How to See the “City of Lights” Without Going Broke

While many of us embrace the idea of being able to go into any Parisian department store and pick out whatever we like, most of us have wallets that would groan at the effort. The truth is it costs enough to fly to the City of Lights and pay for the hotel and all of your meals; after this, many tourists are just about broke. There are ways to soothe your low-money syndrome; learn what to do in Paris that literally won’t cost you a dime.

It’s an impossible notion to visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. Many of us delight at the very prospect. Again, you don’t need to open your wallet to visit Paris’ most famous attraction. Stand underneath this huge structure and you will be amazed at how tiny you feel as you gaze upwards. A little bit of back history: Although it seems like the Eiffel Tower has been a French landmark for centuries, it was actually only finished in the late 1880s. Parisians were hostile to the idea of this “ugly” thing gracing their land but now recognize its importance to their city.

Although there is an admission price, if you decide not to actually enter the tower, you can still come back at night to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle with countless lights. It’s an amazing sight and human description cannot do it justice. Just make sure you have a camera that shoots at night. It would be a shame to miss the pictures you could get of this spectacular sight.

Moving on from the Eiffel Tower, the scope of free or almost-free attractions might seem to get a bit smaller. This is not necessarily so. Another beautiful place where you don’t have to spend a dime to take in its beauty is the awe-inspiring Notre Dame Cathedral. This is quite easily one of the loveliest places in Europe and perhaps in the world. Not many gothic churches have stood the test of time as beautifully as Notre Dame (Our Lady). Take time to enjoy this medieval cathedral that was begun in the 12th century. Take note of the arches, towers and stained glass windows that have been the subject of numerous of photos and stories. It doesn’t cost a thing to look, right? Don’t forget to keep this in mind as you walk around the fantastic Notre Dame, snapping pictures and feeling the history of this dynamic place.

After your visit to Notre Dame, stop off at the Romanesque Arc de Triomphe. You may want to know the story behind its existence before you visit. The Arc de Triomphe was the brainchild of none other than France’s infamous Napoleon Bonaparte, who wanted the world to remember his wartime successes. The design is partly the work of Jean Chalgrin and was created to resemble the ancient Roman arches that can still be found in Italy. If you have the good fortune to get close, take notice of the extremely detailed work that was done to create countless artistic flourishes. Driving along at night (though perhaps not the best thing to do in Paris traffic) will provide a view of the Arc de Triomphe that will linger in your mind long after you return home.

For another eye-opening attraction that won’t make your wallet groan, stop by Paris’ Place de la Concorde. It may look harmless to the untrained eye, but if you were to step back about two hundred years, you would see some gruesome executions. It was the days of the French Revolution, and it was here that Marie Antoinette met her end. She was not the only one killed at this place, however. Many others were guillotined during those bloody times, and you may want to take a moment in silence as you stand at this now-peaceful spot, remembering those who lost their lives.

Walk around the Place de la Concorde, sit down and relax, enjoy Paris’ often rainy but pleasant atmosphere. Take some pictures of the greens and perhaps some self-portraits at this historic spot. See if you can spot a famous landmark in the distance. There are very few things in Paris that do not have a long or at least a very interesting history.

Now, for an attraction you may have never heard of, visit the Pont Alexandre III. This is a lovely bridge that spans Paris’ famous waterways. There are not many notions more romantic than standing on a Parisian bridge and looking out over the water to the City of Lights. The bridge was begun in 1896; Russia’s Nicholas II set down the block that would officially begin the work on the bridge. Nicholas’ father Alexander provided the bridge’s name. Don’t forget to take a moment to soak in your surroundings and actually register that you are overlooking Paris!

Illuminate Your Vacation: East Coast Lighthouses

It has been my pleasure to have visited many lighthouses in my travels up and down the East Coast. There is something majestic, mysterious and awe-inspiring about the sight of a lighthouse perched high above the water. No matter what the color scheme or design, each separate tower seems beautiful to those who love the sea. If you’re taking a trip along America’s Atlantic coastline, you’ll be surprised at how many lighthouses you will encounter. This is just a small smattering of the structures that light the coast, but in my opinion are some of the most beautiful.

Cape May Lighthouse in New Jersey is an off-white tower soaring to the skies. It reaches a height of over 150 feet. The stunning lighthouse, built in the mid-1800s, is still used to help sea-farers find their way home. You can visit the Cape May Lighthouse and take a tour if you think you can weather the climb! The view would be well worth it, but it seems a daunting task to many.

Along the coast of New Jersey there is a place once named Anglesey that is situated near the tourist resort of Wildwood. The lighthouse in question is called Hereford Inlet Lighthouse and is certainly one of the most beautiful buildings of its kind. Instead of sporting a huge tower that reaches to the clouds, Hereford Inlet is a short Victorian-style building with a handsome red roof and a squat tower that houses the all-important light. It sits high up, near a cliff, and so doesn’t need to stretch tall to guide ships at sea.

The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse is as mysterious on the inside as it is on the outside; while media boasts of the lighthouse’s hauntings, visitors take a tour through the place that was also once the keeper’s home. Staircases are hidden behind walls, and narrow iron steps take you higher and higher until you reach the light tower. From here you can see the bleak, choppy waves.

