Tuesday, June 5, 2018
The Hudson River Valley is a great place to escape to on a questionable weather day. I recently went to see yet another great mansion in the area. This time we visited Kykuit, The Rockefeller Estate. This fabulous place was created by John D. Rockefeller and his family lived on this palatial estate up until Governor Nelson Rockefeller. There were several changes over the generations, and they are all fabulously showcased by the historians who run the tours and care for the estate.
The Rockefellers were not only amazing wealthy, but slightly eccentric, which makes it fun to visit. The fountain at the entrance to the estate is the largest privately owned fountain in the country, even though it is now state property. The Rockefellers were also known for having an art gallery in the cellar with Picasso tapestries on the walls.
The estate's name is a Dutch word that means lookout. The estate was placed delicately on the top of a hill overlooking the Hudson River, Sleepy Hollow, NY; and the Palisades. John D. Rockefeller wanted to have the perfect view, so he had the very top of the hill removed for optimum viewing. The grounds are exquisite at the site, and the views, to defend John D., are amazing.
Governor Nelson Rockefeller was the most diligent of the art collectors in the family. He made the art gallery in the lower level. There are beautiful gardens at the estate and they are littered with art. There are gates rivaling Versailles. There are Rodins in the yard. There's abstract art and a statue of Aphrodite in a temple. The amazing pieces seem to never end. There are fountains, statues, and buildings that are all art.
Even the stables are amazing. The spiral staircase to the offices is nothing. I love the Tiffany chandeliers and the Middle Eastern saddle. It's an impressive location and the horses must have loved living there. The opposite side of the stable housed the fleet of cars that were driven by the staff of the Rockefellers over the years. It now makes an impressive car museum.
That being said, this is an estate that is amazing and I loved seeing it and hearing all the stories of where the art came from and who lived there when. However, keep in mind that you will be spending a lot of time outside. You are not allowed to take any pictures in the house and you only get to see the main floor and the art gallery downstairs. I was happy that the weather cleared up that day, because of the two and a half hours that we were touring the estate; a lot of time was spent outside. So, while I loved it--not lying, it is not a rainy day venue. You will also ride a shuttle bus from the visitor center to the house, so don't even try to drive there.
Now, that being said; the tour was great, because the tour guides know a lot about the Rockefellers. The also point out the other parts of the estate while you are coming and going on the bus. That's a great perk. The gardens and grounds are amazing, so it is worth the time and money to go. Also, there are several other historic homes and land trusts to visit in the area, making Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, New York a great weekend venue. If you live in the city, it's all only a train ride away on the Hudson Line of Metro North. With a great view of the new Tappanzee Bridge and waterfront parks, it's a great place to spend some time. Enjoy!
Thursday, April 26, 2018
In America, it's a hot topic that never ends, along with gun control and abortion. For centuries, the world has brewed, distilled, mixed, poured, drank and argued over booze. Here are some facts that I thought you would all find interesting about the world as it relates to booze.
Did you know that the United States has the highest legal drinking age in the world? There are only 11 other countries in the world that make young people wait until they turn 21 to drink alcohol. The United States also has some of the toughest criminal laws associated with drinking and some of the most stringent regulations in the world. Coincidentally or not, the United States also has one of the highest death rates associated with alcohol. Countries with a low or no drinking age, have less deaths from alcohol than any other countries in the world on average. They also have less commercially produced alcohol and less people and less cars.
Another interesting fact is that the temporary prohibition of alcohol in America started the very year that women gained the right to vote. Did they have anything to do with one another? Interesting question. Other facts about prohibition include that the major manufacturers of alcohol did not go out of business during the 13 year fast. NASCAR was a direct result of rum running and bootlegging during that time. Crime rose and deaths did not stop. I would guess that's why booze is back.
But, drinking is a thing around the world. There is no alcohol in Arab countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and so on. Most countries in Africa have no real drinking age. Not all, but most. Europe regulates drinking to anywhere from 16 to 19 years of age, depending on the country. There are some nations around the world where the drinking age is only 10.
All that being said, there are many interesting facts about people and alcohol. Alcohol has been part of travel for a long time. The country that we know as the Czech Republic these days has been a tourist spot for drinking for millennia. They have an amazing history of beer in particular, and Prague is home to the oldest pub in Europe.
France is famous for wine and other spirits. Absinthe is a French spirit that was banned in many countries for years. Famous for being forbidden, it is now legal in most places again. Champagne, as we know, comes from a province of France, as do Bordeax, Burgundy and many others.
