Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: travel (Page 1 of 12)

Cancun Pictures While Snow Falls in Illinois

Cancun, Mexico, April 14, 2018

An emergency weather alert for Rock Island County (IL) reached me here in Cancun, Mexico, predicting SNOW and sleety rain on Wednesday (tomorrow) and a generally horrible-sounding bit of post-Easter weather. Ugh.

Everyone but Stacey in this one, on the bridge at the Royal Islander.

I am posting a couple of pictures from where I am hiding out till it truly IS spring (or summer, at this rate), which is Cancun, Mexico.

 

Enjoy. Or don’t. You have my sympathies.

Cancun: 2018 – Twenty-five Years of Easter Break Vacationing

Although the state department has issued some warnings about various Mexican tourist destinations, we’ve been going to Cancun for the last quarter century. First, we stayed at Fiesta Americana Condessa for two years. Our daughter was 5, our son twenty-four or so. We next rented the Royal Mayan for two years and our daughter  took a friend with her and they played Barbies.

The daughter and friend in Cancun.

After the two years at the Royal Mayan, a sales representative from the Royal Resorts talked us out of buying one of the Royal Mayan time share units, pointing out that it would go back to the state in 2015, which it has done. The Royal Caribbean, which also had 30 years, would go back sooner than their newest property, the Royal Islander, where we came to rest on the top floor in what they call the Penthouse.

The Royal Islander opened in 1993. We were not in on “the ground floor,” but quite  soon after it opened, because it had no trees at all at the time. Since Stacey would have been 5 in  1992, it was probably about 1996 that we bought into the Islander.

Some 4 years later the Royal Sands construction began on a site next door to Kukulcaan Plaza that had previously housed the Royal Palace. Pre-construction prices were cheaper and we liked our one week so much that we ended up purchasing Week #14 to go with Week #15 that we already owned.

Now, we come with various and assorted family members, since my husband’s sister and her husband bought a unit after we invited the entire family to come down one year and visit us. Apparently, the lure of Cancun with its gorgeous beaches was too much to resist.

We are right next to the police station here in Cancun (on the other side of Kukulcaan Plaza), but the latest alerts about 14 murders in Cancun center on a drug king-pin who was once a police officer and is trying to corral the drug trade in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The violence was aimed at opposing gangs, but it is distressing, nonetheless, to think of this beautiful place being ruined for tourists and locals by the unfettered violence, which peaked on April 4th and 5th. (Most of the violence took place downtown).

Cancun

We are entering our second week here and we won’t be trekking off to any downtown locations because of the violence, but it seems to be “business as usual” at the Royal properties.

“The World Before Your Feet” Is Award-winning Documentary at SXSW Featuring Walking New York City

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The World Before Your Feet from Jeremy Workmen, follows an unemployed civil engineer, Matt Green, 37, around New York City as he walks over 8,000 miles in 6 years, traveling every street, park, and space in the five boroughs. Matt is a civil engineer who up and quit his job to walk in 2009.

It’s an interesting, if odd, way to spend time. But for Matt Green, who did the walking, he is the modern-day equivalent of Forrest Gump. Matt started his nearly OCD walking mania with a cross-country jaunt of a mere 3,500 miles, walking from Rockaway, New Jersey to Rockaway, Oregon in 2010. It took him five months.

Turns out it takes a lot longer to walk every street, alley, park, cemetery and green space in the Big Apple.  Calling it “a cool way to be in a place and still moving,” Green says that he enjoys “the simple things in the middle of the country.” One other man mentioned in the documentary, Bill Helmreich, a Professor of Sociology at City College in New York City, walked all the streets of NYC, which was 6,000 miles, but Matt bested him by including all of the parks and cemeteries and green spaces, clocking in at over 8,000 miles of walking. His walk was rich with history and adventure and he was primarily greeted with friendly faces and was never mugged.

THE GOOD

If you are going to visit New York City any time soon or any time, period, this look at every possible part of the Big Apple is interesting. It will give you the added benefit of learning a lot about the history of the city.