For a bit of history, the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse was originally built in the 1800s in a gothic style but moved to its current spot at a later date. When I visited, gardens and walkways tapered off in a lovely fashion to a cliff where you could see miles out to sea. It was a wonderful experience and helped to further my knowledge of the lives of those who depended on the ocean for their livelihood.

Heading down further south to Georgia, you may wish to stop off at the quaint and romantic St. Simons Island. Although you can’t see the original (you can thank soldiers during the Civil War for that!) you can stop by the newest version of the 19th century lighthouse. St. Simons Island Lighthouse is a tall, white tower stretching over the narrow sandy beaches and St. Simons’ rustic pier. A children’s play area and a sort of family-friendly park stretch below its tower, and tours are available. Once you enter the lighthouse grounds you will see a picturesque brick building at its base; this was the keeper’s quarters. The admission to tour the lighthouse is very reasonable, ranging from $5.00 for adults to $2.50 for children (over the age of 6 and under 12). If you are traveling with children younger than 6 they will be admitted free.

When you reach Florida you will see one lighthouse that stands out from the rest if only by virtue of the historic city it watches over: quaint St. Augustine, Florida. The St. Augustine Lighthouse, rebuilt and renovated throughout the years since its 19th century construction has more than its fair share of treachery and legend. The current lighthouse is a beautiful black-and-white tower located on Anastasia Island.

Although the island (located across from St. Augustine) is very commercial and tourist-oriented, the lighthouse seems to be on the quieter, more unspoiled end of the island. You can see the brick keeper’s house and visit a spacious gift shop. For the admission price of $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for kids, you can visit the grounds and the museum. The admission to the tower itself is a bit different, ranging from $7.75 adult to $5.00 for a child’s admission. You should know which parts of the complex you will want to visit before you arrive. Don’t be afraid to climb the tower. The view of the city from the top of the tower will be one you won’t soon forget.

The Essence of India: A Travel Guide

If there has ever been a place that stuck out most in the imagination, that place must be India. The very images it conjures up are foreign and exotic, waiting to be explored. Elephants ridden by white-robed figures, and beautiful scenery dotted with Hindu temples scamper across our minds when we imagine traveling to this far-off land. Many people do visit India, for many different purposes. It may be a spiritual calling, a desire to set up roots in the land of their ancestors, or just a curiosity, wondering if the place is really as awe-inspiring as the brochures say it is.

Rest assured, India meets all the criteria for a breathtakingly beautiful country, and in fact it exceeds it. If you’re planning a trip to one of the most exotic places in the world, rest assured you will find plenty to see and do here. No one can claim boredom while traversing India’s shores. If you’re not sure where to start, a great starting point is Calcutta. Once you’ve arrived, you should have a checklist of the things you want to see, and allow yourself a certain amount of time to see each attraction. You may want your list to include some of these great trips:

1. Dakshineshwar Kali Temple. This striking place contains 13 separate temples and is a religious haven for many Hindu faithful. Built during the 1800s, Dakshineshwar can be toured free of admission and closes each night at 10:00 P.M. The temple is not located right in Calcutta but is part of the area. It is easy to imagine spending hours milling around one of India’s many temples, dreaming and allowing the ambiance of the area to permeate the soul. Many choose to do so, and Dakshineshwar is a great place to experience the solitude. Be warned, though: if you don’t want to share your solitude with the local population or other tourists, come at dawn right when the complex is opened.

2. St. Paul’s Cathedral. You might think a Christian cathedral is quite out of place in India, a country known for its Buddhist and Hindu traditions. That is part of what makes St. Paul’s a good place to explore. Stop by and stare at the stained glass and the Renaissance artwork, appreciating the missionary efforts to this area that most people probably considered “uncivilized” in the 1800s. Bishop Wilson, who had a big part in establishing St. Paul’s, is buried here as well. Take at least half an hour to make sure you see everything this peaceful church has to offer.

3. No trip to a foreign country is complete without visiting a museum that helps to explain something about that country’s identity. You can find out more than you ever imagined at the Jadu Ghar or India Museum. Constructed in the late 1800s, it has an old and venerable history and is probably India’s biggest museum. Here you can browse many galleries each with their own exhibits and collections that better explain the past. This attraction may not interest small children, so you might want to consider another excursion if you desire to keep the peace in the family!

For your next city stop, you might want to visit Bangalore. Before actually visiting the main city, stop outside of town at the Belur Temple. Another peaceful retreat, this temple was built in the 12th century and covered with amazing architecture and decoration. You can find shrines and places of contemplation here, but as with Dakshineshwar, you’ll want to arrive as early as possible before tourists try to take over the grounds! Once inside the complex you will be amazed at the amount of detail that went into creating this spiritual haven. Artwork and delicate masonry abound.

Another destination located outside the city is Bannerghatta National Park. This is like a small zoo and a park all in one, and you can find a zoological garden, safaris, beautiful scenery, and much more. This park covers over 20,000 acres and is home to many animals from “normal” creatures like lions and birds, to unusual animals like elephants and wild pigs. Take at least a day here to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. Children will enjoy getting close to their favorite mammals, and adults will appreciate the beauty of the landscape. Safaris are also a good choice for a great family vacation.