Guiness comes from Ireland and is one of the most popular beers around the globe. Travelers come every day to take a tour of the main brewery in Dublin and learn how to make the shamrock in the head when they pour the beer.
There are also famous cities when it comes to drinking. New Orleans in the U.S. is famous for partying. They have so many ways to drink that no one can count them all. They have alcohol slushies, voo doo pubs, entire holidays devoted to partying, and over 40 parades every year. They are ground zero for American Mardi Gras and world famous for their pub crawls. They now have a place called the Remedy Room where you can go to get hydrated before or after a wild time. This is a medical style facility with IV's and B12 injections.
Munich is one of the most famous drinking towns in the world, with Oktoberfest at it's Zenith. Every fall people from all over the world descend on this town just to drink beer. It is one of the world's biggest parties, coupled with some lenient drinking ages in Germany. They do not hold the world record for the world's biggest single party. That too, belongs to New Orleans.
Some countries are a little different and so are their liquors. It's called the Black Death and it is an Icelandic liquor. This potent drink is the national drink of Iceland, which didn't have a national drink until 1989, when it's prohibition finally went away. The lack of alcohol over the years made it extremely expensive to drink in Iceland. They now have some locally produced beer and liquor, so the prices are getting better, but if you want to drink in Iceland; bring a lot of money.
Drinking and driving is a problem all over the world, so there are always drinkers looking for a solution. The Netherlands came up with something that has become known as the Pedal Pub. This is a moving bar. It's a modified bicycle with the bartender steering. The patrons pedal the bike, which is no longer a bicycle, but it gets people around without them driving. It started in Amsterdam, like most other party things and now is available in many metropolitan areas around the world.
The pub crawl is another idea that has helped drinking and driving. This concept of walking from bar to bar in a single neighborhood and then calling an Uber has cut down on drinking and driving problems in cities dramatically. There are pub crawls in most cities listed on websites with maps and meeting places.
So, what if you don't like to be told what to do? What if you want your own booze? What if you don't want to buy someone else's alcohol? Then go to Washington State. This place is home to over 1000 micro distilleries and micro breweries. They make almost one fifth of all the micro concoctions in the United States. You can try just about anything out there, and they have resources on the web that will help you find them all.
All my life I've been told about responsible drinking. If that means peddling my bar, walking and calling an Uber, or driving through a package store and taking it home; then so be it. I've often wondered if making less of a big deal out of it might make it less of a problem. It works for other countries. I don't think that it's a coincidence that we have strict laws and big problems. America is a country of people who don't like to be told what to do. We took prohibition and turned it into a major sport. Is it any wonder that we aren't interested in following strict regulations and laws?
At any rate, there are some interesting tours, parties, festivals, parades, and cultures built on booze. So, check the rules before you go and have a great time participating in some of the oldest traditions in the world. Enjoy!
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
DID YOU KNOW?
1. The Czech Republic has some of the most amazing caves around?
Punkva Caves are part of the Moravian Karst and is an amazing place to visit while visiting
one of Eastern Europe's most interesting post Communist countries.
2. Baku, Azerbaijan is where old meets new and is the new playground for adults. It has casinos,
nightclubs, and all the facets that you would find in Las Vegas. Azerbaijan is also the home
of formula one's latest race.
3. The Albuquerque Inernational Balloon Fiesta is the largest hot air balloon festival
in the United States? It takes place in October over a 14 day period and balloonists come
from over 50 different countries around the world.
4. Svarlbard, or Spitsbergen is a great place to see Polar Bears. There are now several options
to go to this mysterious land and experience seeing the magnificent creatures.
5. The Church of the Nativity is one of the holiest sites in Christendom and it is located in the
holy city of Bethlehem. While technically Bethlehem is located in Israel, it resides in the
yet to be recognized nation of Palestine. It's an amazing place to visit and has many holy
Just a few little fun facts. I will pop in with more facts off and on while I work on some other projects. Enjoy!
Monday, March 5, 2018
I've wondered for many years about what I've often called the super mall. There are many of them around the world and they come with more shopping, eating, drinking, and entertainment than I was able to imagine. So, I took the opportunity to get away from it all and take a vacation in a mall. The mall of choice was the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The time was February. Right around Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year. The temperature when we landed in Edmonton was -11 Fahrenheit. My experiment was to see if you could truly spend an entire vacation inside a mall and have a good time and have everything you needed. Crazy.