Matt is a self-taught historian who enjoys finding out about the world before his feet that he visits. We learn, for instance, about the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, probably the first highway for motor cars, and about the Audabon Theater, where Malcolm X was shot and killed. There is even a small street memorial to the Eric Garner death—the “I can’t breathe” victim who died while being arrested. And, in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, we see the grave of the first soldier from Brooklyn killed in the Civil War, a 12-year old drummer boy who was killed during a training exercise.

We also get to hear some wisdom from Matt Green that we might take to heart. He quit his job as a civil engineer in 2009 and hasn’t had a job, other than cat-sitting since. (“I don’t really miss it,” he says, of not having a permanent place of his own.) He doesn’t own an apartment and gets by on about $15 a day by couch-surfing and cat-sitting.

Matt says, “There are some people out there who do things for reasons that other people just can’t understand.” He adds, slyly, “I don’t know anyone like that.” His goal, he says, is to do the thing, not to finish. “It’s a mission. A personal quest…It’s helped me find satisfaction in the basic things of life that are free.”

When we search for motives that may have propelled him into this nomadic life style, we need look no further than the near-fatal brain bleed his younger  brother in Chicago (Jonathan) endured, and the accident he suffered when hit by a car while bike-riding. When asked if he is “independently wealthy,” he replies, “No, I’m independently homeless.” Says Matt: “Either you love it or you put it off till the future, and you don’t know if the future is gonna’ be there.”

THE BAD

Although we meet both of Matt’s parents during the film, and they seem very normal, as does his Midwestern home, we meet two women he was serious about whom he ultimately did not marry. In one case, Carolyn Brooklyn-Small said the wedding invitations were all ready to go on October 7, 2007, and then they just did not go through with it. Another pretty girl describes Matt’s aversion to the movies as a turn-off that broke them up as a couple. Matt is 37 and he has no family of his own and seems too dedicated to walking to think about forming one.

The film was a bit too long. About 75 minutes in, I was ready to stop, but the film continued to 92 minute. I think the failing was me, not the film’s; I was watching it on a computer screen.

THE SCORE

The old time-y piano music (an original score from Tom Rosenthal) with contributions from Carly Comando fits the documentary perfectly.

It’s a lovely piece about a 37-year-old man-child whose journey was even chronicled by the New York Times. He also has websites: www.Imjustwalkin.com and www.TheWorldBeforeYourFeet.com.

Sunset at Captain’s Cove, Cancun, Mexico.

Today it rained for about a half hour. This is only the second time in about 25 years that it has rained (and the last time it rained for days).

Granddaughters Ava and Elise in the lobby of the Royal Sands.

We moved down the street with all our food and clothing from the Royal Sands to the Royal Islander on Saturday and now we are in the penthouse of the second hotel.

The daughter (Stacey) in the lobby of the Royal Sands.

Our friends, the Rhodeses arrived 2 hours late due to waiting for a van transfer. We still made it through “Saturday Night Live” and enjoyed watching Jimmy Fallon’s hosting duties.

The concierge arrived with gifts and he turned out to be a huge movie fan. He checked out the films in town for us (in case it rains again) and made reservations for us at El Conquistador, Ruth Chris’ Steak House and Captain’s Cove.

So far, we’ve confined our adventures to the Royal Resorts restaurants near us, dining at Trade Winds at the Royal Caribbean and at our own restaurant affiliated with the Royal Islander.

All 15 of us in Week One.

The weather has been in the eighties and lovely, with the exception of the short amount of rain.

Tourists posing with an iguana.

Stacey and her father in Cancun.

Stacey and I in Cancun.

Super Bowl Sunday: Not Feeling So Super

I’m posting this before I begin to attempt to clean up and go off to a Super Bowl party.

Being a newcomer to Austin (TX) as a snowbird, I cannot afford to turn down any invitations, but I am in the throes of a head cold that has rendered sleep somewhat peripatetic and caused my nose to run.

Here in Austin, the biggest and closest grocery store is one with the name H.E.B. I have no idea what “H.E.B.” stands for, but “Help! Everything is Bolloxed!” comes to mind. On the bad side, you walk for miles trying to find anything. The store is roughly the size of a Sam’s Super Store in the Quad Cities. On the good side, the prices see far lower for most things (although the quality of the meat is suspect).

