Category Archives: USA

Escaping Reality in Boone, NC


My family loves games and puzzles and are always up for an escape room adventure. This week, we tried Boone’s first escape room – Mysterium, and were not disappointed.

The Boone property is a completely local, original venture; not part of a franchise like so many others. Owner-creator Shaun has done a masterful job. His video, recordings, clues, and special effects are top-notch. The hour was packed with lots of interesting special effects – really the most we’ve ever experienced. Of course, I’m not going to give any hints, but don’t be daunted if you have to ask for help and get a few extra clues along the way.  You are connected to the outside by walkie-talkie and can ask for assistance at any time.

The theme of the room was “The Inheritance” and we were looking for the fortune left by mischievous adventurer/explorer Uncle Ambrose. The room is not large and play is limited to no more than six participants at a time.  Our team of four joined the mother-son duo Vicky and Andy (pictured above, on the left) for this quest.

Shaun is currently creating his next room and we can’t wait.

We did escape, with 8 seconds to spare.


828.865.0009   *  743 W King St.  *  $25 per adult; $15 students with ID  *  Must be 12 and, if under 18 with an adult.




Charming Whitefish Montana

Since I’m sitting around the Chicago airport, I might as well get caught up and share a few more Montana experiences.

Whitefish was our base during our recent visit and it is a very charming small town. Downtown was cute with lots of shops and nice restaurants.  The airport is amount 20 minutes away and despite searches and airline printouts indicating it’s in Kalispell, for those who need to know, it’s actually the Glacier International Airport (FCA). The sunset pictured at the top of this post is taken across Whitefish Lake from The Lodge at Whitefish Lake.

I loved these downtown mosaics depicting the four seasons of Whitefish:

The American Alps

2EF13CDF-3577-4158-8506-E4699AD0E959BE270C83-E5EA-4DE7-95DB-0EF7E3CFF769The iconic Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, Montana.

This park spans two countries and some incredible landscape.  With few access roads in remains largely wilderness, even today. Because the only road that cuts through the park is still closed due to snow, we took a scenic 3-hour drive around the perimeter of the park to reach to eastern portion.

The drive was dramatic with river and lake views, and free range cows and horses encroaching on the road. One section runs through the lands of the Blackfeet tribal territory and features long plateaus, deep green valleys and rock-strewn hillsides.  Part of the road was under construction and the final 12 miles into the national park, was among the worst roads we’ve seen in this country. At first I thought it was just damage from the recent winter season, but apparently it has been a problem for decades. The narrow road is full of large pot holes, uneven sections, and patched sections from areas washed away. It was cold – about 50, and clouds rolled in to deposit a fine mist on our parked car. But the weather and the drive were worth the majesty of the rugged view, the rushing rivers, and the shimmering lake behind the resort.

The hotel just completed a 17-year renovation/restoration and it was fun to see the details.  I wish we could’ve been there to participate in one of the daily historic tours (maybe one of my readers will post an update comment to this post!).

Built by the Great Northern Railway in 1910, the hotel was billed as being in the “American Alps” and so it should be no surprise there is a strong Swiss theme. The Ptarmigan Dining Room, however, features Asian accents. I ran into the Location Manager who explained that the dining room was designed to entice wealthy eastern US customers to continue their travels to the Pacific, and by steamer ship on to Asia. As he said – “it was all about marketing.”

The Ptarmigan Dining Room.

Reconstructed circular staircase removed in 1950, is now back as a showpiece.

Big Sky Country

There is a reason they call Montana the Big Sky state. The world just seems larger here.  Mountains may soar almost 10,000’ above you, but you don’t feel confined. The sky seems to go on forever and the expansiveness of the scenery diminishes your own tiny space within its context. The air is fresh, smells of fresh pine, and is filled with delicate white puffs, blowing all around in an almost bubble-like fashion. It’s from the Cottonwood trees and I can’t  decide if it annoys or delights me.

