Bodie Island Lighthouse Opens to the Public
Ready for some exercise? The 214 steps to the top of the Bodie Island Lighthouse are waiting.
The North Carolina icon—one of only 12 lighthouses in the U.S. that are more than 150 feet tall—is now open to the public for the first time since it was built more than 140 years ago. A $5 million renovation repaired unreliable stairs, a broken and dirty 19th-century Fresnel lens (which includes 344 glass prisms), and rusted iron work, reports the Associated Press. The reward for making it to the top? Views of the Atlantic Ocean, Pamlico Sound, and the marshland around Bodie (pronounced "bah-dee") Island.
The project was spearheaded by the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society, founded the 1994 by a local couple who started the society with their own money. The $5 million in renovation funds came from the National Park Service, and work stopped in 2010 when more serious structural problems were found by contractors and corrected.
The Bodie Island Visitor Center is about a 15-minute drive from Nags Head, part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Guided tours will run through Columbus Day from 9 a.m. to 5:45 pm. daily ($8 adults, $4 seniors, free for children 11 and under—but children must be at least 42 inches tall and accompanied by an adult). Other nearby attractions include Jockey's Ridge, which is the largest sand dune on the East Coast and popular with hang gliders, and the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve.
Where to stay: Ramada Plaza Nags Head Beach is right on the beach. 1701 South Virginia Dare Trail, Kill Devil Hills, NC, ramada.com, doubles from $183.
TALK TO US! We want to know: What's your favorite lighthouse in the U.S.? What is it that you love about it?
Four Perfect Restaurants Near the Venice Biennale
Elizabeth Minchilli is the host of the blog Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome and author of the apps Eat Rome, Eat Florence, and Eat Venice. Every two years almost everyone I know heads to Venice. I used to be more involved in the art world and so most of my closest friends are art historians, art dealers, professors or artists. And almost all of them go to the opening of the Biennale which takes place—as the name implies—every two years. Countries from all over the world exhibit contemporary art in their own pavilions that are located at Venice's most eastern tip. While I usually don't head up for the opening events (too crowded for me, I go later on in the summer), I content myself with the fact that most of my friends usually end up making it down to Rome too. And of course they all ask me where to eat while in Venice. Up until now I would send them a rag tag list that I'd compiled over the years. But finally, this year, I can just tell them to download my app Eat Venice. (You're welcome.) But if I know my friends, they are still going to ask me things like "Do I need to reserve?," "but which ones are your favorites?," and "are there some places you like near the fair grounds?" And so, to answer at least one of your question, here are a handful of places that I like. These are all very simple places, within a very short walk to the Biennale, and a good stop for lunch: Trattoria alla Rampa (Via Garibaldi). The holy grail in Venice—at least for foodies—is finding that little hidden away place where locals go. In a city like Venice—which makes its living from the hoards of tourists who come here each year—these simple places are a dying breed. But Trattoria alla Rampa is the exception. The small restaurant, with a hand painted sign outside, is located in an area of Venice where few tourists venture. Just north of the Biennale gardens, the small streets leading off of the wide Via Garibaldi are hung with laundry belonging to the mostly working class families that live here. La Rampa opens its doors at 5 a.m. Yes. You read that right They open that early because that is when the men who live in this neighborhood—policemen, firemen, garbage men, and other workers—head off for the day. They stop by La Rampa for a quick breakfast and the place remains open for the rest of the day until just after lunch. A ramp (where the place get's it's name) leads into the restaurant. There's usually a few men lined up at the bancone, enjoying a coffee or a glass of wine, and maybe a sandwich. A low doorway at the back leads to the dining room, where a dozen tables are set for lunch. The menu changes daily. The day we were there most people were ordering spaghetti all' nero di seppie, thick strands of spaghetti coated in inky sauce. Caffe la Serra (Viale Garibaldi). Serra dei Giardini is a very new arrival in Venice. Well, actually, like everything else in Venice, it's very old. But it does have a new use. The Serra, or Greenhouse, was built in 1894, just around the corner from the Biennale gardens. It was used (like greenhouses are) to store delicate plants. In the 1990's it was abandoned and it started to slowly decay. Until the city of Venice realized what it was losing, restored it, and has rented out to various activities. Including a very cute little cafe. A dozen tables are scattered in the garden, and a few more are inside, within the sun-soaked greenhouse itself. A limited—but healthy—menu features natural juices, organic salads, and sandwiches as well as tarts (both savory and sweet). They even have a list of organic wines. It's not a typical Venetian experience, but it is pretty magical. Either in the shade of the garden, or within the antique greenhouse. Refolo (Via Garibaldi). I love Via Garibaldi. It's one of the widest "streets" in Venice, and so is never that crowded. Which makes it the perfect place for a passeggiata. El Refola is the perfect place to stop for a glass of wine and one of their excellent panini. This tiny spot usually has about 20 bottles open at any one time. And to pair, their sandwiches which change daily and are true works of art. Speck con Pate di Noci combines smoked prosciutto with walnut pate'. Provola e Melanzane combined provola cheese with grilled eggplant for a vegetarian option. The meats and cheeses are all specially sourced, crafted by artisans in small quantities. And if you feel like a spritz, this is the place to have one since they are one of the few places that still use the local and very hard to find Select bitter, instead of the more modern Aperol or Campari. Spighe (Via Garibaldi). Cute little no-frills place that serves healthy, organic, vegetarian and vegan food. The small shop is set up with a display case at the back, and a long communal counter in the front. Choose your dish by pointing out what you'd like. You can mix and match, since everything is sold by the weight. The menu changes every day, and they have an 11-euro fixed lunch menu that includes a first course, second course, two side dishes. Dishes include pastas, grain salads, vegetables, and usually things like hummus and savory tarts. If you don't feel like eating in, they also serve take out, so you can head a block away to the benches along Viale Garibaldi to have a picnic.
