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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Trailing of The Sheep: The Most Wild and Woolly Festival in the West

Ever since I caught wind of its existence, I had been fixated on attending the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. This wild and woolly annual event takes place every October in Sun Valley-adjacent Ketchum and Hailey, Idaho. It celebrates a 150+ year tradition of moving sheep from their summer pastures in the mountains to winter grazing areas. But it’s also a cultural event, filled with craft and cooking demonstrations, multi-cultural entertainment and sheep poetry. The latter roped me in—after all, who could resist a sheep bleating Keats and spinning yarns?

Image Courtesy Trailing of the Sheep
As my obsession grew, I knit together a fantasy about becoming Queen of the Sheep Parade, which takes place the last day of the festival. Nearly 2,000 sheep form a wall of wool as they saunter down Main Street Ketchum on their march toward their winter home. They are joined along the way by musicians and dancers of every stripe. My dream was to show off my good breeding by donning a tiara and walking amongst my little lambs as adoring flocks cheered from the sidelines.

And so, my little lamb chops, with this in mind, off I flew to the Gem State. How to become Queen of the Sheep…I ruminated over this ruminant dilemma and decided the best way to win the title was to start lobbying town elders and festival organizers. But upon arriving and grazing the landscape, I realized shepherding them might be tricky.There were many places around town and at the festival to look. I could hoof it to lamb cooking demonstrations or check out Sheep Tales  and Readings from the Land at the local library. I herd it through the ovine that the big kahunas might flock to the Championship Sheep Dog Trials held over several days or perhaps they might be buying knit hats, gloves and muttons, or learning grooming techniques at the Sheep Folk Life Fair.

Finally, I settled on tracking them down at the Sheepherders Ball Saturday night. After all, a ball seemed fitting for a potential queen. I snagged a ticket. Shofar, so good. Then, as I hunted for a Prince Charming sporting mutton chops, I was told that, as the end of the parade route comes into sight, the sheep sometimes start stampeding to quicken the journey to their winter digs.

Suddenly, I envisioned myself in my own private Pamplona (this being the home of Hemingway, after all), overtaken by a mad mob of sheep goring me with their puffballs of wool. The dodge of ram would leave me with tiara askew and my garb transformed into the world’s largest livery of lint.

Alas, at midnight, my sheep dreams (and nightmares) were punctured after being told the shear truth—the Sunday Sheep Parade had no queen. Shorn of my dream, this piece of news got my goat. Baa humbug, said I. This year, I'm getting out of my rut and shuffling off to the Custer State Park Buffalo Round-Up in South Dakota instead. Watch out my little bubalus. There's nowhere to hide as I search for my crown.

Image Courtesy of South Dakota Tourism

The 20th Annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival takes place October 5-9.

Original version here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Deciphering Airport Codes

JFK, SUX. LAX, BRA. DFW, BOO. For those trying to read deep meaning into what seems to be a code,  CHL* out. These three-letter words are merely International Air Transport Association
Orbitz-AirportCodes-v2(IATA) location identifiers, aka airport codes.

Orbitz Blog recently made a delightful info-graphic based on the information below. Here's the link.

Back in the 1930s, when airports started springing up around the world, two-letter codes were assigned to the facilities. But as the jet age boomed, and more airports opened, additional combinations were needed, so an extra letter was attached. Therefore, many early airport codes, like LA, simply got an X added to their handles.

The origins of many airport codes are cousins of Captain Obvious. JFK stands for JFK Airport in New York. DFW is Dallas-Fort Worth. But others seem rather flighty. For example, Chicago’s O’Hare is certainly out of the ORDinary. Why ORD? O’Hare was built on a site that was once Orchard Field. Orlando’s MCO has similar historical roots, as it stands on the former McCoy Air Force field.

OK, let’s head to Canada. Back when the assignments started spawning, local broadcast letters were often incorporated into airport codes. In the U.S., television and radio stations east of the Mississippi were designated with the letter W (minus Pittsburgh’s KDKA). In the West, the opening letter was K. In Canada, it was Y. Y? We don’t know. But regardless, the country’s airports adopted the letter and the majority of its airport codes start with Y. YVR is Vancouver and YUL never believe it, but Montreal is YUL. Canadian rock band Rush named one of its most notable pieces, YYZ, after Toronto’s airport code.

Then there are those codes that are, well, titillating. Take BRA, from Barreiras in Brazil. While waxing Brazilian, let’s also mention Po├žos de Caldas, or POO. Manaus uses MAO, which would be more appropriate for Beijing, which, no peeking, is PEK (for Peking). The code for the airport in St. Petersburg, Russia is also a relic of the past. LED refers to Leningrad, the city’s moniker during the Soviet era.

Meantime, the code for St. Petersburg Clearwater International Airport in Florida is not as easy as PIE, any way you slice it. P--that’s for Pinellas, the county in which the airport is located. I is for International..and that E...no explanation. It does sound yummy, though.