Let me be specific: all I wanted was a Coricidin type cold remedy that would staunch the runny nose I am experiencing, which, I think, I may have caught from my son, who also has a cold. I gave son Scott the last of my cold remedy medication from home and the Tylenol thing I bought yesterday does not mention stopping a runny nose. Nor has it done so.

On the bright side, I could breathe in the night, but I turned like a chicken on a spit, tossing and turning as I experienced all the fun drainage of a cold.

Two days ago, it was 83 degrees here, tying a record set in 1963. Then, it dropped about 40 degrees and spit rain. The problem (besides exposure to the virus somewhere) is that I had to go out in the spitting rain 2 days in a row, to secure the necessary vitals for a Saturday night dinner. I also wanted to purchase a painting to put on the wall of the guest bedroom, as the one I had originally seen at a store called “Tuesday Morning” had sold in one day. I like the painting and the son with the cold was going help the husband hang it on the wall of the guest bedroom IF I had it. So, 2 days in a row when I already felt sort of punk and the weather was not ideal I went out in the spitting rain and visited a minimum of 3 stores each time.

Now, I’m paying the price. Oh, well, last year there was no moisture at all in the entire month of February, so hopefully the predicted warm-up will take my cold with it.

On another front, gas here at some stations is $1.83.

As for the Super Bowl, I could care less who wins or who plays, but I would root for the underdog (Atlanta) in any contest and most certainly would do so when it is common knowledge that the Quarterback of the Patriots is a big buddy of the Trumpster. Go Falcons!

Haunted Austin by Hearse (3/25/2016)

The daughter and I climbed aboard a 1991 Cadillac hearse that was used as recently as 2011 to tour some of the purportedly haunted sites in Austin, Texas, on a Friday night.

1991 Cadillac hearse

1991 Cadillac hearse

Our first stop was the Confederate Woman’s Home built in 1906. Over 3,400 indigent widows of Confederate soldiers lived and died here until 1963, when funding and various reports of hauntings caused the building to be converted to office space. It is currently occupied by AGE (Austin Groups for the Elderly) who run programs like Meals on Wheels.

Tour guide Joseph Geaccone and I head for the Haunted Austin hearse to begin the tour on March 25, 2016.

Tour guide Joseph Geaccone and I head for the Haunted Austin hearse to begin the tour on March 25, 2016.

Confederate Women's Home.

Confederate Women’s Home.

After the stop at the Confederate Women’s Home our next stop was The Clay Pit. Currently an Indian restaurant, in 1853 Rudolf Bertram, father of 8 kids, lost 4 of them to various diseases. Two of his daughters, aged 8 and 10 died of diptheria, according to tour guide Joseph Geaccone.

Artesian well, source of contaminated water that is thought to have killed 4 young Bertram children in the Bertram building.

Artesian well, source of contaminated water that is thought to have killed 4 young Bertram children in the Bertram building.

A son, who died a horrible death in the upstairs corner bedroom, contracted typhoid fever. It is thought that the well water was contaminated by being located too close to the outhouse and feces poisoned the drinking water. There was also a murder of a prostitute in the basement.

Basement of the Bertram Building, now the Clay Pit Indian Restaurant.

Basement of the Bertram Building, now the Clay Pit Indian Restaurant.

After visiting the Clay Pit, we moved on to the Tavern, a German-style pub built in 1916 that has a history of its own. The building was intended to be a tavern, but opened just as Prohibition began, dooming its chances. It became a speakeasy and, over the years, was also a grocery store, a gas station, and a brothel.

The Tavern in Austin.

The Tavern in Austin.

The story told those of us on the tour was that an eager suitor who wanted a lady of the evening to come live with him did not want her 13-year-old daughter as part of the deal. When the mother balked at the suggestion that she distance herself from her child, the suitor murdered the girl. Emily, as she is known, was found in a storage area in the attic.

Location where the body of 13-year-old Emily was found.

Location where the body of 13-year-old Emily was found.

