Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween is a Craft in Salem

cemetery Back in 1692, strange happenings created paranoia and hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts. Over 150 people were arrested on the basis that they had sold their soul to the devil and were practicing witchcraft throughout the town. During the infamous Salem Witch Trials, 20 people were tried and hanged. Over 300 years later, the people of Salem still embrace their history.

Essex Street is rife with businesses and stores that capitalize on the legacy of the trials. Dungeons and ghost tours are popular ways for people to have a haunting Halloween experience. And if that wasn’t enough, there are stores selling herbs, potions and even brooms; anyone can feel like a true witch even for a day.

witch-brew[1] But if you want to learn more about supernatural wonders, just talk to one of the real, modern witches who live without shame among regular civilians. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, witches are not seen as evil or threatening, but rather as magical individuals who provide psychic wisdom and mystical guidance. The negative stereotype branded to witches during the 17th century has not deterred contemporary witches from making their home in Salem; in fact, they feel it’s the best place to be to educate others on the beauty of their beliefs.

And tourists and locals alike are falling under the spell. Every October, Salem goes into a Halloween frenzy, decorating the whole city with cobwebs, pumpkins, black cats and, of course, broomsticks. Everyone participates in the festivities, from putting on re-enactments of the witch trials to children learning to make magic wands. The ominous environment of Salem makes it even easier to accomplish a hair-raising effect. Cobblestone streets, colonial buildings and ancient cemeteries hold an eerie presence all their own, without any extra help from the residents of Salem.

Map picture
For more of an educational adventure, head to the Salem Witch Museum or the House of Seven Gables—made famous by Salem-born author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Or just go to enjoy the gorgeous scenery of the Salem coast. No matter when you decide to go, whether it’s during the ghoulish holiday season or the warmer summer months, you can experience the never-ending dedication this city has towards its history and heritage.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Weather Worries

A "ground stop" was declared this morning at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago due to high winds and rain. As most residents know, the city experienced some intense weather conditions early in the day; in fact, many news stations claimed it was going to be the most powerful storm Chicago has seen in seven decades. (That's quite a claim, and I'm still waiting for the confirmation on that. So far, no hard evidence.) Clearly, it was bad enough for O'Hare to ground flights. (Although, it usually doesn't take much for O'Hare to do that sort of thing.) Now, over 300 flights out of the airport have been cancelled, leaving thousands stranded for the day.

I don't mean to be such a skeptic, but I experienced about ten minutes of monsoon-like rain and wind gusts, then it lightened up, the clouds sped by and skies cleared up. I'm looking at a blue sky right now. No disrespect to the weather men and women out there, but I don't see this being as bad as predicted. And I certainly see no reason why O'Hare feels the need to cancel so many flights. Midway is experiencing the same weather, and they seem to be handling the situation pretty well, despite having numerous delays on incoming and outgoing flights. I have had more than one bad experience with O'Hare delaying or cancelling my flights due to weather, and each time it was unnecessary. Every time it happens, I get the feeling that O'Hare plays into the media hype given to these storms, and rather than taking it in stride, they cancel or delay flights in anticipation of bad conditions before actually seeing them play out. It leaves many people running for connecting flights in other cities, standing in customer service lines trying to find other flights, or just stranded for an extra day. It's frustrating, especially for those who travel on a regular basis.

Obviously, I understand that weather conditions affect flights, and if there are legitimate reasons--whiteout conditions, tornadoes--I can accept a cancelled flight. But one of my flights out of O'Hare a few months ago to visit my dad in Canada was cancelled due to dense fog. First of all, the fog cleared up by mid-morning and my flight was at 4:30 pm, and when I stepped out of my office around 1:30, the sun was shining, clear skies and seventy-degree temperatures--perfect flying weather. I called right away and got another flight, irritated that the first one had been cancelled at all when the weather was clearly not an issue.

I know I'm ranting, but when I see these announcements about mass cancellations, I have to wonder if they are really necessary, if the weather really is that bad. If conditions outside worsen, then I will admit to being wrong, but until that happens, I maintain that airports should try to get their flights out, even if they have to be a little late.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Where Would You Rather Be?

I was sitting at my desk today, staring at a long list of cities across the country. All I could think was that I would rather be at any one of those destinations than in that cubicle. It was one of those Mondays where the weather outside begs you to play hooky, blow off the afternoon and enjoy lunch in the park; so it was no surprise that I was feeling antsy for vacation time. I know many feel the same way, so I must pose this question to you…when you’re feeling the need to get away, where would you rather be?

Those who know me well know my answer….Italy, of course. But if I had to choose a closer locale, it would be a tie between Hilton Head, South Carolina or Denver, Colorado. Honestly, either would have been a nice choice today, but on any other day I think it would depend on the time of year. Around the holidays, I want to be around simple comforts, so Denver would be the go-to option. In the spring, when weather in Colorado can be questionable, I would go with the sunny atmosphere of Hilton Head.

