Monthly Archives: October 2014

In Time for Halloween: Frightening Places across the US

There are some pretty frightening places across in the United States. In writing a Halloween-inspired piece on scariest sites for a publication, I received many submissions on different places across the country. Some are already well known, others I had heard about for the first time.

And since Halloween is this Friday, I thought I would share some of the responses I had gotten. Let me know if you’ve been to any of these destinations.

Source: Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site / Tom Bernard

Source: Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site / Tom Bernard

Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia

Prisons often have a lot of frightening history connected to them. About two years ago, I went to the Eastern State Penitentiary at night, and it was a bit nerve wrecking. Opened in 1829 and then shut down in 1971, this Pennsylvania prison, now a National Historic Landmark, hosts called “Terror Behind the Walls,” a haunted house tour of the facility, and special events year-round. This attraction features intense startles, immersive one-on-one experience, and gruesome industrial scenes. Another interesting thing: Al Capone was sent there and his cell was decorated quite nicely with Oriental rugs and other fine furnishings.

Source: Whaley House Museum's Facebook page

Source: The Whaley House Museum’s Facebook page

The Whaley House, San Diego

Visitors and ghost investigators flock to The Whaley House, this allegedly haunted home where the Whaley family, its former owners, are rumored to still be there. Another famous spirit seems to hang out the house. His name is “Yankee Jim” Robinson, a convicted desperado who was hanged on the grounds where the house now stands, a few years before the building was constructed in the early 1850s.

Villisca Axe Murder House, Iowa

It makes me sad to hear about haunted places whose stories come from real-life tragedies. I understand this one is true. On June 10, 1912, six members of the J.B. Moore family and two visiting children were killed by an axe murderer in their house in Villisca, Iowa. The murders have never been solved. Today, the Villisca Axe Murder House is open for daytime tours and overnight stays. According to the website, tours have been cut short by children’s voices, falling lamps, moving ladders and flying objects.

Along with specific places, cities overall can carry a lot of spooky legends. Here are a few:

Baltimore, Maryland
Baltimore has a special connection to the poet Edgar Allan Poe as his final resting place is in the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground. There is also the U.S.S. Constellation, a historic battleship that is home to unexplained figures and unnatural noises.

New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans definitely has its share of ties to legends. There are two of them. The LaLaurie House has a gruesome past, as its owner Madame LaLaurie was a Louisiana socialite with a very dark side. Or visit Muriel’s in Jackson Square, where a glass of wine and bread is left out each night at the reserved table for the resident ghost, Mr. Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan.

Washington, D.C.
Visit the “Exorcist Steps” in Georgetown, which were featured in the film, The Exorcist, at the corner of Prospect St NW and 36th St NW, leading down to M Street NW. The historic Decatur House on Lafayette Square, which houses the David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History, is said to still be occupied by the ghost of its original owner, Stephen Decatur, who is known to stare out its windows. Decatur had died in that house after losing in a duel.

Chicago, Illinois
At the landmark Drake Hotel, you might be able to witness the Woman in Red, who is said to have thrown herself from a tenth floor window after catching her husband mid-affair at a New Year’s Party in 1920.

San Francisco, California
With its architectural oddities and ownership by an unusual recluse, the Victorian Winchester Mystery House is given the title as being “most haunted house in the world.” Also, take a trip out to Alcatraz, as Al Capone who also was an inmate here is said to still play his banjo in the shower room.

Happy Halloween!


Check Out #TakeaBreakinChile

photo 1-3If you’re passing through Grand Central Terminal now until this Monday, Oct. 27, take a look at #TakeaBreakinChile, a promotion held by Turismo Chile. As a kickoff for its NYC event, Turismo Chile hosted an evening reception this week to unveil this new campaign in promoting this South American destination.

Not knowing much about Chile at first, I had a good time chatting with reps from tourism companies representing various hotels, airlines, cruises and other expeditions and hearing more about the different opportunities to explore the country. There was also a great presentation relating to Chile’s geography and its cultural and culinary offerings.