Ranging from the mildly amusing to the politically incorrect to the social media savvy, there’s MAD in Madrid; FAT in Fresno; and DOH, that’s Doha. If this leaves you LOL, then you likely are in Lovelock City, Nevada.

Finally, there is the most famous of all the sobriquets. Sioux City, Iowa-SUX. SIX and SOX, apparently, would not do. For many years, the local population chafed at the code. Finally, however, the city and the airport took a big gulp, and now heartily encourage folks to Fly SUX.

*Challis Airport in Idaho

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Talking Fall Travel and Idaho on #TravelTopics

Swing by #TravelTopics on today at 1 PM Eastern time/11 AM Mountain time to talk about everything from fall and family travel to unexpected places to find prime leaf-peeping and wine harvests. The chat is being sponsored by Visit Idaho, so if you are a Gem State native, be sure to give your homeland some love. Here are the questions.

 1. Where are some of the most unexpected places in the US to see fall colors? #TravelTopics    

 2. What makes a state a perfect place for family travel? #TravelTopics

  3.  What are some of the most unique activities you can do in your state? #TravelTopics

Trailing of the Sheep Parade
Ketchum, Idaho
 4.  What are some unexpected adventures for active thrill-seekers in Idaho? #TravelTopics

Payette Lake
McCall, Idaho
 5. It's almost harvest time. Tell us about under-the-radar wine regions. #TravelTopics 

6.  Idaho’s culinary scene is flourishing. What are some notable Only in Idaho hot spots for one-of-a-kind bites? #TravelTopics

Breakfast at The Kneadery
 Ketchum, Idaho
 7. Winter's coming. Tell us about your secret spots for skiing and snowboarding. #TravelTopics

View of Baldy Mountain
Ketchum, Idaho
8: Families are traveling with grandparents, parents and kids. Suggestions for multi-generational trips in Idaho? #TravelTopics

At the Idaho State Historical Society
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Fall Foliage in the Mid-Atlantic

Looking for fall foliage within an easy drive of Washington, DC? Catch my Labor Day segment on WUSA's Great Day Washington or check out the links below.

Garrett County/Western Maryland/Deep Creek Lake: For adventure, the Autumn Glory Festival and family fun

Charlottesville, Virginia: For history, wine and nature
Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania: From A to Z (architecture to ziplining)
Frederick County, Maryland: For farm festivals, Oktoberfests and craft fairs

And don't forget about the beach. This is the perfect time to venture to Virginia Beach or Ocean City, Maryland. The temperatures of air and water are still warm, while room prices and crowds are cooling down.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Canines, Comedy, Culture and Kansas..

...are among the topics I've covered for Orbitz Blog this month. Here are links for your reading pleasure.

Pooch hounding you for a vacation? Here: 7 Pet-Friendly Hotels Every Dog Should Visit

Funny bone need a tickle? Just for laughs, here's a peek at some of the world's top comedy festivals.

Traveling to DC? If so, here's intel on the city's most buzz-worthy neighborhoods and here's a look at places in Washington where women rule.


Finally, if you are looking for the Old West, consider starting in Kansas.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Beltway Pundits Hits the Headlines