We are in Whitefish, on the edge of Glacier National Park. This week marks the beginning of the short three-month summer season in this part of the world.  In fact, snow still covers many of the Park’s roads, making passage across the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road impossible. (I was relieved I had an excuse to avoid this spectacular but terrifying route.  No lover of heights, I found it frightening years ago).

This past winter saw record snowfalls – but don’t be comforted, the glaciers are still disappearing at an alarming rate and by 2020-2030, it is predicted they will be completely gone.

More than 20 years ago we stayed at the historic Many Glacier Hotel in the park which has just completed a 17-year-long renovation we would love to see. Because current road conditions will require us to drive around the outside perimeter of the park for several hours we may not have time. We have come to Montana to celebrate the wedding of our good friend’s daughter – so we have some important priorities.

We took a shorter route into the park and visited the smaller Lake McDonald Lodge. We enjoyed a lovely lunch (with smoked Steelhead trout!), watched prairie dogs waiting for handouts (very bad idea to feed the wildlife), and enjoyed the vistas along the open portion of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. We worked off lunch with a nice walk in the cedar woods, complete with a fawn leaping across the path ahead of us.



Ellis Island: The Front Door to America    

We should all be thankful our government decided to preserve Ellis Island.

It almost didn’t survive, and that would have been a real shame since 40% of Americans can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island. Now under the stewardship of the National Park Service, it is an interesting and iconic memorial to our country’s heritage.

It is, however, still a work-in-progress. While on this visit to NYC, we did the Hard Hat Tour of the hospitals on the island that are now under restoration. A project of the Save Ellis Island Foundation, one facility was a general hospital and the other for infectious diseases. Of course, their roles evolved throughout history as the island was eventually used more for detention, and more patients were confined with mental issues.  The facilities also housed sick and injured veterans from WWII.

White area on bricks shows the waterline from mega-storm Sandy.

Part of the “Unframed-Ellis Island” art installation by French artist JR.

Super Storm Sandy really set back the restoration, and as you can see in the picture here, the storm surge was quite dramatic. The current art installation (see photo) provides an interesting feel as you are led through the long hallways and into the various rooms. Each scene is created from original historic photos.

We tromped around soggy grounds, dodging showers and it was COLD. I was surprised to learn they used to keep their oversized windows open 24/7 since the experts of the time thought fresh air was better for a cure. Of course, we know fresh air is good – but it must’ve been freezing in those wards. Also of note, none of the staff contracted any of the infectious diseases they treated, and most patients did eventually find their way to the mainland of the United States.

The one remaining cage used to restrict mental patients needing fresh air.

First and second-class passengers got to skip the entire process of the Ellis Island Registry Room since they were processed on board their ships. Only third-class passengers were screened.  Most were healthy because the steamship companies were responsible for return transport and fined for passengers not allowed to stay. As a result, they did their own screening before allowing passengers to board.

I particularly enjoyed the Treasurers from Home Exhibit, which features items brought by immigrants. They had little room and brought select personal treasures from their homelands.  Families have donated the items on display, including beautiful needlework, clothing, photos, musical instruments and more. Can you imagine what items you would select to take if you knew you could never come back?

If you are searching for relatives who came through Ellis Island, you can buy 30 minutes ($7) on the computers at the American Family Immigration History Center.  You can also access the Center’s info free online, but it was nice to interchange with the staff and we did find some new material. We were continuing to document information about my husband’s family who came from Russia and Austria at the beginning of the 1900s. I love the hunt for information.

My favorite trivia of the day:

Ellis Island is mostly in New Jersey.

Only the 3 acres where part of the main building sits is in New York.  The remaining 90% of the island, including part of the main building and the hospital facilities, is in New Jersey. The 160-year-old fight between the two states was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998.