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Here’s what I learned.

photo 5For adventure travel, Chile is pretty awesome. Its five zones highlight different climates – from desert to mountain to grasslands – so travelers can enjoy activities like hiking, climbing and rafting. It’s also a connecting point for getting to Antarctica (now that would be awesome) as well as to Patagonia and Easter Island. Also, in being great news for Chile, the travel publication Lonely Planet has featured the Atacama Desert on its “Best in Travel 2015” edition. It comes in at number 9 on its “Top 10 Regions” list.

Plus, being another helpful tip for American travelers, is that to U.S. citizens no longer will have to pay a $160 “reciprocity fee” when they enter Chile (this is in exchange for Chile’s citizens now longer needing a visa for business or pleasure travel to the U.S.). photo 1-4With culinary travel, Chile has a wine making heritage that dates back to the arrival of Spainards who found it to be an ideal place to plant vines. Today, Chile’s wine regions produce primary reds such as Cabernet Franc, Cabaret Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah and whites including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. At Turismo Chile’s reception, I got to taste some of these wine varieties. I also tried some culinary finds including quinoa, lamb, oysters, and empanadas.  photo-16 photo 2-1
The evening also included cultural demonstrations featuring a musical performance and a showing of Cueca, a traditional dance.

At Grand Central, the #TakeaBreakinChile exhibit is in Vanderbilt Hall. It’s an interactive exhibit featuring a giant cube that you can step into too. The exhibit closes Monday at 2 p.m.

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New HelloTel App

HelloTel-MessagesI received news about a new travel app that I would be interesting to share and hear what fellow travelers had to say about it. It’s called HelloTel and it’s designed to help you virtually meet fellow guests at or nearby your hotel – even before you arrive.

It’s like an inner social network.

Here’s the description: After registering with HelloTel, as a member you can check in to your hotel and then start interacting with other travelers who are in a specific area post photos and status updates. Comments can be posted and direct messages can be sent to the original poster.

Offhand, I can see how this app can be helpful if you’re on a business trip or going to a conference or convention. There’s a set up option where people traveling for work can categorize their posts as “Business.” Or you’re a true road warrior.

HelloTel-MenuFor personal travel, I might be shy about using it unless maybe I’m on a group tour or something similar. But, on the flip side, for someone going solo who is nervous or wants to get acquainted with fellow tour group members (there are tour companies that have their own setups to) or maybe going to a community event like TBEX or other travel conferences worldwide.

As the for Hotel in HelloTel app, its backend is said to be able to schedule hotel amenities such as VIP services or restaurant reservations. Right now, an iPhone version of HelloTel is available; for Android, it comes out next month.

Seeing and Staying in Old Saybrook, Connecticut

Having grown up in Connecticut, I’m embarrassed to say that most of what I’ve seen of my state’s coastal region is by driving along our portion of I-95. But my latest work assignment was to change that.

Recently, I drove up the interstate but this time I headed directly to the town of Old Saybrook. For a three-day visit, I was sent to stay at the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa, located right where the mouth of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound meet. The back of main inn is also next to the Saybrook Point Marina, so waterfront views are clearly all around.

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Heading back inside, I got to scope out some of the main inn’s guestrooms (more than 82) which have fine furnishings that all reflect the simple elegance of country living decor. And then there are two outside accommodations that have their distinct setups. The first place is the Lighthouse Suite; yes, an actual lighthouse.  Often in mind for couples or newlyweds, the lighthouse is set away from the main property and it’s set up as a studio apartment.

photo(153)photo(159)Or, guests can go to where I was staying instead. Across the street from the main property, Three Stories is the inn’s renovated guesthouse (originally a single family home built in 1892) that opened in summer 2014. It instantly reminded me of a bed and breakfast when I walked in. On the main floor, there’s a living room and a breakfast area for grabbing a cup of coffee and a snack. On the lower level, there is a pool table and private lounge for hanging out (a worker jokingly called this area “a man cave”).