A New England Must-See
Cathy Bennett Kopf writes for TheOpenSuitcase.com I swear I could hear my daughter's eyes roll back in her head when I suggested we stop by Emily Dickinson's house after touring UMass Amherst. I explained that I feel personally responsible for supporting these types of museums. If old English majors don't visit Emily's home and other important literary sites such as the House of the Seven Gables and Poe's grave, then, really, who will? She conceded, if I promised a sweatshirt in return. Deal. I enjoy touring college campuses, at least I did, the first four or five times. After a while they begin to blend, like Caribbean cruise ports. Since precious vacation days must be spent on this important teen/parent bonding activity, I long ago began to package the campus visit with an unrelated sightseeing adventure. The Emily Dickinson museum is the perfect detour if you're spending the day at one of the schools that comprise the Five College Consortium: Amherst, UMass, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, and Smith. The Dickinson houses are operated as one museum offering two different guided tours, a 90-minute one that includes the Homestead and The Evergreens (brother Austin's house) or a shorter, 45-minute one. Our docent was a trim, somber woman who could not believe my daughter's lack of interest in the Emily Dickinson Poetry Marathon. Who could possibly pass on the chance to read all of the Belle's 1,789 poems in one sitting? Emily's house tour includes the parlor, library, and bedroom where she'd sit in the evening at her tiny writing desk and haul out the bits and scribbles that she'd tucked in her pocket throughout the day. You'll learn little fun facts about the poet; for example, she was a prize-winning bread baker. What you won't hear though are any of the salacious stories about the family, like those told in Lyndall Gordon's "Lives Like Loaded Guns." Apparently, Brother Austin routinely held trysts with his paramour, Mabel Todd, on the Homestead's living room couch. (Our guide mentioned only that the couch had been reupholstered.) The tour concluded with a brief discussion of Emily's poetry, comparing her freestyle verse with the more structured work of contemporaries like Emerson. When asked to read "I'm Nobody" out loud, I know my daughter considered vaulting through the window. Besides the sweatshirt, I offered compensatory cuisine—lunch at The Lone Wolf, one of Amherst's excellent independent restaurants. She scarfed down chocolate chip pancakes while I enjoyed an Eggs Benedict Florentine. The restaurant is open seven days a week until 2 p.m. and, in addition to traditional breakfast fare, offers a number of Southwest and vegan options. My favorite line in Dickinson's poetry is "To live is so startling, it leaves very little time for anything else." What's yours?