Things to See and Do in Chicago

If you’ve got a trip to the Windy City coming up, chances are it’s for business rather than for a vacation. Though Chicago is the third-largest city in the U.S. behind New York and Los Angeles, it doesn’t get nearly as much publicity as a tourist destination, either from domestic or international visitors. That’s really unfortunate because there is actually a wide variety of fun and exciting things to do no matter where your interests lie. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular tourist spots that visitors to this great city should see.

The Sears Tower
The fabulous Chicago skyline is dominated by the Sears Tower. Constructed in 1974, this 1,454-foot structure is still the tallest building in the United States, and still ranks as the fourth tallest in the world. The Sears Tower is primarily used as an office building, but the Skydeck on the 103rd floor is open to the public. It is said that when visibility is good, you can actually see parts of four different states (Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana) from the observation deck.

To make your visit to the Sears Tower as pleasant as possible, I suggest the following: first of all, take the train. Driving and parking in the city is a nightmare (not to mention very expensive). Second, arrive either early in the day or late in the afternoon. During peak daytime hours, you could end up spending a lot of time waiting in line. If you arrive right when the doors open at 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., you should have no trouble getting in without much of a wait. Third, plan more time than you think you need. A lot of people figure that a visit to the Sears Tower will take less than an hour. Of course you could finish that quickly if you really had to, but most guests find the view to be so beautiful and mesmerizing that they just can’t pull themselves away. It’s best to go there with a flexible schedule.

Navy Pier
When the weather is good, nothing beats walking around Navy Pier for an afternoon. Navy Pier is a tourist hotspot, and even attracts its share of locals as well. There are plenty of shops for you to browse through, restaurants (and a beer garden) for you to visit, and activities for the kids, such as an IMAX theater and a children’s museum.. In the summer, there are often special events that you won’t want to miss. While you’re there, you’ll have to be sure to take a ride on the Ferris wheel, which will afford you with another grand view of the city.

This is another place that you won’t want to drive to. While there is a parking lot near the premises, it’s almost always full no matter what the day or hour. Instead of driving to the Pier, you can actually park at the Shedd Aquarium and take a so-called water taxi.

Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo is another of Chicago’s great family attractions. It is very easy to find and admission is free (though you do have to pay for parking), so there’s no reason to miss out. Although the zoo grounds are relatively small compared to some of the city zoos across the country (this certainly isn’t the San Diego Zoo, for example), there are still over 1200 animals of more than 200 different species that you can see.

Once you’ve had your fill of walking around and looking at the animals, you might want to rent a paddle boat and have fun in the lagoon. While paddling, you’ll be treated to an awesome view of downtown Chicago. In addition to the paddle boats, other attractions include a carousel, train, Safari Audio Tour, and a children’s zoo. You’ll also find several souvenir shops and cafes for your shopping and dining pleasure.

The Art Institute
If you want to add a little culture to your trip to Chicago, I recommend visiting the Art Institute. Located on Michigan Avenue in the heart of the city, the Art Institute is one of the true symbols of Chicago. Outside the museum you’ll see the statues of two lions that were made famous by a movie called “The Ghost and the Darkness.”

As with most museums, the Art Institute has a regular, permanent collection of its own, and also frequently hosts traveling exhibits that are on loan from other museums or personal collections. You’ll probably have to pay extra to see special exhibits, so keep that in mind if you’re dealing with a tight budget. Admission is free every Tuesday, so if you can plan your visit accordingly, that would be another way to save money.

The Art Institute’s regular collection features works from such masters as van Gogh, Picasso, Dali, Monet, Gauguin, and more. The collection consists of objects dating back to antiquity, as well as works from most of the major movements in art throughout history all the way to modern times.

Take in Some Live Blues Music
The Chicago music scene is varied and distinct, meaning that you can go to just about any kind of concert you want — and blues is no exception. It would be a shame for you to visit Chicago and not duck into at least one blues club for a drink and a few sets of great music, or to spend an evening in a restaurant enjoying a fantastic meal with live music in the background. There are lots of different clubs and restaurants that you can go to, and since music tastes vary so much, I’m not going to recommend a specific one. Suffice it to say that you can either go to a national chain like the House of Blues or to a club that is well-known only to the locals.

Catch a ballgame at Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field, located at the famous intersection of Clark and Addison, is one of the oldest ballparks in baseball. It is of course home to the Chicago Cubs, and during the major league baseball season, which runs from April to September (many optimists might say October), you can easily purchase tickets to catch a game in person. I recommend sitting in the outfield bleachers if you can, just for the experience of it all. The Bleacher Bums are definitely a different breed of fans!

The Cubs play both day and night games, so when they’re in town, chances are you’ll be able to go to a game that fits in with your schedule. If you want to throw caution to the wind, you can probably wait and buy your tickets from the Wrigley Field box office on the day of the game. However, Cubs games do sell out quite frequently, especially during the summer months when school is out and the weather is fantastic. So if missing a game would crush you, I recommend that you play it safe and order your tickets in advance.