So if you could pick anywhere…where would you want to go?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Pre-Honeymoon?

This week has been full of wedding bliss--or something slightly less cheesy. Pictures from the wedding I attended last month were posted, as well as their honeymoon photos from Hawaii. I just found out today that two of my good friends got engaged over the weekend (Congrats to them!!), and they'll be tying the knot in the next year or so. Then, Daily Candy sent me a newsletter about a contest from that lets couples enter to win the Ultimate Romantic Getaway: an all-expenses-paid, five-night stay at Palace Resort & Spa of your choice.

Now, obviously that could be used for a honeymoon, but what about taking a nice trip together before the wedding, a pre-honeymoon if you will. It's becoming more and more popular for couples to take pre-wedding vacations together, either before the planning actually starts or just a few weeks before the ceremony. It's a way for the bride and groom-to-be to relax and take time away from their daily stresses (tastings, fittings, invitations, seating arrangements, etc). Some might argue that a pre-wedding trip ruins the post-nuptial tradition of a honeymoon, and there is definitely a point to be made there. But just think about all the trips people have taken as couples before they got engaged and got married, weren't all those vacations romantic in some form? I would say so.

Traveling together not only gives you a buddy to go sightseeing with, but it is also a good way to test your compatibility. A couple that can travel together can stay together. And I'm not talking about big group trips where you can steal away with another person if your significant other is getting on your nerves. I mean the one-on-one adventures where it is just the two of you, spending every minute together, sharing everything from food to beds to train seats. Those are the moments when you truly know this is forever.

I strongly suggest every couple take a vacation together, especially if one day you two will be walking down the aisle sometime in the future.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wine and Chocolate and Travel

I was roaming around Bing's Travel section yesterday when I came across two very intriguing slide shows: top wine destinations and the best places for chocolate lovers. Immediately, I clicked the links and lost myself in the crisp images of vineyards, sweet factories, wine cellars and chocolate treats. Two of my favorite indulgences wrapped up in a nice travel package, the perfect itinerary for my next trip. Of course, visiting all these places is not a simple task as many of them are in Europe or South America or even as far as New Zealand. There are, however, a couple places located right here in America, or just across the border in Canada, that would not be difficult to get to. I have always wanted to visit San Francisco, home of Ghirardelli, Recchiuti, Teuscher, XOX Chocolates, Coco-Luxe and a newsstand that boasts 225 different chocolates from 15 countries. Not only that, but right outside of San Francisco is Napa Valley, one of the most prestigious wine areas in the world. With one trip, I can cover two areas discussed in these articles, sampling some of the most delicious delicacies and sipping on award-winning wines. It seems like the perfect vacation.

Another place that really interested me was Victoria, British Columbia. You can spend a night in Rogers' Chocolates Shop, with a two-hour feast complete with champagne, dessert wines and all the chocolate you want. A dream come true--at least for me. The city also has an annual Chocolate Festival at Bear Mountain Resort, with demonstrations, workshops, cake decorating, competitions and chocolate samples galore. Perhaps I need to pay this town a visit.

If you love wine and chocolate as much as I do--or even if you don't--you should check out the links above. If nothing else, they will give you some good ideas for your next vacation.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Vague Travel Alert in Europe

For those of you who weren't paying attention over the weekend, the State Department issued an alert on Sunday in response to threats from Al Qaeda. What was truly unsettling about the alert was how vague it was. All people knew was that the threat was in Europe, and the targets were railways, subways, planes, ships and any "tourist" attractions. It seems no one is safe, no matter where they are.

Apparently the only thing Americans in Europe can do is be aware of their surroundings and take necessary safety precautions. Gee, that's comforting.

While the alert has caused some frustration among travelers, officials and terrorist experts say it was imperative. According to an article in the New York Times Travel Section, "the decision to warn travelers came as officials in Europe and the United States were assessing possible plots originating in Pakistan and North Africa, aimed at Britain, France and Germany." Information about these possible attacks came from German citizens of Afghan origin as well as from some British Pakistani residents. The attacks held enough credibility and imminence that officials had to act.

Despite the evidence, many are still angry that the alert was not specific to a certain country, but rather designated to an entire continent. The State Department responded to these complaints by saying that this alert should encourage American travelers to take "common-sense precautions," such as paying close attention to unattended packages, loud noises and any public disturbances.

For now, people are taking the alert in stride, keeping calm instead of frantically finding a way out of Europe. Officials by no means want to discourage people from traveling, they just want to alert them to the possible dangers that could occur. Then again, this alert basically sheds light on the fact that the world is not safe, and we already knew that.