like a man's face, with a furrowed brow and parted lips. Some say they're spooked. Others say it should be no surprise in Salem.

The city of 43,000 residents was home to the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, which led to the executions of 20 people.

Salem's attractions include a witch museum, witchcraft shops and a Halloween party that claims to be America's biggest.

The photo was taken outside a courthouse.

β€” Associated Press

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hit the brakes

Downtown-to-Oakland bus plan in peril

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Capital funding for projects such as the Port Authority's proposed Bus Rapid Transit system between Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland is in limbo as part of the federal budget debate.

"We are in the midst of a battle," said Art Guzzetti, vice president of policy and research for the American Public Transportation Association. "The funding is up in the air."

For these types of projects, the federal government generally provides about 43 percent of the funding, the state and local governments provide the rest. The Port Authority proposal would cost $200 million to $240 million based on the configuration of the system between Downtown and Oakland and whether it includes extensions to Highland Park, Squirrel Hill and Wilkinsburg.

The Port Authority, working with Allegheny County and Pittsburgh officials, is trying to cobble together funding from a number of sources because the project will use electric vehicles to reduce air pollution, install green infrastructure and modernize sewers in the Uptown neighborhood.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the federal budget is "in flux" right now, but he isn't concerned about funding for the project.

"No. 1, it's a great project and it has a lot of community support," he said. "I think it will score very well and win approval."

Read more about the project from the P-G.

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Gonna be a while

Well, your morning commute could be worse

You thought the Route 28 backup was awful. Imagine encountering something like this on your way in ...

Q13 Fox out of Seattle reports a large tree fell on two cars Wednesday in Fife, Wash.

The Washington State Patrol said one driver was taken to the hospital with serious head injuries. She's was listed in serious condition.

Her red Toyota Prius was totaled.

The driver of the second car hit was uninjured, police said.

Three lanes of traffic were blocked for about an hour, leading to a 10-mile backup.

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