Beltway Pundits Hits the Headlines: From DCist

Masters of Pun Compete For Laughs (And Groans) At D.C. Improv


Aaron Schwartzbaum’s jokes, heavy on wordplay and delivered with a wink, inspire much groaning among his friends and family. “I’ve been pissing off all my friends for years,” he says.
When he saw on Facebook that DC Improv was hosting a pun competition back in March, he signed up immediately. He enjoyed the first experience so much that he returned for the second iteration several months later, where he took second place with a prepared speech. And last night, he returned again — and won, not once but twice, on the strength of puns like these, centered around Europe:
“I don’t want to kiss and tell here, but I did see her Netherlands.”
“Her roof was leaking water and I actually used her pet rodents to plug it — yeah, I made a hamster dam.”
“I hope I was able to Sweden your evening.”
Schwartzbaum sparred with a handful of other pun wizards during two rounds of competition at last night’s DC Improv event, part of a recurring series that organizers hope will become a bi-monthly tradition.
The “Beltway Pundits” event, which includes a round called the “Punger Games,” focuses squarely on a brand of humor that some comedy snobs dismiss as lazy or lowbrow. But for the event’s founder Laura Powell, whose business card describes her as “pundit-in-chief,” puns represent a performance style that holds untapped potential.
“It’s kind of like this underground form of humor,” Powell says. “It’s often called the lowest form of humor, but I find that offensive.”
Powell, who’s competed at the international level in the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships, created the event after taking a few comedy classes at DC Improv and realizing that she could put her longstanding love of puns to productive use at the venue. She’s been pleased with the turnout so far: The 60-seat DC Improv lounge area has sold out for all three performances, and the later events have brought a mixture of returning competitors and fresh faces.
The two-part event begins with a series of prepared speeches of two minutes or less from registered competitors. Each speech has a theme — last night’s included the election, cars, Donald Trump, short people, math and dating. Some speeches tell a coherent story with puns scattered throughout; others place the jokes front and center.
Powell awarded a score from 1 to 10, as did her fellow judge Brian Agler, the champion of the first speech round back in March. Both were looking for dazzling wordplay, and they also took the performers’ timing and confidence into account, according to Powell. “We try not to be too harsh because we realize people aren’t professional performers,” Powell says.
After a short break, participants are joined by competitors from the audience for a bracket challenge. Two or three contestants at a time stand on stage and take turns delivering puns from a given topic. If you flail, you fail. The person left standing moves on to the next level of the bracket until only one remains.
Last night, that one was Schwartzbaum, already glowing from his first-round win. He told DCist before the second round that he thinks improvising puns on the spot is harder than delivering them in a pre-written statement.
“Normally it involves a bunch of giggling to myself in the shower thinking, ‘That’s a good pun,’” Schwartzbaum says. “Then I’ll keep it in my head and see if a theme emerges.”
Not twenty minutes later, he eked out a win on the strength of puns like “Go puck yourself!” Competition was fierce, though. Several competitors who appeared to struggle with nerves in the prepared round came alive in the second half, while others appeared more comfortable with paper in hand.
The enthusiasm for the event within the room wasn’t hard to miss. Competitors laughed, joked and hugged each other throughout the night. High-fives were exchanged, friendships forged. One particularly eager competitor told the event’s sound manager Chris White to keep the tradition going.
“This is a great event,” he told White. “Please keep doing more of these. It’s so much fun.”
Probably, though, he meant to say "so much pun."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Natural Spa Treatments With Good Vibrations

Here’s the rub: In these days of digital overload and high-tech impedimenta, spas are going back to nature in order to stand out from the crowd. Water, wood, sound waves, sand and even fish eggs and poultry are being incorporated into spa treatments around the globe. Here are a half-dozen spa treatments that provide a natural high:

Fowl Play in Santa Fe

A Silkie Chicken at Sunrise Springs Resort
Why did the chicken cross the road? Answer: To soothe a soul at Sunrise Springs Resort in New Mexico. The Santa Fe facility has two dozen purring Silkie chickens. Hold one and feel the sound vibrations throughout its body and yours. Aside from the good vibrations, hanging with the birds also allows opportunity to slow down and reflect upon the human pecking order and other eternal chicken and egg questions.

Mr. Sandman Hits the Big Apple  

How about a massage in the sand? A bit messy, right? Not at Spa Nalai at the Park Hyatt New York. Here, the “sand” is actually pebbles of quartz, placed on a special table, covered with sheets and heated from below. Once one hops on said table, the masseuse gently pelts the subject with heated poultices filled with warm quartz sand. It’s all designed to alleviate aches and pains and release muscular tension. The Spa at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida offers a similar treatment. 

Something's Fishy in Rome

What’s more natural than being schmeared with caviar? Okay, maybe not so natural (unless you are Vladimir Putin or an incarnation of a Russian czarina). Still, even members of the proletariat (if they can afford it) can enjoy the Caviar Body Treatment at the Spa at the Rome CavalieriWaldorf Astoria in the Eternal City. This nourishing and energizing total body massage is said to firm skin and leave clients “shimmering with renewed vitality, improved elasticity and an overall sense of well-being.” High “marx”, indeed.

Bamboo Botox North of the Border

Everything’s shipshape at Bota Bota Spa-Sur-L’Eau, a floating spa located in Montreal’s Old Port. Although listed as a facial, Bota Bota’s Kobido treatment is more of a massage for the face, as it dispenses with lotions and potions and focuses on the rub. The key to the treatment is the use of bamboo sticks to pinch and roll the skin, pushing out stress and rolling out wrinkles. It’s kind of like Botox without the needles.

Texas Tapping 

Take a beating at the Spa at Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas. For a unique way to relax and invigorate the body, Manaka Tapping is an ancient Japanese treatment that has therapists rapping acupressure points with a wooden hammer and peg. If this sounds too painful, try a cuplift. Cupping is a time-honored Asian tradition (and more recently, a ritual embraced by one Michael Phelps) where heated vessels with mild suction are applied to the skin to stimulate circulation. Warning: post-treatment, it may look like a horse has been giving you hickeys.

Good Vibrations in Stowe, Vermont

The hills are alive with the sound of tuning forks in Stowe, Vermont,  best known as the American home of the Von Trapps.  The Spa at Stoweflake Mountain Resort uses sound therapy in several of its treatments. For a full body tune-up, the utensil of choice is a tuning fork. Tapping a tuning fork is said to alter the body’s biochemistry, bringing everything into harmonic balance. Warning: Do not try this at home with a kitchen fork.

The original version of this story appears here.https://www.orbitz.com/blog/2016/08/6-spa-treatments-that-offer-good-vibrations-and-natural-highs/