Stairs leading to the room where a 13-year-old victim's body was found.

Stairs leading to the room where a 13-year-old victim’s body was found.

 

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After the Tavern, we stopped at the University of Texas tower where, on August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman shot 14 people to death from the height of the tower. He wounded 32 others and had killed his wife and mother before setting off for the tower to shoot down on the students below.

University of Texas Tower.

University of Texas Tower.

It took the police 96 minutes to respond to reports that there was a shooting in progress, and none of the authorities had the ability to reach the tower with their firearms, so they invited citizens to assist them and many went to the site to assist the police.

We made another stop at the Driskill Hotel, and, this time, I got a picture of the fabled vault. The story is that, during the Great Depression when money dried up, residents of the Driskill couldn”t get money so the hotel manager opened the vault and gave out money to the guests, without even asking them to sign a promissory note. The guests all paid it back and some paid it back with more money than they had borrowed.

Stacey in the vault at the Driskill Hotel.

Stacey in the vault at the Driskill Hotel.

Me in the Driskill Hotel vault.

Me in the Driskill Hotel vault.

Colonel Driskill’s $400,000 to build the hotel did not ensure him a long career in the hotel industry, as he lost the hotel after one year.

Following the Driskill Hotel stop (my second), we stopped at the most haunted stop on our tour, the Littlefield Mansion. Colonel Robert Littlefield gave the $250,000 to build the fountain in front of the University of Texas campus in 1920.

We stopped at the nearby Littlefield Mansion and pulled the hearse into the car port.

The Littlefield Mansion.

The Littlefield Mansion.

I asked my daughter to pose in front of the lovely wrought iron grillwork on the locked doors to the mansion.

Stacey in front of the Littlefield Mansion.

Stacey in front of the Littlefield Mansion.

I took the following pictures through the front door of the Littlefield Mansion approximately 30 seconds apart. The light you see is the light at the end of the hall. Joseph (our tour guide) was fooling with the locked door, explaining how sturdy the lock was to have lasted all these years. Do you see anything through the door in Shot #2 that has materialized and approached as Joseph did this? Note the featured picture of the Littlefield Mansion and the “orb” in the upper left.

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Second shot, taken a minute or so after Joseph messed with the locked door handle.

Second shot, taken a minute or so after Joseph messed with the locked door handle.

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Ghosts of Austin, Texas?

Driskill Hotel, Austin, Texas.

Driskill Hotel, Austin, Texas.

We’ve been adventuring here in Austin and one of the first places you hear about is the old Driskill Hotel, which is reputed to be hugely haunted.

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The Driskill first opened in 1886. It opened and closed many times over the years, but has much history, including LBJ’s stints there watching the returns come in from his various elections.  For years, until the event outgrew the hotel, the Governor’s Inaugural Ball was held in the Driskill’s Ballroom.

Lobby ceiling.

Lobby ceiling.

There’s the story of the old vault that still stands in the lobby area. In March of 1933 FDR put a temporary halt to all banking activity in the land, leaving the Driskill guests stranded without cash. Hotel manager W.L. Stark opened the vault to let guests take some out temporarily, asking only that they repay it (he did not even make them sign promissory notes.) The guests not only repaid the money they had borrowed, they put more back, besides.DSC_0174

Maximilian Room

Maximilian Room

Then there is the Maximilian Room, which was formerly a smoking lounge. The room’s enormous Carlotta mirrors were intended as a gift from Austrian archduke Ferdinand Maximilian to his wife, Carlotta.  After years of civil war in Mexico, conservatives attempted to replace the elected President Benito Juarez with the Emperor Maximilian, but this effort, backed by the French, failed. Carlotta fled to Europe and never saw her husband again. Nor did she see the mirrors, which are coated with diamond dust and bear her image atop each of the 8 mirrors, which the Driskill picked up in San Antonio when they learned of their history. Ghosts are supposedly frequently seen in their reflections.DSC_0176

Probably one of the most interesting ghost stories involves a little girl whom the restaurant manager referred to as “Samantha.”

