Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Glad to see Charleston on the Conde Nast Traveler lists... but take a closer look


The Charlotte Observer today reported that Charleston again was voted the No. 1 city in the United States  to visit in the annual  Readers' Choice Awards by Conde Nast Traveler -- for the fourth year.
Also, Charleston finished in second place in the Readers' Choice Awards for Top 25 Cities in the World.

But a closer look at the other cities in both lists may be informative.

Top 5 Cities in the United States

1. Charleston
2. Santa Fe, N.M.
3. New Orleans
4. San Francisco
5. Chicago

Top Cities in the World

1. Florence, Italy
2. Charleston
3. Budapest, Hungary
4. Cape Town, South Africa
5. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
6. Prague, Czech Republic
7. Rome
8. Siem Reap, Cambodia
9. Barcelona, Spain
10. Santa Fe, N.M.
11. Krakow, Poland
12. Luang Prabang, Laos
13. Bangkok, Thailand
14. Beirut, Lebanon
15. Vienna, Austria
16. Siena, Italy
17. New Orleans
18. Quebec City, Canada
19. Sydney, Australia
20. San Francisco
21. Chiang Mai, Thailand
22. Salzburg, Austria
23. Chicago
24. Bruges, Belgium
25. Kyoto, Japan

Why is "Top Cities in the United States" limited to only five destinations? While a good bit of the contents of the magazine (these and other best-of lists are in the November issue, on the shelves Oct. 26) is usually geared toward luxury and exotic travel, the five-city limit seems restrictive for a magazine based in America and written for American readers. 

With the exception of Santa Fe, N.M., the other winners in the United States list also appear on the  world list.

And with the exception of Santa Fe, the domestic destinations chosen are not surprising. In fact, they could qualify for been-there-done-that honors for most travelers.

But look at some of the international selections, like exotic Luang Prabang, Laos, or  Beirut, Lebanon -- a fascinating place that was a jet-set destination before decades of civil war. Who would have imagined those places (or even rustic Siena, Italy) on the top 25 list?

Think it through: Could fabled Florence, Italy -- shown at the top of this post -- really be the only city in the world more worth visiting than Charleston?

Be aware that anyone could take any of the Conde Nast Traveler's online polls.

It' ain't just readers, folks. 

Maybe  Conde Nast Traveler poll-takers aren't overly curious about trying different or unusual destinations in the United States  -- or are poll-takers on a mission. Or just don't get out much. And perhaps poll-takers' international choices are more of a wish list than anything.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Weekend for fine color -- and fine crafts -- in Asheville area


This may be a better weekend than you thought for heading up to the Asheville area.

The color report at www.exploreasheville.com says leaf coloration is moving down the mountains, and notes that foliage is getting prime at Biltmore Estate and in such nearby areas as  Cullasaja Gorge, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Cradle of Forestry.

Moreover, this weekend the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands is going on at the U.S. Cellular Center, 87 Haywood St., in downtown Asheville.

The event is staged twice a year -- four days in July, four in mid-October. It is regarded as one of the best craft shows in the country.

You'll see the fine work of members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, a nonprofit formed during the Great Depression; the craft fairs started in 1948 as a way for members to show and sell their creations.

Work at the juried show includes jewelry, wood, leather, fiber, clay, metal and more.

The  Southern Highlands Craft Guild photo at the top of this page shows jewelry by metal smith Linda Azar, a guild member working in Asheville.

Any time of the year, you can see the work of guild members at the Allanstand Craft Shop at the Folk Art Center on the BRP, on Asheville's outskirts; at the Southern Highland Craft Gallery at Asheville's Biltmore Village; the Parkway Craft Center at Moses Cone Manor, on the Parkway near Blowing Rock.

The guild includes more than 900 members in the mountain regions of nine states in the Southeast. You can additionally see work by guild artisans at Cumberland Crafts, at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, near Middleboro, Ky.; and Arrowcraft, in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

What makes the Craft Fair of  the Southern Highlands go-worthy is this: You have the chance to see more than 200 artisans in a juried show that also features craft demonstrations and live regional music.

It's also in a large, indoor venue.

If  you have an affection for Appalachian folk art -- or are doing your holiday shopping early - this is a don't-miss event.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday (Oct. 16-18); 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 19).