photo(157)photo-13photo 2photo 3-2Three Stories gets its name from dedicating its guestrooms to a number of important Old Saybrook residents. Mine was for Ann Petry, an African-American author. There is also a room for Katharine Houghton Hepburn, the mother of actress Katharine Hepburn and a leading suffragette. And one for Anna Louise James, who was a history-maker on her own right: she was one of the first women and African-American pharmacists in the United States (and yes, she ran a local pharmacy). Three Stories’ original owner and railroad engineer William Vars has one, too.

photo 1-2 photo(158)As a family-owned luxury inn, amenities include indoor and outdoor saltwater pools, a state-of-the-art fitness center and a full-service European spa called Sanno. For my spa visit, I had a Harvest Organic Facial, which featured Eminence skincare products made with pumpkin, yam or red currant. It was a very fall-inspired facial. The scents – and the treatment – were invigorating.

With dining, the inn’s restaurant, Fresh Salt, is about showing off New England’s culinary wonders. Menus are kept to what’s seasonally available and and incorporate sustainably grown and raised ingredients. Seafood is a big deal in this region of the United States, so it definitely has its place. And being from here, I felt I had to have it for dinner, so I ordered a combination platter of Connecticut oysters and scallops with Rhode Island calamari. It was quite good.

photo-15Overall, Old Saybrook makes for a nice weekend getaway, perhaps for a couple celebrating an anniversary or getting engaged. Families, too, will enjoy  You can get to there by rail (both with Amtrak and Metro North) or car. It’s also nice to see the town on two wheels. Bring a bike with you. If you don’t have one, Saybrook Point Inn & Spa offers free bike rentals. Helmets are included and you get a map of the area.

photo 1photo 4Starting from the inn, there are two routes you can take. I started with the shorter one, about a 3-mile or so trek over the Causeway to Fenwick, an adjacent borough and a summer colony. Katharine Hepburn lived in a beachside house here until her passing in 2003 and I stopped to take a quick look from afar.

Or you could also take the 10-mile loop ride up to Main Street. You will make your way to Old Saybrook’s downtown area lined with shops and restaurants as well as historic homes and an arts center/movie theater named for Katharine. For meals, I recommend Liv’s Oyster Bar, which has a nice happy hour with an the oyster of the day special, and Paperback Cafe, for breakfast and lunch.

photo 1(3)photo 1(2)photo 3(2)Nature lovers should head over to Fort Saybrook Monument Park, a 17-acre park right across from the main inn. You can get a nice panoramic view of the Connecticut and learn more about Old Saybrook’s history through storyboard displays and a bird sanctuary.

And let’s not forget about spending time on the water. Through one package, Saybrook Point Inn & Spa provides a leisurely sunset cruise aboard the Real Escape, a 56-foot private yacht that departs directly from the Saybrook Point Marina. The marina also offers charters for fishing, day cruisers, and groups and can accommodate seasonal boaters, the marina accommodates vessels from 13 feet to 130 feet.

But then, taking in the scenery in Old Saybrook is just as great.

Editor’s Note: My lodging, meals and spa treatment at the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa were comped but the opinions expressed in this piece are entirely my own. I paid for any meals I had outside of the inn.



I Got Pick Pocketed: What to Do If It Happens to You

Photo by Steven Depolo

Photo by Steven Depolo via Flickr

Recently, I handed in a story on how to avoid being pick pocketed and what to do if it happens to you. The piece also involved me: I had my wallet lifted from my purse. Inside in a cathedral. In a city I had arrived in two hours beforehand.

Usually when I travel, I’m pretty guarded about my stuff. I use a money belt, hiding in it my passport, extra cash and bank/credit cards. Sometimes I’ll do a quick pat around my waist, as a sign of reassurance that it’s still there.