The adults-only Hard Hat Tour includes your ferry ticket and is $58.50, $54 for seniors.  Regular adult tickets include an audio tour of the main facility and are $18.50, $14 for seniors; children 4-12 are $9. Plan 90 minutes to get through the airport-style security line and ferry ride to the island, and that’s if you have already bought your ticket online.  Allow more time if you have to buy a ticket. If you buy online, go to:  Many other sites will charge more, and be wary of ticket sellers on the street, they are reported to sell counterfeit tickets.

To get to Battery Park and the ferry station, you need the South Ferry stop on the 1 Line; this is the same as the Whitehall Street stop on the 6 Line, some subway signage doesn’t name South Ferry.

There is a cafeteria-style Café on site.

Routine armed escort from NYC to Ellis Island.


Oyster Heaven

Matunuck oysters.  The Narragansett Indians inhabited this area and called it Matunuck meaning “look out”.  Maybe the name reflected a need for security, or maybe it was the view. But the real star here are the oysters.

University of Rhode Island aquaculture grad Perry Raso farms the delicacies close by on Potter Pond. His pond-to-plate concept at Matunuck Oyster Bar is a winner and his restaurant is on our must-visit list whenever we are in Rhode Island. Three varieties: Matunuck, Rocky Road, and Wild Goose.  So sweet and tender. Rocky Roads are our favs.


Go Rhodies.


Downton Abbey NYC Exhibition


If you loved PBS’s Downton Abbey series and really miss it like I do . . . good news.  The Downton Abbey Exhibition in New York City is extended until September 3rd, 2018.

Enough said, enjoy the pictures. 



Antique Overload: Brimfield

Mix one-part flea market, toss in some high-end china and silver, sprinkle in some Chinese repros, add seasoned sellers, and first-time vendors; now combine with a few thousand treasure-hunters and you have the Brimfield Antique Show.  It’s all that and more.

The well-known show is held in the middle of southern Massachusetts three times a year, with the May show billed as the largest (others are during the summer and fall).  It rained the two days we attended. And, it was cold; in the 40s. We arrived a little after 8 AM on Saturday morning and had a few hours before the downpour began. Almost immediately, we saw some interesting glasses that my friend contemplated and didn’t buy.  Later she regretted her decision. They say at Brimfield “buy it when you see it.” Show officials say that because they are warning the item might sell, but I maintain you will probably never find the booth again.

The event takes over the small town of Brimfield with various show organizers occupying fields throughout the town. Not all shows are open all days and you should navigate the less-than-wonderful websites in advance to get the details. Tents of all sizes offer some protection from the elements, but steady rain did cause quite a few vendors to pack up early and abandon ship. Be prepared to walk; we covered almost six miles in a day.

While it was still dry we literally wandered into the middle of a taping for a HGTV show.  There was Lara Spencer (also from Good Morning America) taping her Flea Market Flip show (catch it on HGTV Fridays at 9 PM).

One nice surprise was the quality of the food.  It’s an outdoor collection of booths and trucks – but everything we had was good. The lobster roll, chowder, and roast beef we tried were prepared freshly and were delicious. Our first day, we hiked back to the car so we could eat in a dry, warm location.

There is a lot of furniture and items that would be great in a yard or on a patio. We only purchased small items since we had planes to board.  For others without easy transport, there are packing/shipping options conveniently located throughout.

Our second day was still very cold and muddy, but the rain held off and made for a much better experience. Throughout both days we enjoyed conversations with the many vendors we met. One of my favorites was the fun-loving couple selling items from unclaimed storage units.  And yes, they had been on A&E’s Storage Wars TV show.

We learned about some interesting items, bought a few small treasures of our own and most of all, had fun.


If you go:

Next 2018 shows are July 10-15 and September 6-9.


Download the app: Brimfield Flea Finder

The closest town of note with hotels is Sturbridge, MA; we found nice accommodations in nearby Stonebridge at the Stonebridge Conference Center.

Magical Days & Nights at Universal Studios

I love all things magical, AND I love to read.  My fascination for the wonderfully magical all started when I was introduced to Mary Poppins books around age nine.  Then I came to know the wise magic of Merlin through stories about King Arthur’s Court.  A few decades later, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books have brought the wonder of magic to a new generation of readers.  And, yes, I read all the books.