West Edmonton Mall is an amazing place. Second largest indoor water park and wave pool in the world. Second largest indoor amusement park in the world. Ethnic neighborhoods, activities, restaurants, a hotel, surfing lessons, movies, 800 stores, doctors, dentists, spas. The list goes on. This is the largest contained mall in the western hemisphere. I arrived a day late, due to travel issues. I left a day late due to travel issues. I stayed at the Fantasyland Hotel. This is the themed room hotel that is actually in the mall. I had a normal room, because I just didn't need a theme. My theme was vacationing inside.
Could it be fun? I found a waterfall by the sea where the Santa Maria sits across from the aquarium and the sea lion show. I couldn't believe that even though it was fake, I found a waterfall in the dead of winter in Alberta. I love waterfalls and no matter where I go, I seem to find one. That held true in Edmonton.
Let's start in Galaxyland Amusement Park. Not joking. Indoors, huge place, two monster roller coasters, one kiddie roller coaster, a virtual reality ride, swings, a train, other adult rides, a fun house, other kiddie rides, a playscape, bumper cars, carousel, shooting gallery, arcade, and on and on. It's unbelievable. I learned a great tip for this trip, especially with the parks. There are different prices for the parks, some of the other attractions and the hotel. Go during the week. Things are much cheaper and less crowded. You don't have to wait in lines and you don't have to pay as much. The mall has a multi play pass for the major attractions, and during the week; it's cheaper to just pay per attraction. Look before you leap on that one. And if you have time, do it during the week. Are the rides fun? You bet. I had a great time, but since my companion has some vertigo issues, I didn't choose to spend the whole day at the park. I spent even less than the day pass to go on the rides that I just couldn't miss. It was a great experience and I loved the major rides.
One of the other major attractions in the mall is World Waterpark. I spent the day at that park. It was well worth the price of admission. It was -7 Fahrenheit outside the day that we went to the park. There are several different water slides in this park. They have a loop, trap doors, the one I call the toilet, and so much more. They are amazing. I rode them over and over. They also have that giant wave pool. I played in it forever. It was amazing. The natural light is like you're right at the beach. I even got a little sunburnt. In winter, in Alberta, at the beach. Love that. We also zip lined over the wave pool. We even discovered later that you can learn to surf on that wave pool in the off hours. Amazing. I even had a beer at the beach side bar. They have cabanas and even have a flow rider. It's an amazing place, and it was the biggest single reason that I wanted to go to the mall. It was worth it. I would so do it again. Once again, it is part of the multi play pass, but the single price is perfectly reasonable during the week and the crowds are less. It is crowded. It's a very popular attraction in Edmonton.
Who doesn't love sea lions? The mall has an aquarium and some fun to watch sea lions. To tell the truth, the aquarium is underground in a cave environment. I wasn't thoroughly impressed with that one. It is the third part of the play pass, but if you wait until 4 pm to go, it's less money. Here's what I found. You don't spend a lot of time down there, because there isn't much to see and it smells pretty fishy. I felt sorry for the penguins being bunged up like they were, and it was my least favorite thing at the mall. The sea lions however. That's another story. They perform once or twice a day and you can view them from around the show. You don't even have to pay. You do pay if you want to get a picture of your kids with the sea lions, but my kid was home, so I watched that show every day for free. The sea lions seemed to be having a great time and we enjoyed it. You can come by at many times during the day and the sea lions will be out playing with their trainers. It is one of the best things in the mall, and you can see it all day long.
Okay, what else is there in the mall? Well, at one end of the sea we have certain attractions. There is a shooting range and gun store on the second level. They were having a Valentine's Special when I was there. You could pay to shoot with their guns. You could also bring your own. You could also buy guns. The security in the place is very good. We didn't have time to fit it in. Maybe next trip. There is also a radio station on that level. Capital 96.3 radio. You can walk right into this station. They even have a small radio museum and a gallery of famous people that they've had on. It's an interesting stop. What else is in that area? It's right by the hotel. So this is your entry point when you stay at Fantasyland. The movie theaters are there on the third level. They also have a natural light ceiling in the lobby and arcade area. There are several theaters up there including an IMAX. We went to see the latest Star Wars while we were there and the seats were comfortable, like in your living room.
There's a replica of the Santa Maria sitting in the sea. For a couple of bucks you can take the kids on it and look around. If you want, you can rent the space for a special event. There are also remote control boats next to the ship that you can rent to play with. That end of the mall is also home to small stall shopping that showcases local businesses. There's a virtual reality place at that end of the sea, with 15 different virtual adventures to choose from.