Indulge in a Deep-Dish Pizza
Many cities offer what they call “Chicago-style,” or deep-dish, pizza. But for the most part, these imitations can’t hold a candle to the real thing. Chicago has many famous pizza joints that specialize in deep-dish creations, with two of the best being Gino’s East and Pizzeria Uno. Each of these restaurants has a full menu of mouth-watering pizza varieties to choose from, so rest assured that you’ll get a great-tasting pie no matter what you like on your pizza. These places tend to be packed during traditional lunch and dinner hours, so if you can eat a little earlier or a little later than everyone else, you’ll save yourself the trouble of a long wait. But be warned: once you’ve had an authentic Chicago-style pizza, you might not be able to settle for anything less!

Visiting Amberg, Wisconsin

Amberg, Wisconsin is a quaint little town in northern Wisconsin. Amberg may be small, but there a lot of friendly people, small businesses, and a lot of fun things to do. The town of Amberg depends on tourists and locals to help keep their town prosperous. Most of the businesses are locally owned and ran.

The main street of Amberg consists of the Amberg Post Office, The Downtown Cafe, Gordy and Norma’s Party Store, and Gordy and Norma’s Pub. The Party Store sells groceries, magazines, diapers and toiletries, cleaning supplies, fireworks, greeting cards, lottery tickets and lots more. You can even rent movies there! Gordy and Norma are a local couple who own the cafe, the store, and the pub. Off the main street of Amberg are a large Ace Hardware Store, The Driftwood Gas Station, The Amberg Baseball Diamond, The Italian Inn, a bank, a community center, a church, and a shooting range. Across the highway that runs through Amberg is the Pike Pioneer. The Pike Pioneer is a restaurant and a bar. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, and they serve great food. Down the highway from the Pike Pioneer is the store Antiques and Sweets. Antiques and Sweets is an antique store, but they also have the most delicious ice cream and ice cream treats. They are only open during the summer, but they get a lot of business.

Running through Amberg is the Pike River. In Amberg on the Pike River is a swimming hole, where any day of the summer, you can find a few locals swimming. During the summer, fishing is a huge activity for the residents of Amberg, and all of the tourists. All kinds of trout are found in the river including brown trout, rainbow trout, and brook trout. The river usually does not freeze enough for people to ice fish on it. There is a park named Daves Falls in Amberg, where the Pike River runs. There is a playground at the park, a beautiful waterfall, and hiking trails too. There is also a lot of popular fishing holes located at Daves Falls. If you visit Daves Falls you will most likely find a few people swimming and jumping off the rocks into the water there. It is also a beautiful place for a summer picnic. Daves Falls has even been known to host a few weddings. It is definitely a beautiful place.

Behind the main street in Amberg is the Amberg Historical Society. If you would like to learn about the history of Amberg, the Historical Society is the place to go. Inside there are many pictures of the quarry’s located in Amberg, and pictures of the logging businesses that used to be the livelihood of most Amberg residents. Inside the Historical Society you will also find pictures of the graduating classes of the early Amberg residents. Amberg no longer has a school of their own, so the kids travel eight miles to the town of Wausaukee to go to school. There are a lot of interesting pictures and artifacts in the Historical Society, and it is a fun place to visit.

The town of Amberg also recently built a community center where the old school used to sit, and near the baseball diamond. The community center is open for the residents to play basketball a couple of times a week. They also hold town meetings there, and have spaghetti dinners, and different kinds of fund raisers are also held there. You do not have to pay to get in to play basketball, and lots of kids go every week to hang out and have fun.

Amberg also has an Amberg Firemen’s Picnic every year. It is held at the baseball diamond. At the picnic, there is lots of food, fun, and games. Every year they have a lawnmower race and horseshoe tournament. Almost every person that lives in Amberg shows up for the fun and excitement. The Firemen’s Picnic goes all day and night. At night, they hold a dance in the pavilion, and have live music from a local band. There are also lots of raffles and giveaways. They raffle off everything from snowmobiles to trips. Amberg also holds the Turkey Shoot every year. It costs two dollars to enter, and you get one shot at a target. You can enter as many times as you want. The closest shot to the bulls’ eye wins a frozen turkey. Mostly men enter in the turkey shoot, but women are welcomed to try also. They also have a chicken throw for women, men, and children. The object is to get a rubber chicken into a bucket. The winner of each chicken throw wins five dollars. They also have food, games, and raffles and giveaways. The Firemen’s Picnic and the Turkey Shoot are both places for a lot of family fun.

During the winter, a lot of people come from down south to Amberg to have fun snowmobiling. Snowmobiling is one of the largest tourist attractions for Amberg. There are also a few small lakes near Amberg, and one of them has an ice fishing derby every year. There are a lot of different prizes for the winners, and it is also a fun family event.

Although Amberg may be small, there are a lot of fun things to do, and a lot of fun seasonal sports to enjoy. If you ever get a chance to travel to Amberg, don’t pass it up!

Travel to Egypt: Taking Unique Pictures!