As a lark, to take a break from reality, my husband recently took me to Universal Studios in Orlando to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Universal cleverly spread the fun between two theme parks, necessitating the purchase of a two-park pass.  Unless you are a glutton for punishment, be sure to splurge on the Express pass so you can cut about 2/3 off the wait time to get on the rides.

I absolutely LOVED Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.  The creative folks have done an amazing job of putting you right into the movie. I really felt like I was flying through the air along with Harry, through the Quidditch court, evading the Death Eaters. This was in Hogsmeade at Hogwarts Castle, located in Islands of Adventure. Diagon Alley is appropriately in London, at Universal Studios. Both are authentically styled and staged, true to the books and movies.  We lunched on typical British fare at Three Broomsticks, sipped (surprisingly delicious) Butter Beer, watched entertainers straight from the pages of the books and enjoyed just strolling around the shops and alleys. The Hogwarts Express, complete with digital enhancements at both your window and compartment doors, transports you between the two Wizarding locations.

Wand shops are everywhere, with Ollivanders (of course) being the most popular.  There you can watch the shopkeeper direct

How to find those secret magical spots.

wizards and witches to the special wand just right for them. There are all sorts of wands, including those from all the well-known Potter characters. Mostly wood, they are interesting, beautiful and some a bit macabre.  It’s hard to make a choice.  Some are interactive and come with a map of special locations where their owners use special spells to perform tricks.  It was cute to see all the kids waving their wands and uttering Potterisms to turn on water features, move objects in window displays, or turn on lights.


Can you guess which character has a wand like this? Pippi thinks it’s one of the Hogwarts professors.

Of course I bought a wand!

Oh, and be sure to catch the evening light show at the Hogwarts Castle. Photos and videos do not do it justice. To call it a light show doesn’t begin to describe it, it’s amazing.


Keep the kids reading . . . Lumos!

Gringotts Bank. Another good 3D ride experience here.



Santa Fe Logistics & La Fonda Hotel

Artist rendition of La Fonda.

We chose the historic La Fonda Hotel for our girls’ trip west and it was a hit. Some rooms have fireplaces and you should get one if available.  Staff brings up wood and starts it for you, with plenty of reserve wood so you can keep the fast-burning pinon wood-fed fire going.  They also bring up hot chocolate and New Mexico’s official state cookie (for real, first state to have an official cookie).  Evolved from recipes of the first Spanish colonists, the Biscochito is a crispy butter cookie with sugar, cinnamon, and anise. Wonderful.

Staff was great and saved us when we had to deal with missed flights, late arrivals, and missing luggage. They also enthusiastically accommodated our request for an area to play cards and set us up in a perfect spot.

Now that’s a light fixture. From a ballroom at La Fonda Hotel.

The hotel is right off the main Plaza and very central, for easy walking to shops and restaurants. Be sure to take the free tour of the hotel, if you are in residence when scheduled on Thursday mornings.  The property is chock-full of interesting art and history.  It’s also haunted . . . . but we had to find out that info in less official ways.

Restaurant La Plazuela at La Fonda. A site of at least one ghost story.

There are no longer any cabs in Santa Fe, Uber and Lyft chased them out. There is a free van-based transportation system that can get you around town, but we never tried it.  We just walked or took Uber.

Take note that the Santa Fe airport is extremely small.  No TSA-Pre, you will have to take off coats and take out computers, Kindles, iPads, liquids, even snacks.  It was a mess getting through security.  There are no jetways so you will be walking on open ramps, not steps, to get on and off planes.  Delayed or canceled flights have little opportunity for substitute options.  If your bags don’t make it, well you might be out of luck til the next day. Some of our group had to rush off to Albuquerque to get another flight when theirs was canceled.  Best bet is probably to fly into Albuquerque to begin with and take the one-hour ride to Santa Fe.

Happy Trails.


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