Also on that end of the mall are the adult specialty shops. There is a liquor store there, the Supply Sargeant with military surplus and lots of knives, the Love Boutique for adults only, and Caesars Bingo Parlor. Add that to the shooting range, and you have lots of adult time.
But, there's also Adventure Mini Golf on the lower level right underneath Europa Boulevard. Mini golf for the kids and high end shopping for the adults. Europa Boulevard is the scenic area. The shopping is high end. The food is minimal. But it reminds me of the Venentian in Vegas minus the canal. It's pretty and once again has the natural light glass ceiling. You find couples strolling in this area, just admiring the view. It is one of the quieter places in the mall and the place to get flowers for your partner.
Eat, drink and be merry. These things are essential, especially when on vacation. If you can't find something to eat and drink in that mall, I can't help you. It comes with Chinatown, Bourbon Street, Jubilations Dinner Theater, and two giant food courts. That doesn't include all the other places that are just hanging around. We ate at the grocery store in Chinatown. It was fabulous and we had all kinds of things to choose from and several food stations to get it from. It was amazing. We ate breakfast at A & W in the food courts. They serve a full breakfast every day. Sure, you can order room service, but it's boring and expensive. I got my iced coffee at Starbucks, my doughnuts at Tim Horton's and my drinks for the room at London Drugs. It's a great while you stay supply stop. We had Mexican, Japanese, Korean, and Greek right at the food courts. When we wanted a restaurant where we could sit down and be waited on, we went to Bourbon Street. They have some great ice cream and a comedy club down there. And we were there during the Olympics, so every time Canada got a gold medal; drinks got cheap. It was fun, and don't forget perks like the fact that we weren't driving because we were staying in the mall. Responsible drinking. Cool.
This mall has everything. It has neighborhoods. You can eat Durian Fruit in Chinatown if you want. They have great ice cream and an English Pub on Bourbon Street. They also have lots of pizza and beer. This mall has live trees, and ride on toys for the kids. They have River City Games, which is an entire store devoted to games. They also have a whole store devoted to bath bombs. It's crazy, and when you buy all your stuff at Tiffany's and Hudson Bay, you can stop by a luggage store and get an extra bag to put it all in. Amazing.
You never know what you're going to see in the mall. Edmonton is founded on oil. They have a statue for that. There's a regulation ice rink in the middle of the mall with a Starbuck's hanging over one side and a Tim Horton's hanging over the other. They have local hockey leagues almost every night and people sit, drink their coffee and watch the games. It's amazing. There was a Lamborghini being raffled off while we were there. I saw it on my way to the Palace Casino. That's right, a casino. It's small and mostly slot machines, but they are enlarging it as we speak and it will be about four times the size with much more to do soon. That's not far from Dragon's Tale Blacklight Mini Golf. That place is awesome and has a house of mirrors to go with it.
There's so much to do.
Then there's the partial list of things that we didn't have time to get to.
Number one, we had to leave before Chinese New Year. I hear that they have a parade, special entertainment and a fire breathing dragon for the occasion.
It was day three before I even knew about the bowling alley. Ed's bowling has wildly entertaining regulation bowling and duck pin bowling. They have a restaurant/bar up there in their little hidden hole in the mall and soon they will have an escape room. There's so much to do that we looked around a little and went on our way. We were running out of time.
Another thing that we missed was the Rec Room. This is a new arcade and all around entertainment place. They have all kinds of things to do in there. Once again, we were running out of time. I guess we should have stayed longer.
Do you hate to travel in winter? This place is great. We ran out of time. Our hotel was amazing and comfortable. We didn't need to rent a car, because there's a shuttle to and from the airport. I never went outside and I had a great time. I didn't wont for anything. I didn't feel cooped up. Wow. The experiment was a success. A mall is a great vacation spot.
I do have to add some advice here. I learned some things on this one. I bought a package deal and took the insurance in case I needed to change my plans. Read the rules. I couldn't change my plans with the airlines, because of the budget seats. It didn't matter if I paid for insurance with the bundle. I also had no problem rescheduling the hotel when things went wrong. I didn't need the insurance. It was a waste of money both ways. Also, when the weather went awry, the airlines took over their part of the package and the bundling company couldn't help me with anything after that time. Be careful how you book.
Another piece of advice that I don't like to give is to be careful with airlines. I thought that going to Canada on Air Canada would be a good idea, but they never showed up. I ended up flying United and Delta. I don't think I would book Air Canada again. Sorry. It was the only bad part of the trip.
Other than that, go to a mall for vacation. Especially in the winter. It's a great time and you're never bored. Enjoy!