Admission is $8; free for 11 and younger.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Like B&Bs? Try a room with a BOO


BnBFinder.com, an online bed and breakfast directory, has compiled a list of what it considers the most haunted places where you can park your hat this Halloween season - and at other times. 

And three on the eight-inn short list aren't that far away:  Two are in Savannah, Ga. (about a four-hour drive) and one is in Mountain City, Tenn. (2 1/2 hours from Charlotte,  north of Boone via U.S. 421). That would be Prospect Hill Bed and Breakfast, shown above.


Featured on the list:


"While being a popular accommodation for the living, the inn is also frequented by many of Savannah’s most infamous spirits. One in particular, Anna has claimed a room of her own, often being seen and heard in room 204."

Ballastone Inn, Savannah, Ga. 

"Sitting on top of a former cemetery, the four-story antebellum mansion has had its fair share of mysterious happenings since being built in 1838... (including) a ghost cat as well as a little girl appearing to be lost and looking for her mother."

St. Francis Inn, St. Augustine, Fla.

"No roommate needed if you decide to stay in 'Lily's Room.' A servant at the inn during the mid-19th century, she and her masters son carried on a secret affair.  Discovered, Lily was released from her duties causing the nephew, who was told to never see her again, to take his life.  ... Guests have reported makeup bags being filled with water, mysterious figures dressed in white roaming the halls, unexplained noises and chilling touches in the room."

Burn Brae Mansion, Glen Spey, N.Y. 

"Ghost hunters are stunned by the amount of paranormal activity found at this Catskill woodland retreat. Guests and innkeepers report hearing voices, feeling swift movements, witness objects moving or experiencing extreme temperature changes." 

Old Stagecoach Inn, Waterbury, Vt.

"This historic home is still watched over by one of its former owners. After tales of strange occurrences and a series of 'happenings', a local ghost hunter confirmed that there was an otherworldly presence residing at the Old Stagecoach Inn, especially in Room 2. "


"When renovations began on the plantation in 2003, it is believed that the construction disturbed the spirit of a young girl between the ages of 7 and 10. Guests frequently report sightings of the mysterious girl wearing a blue dress and standing on the staircase. "


The B&B features nine individual railroad cabooses. "Once a part of the Southern Pacific rail line, the Celebration caboose is frequented by a man in striped pajamas that sits on the bed."

Prospect Hill Bed and Breakfast, Mountain City, Tenn. 

"The man is believed to be Union Army veteran Joseph Wagner, the builder of the Victorian home. Guests ... are awoken by the smell of fresh baked peanut butter cookies and muffins that some say the previous innkeepers used to bake. The smell of spilled bourbon and rose scented perfume have also been known to fill the rooms at random times of the day."

For  BnBfinder.com's  complete list of haunted getaways, visit www.BnBFinder.com/HauntedInns.

That full roster also includes three in North Carolina: The 1898 WhiteGate Inn & Cottage (Asheville), the 1906 Pine Crest Inn and Restaurant (Tryon) and The Pack House Inn, (Edenton).

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wilmington, for 'Sleepy' headless fans


"When Ichabod Crane goes missing, his wife, Katrina, appears to Lt. Abbie Mills in a vision warning her that the Headless Horseman will return to Sleepy Hollow by nightfall. ..."

Welcome to "Sleepy  Hollow" -- not the 1999 Johnny Depp movie, not the 1980 TV movie with Jeff Goldblum nor the Disney cartoon from the 1940s.

We're talking about the current  Fox TV show (cast photo shown above) that pushes Revolutionary War soldier Ichabod Crane -- and the dread Headless Horseman -- into our modern times.

And into the Carolinas: While the pilot was filmed in Charlotte, Gastonia and Salisbury, the horror-driven show is shot in the Wilmington area, and filming of the second season is underway.

The EUE Screen Gems studio is a closed set, but exteriors are filmed throughout the area.

And if you're a real fan, the Wilmington and Beaches CVB  has put together a show fact sheet that includes the ingredients for a self-guided tour where you can see locations you've already viewed on TV.


Among them:

The Bellamy Mansion Museum (503 Market St.), which holds the kitchen in the first season's "Sin Eater" episode. 

The Kenan Memorial Fountain, where Ichabod and Abbie encounter the lost boy in the “John Doe” episode.