We have all seen the travel brochures. The huge pyramids towering to the skies, the stern visage of the ancient sphinx. You would think those of us who long to travel the world would find more exotic places to visit than “plain old Egypt.” You will soon understand, however, that there is nothing about Egypt that is plain. Sure, some photo ops may be overused and trite, but then instead of snapping that quintessential picture, try to make it a little bit different!

The first “unique” picture you might want to get is a little difficult and will probably turn out blurred, but it would be well worth it for a “first glimpse of Egypt.” Try getting a picture from the plane as you fly over this ancient and venerable country and get ready to start your great adventure. If you will be scrapbooking your trip or if you enjoy arranging photo albums, this will make a wonderful first photo for your travel album.

By all means, don’t hesitate to take many pictures of the pyramids! Just because it’s cliche doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. But try some new angles, too. Have a friend or family member stand at the base of a pyramid to emphasize the difference in size. If you’re traveling with a group, try to stand around at least part of the pyramid holding hands.

Don’t just photograph the sphinx. Get as close as you possibly can to this huge man-lion and photograph separate parts of the statue. Just a close-up of the huge paws will make an artsy shot. If you have a camera with zoom, trying zooming in just on the sphinx’s face, its missing nose, and the cracks in its features. Don’t just emulate others’ pictures but try to be a photography creative artist and generate some ideas you wouldn’t normally think of.

Cairo is a goldmine of photographic opportunities. Instead of snapping off endless pictures of the same thing, be inventive. Don’t photograph a bazaar stall, but a particular item; something like a long gold chain that struck your fancy but you were unable to afford as one example. Focusing on particular items instead of the big picture is always a good idea to avoid dozens of nearly identical vacation photos.

If you were indeed able to afford that special trinket, have someone take a picture of you wearing or holding your special prize. If the locals are amenable, stand with someone in Egyptian garb. Thinking outside the box will help keep your photos fresh and different.

The key is to notice the details and have photos different from everyone else’s, so with this in mind, you may want to visit the Nile. This is probably the most famous river in the world and is in many ways the life and breath of Egypt. Again, if you have a zoom camera it will come in handy. Don’t just capture the river; capture what lies within. Get down on your knees, shoot into the water. Try to find a fish or other creature (of course here is a good time to point out that most cameras are not water-resistant and it will be very hard to explain to anyone how you dropped your camera in the Nile, so be careful!) Look for an unusual plant growing alongside the river to frame your photo.

Take numerous photos of your hotel, the exterior, the lobby, your room, but don’t be too obvious about doing this. You’ll want photos, but it’s never a good idea while on vacation to let someone know you are a “typical tourist.” Once you’re in your bedroom, you’ll want a view of the room in general and a shot out of the window (provided you have a good view). If you’re staying in Cairo, for instance, and can see the pyramids or the sphinx from your window, it would make a great shot for either a scrapbook or an album.

For many of these photos you might want to use a tripod, especially for further-away shots that can get blurred if you shake a little too much. Don’t forget nighttime shots, too. The pyramids are lit at night. A small tripod that can be folded and zipped away until using is always a good vacation asset.

Visit Henry Flagler’s Florida Coast

One of the things that makes coastal Florida in general and St. Augustine in particular so fascinating is the variety of different architectural time periods that are being represented. Old Spanish homes, devoid of decoration, seem to stand peacefully next to huge gothic hotels dripping with lush interior and stunning architectural detail. Without question, St. Augustine would certainly not be quite so beautiful without the massive Moorish-style buildings that seem to transport the unsuspecting tourist back to old Spain and to the time of the Muslim kings.

Henry Flagler, a man renowned for his deep pockets and his rich tastes, came to St. Augustine hoping to create an empire of his own. There were very few limits to what he could accomplish, and by the end of the 19th century, three lavish hotels had sprung up in St. Augustine. The Ponce de Leon Hotel, now known as Flagler College, is a liberal arts school in the heart of the downtown. The red terra-cotta roofs and ingenious towers, turrets and countless windows seem to have dropped down from Spain’s medieval Muslim kingdom of Granada or perhaps, further back in time, the courts of Morocco. There are very few architectural wonders that Flagler College does not have. Even if you’re not a student, you can walk around and have your camera at the ready to capture this unforgettable feat of engineering.

The Casa Monica Hotel is a beautiful white structure that has a long and venerable history. It is again being used as a hotel, as it was in the olden days, and for a price (which, granted, is a bit high) you can go back to a richly-appointed room after a full day of soaking up St. Augustine’s terrific history. Casa Monica was conceived in 1887 when Henry Flagler’s acquaintance, a man known as Franklin Smith, constructed the first version of Casa Monica. In 1888, St. Augustine witnessed the transaction of the hotel and all its furnishings to Henry Flagler; one has to wonder if this was planned from the beginning. The magnificent Moorish masterpiece soon became known as the “Cordova” and it was Flagler’s know-how that turned it into the work of St. Augustine art that it is today. In the 20th century, after years of lying unused as a hotel, Casa Monica staff renovated and updated the hotel.