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DSC_0180Her portrait hangs on the 4th floor and is very odd, with what appear to be shadows behind her. (My husband says, “That’s just your flash reflecting,” but you decide.) Samantha was in the hotel waiting for her father, a Senator, to finish a meeting when she followed a bouncing rubber ball and fell to her death down the steep stairs pictured.DSC_0168DSC_0169

Stay tuned for more unearthly tales of this and other Austin haunted sites. It is one of the most haunted cities in America according to the experts.

Christmas in Chicago: Happenings in and Around the City at the Holidays

I came in to Chicago to pick up the daughter (from Denver) to drive her back to the Quad Cities, but good friend Mary Gerace had some other festive ideas for things to do in and around the city, including the free Chicago Youth Symphony concert at Chicago’s Symphony Hall, the Tuba Christmas concert at the Palmer House, and a performance of The Assassination Theater, which purports to prove who really murdered JFK (ending soon at the Museum of Television and other such things.

TubaXmas 013The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra performance, which was free, was just as good as when I saw them perform with Ben Folds a month or so ago. No Ben, this time, but just as great a performance, with a tour de force performance from a young trumpeter who was voted the 2nd best in the U.S. in a competition.

TubaXmas 057Then came 266 tubas of all ages and sizes. Performers come from all over the state (the youngest was 10 years old) and outnumber those at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Tubas don’t often get to carry the melody, so it was fun to hear that many of them playing well-known Christmas carols. The audience was encouraged to sing along to the second verse. The house was packed. We had to arrive by 9 a.m. to get colored wrist bands or risk being in the “spill-over” room watching it on a TV feed. This was the 30th year for the event.

Then there were the lovely Christmas trees, including the one in Millennium Park barely a mile down Michigan from me, and the one in the Palmer House Lobby.

And, of course, Water Tower Place beckoned with shopping galore. Last night, when I was there, they planned to be open until midnight! Christmas Eve, demonstrators plan to demonstrate on the Miracle Mile, which the shops along there have claimed has cost them at least 30% of their normal business.

Last, but not least, I received word a while ago that I was one of the Finalists for the title of Best Indie Thriller of 2015 and had been named one of the Top 100 from among 12,000+ entries. I was sworn to secrecy until the newest issue of “Shelf Unbound” online magazine was published, however, and the Dec./Jan. issue is up now. I think “KHAKI=KILLER” is on page 58 (or 60?). Here is the link:

You can see the issue here: http://issuu.com/shelfunbound/docs/shelf_unbound_december-january_2015

Khaki = Killer is shown on page 58 or 60.

Lastly, MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR to one and all, and if you are of a different religious persuasion, as our Christmas card said, “Merry Everything.”

Book People Carrying “The Color of Evil” Series

Book People bookstore in Austin, Texas, was recently named the Number One Independent Bookstore in the United States by “Publishers’ Weekly.”

The Color of Evil series on the shelves of Book People in Austin, TX.

The Color of Evil series on the shelves of Book People in Austin, TX.

I met with store manager Michael McCarthy the day before Thanksgiving, and all 3 entries in “The Color of Evil” series (“The Color of Evil,” “Red Is for Rage,” “Khaki=Killer”) are now on the shelves of Book People.

The book will also be featured on the large table up front, dubbed “the Whale” for 2 weeks and inclusion in the e-catalogue and a book signing may be on the horizon, once we spend more time in Austin.

Playa del Carmen, The Mayan Palace on Nov. 9th, 2015

Beach at the Royal Mayan.

Beach at the Royal Mayan.

The weather here is beautiful and no rain (so far). Forecast does suggest tomorrow might bring showers, but the past 3 days have been great.

On our way to dinner at the Royal Mayan.

On our way to dinner at the Royal Mayan.

When we arrived at Cancun International Airport, however, we were told it had been raining for 4 days straight, and the humidity in the air confirmed that.DSCN1037

On our way to dinner at the Royal Mayan.

We went to the beach today, rather than the pool. However, when it became unbearably hot, we joined a volleyball game in progress and played 3 games, all of which our team lost. (Apparently, I can barely serve overhand).DSCN1023

Another lovely day, with authentic Mexican food this evening at a poolside restaurant.

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