The Stanley Hotel in Estes, Park Colorado – A Ghostly Travel Tale

 

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 I don’t know when I first enjoyed hearing a good ghost story. Maybe it was when I went to summer camp around the time I was ten years old. Toward the end of the week, the counselors took us on a hike into the woods for a campfire. As we sat by the fire, the different cabins sang songs and put on skits. Later, we roasted marshmallows, and eventually, one of the counselors would tell us spooky stories. When we got back to our cabin, we were all sugared up from the s’mores. Instead of going to sleep, the girls and I stayed up even later to continue sharing to try to be the scariest storyteller.

Into my later teens, I loved heading to the movies to see horror films or read scary novels about hauntings. One night, I remember being scared out of my mind when a few of my girlfriends and I were invited to check out an abandoned quarry about a half-hour drive from our town. We agreed and piled into this large Buick to search for the hidden compound where half-dead souls were said to hide-out in the abandoned buildings. The legend we heard was that anyone captured trespassing on the property would be held captive – never to be seen again. We pulled down the gravel driveway past the “No Trespassing” sign. The older boys, especially the driver, were out to tease us. He pretended that the car battery had died and that he couldn’t start the car. I remember my girlfriends and I freaking out and begging to get out of there. I almost started crying. Then they guys busted out laughing, and we took off as they cackled with delight.

What is it about traveling toward the scary or supernatural that both terrifies and delights us? I know more than one friend who loves an enjoyable ghost tour or haunted experience while on vacation. That is why on my recent trip to Estes Park, I had to stop in and visit the Stanley Hotel.

The Stanley Hotel

The Stanley is a grand historic hotel that was built in 1909. Allegedly, it is one of the most haunted locations in the United States. While no one actually died in the hotel, it is said to be built on an ancient Native American burial ground, and that ghostly events happen regularly. In fact, Stephen King got the inspiration for his famous novel, The Shining, after staying one night in room 217.

It is said that King and his wife got stranded due to a snowstorm just outside Rocky Mountain National Park, near the Stanley Hotel. At the time, the hotel was preparing to close for the season, as it did not remain open in the dead of winter. When Mr. King and his wife asked for a room, they were the only guests that evening. King had a dreadful nightmare and woke-up to a brilliant plot. It later became the inspiration for his bestselling novel.

Ghost Stories

The hotel is famous for being a historic landmark and for having a lot of paranormal activity. It is said that the original proprietor, F.O. Stanley (who died in 1940) has been seen working at the front desk. His late wife, Flora, can be heard playing the piano in the massive ballroom on the main floor in the late hours of the evening.

The fourth floor, formerly the area where children and nannies were expected to sleep, used to be a cavernous space. After a renovation, it was divided into individual guest rooms. Reports of children laughing and running up and down the hallways have become part of the paranormal legends in the hotel. There is also a head housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson, who died of natural causes some years ago. Mrs. Wilson regularly folds clothes and puts shoes in order in guest rooms. Unmarried patrons have told staff that they felt a cold presence between them in their bed. The proprietors chalk it up to Mrs. Wilson’s old-fashioned values.

A Short Visit

This December, we flew to Fort Collins, Colorado to stay with family for Christmas. It was unusually warm for early winter, so we decided to take a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. After hiking a three-mile trail my family and I decided to visit the famous Stanley Hotel and eat a late lunch. I had heard that it was a haunted hotel and much like my younger self, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. As we entered, I walked around the lobby and admired the grandeur of the restored hotel. I even took a walk up the impressive center staircase and observed the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley and other famous people from the past. While I admit that I found the pictures creepy, I didn’t get the feeling that I was surrounded by ghosts. I joined my family in the Whisky Bar, and we ordered some snacks and drinks.

After we paid the check, I wanted to explore a bit more, so I walked past the photo wall of famous people who stayed or performed in the hotel over the years. I loved the history of the place and wandered down another staircase to the basement. In the basement, I discovered an entire replica of the Stanley made out of Legos and an original ice chest that was used to keep food cold back in 1909. It was fascinating.

Since we had a long trip back to Fort Collins, I stopped my tour of the basement to use the restroom on that level. Everybody else wanted a sweet for the road, so they headed to the coffee bar nearby.  I was alone in the ladies’ room and thought it was odd that the busy hotel didn’t have more guests using the facility. It was quiet and really cold in the space. I don’t know if it was the temperature or something else, but I felt uneasy. I didn’t actually see or hear anything, but the experience gave me the chills. I don’t think I felt the presence of a ghost, it was just my imagination. I brushed it off and attributed it to the colder temperature down in the basement. I didn’t mention it to anyone, but I was both scared and intrigued. I thought I would really like to return and take one of those famous ghost tours offered at the hotel and perhaps, have Mrs. Wilson organize my room.