Casa Monica’s hotel is worth mentioning if just for its return to Victorian elegance. The food choices are superb and range from American to Far East choices, and the architectural ambiance hearkens back to the days when Henry Flagler held high court over St. Augustine’s Victorian era. If you can afford to eat in Casa Monica’s dining rooms – and don’t be ashamed if you don’t have that much extra to spend, because most of us don’t! – you won’t be disappointed. The spirit of Henry Flagler would certainly be pleased with the elegant details that Casa Monica is nurturing.

Lightner Museum is one of St. Augustine’s most detailed museums, showcasing the collections of late owner Otto Lightner. More than just a simple museum that can be visited in the span of an hour, it would take days to properly appreciate the exhibits carefully laid out at Lightner Museum. The museum itself has had its share of ups and downs; it began as Hotel Alcazar in the late 1880s. Henry Flagler brought in some well-known men to make this upscale hotel a success. When the 1940s rolled around, the old building was purchased by Otto Lightner who turned the old Hotel Alcazar into the museum that would store his important collections. Plan to spend at least three hours here so you can fully appreciate the scope of the things you will be seeing.

Henry Flagler also had a part in the construction of many churches within the city. The church with perhaps the greatest amount of Flagler’s influence is Memorial Presbyterian, where his young daughter Jennie rests in peace. Officially dedicated in 1890, Memorial Presbyterian’s high gothic walls and huge dome put it in the same category as many of Europe’s great churches. Built in an Italian style and modeled after the great buildings of Venice, the dome is sometimes lit up at night and is a fantastic sight to behold as it towers above downtown St. Augustine. Check out the tall stained glass windows over the front entrance, and look out for renovations recently completed at Memorial Presbyterian.

What To Do in London

When talking about capital cities throughout the world, London ranks right up there among the biggest and the best. Along with being a major business and financial center, London is also renowned for its theater, culture, and cutting-edge fashion. Whether you are going to London for business or pleasure, you should be sure to spend at least a couple of days taking in the sights of this city, which has been the most important hub in all of England for hundreds of years.

British Museum
There’s no escaping the museums. As you would expect, London has many museums that house exciting collections and priceless treasures from around the world. I am not a big museum person myself; usually when I travel, I prefer to spend time out of doors looking at more natural sights or engaging in fun activities or sports. However, even I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself had I not at least ducked into the British Museum.

The British Museum calls itself a cultural history museum. They have numerous pieces from every continent on the globe, and you are sure to recognize some of their more famous objects even if you are not an expert in art, archaeology, or ancient history. For example, the British Museum is home to the Rosetta Stone, broken slab of rock inscribed with text that is thought to date back to 196 B.C. As you may know, the Rosetta Stone is the object that helped a French linguist “crack the Hieroglyphic code,” which in turn enabled scholars to read ancient Egyptian texts. In other words, the Rosetta Stone is a pretty amazing artifact that you should definitely see if you get a chance.

In addition, to the Rosetta Stone, you’ll be able to see various mummies and other remnants from ancient Egypt, as well as famous objects from other parts of the world, including Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Americas. Entrance to the museum is always free, so there’s really no reason for you not to go. Expect to spend at least a couple of hours in the museum if you just want to give some of the more famous objects a cursory glance; set aside a much larger block of time if you plan to study some of the exhibits in detail.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is one of the most famous religious structures in the whole world. Not only is it renowned for its beautiful and intricate architecture, but it has also played a central role in British — and indeed, world — history. The 32,000 square foot church has been the site of numerous coronations of royal monarchs, and is the final resting place to some 3,300 people.

Although the Abbey, properly called The Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster, is still used as a house of worship, most people today think of it as one of London’s major tourist attractions. As such, the Abbey is open daily, and for a nominal donation, you can walk through and take an unguided tour, spending as much or as little time as you like in each part of the Abbey.

One of the most popular “attractions” within the Abbey are the tombs of some of the most prominent Englishmen from over the last few centuries. If you visit the Abbey, be sure to check out the so-called Poet’s Corner, where you will see the names of such greats as Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling, and others. You will also be able to visit the tombs of great scientists (Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin), politicians (William Pitt, Gladstone), musicians (Handel), actors (Sir Laurence Olivier), as well as regular people, including a farmer whose tombstone clearly indicates that he lived to the age of 152!

Shopping at Harrods
The Harrods department store in Knightsbridge is a must for anyone who enjoys shopping. Consisting of seven full floors of retail bliss, you’ll love browsing through all of the products that line the shelves. Perhaps more than any other department store in the world, the Harrods name conjures up images of luxurious customer service and attention to detail. Harrods has a long history in London, and its stories and legends are a big part of the reason that the store is such a big tourist attraction. Harrods prides itself on being a store that has everything, and towards that end, I recall reading somewhere that someone actually bought a real, live elephant from Harrods back in the 1960s.

At any rate, I recommend checking out Harrods to break up the monotony of sightseeing. You might also want to grab bite to eat at one of the 22 restaurants within the building. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll buy a little something just so you can get one of those famous green Harrods bags to take home with you!

A Night at the Theater
As I said in the opening, London has a world-famous theater scene. Even if you don’t ordinarily spend time at the theater when you are at home, you might want to take in a show in London, just to be able to say that you did! Just like with Broadway shows in New York, it might be next to impossible to get tickets for some of the more popular plays and musicals: in other words, don’t count on being able to walk up to the box office in order to purchase tickets on the same day of the performance. For most shows, you’ll have to book well in advance, so it would help if you are one of those people who like to plan their travel itineraries in detail before leaving.