8 of the U.K.'s Crowd-Free—But Amazing—Natural Landmarks
Sophie Gackowski for HomeAway UK You've probably heard of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, and the White Cliffs of Dover are certainly no secret. But have you ever been to Thor's Cave, the Brimham Rocks or Speedwell Cavern? Here we list just eight of the UK's unusual but unsung sites; each an awesome masterpiece courtesy of Mother Nature. So next time you're enjoying a vacation in our fair isles, you can visit natural landmarks without the excessive crowds. 1. SPEEDWELL CAVERN Situated in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales, you'll find spectacular Speedwell Cavern. A large underground vault that you navigate by boat, its limestone depths house superb stalactites and stalagmites. If you have the time, why not visit its neighboring cave? Although it's named after a rather rude British word for the Devil's rear end, it's an impressive sight nonetheless! 2. LOUGHAREEMA LAKE Loughareema Lake has got to be one of Northern Ireland's strangest sights; if you can see it, that is. Also known as the "Vanishing Lake," its bed near Ballycastle is made of leaky chalk, so when peat isn't plugging its bottom, the waters drain rapidly underground. You'd have no clue it was there if it weren't for the local sign: Even engineers were fooled into building a road right through it! 3. CALLANISH STONES There are many standing stones on the Isle of Lewis, but the collection at Callanish (or Calanais, in Gaelic) is the best known of them all. Monolithic rocks dating back at far as 3,000 B.C., they're a romantic reminder of Scotland's ancient past. Admire the three sets of stone circles as they rise proud against a Hebridean sunset: The pink and russet hues are an experience not to be missed. 4. THOR'S CAVE Thor's Cave is a large natural cavern, nestled in the Manifold Valley of Staffordshire. Its entrance, an impressive arch about 30 feet high and 24 feet wide, is located more than 200 feet above the ground in a steep, limestone cliff, offering panoramic views of the valley. At its ancient heart, remains of extinct animals, jewellery, and pottery shards have been found dating back to the Stone Age. 5. RHAEADR FAWR FALLS Abergwyngregyn might sound like a mouthful, but this sleepy village in Wales is just a few miles from Aber Falls. Known as Rhaeadr Fawr Falls in Welsh, the 100-plus-foot-high torrent spills out over a rocky sill, situated along the picturesque coastal trail, the North Wales Path. With Bronze Age settlements and plenty of picnic benches in the area, it's long been a popular spot for a sunny afternoon. 6. BRIMHAM ROCKS A bizarre collection of rock formations on the Brimham Moor, North Yorkshire, this superb series of landmarks boasts an enviable location. Situated in some 50 acres of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you'll find towering rocks with names like the Watchdog, the Dancing Bear, the Sphinx and the Turtle. Try viewing them from all angles to guess the name before you hear it! 7. FINGAL'S CAVE Fingal's Cave is trickier to reach than the other natural landmarks on this list, but if you can make the boat trip to the Isle of Staffa, you won't regret it. Part of the Inner Hebrides, Staffa is an uninhabited and entirely volcanic island, home to a number of strange sea caves. The structure of Fingal's Cave, however, is unique: Formed solely from hexagonally joined basalt columns, the cathedral-like cavern inspired composer Felix Mendelssohn's "Hebrides Overture." 8. LONG MAN OF WILMINGTON A gargantuan man carved into the slopes of Windover Hill, East Sussex, the Long Man of Wilmington's been around for a very long time! No one knows exactly when he first came about, or why the unusual drawing is there, but that's all part of this enormous chalk figure's allure. Measuring in at around 200 feet tall (he's the tallest in the United Kingdom), the enigmatic gentleman holds a stave in each hand. Follow Sophie Gackowski on Google+.
Lake George: One of New York's Unsung Sweet Spots
Cathy Bennett Kopf writes for TheOpenSuitcase.com It was Christmas in July when Dad brought home the silver Plymouth Fury station wagon. It meant that my brother, sister and I no longer had to fight over who had to sit in the middle of the back seat with their feet on the hump (where the drive shaft used to be). Someone got to ride in the rear-facing third seat, stretched out on the luxurious naugahyde, like Cleopatra on her chaise, napping or making faces at the passengers in the car behind us. This was a huge deal because summer meant vacation and vacation meant road trip. I was the oldest. I was the loudest. I got that back seat. One of our favorite locations was Lake George, the threshold to New York's Adirondacks. My parents had visited as newlyweds (they took a picture of him in the stocks at Fort William Henry). Attractions included Storytown USA, an amusement park that combined an area devoted to nursery rhymes with one simulating the Wild West. We prospected at Barton's Garnet Mines. The birthstone ring I purchased in the gift shop continues to occupy a special place in my jewelry box even though it turned my finger ogre-green that summer. Accommodations were roadside motels with ice cold swimming pools or bungalows situated on the frigid lake. We went back with our kids and things hadn't changed much at all. Storytown's now a Great American theme park and a large hotel was constructed with an indoor water park, permitting swimming without the risk of hypothermia. The Mohican and the Minne Ha Ha, an authentic paddlewheeler, keep cruising the lake, operated by the Lake George Steamship Company, founded in 1817. The motels still line Route 9 and their pools are ringed by Solair chairs, the plastic bowls with holes that created monstrous grid patterns on my thighs in 1973. It's not cellulite; it's residual pool chair damage. It rained during most of our stay at Roaring Brook Ranch, but we took the kids on their first horseback rides, taught them how to play pool, and participated in the evening variety show. I volunteered as the hypnotist's victim. To this day, they've kept the details of that evening a secret. I love them for that. TALK TO US! Do you have a favorite childhood vacation spot that you still return to as an adult?