 

17th Century Thanksgiving

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My girlfriend, Dawn, and I were feeling burned out. We met for coffee and started commiserating about our never-ending to-do lists. We had young families, demanding jobs, and tons of responsibilities. It was early October, and we recognized that soon, Halloween would be over. Then, it would be a mad rush to start the holidays. We both agreed that after a few years of hosting, the thought of all that holiday cooking was the last thing we felt like doing. I remembered that my brother and sister-in-law spent Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, one year with my nephews. They came back from the trip and raved about the living history experience.

I was a teacher at the time, with only a few short days to spend the break. I concluded that since Plymouth, Massachusetts, was the place where America’s Thanksgiving celebration began, it would be fun and educational for all of us. Dawn agreed, and our trip was set in motion. My kids were really excited to be traveling with Dawn’s family. She and her husband Alan had 11-year-old twin girls and a nine-year-old daughter. My twin girls were ten and loved spending time with them. We often got our two families together for day trips, but this would be a three-day vacation with another family! They were thrilled.

I did research. I found out that Plimouth Plantation was set-up as a living history experience. You could take a self-guided tour of the 17th Century English Village, Wampanoag Homesites, and then tour a full-scale replica of the Mayflower. The Mayflower was the ship that brought the pilgrims to Patuxet (Plymouth) in 1620. The Plantation also offered a Thanksgiving dinner with roast turkey and all the trimmings – New England style. I thought that would be fantastic, so I signed up for the meal and was able to secure an afternoon seating for our families on Thanksgiving Day.

That first day we arrived, we went to visit Plymouth Rock. The rock is the “supposed” landing point of the pilgrims, but there is some debate if that part of history is accurate. It is a memorial, though, so we went to see it. There was a white granite canopy erected to mark the place of the rock at the waterfront park, and it looked stately. Many years ago, the massive stone was moved to a different location. During the move, it broke, so only a fragment remained on the beach. When we got there, it was so cold outside that we gathered around the rock, looked at it for about five minutes, and remarked that we thought it would be bigger. Then we all laughed as we sprinted back to our cars to get warm. So much for that, I thought!

The hotel wasn’t fancy, but it was clean and offered an indoor swimming pool that had a water feature in the shape of the Mayflower. After dinner in one of the local restaurants, we spent our evening in the pool splashing around. We made it an early night as we had a long travel day.  We all agreed that our families needed to get up and get our day started early. We were all excited to spend Thanksgiving Day at the Plantation.

We arrived after breakfast and walked around the Wampanoag settlement. We went inside a bark-covered long house and observed how the women went about their chores, cooking over an open fire, and telling stories of their people. Our husbands chose to stay outside. They watched as a canoe was hollowed out by some of the men in the camp. The men used fire to burn the insides of long logs to create boats. Then, we walked through the Plantation, a grouping of houses that were reconstructed to resemble the first settlement. There we interacted with the Pilgrim actors who told tales of their terrible trip from England and their horrible first year in Massachusetts. We asked them questions about their daily life, and they never broke character to share their explanations. It was fascinating.

It took us about three hours to tour everything, and we were all getting hungry. We were ready to eat when it was time to be seated for our real “Thanksgiving” meal. The Pilgrims and Native Americans entered the room to engage with the guests. It seemed that it was going to be fun, but instead, we had to remain quiet to hear their monologues. The kids were really bored and started to fidget. The hunger was REAL. Finally, turkey arrived with gravy and various fixings. When we went to pass the platters, we noticed we had no knives or forks, only a spork to eat our meal. I guess the children were tired because they barely ate anything and started to complain about the food and the fact that we only had a spork to eat with. It was becoming an issue. I tasted everything and thought the turkey and gravy were decent, but the kids were not having any of it. They were upset that the food was “weird,” and they didn’t have their favorite sides. I looked at my husband and our friends. We agreed that the food was tasty, it was just the kids, they were whiny and tired. It was nothing but complaints, so we decided to duck out of Thanksgiving dinner.

At this point in the day, late afternoon on Thanksgiving, the only place left to eat was a take-out pizza place. We were lucky that they were open at all! We ordered three large pies and brought them back to the hotel, where we promptly ate our pizza in our adjoining hotel rooms. Then we spent the rest of the day swimming in the indoor pool. The kids were deliriously happy that they were done with all the history lessons and were able to scream and squeal in the water. They were not pleased about the fact that we had pizza for dinner on Thanksgiving, but it became one of the funny stories from that weekend. At least we all found the humor in it and had fun despite our lack of a proper Thanksgiving meal.

When you choose to travel on holiday with your kids, you have to be ready for some adjustments. When plans go south, you have to come up with a plan B, pretty quickly. I have to say that while it wasn’t the best trip we have taken, it wasn’t the worst either. I thoroughly enjoyed Plimouth Plantation. We learned a lot about the struggles of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people. They both had to survive the harsh conditions and share their land with each other. It was a difficult life. It made me think about all the reasons I had to be thankful and grateful. As we come to another Thanksgiving holiday, I reflect on that trip with a huge smile. It was memorable. To this day we laugh at the absurd events but remember them fondly.

I want to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. And, if you are away from home on this day, I hope you have safe travels, food to share, and lots to be thankful for.