You might even find that you won’t be able to get tickets through the box office because performances are sold out for months. In a case like that, if you really have your heart set on seeing a particular show, you might have to turn to a ticket broker. Ticket brokers are companies that have access to hard-to-get tickets, which they in turn sell for a premium to their customers. Some U.S.-based ticket brokers might be able to hook you up with tickets to the London theater, but more likely than not, you’ll have to deal with a broker that is based in London. Thankfully, the Internet makes transactions like these a piece of cake. Just make sure you check into the reputation of any ticket broker you’re thinking about using and make sure you do business only with those firms who have solid customer service records.

Boat Ride on the Thames
Taking a boat ride on the Thames is a good idea if you want to relax while still seeing some of the most famous sights in London. There are many companies offering boat tours, so you’re sure to be able to secure a place on one of the crafts without too much of a wait even if you don’t have reservations.

Most tours last for less than an hour, but you can sign up for some longer adventures (that will take you beyond the city of London) or for special packages such as dinner cruises, complete with meals and entertainment.

On a regular sightseeing tour along the Thames, you’ll be able to see such things as Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, the Tower of London, and several other noted buildings. Of course, you might not get a full, unobstructed view of these places, so depending on your level of interest, the boat tour might or might not serve as a substitute for actually visiting the above-named sights. When I went on my boat tour, I found that the boat traveled at a sufficiently slow speed to allow for some very nice photographs of the structures in question, so I didn’t have to bother making special trips to each place.

The Tower of London
The Tower of London is the name given to a series of buildings contained within a single complex. Constructed under the orders of William the Conqueror back in 1078, the Tower has served a variety of different purposes over the centuries. Most people probably think of the Tower as a prison, but it has also been a fortress, observatory, armory, treasury, and even a zoo.

The main attraction at the Tower of London today is the Crown Jewels. Visitors to are carried on a moving walkway (conveyor belt) slowly past several display cases containing the jewels. Even though you don’t have any control over how much time you can spend looking at a particular piece (since you are on the moving walkway), I found that the belt moves slowly enough to allow you to appreciate what you are seeing.

It is also worth spending a bit of time to walk around the grounds, check out the gift store, and pose for a photo with one of the famous “beefeater” guards, properly known as Yeoman Warders.

Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
No visit to London would be complete without a stop at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. This is a fun and interesting place that people of all ages invariably enjoy. Inside the museum, you’ll find very lifelike wax figures of celebrities from around the world. Best of all, cameras are allowed inside the museum, so you’ll be able to have your friends or family members take several photographs of you standing next to the wax figures. Yes, you are allowed to touch the figures as you pose with them, so your pictures will look very natural and it’ll appear that you’re actually with the celebrity, and not just a wax figure!

Madame Tussauds is one of the most popular attractions in all of London, so you can expect rather lengthy wait times of one to two hours to get inside. As an alternative, you can purchase a so-called “fast track” ticket in advance, which will allow you to gain entrance at a specific time. However, if you miss your window, you’ll have to stand in the regular line and wait as long as it takes to get in.  There are also special shows and separate attractions inside the museum, which would require additional fees should you want to see them.

Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Gettysburg

Gettysburg’s renown as one of the most haunted places in America is fairly recent, but the stories of Gettysburg’s paranormal activities are almost as old as the town itself. From Indian graveyards to phantoms spawned by the hideous three-day battle, Gettysburg is certainly knee-deep in ghostly legends that only add to its rich past. If you travel to Gettysburg, whether or not you are a believer in the paranormal, you will undoubtedly see and experience many things that are not easily explained.

Many historical houses in Gettysburg, mostly those existing before the great battle of 1863, are reputed to contain spirits of past residents. If you manage to book a tour of one of these venerable homes, you may want to arrive right at opening time since major attractions like General Lee’s Headquarters may be more crowded later in the afternoon.

Some buildings in Gettysburg have more than their fair share of ghosts, according to local paranormal enthusiasts. To name just a few:

1. General Lee’s Headquarters was owned by widow Mary Thompson in July 1863. Although many people believe General Lee slept in the house during the entire time it served as his headquarters, he actually made good use of a tent he had set up across the road, extremely close to the Union lines, in fact. The top floor of the old stone home dating from the late 1700s has been converted into apartments, and, for the right price, you can sleep above the rooms where General Robert E. Lee planned his next moves in the course of battle.

2. The Jennie Wade House was actually the home of Jennie’s brother-in-law, Louis McClellan, who shared the double home with the Isaac McClain family. Louis’ wife Georgia was Jennie’s elder sister. Jennie Wade, a young woman who was shot through the heart while providing nourishment for famished soldiers, is surprisingly not the presence many claim to feel most often here. The spirit is believed to be that of Jennie’s father who was absent for her childhood and whose life choices estranged him from his children. The basement in the Jennie Wade House is especially a dark and shadowy place; this is where Jennie was taken after death.