This summer, I was jaunting through Germany, starting in Berlin and finishing in Munich. I was on the D-Bahn (Germany’s major railroad system) a lot, and just had gotten to Cologne (or Kohn), the third stop on my trip with my cousin. We only had planned to spend a day and a half in Cologne so when we got there we headed straight to the Cologne Cathedral, the city’s landmark.

DSCN3380Inside this massive Gothic church, you can spend a good amount of time walking around and gazing at stained glass windows, sarcophagi, and mosaic floor tiling. You can also go down into its crypt. Being the shutterbug that I am, I was constantly opening my purse and switching between my camera and iPhone to snap photos of pretty much everything.

Then, somewhere in between coming back up from the crypt and on our way out, my purse got lighter. My wallet was missing. So were my day’s worth of Euros (thankfully my passport and most of my cash was still in my money belt), and my health insurance card. My credit card was gone too (I had taken it out to show to a D-Bahn conductor and then put it back in my wallet instead). Panic ensued. Furiously dug through purse. Nope, my wallet was gone.

I chased down one of the cathedral’s priests, blurting out what had happened. His response was immediate: Pickpockets often target visitors in and outside of the cathedral. He told me to go to the police station to file a report, which was located a few blocks away.

Photo by Reina Luck via Flickr

Photo by Reina Luck via Flickr

At the station, the 20-minute wait in the lobby seemed like forever but I used the time to quickly call my credit card company and reassess what I still had. The police officer that met with me was helpful. He explained that pickpockets hovering around that area often go for wallets to get the cash. They literally toss away emptied out wallets, even in garbage cans (yes, I did peek in them). He also met with visitors who had ALL of their money on them, ALL of it stolen.

Don’t get me wrong, Cologne Cathedral is still worth visiting. It’s also good to be reminded of the fact that pickpockets can target any traveler. Even experienced ones.

They use many ploys: bumping into you and reaching into your bag or pockets, distracting you or grabbing and going with your item, among others. Or they seize upon the key moment: you’re not paying attention. They scope out well-crowded areas like public squares, street performances, and landmarks. Even public transportation is fair game.

Here are tips for safeguarding your essentials before your travel — and what to do if they get stolen.

In Advance

  • Make photocopies of your passport, driver’s license and credit card as well as the phone numbers of your bank and credit card numbers and cellphone carrier and keep them in a separate place. Also save them and email them as PDFs to yourself. If possible, give them to someone you can trust with your private information.
  • Don’t carry all your cash, cards and documents in one place. Spread out these items in different yet secure places like your hotel safe or a hidden pocket in your suitcase. Get a money belt or consider buying clothing with hidden pockets. Take out just what you’ll need for the day and/or night.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. It’s easy to get distracted in places like museums, cafes or transportation hubs but always, always, keep your stuff in check. I use a purse by PacSafe, which can be hung directly in front of me. Also ladies, don’t hang your bag on the back of your chair.
  • Consider signing up for Skype. If your phone is taken, Skype can be another way for contacting people and companies from another country.

If It Happens to You:

  • Cancel your bank/credit cards/cellphone immediately. Request for your company to overnight new bank/credit cards to your hotel or, if not possible, see if your cards can be sent to family members. Need cash stat? Contact someone you can count on to wire money to you via Western Union.
  • Go straight to the police. A police report can help with travel insurance claims and can be used as proof for companies such as your cellphone or insurance providers. If you’re in a public place when a theft happens, scout out restaurant or hotel staff, store employees or ticket agents, as they most likely can help direct you to the nearest station.
  • Contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If your passport is stolen, as well as all the identification you have, get to the nearest embassy or consulate so they can help provide an emergency-only passport.
  • Stay calm. Although the initial shock fades, the after-feeling of being robbed lingers for a while. It’s easy to say to push it aside, but taking steps to deter and/or deal with theft will put eventually put your mind at ease. Enjoy the rest of your travels!