 St. James Parish (25 S. Third  St.; exterior view only) where Ichabod sees Katrina in purgatory in the Season 1 finale.

 The dining room of the Graystone Inn (100 S. Third St.; inside access only for overnight guests) where the Headless Horseman beheads the four Masons and where exterior horse scenes took place in the "Midnight Ride" episode.


The CVB's sheet lists 15 scene sites in Wilmington's historic district and nine off-studio locations in the Wilmington area.

Not a show devotee? Use the fact sheet to pry your family's fans from the idiot box for a fun weekend in the Cape Fear area exploring parks, museums and other attractions.

Example? Purgatory in the first-season finale is in Brunswick Town, the intriguing state-owned Colonial history site in nearby Winnabow. 


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What does 'America's Favorite Place' have that Charlotte doesn't? A statue of a gigantic termite, for starters



Want to have a good time? Head to Providence, R.I.

That city topped the list of "America's Favorite Places," a survey of readers of Travel + Leisure magazine.

The rest of the top five? Houston, Kansas City, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Los Angeles.

People could vote for 38 cities in six categories -- culture, shopping, quality of life, people, nightlife and food and drink -- that were in turn broken out into 67 subcategories.

Travel + Leisure said the results are based on more than 50,000 votes that ranked  cities. The results will be featured in the magazine's November issue, which will be on newsstands Oct. 17.

Don't get your hopes up. Charlotte has no bragging rights here.

 In fact, no cities in North Carolina made any top-five "best of," though the link at the bottom of the online roster has a link to a page where you can type in an N.C.  metro area -- from Boone and Asheville all the way to Wilmington -- and vote if you disagree with the survey results.

However you vote (choices run from Anchorage, Alaska, to Key West, Fla.), your completing the online do-you-disagree  survey enters you for a chance at a vacation getaway.

But it doesn't change the published overall results.

The only place in the two-state area to win any nods was Charleston:

No. 1 for architecture/cool buildings
No. 1 for romantic escape
No. 2 for shopping at antiques stores
No. 2 for relaxing weekend
No. 3 for historical sites
No. 4 for cleanliness
No. 4 for public parks/gardens
No. 4 for public safety
No. 4 for notable restaurants
No. 4 for girlfriend getaway
No. 3 for attractive people
No. 5 for stylish people
No. 5 for brunch places

If it makes you feel any better, New York City cane in first for people who were rude and also for people who were snobby.

Providence, an old New England city, was the hometown of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft.

Perhaps more relevant, Bank of America is the city's third-largest employer; naming rights extend there to the Bank of America Skating Center -- which Wikipedia lists among Providence's "Sites of Interest."

Another attraction of interest: Nibbles Woodaway, a roadside sculpture belonging to a pest-extermination company. Nibbles Woodaway, also known as the "Big Blue Bug," is billed as "the world's largest termite."

You'll see an AP photo of it at the top of this post; you may have also spied it in scenes from the movie "Dumb and Dumber."


I wouldn't be surprised at all if  you'll be seeing it eventually in uptown Charlotte after it is shipped here and the price tag is removed.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Creepiest Halloween attractions of 2014


Travel Channel has announced its picks for "Travel’s Best: Halloween Attractions" - haunted house attractions and a few other scares. Among them:

* The Queen Mary attraction, in the Los Angeles area.

* A festival in Salem, Mass., that cashes in on the town's historical reputation with events that have nothing to do with that history.

* A scarefest at Florida's Universal Orlando theme park that has a tip of the hat (well, maybe not) to North Carolina's Roanoke Island

* The attraction that makes the closest stab at reality? It's at a former mental institution in West Virginia.

Here's the Travel Channel list:

Queen Mary’s Dark HarborLong Beach, Calif.
The Queen Mary was built in the early 1930s as a luxury trans-Atlantic ocean liner, but for decades has been permanently moored in Southern California. It's a tourist attraction with restaurants, a museum and a hotel. Through Nov. 2, it operates an elaborate haunted house that has a nautical flair. 


13th Floor HauntedHouse Denver, Colo.
What's billed as "the largest and longest indoor haunted attraction in Colorado" is staged through Nov. 9. Besides ghouls and monsters jumping out, expect high-tech monsters and other tricks.

Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights – Orlando, Fla.
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando plays off  hit horror  programs ("The Walking Dead") and blockbuster movies ("From Dusk Till Dawn," Halloween") Other attractions include a haunted house titled "Roanoke – Cannibal Colony."

Here's how that is described: "The inhabitants of this lost Virginia colony have resorted to cannibalism to survive. Take a trip back in time and explore the remains of this settlement where you’ll get a history lesson you’ll never forget."

The theme park photo at the top of this post relates to Universal Orlando's "From Dusk Till Dawn" haunted house -- not to something apparently connected to the Los Colony... which their storyline places in Virginia.


NetherworldAtlanta
This haunted house, open through Nov. 8,  has more than  200 animated monsters and 100 live actors. Travel Channel says, "... ,unlike other Halloween attractions, Netherworld’s creepy characters greet patrons in the parking lot before they purchase tickets." 

13th GateBaton Rouge, La.
The elaborate haunted house, open through Nov. 8,  offers live animals ‑ including snakes and gators ‑ in addition to 100  jump-out actors and special effects. It has  13 themed indoor and outdoor areas. 

Festival of the DeadSalem, Mass.
This is a multi-venue festival (Oct. 18-31)  staged in the town made infamous for its 1692 witch trials. The two weeks of events include a Psychic Fair and Witchcraft Expo, and  a Witches' Halloween Ball."


Bennett’s Curse – Jessup, Md.
This haunted spectacle outside of Baltimore - one of horrormeister Edgar Allen Poe's, um, haunts - has three haunted houses: Medieval Underworld, Inferno 3D and Sanctuary of Insanity. It continues through Oct. 31.


Fright DomeLas Vegas
The  Circus Circus’ Adventuredome is temporarily retooled to hold  haunted houses in a darkened venue illuminated with special lighting and fog effects. The 5-acre attraction on the Strip includes 25 rides and attractions live shows at night and four scare zones. Dates: Oct. 10-31.


ScareHouse Pittsburgh
ScareHouse - running through Nov. 1 in suburban Etna, Pa. -  is staged in a bank building built in 1915, and produced in part by Legendary Entertainment, a film production company that had a hand in "The Dark Knight," "Pacific Rim" and "Godzilla."

Trans-AlleghenyLunatic Asylum Haunted House – Weston, W.Va.
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is actually staged in the former Weston State Hospital, which functioned as an asylum until 1994. Historic tours are offered at other times of the year. Tours - called "Ghost Hunts" - are offered at various dates.



Thursday, October 2, 2014

Black Mountain singled out as prime fall destination


Staffers at National Geographic's online Beyond the Guidebook page  have released a list of their  individual picks for best fall trips -- and Black Mountain, in eastern Buncombe County,  is among them.

Their list, in the order places were mentioned: 

Shenandoah National Park/Skyline Drive, Virginia
Bermuda
Albuquerque, N.M., International Balloon Fiesta
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sonoma County, Calif.
Black Mountain
Austin, Texas
Bhutan
Pittsburgh
Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, Jasper, Ark.
Grenada

In picking Black Mountain, National Geographic Travel production assistant Becky Davis writes, "Growing up in Florida, my parents took us here every year to experience a taste of changing seasons and cooler weather—and what an amazing taste! The hiking trails that yield awe-inspiring views of multi-colored landscapes are myriad. We would take walks around Lake Tomahawk and watch the geese swim by, surrounded by mountains. Warming up with a hot concoction from downtown’s Dripolator Coffeehouse is a must, as is partaking in one of Black Mountain’s seasonal festivities, which include ghost tours, art festival and a harvest fair.”

Black Mountain was on National Geographic Travel's list of best fall trips last year.


Enchanted Circle Scenic Drive, Taos, N.M.
Lake Maggiore, Italy
Cincinnati (for its Oktoberfest)
Hot Air Balloon Festival, Taunggyi, Myanmar
Diwali (a Hindu festival), Agra, India
Pirates Week National Festival, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Buenos Aires, Argentina (spring walks)
Snorkeling in cenotes (caves) in Quintana Roo, Mexico

The photo at the top of this post shows Black Mountain in autumn. The image is from www.exploreblackmountain.com -- that area's Chamber of Commerce website -- which has visitor information.