3. Farnsworth House Inn, owned during the battle by the Sweney family, is an old home dating from the early to mid-1800s. It is said that when construction begins on an old property, it opens the door to ghostly activity, and the Farnsworth House, now a respectable bed and breakfast, has been renovated quite a bit. You won’t be able to take a tour of the house unless you have reservations here, but if you can afford to stay at this terrific inn, you’ll be well rewarded. Many rooms are labeled as “haunted” and each have their own story to enchant you.

The battlefield itself is said to be home to thousands of spirits, ranging from singular figures like officers on horseback to columns and units of men marching together just as they did almost 150 years ago. Try visiting the battlefield just as it opens if you wish to avoid the crowds and experience the quiet, serene feeling that touches the heart. You may also want to visit when fog hangs over the fields.

Little Round Top is known to have an abundance of ghostly activity. You might be surprised at what you’ll find here. Pickett’s Charge even in the daytime is a daunting sight, but at nighttime it’s downright frightening. Thousands of men marched over this field into enemy fire; visitors have reported the feeling of being surrounded or of hearing strange noises that did not seem to come from the present.

Many will agree that Gettysburg has a purely different feeling in the evening than it does in the sunlit hours. At night, when all is quiet, a walk around the quaint town might help you to “meet” someone from the past.

Try taking a walk down Baltimore Street, where many haunted homes are located. Stop by the gates of Evergreen Cemetery. This is where Jennie Wade and many other people living during the Battle of Gettysburg are buried. If you feel a breeze or have a strange feeling you’re being followed, don’t chalk it up to an earthly visitor. Have your camera ready; you never know what you’ll find!

The Savvy Shopper’s Guide to Walt Disney World

It is a well-known adage that time flies; perhaps you wish you could be a kid again and enjoy your trip to Walt Disney World more thoroughly. True, being a child helps when you’re visiting Orlando, Florida’s theme park wonderland, but there is certainly much more to do here than kiddy rides and cheap souvenirs. Consider Walt Disney World as a savvy shopping destination; you can find some great buys here that will make your trip to the Magic Kingdom even more memorable.

Remember that everyone’s a kid when they visit Disney World! On that note, your first shopping stop should be the Chapeau on the architecturally stunning Main Street. (You might be interested to know that Main Street is designed after the town in which Walt Disney grew up). Here you can pick out “Mickey Ears” and the helpful staff will even embroider your name on the back! It may seem silly, but it’s Disney World; visitors reserve the right to be a little bit silly!

My daughter felt she was a bit old for “the ears” when we visited but then leaving on the monorail, we noticed two teenage boys (and we all know how teenage boys prize their image) wearing Mickey Ears with their names embroidered on the backs! Needless to say, this made her feel much better. Getting the ears is a must-do shopping experience at Disney World.

We also knew that we had to visit the souvenir shop inside the base of Cinderella’s Castle. The beautiful murals covering the walls outside of the shop were quite enough reason to visit, but we were impressed with the intimate atmosphere of the shop; there were very few people and a huge selection of everything from photo albums to models to pillows, and everything in between.

In the fun pavilion known as Adventureland, where you can enjoy a cool ice cream treat and rest under the shade for a few special moments, there is a place called Pirates Bazaar. You can find clothing, jewelry, ship memorabilia, pirate “stand-bys” like eye-patches and peg-legs, and much more. If you enjoy nautical souvenirs or just happen to like the romanticism of pirates, you won’t go away empty handed. If you are a fan of the hit movie Pirates of the Caribbean, you will find many items pertaining to the movie here.

In the rootin’ tootin’ Frontierland you will find the Frontier Trading Post and small outsize bazaar areas that offer many unique and fun items. I can vouch for the leather name bracelets; pick a bracelet, choose the charm you want embossed into the bracelet, and wait for the armband to be “branded” with the name of your choice. It’s an artsy gift that looks great on both kids and adults, for a reasonable price and makes an excellent souvenir. You will find Native American and Old West items at the Trading Post in this area of the park also.

If there are Disney-related items you weren’t able to find elsewhere on your trip through the park, chances are you’ll find it at the Emporium. This is Magic Kingdom’s premium souvenir stop, carrying tons of Disney gifts and souvenirs. You may want to plan this for the end of your “Disney Day” so that you will not need to carry packages around more then necessary.

While you’re in the vicinity of Main Street, check out The Art of Disney where you can purchase animated goodies (for a price!) or stop by Arribas Brothers, where you’ll find magnificent European-style glassware. Cirque Du Soleil Shop carries items related to Disney’s renowned circus, and the Candy Cauldron offers tons of treats for both kids and kids-at-heart.

Main Street even sports a pet shop! It’s called Disney Tails, and you can find pet favorites like food, play things, and tags, flavored by Walt Disney art. Disney’s Days of Christmas is a great place to find holiday items such as a special dated ornament or whimsical home decor. For a cool souvenir that it’s guaranteed no one else will have, stop in at Superstar Studios. Your little dude or dudette (or you, if you’re musically inclined!) can record your best work to your favorite music or make a smashing video. Then you can purchase a copy of your performance to take home with you! This is definitely one of Main Street’s best shopping surprises.