​A Tale of Two Cities

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Charles Dickens’ opening line from his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times; It was the worst of times,” entered my mind. I was a passenger, crammed in the middle seat on a packed plane heading to Chicago from the Philadephia airport. We had just been informed by the pilot that we were on a hold. We would not be taking off until we got the go-ahead from the control tower at O’Hare. Apparently, a dense fog had settled over the airport in Chicago, making it difficult for planes to land, so we would continue to sit in the plane on the tarmac in Philadelphia until the hold was lifted.

While I know Dickens’ was reflecting on a time of opposites taking place across the English Channel with a much deeper meaning than I was experiencing at the moment, the words still resonated with me.  The phrase seemed to sum up exactly how I was feeling as I sat in my middle seat, trying to get to a writing conference and the contradiction made me chuckle. I was in an airplane meant to help passengers go all over the world, and yet, we weren’t going anywhere, at least not for a while. I was quietly suffering on one hand because I knew I was going to miss my connection, and I was experiencing joy on the other, because I was going to a city I had never been to before, to speak to fellow writers. I love writing and I love exploring.

I stared out of the window on that beautiful sunny day in Philly and wondered what I would experience in Chicago once I finally landed. Unfortunately, my morning went from bad to worse.  We were delayed for about 30 minutes and after we took off, the pilot told us we could make up time in the air. After being hopeful that I would get to my connection, my afternoon deteriorated into an entire day spent waiting for my next plane which (after being delayed three times) finally got cancelled by 10:00 pm that evening. Once I was able to re-book a new flight for the next morning, I had a tough time getting a hotel room on such short notice especially with hundreds of other people scrambling to get one too. It was a rough night for a whole bunch of travellers.

I fly a lot and I am used to delays. Sadly, delays are a part of the process when traveling, and yet, I still continue to make airline reservations. I always have that excitement about an upcoming trip where I will have a chance to immerse myself in another place and see things I haven’t seen before. I guess you could compare it to having a baby? There is a common notion that even though childbirth is difficult and painful, once the baby arrives you love it so much that you forget the pain. I wouldn’t know, I had a C-Section and after having twins, decided our family was complete. But, keeping that analogy in mind, the intrepid travelers I know don’t seem to let it stop them. We will meet over coffee and share our travel nightmare stories, and once the stories conclude, we eagerly discuss our next destinations. I guess the pain of traveling goes away because of the love of exploration.  At least I find comfort in knowing that I am not the only one who suffers in order to experience the joys of getting there. I am in good company.

 

Home Away From Home

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I will never forget our first vacation to Kiawah Island, South Carolina. I was talking about getting away that summer with some women in my playgroup. Our girls were four at the time, and I was looking for suggestions for a trip. My friend mentioned how wonderful their vacation was to Kiawah the year before. She recommended we consider a holiday there as it was perfect for young families. After some research about the resort, I decided to make a reservation.

We flew to Charleston, South Carolina with our four-year-old twins and rented a car for the short trip to the island. We planned to hit the beach, swim in the pool, play some golf and tennis, and try and get some alone time as a couple. We knew it was a tall order, but ultimately, we hoped to get some rest and relaxation and make some great family memories.

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The resort was everything we dreamed about and actually a lot more. The beach was wide and flat, and the ocean was warm. The waves were gentle, so it was perfect for the girls to splash around in the water. During low tide, huge pools were left behind on the beach near the water’s edge, teeming with marine life. The girls would wade into the water and watch tiny fish swim around their ankles. It made for an entertaining afternoon. We found some intricate shells and enjoyed walking along the sand, trying to find the perfect additions to our collection. We took a short drive to Bohicket Marina and loved watching the boats come in while licking our ice cream on the dock. That trip made such an impression on us that we decided to return. The next visit, we loved our experience so much, we purchased a small villa so that we could always have a home away from home.

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We returned over and over again, enjoying the wonders of nature combined with the beautiful facilities. Kiawah’s developers had always tried to balance the nature sanctuary with tourism, so it allowed visitors to marvel at the wildlife and also respect their habitats. We would bike around the island and notice an alligator sunning itself on the edge of a pond. Or, climb up a tower on the marsh and observe the various birds that made their home among the verdant grasses. We made sure to follow the rules about the sea turtles nests and respect the space of the dolphins as they hunted for food in the inlet. As time went on and our girls started growing up, we opted to sell our special place to allow for visits to other destinations. And while it seemed like the right decision at the time, we always longed to go back.

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17 years later, we still adore Kiawah Island. We went back in the summer of 2017, and when we thought about where we wanted to go this summer, we all agreed that we wanted to go back to Kiawah. The island is changing and growing and developing, but some things still remain the same. The air always smells just the way we remember it, a mix of flowers, salt, and earth. The She Crab soup is still perfectly creamy with that delicious hint of sherry. The sunset over the marsh is just as stunning today with its mixture of orange, pink, and purple as it was the first time, we saw it. The alligators are still coexisting with humans on the golf course and always get the right of way. And, the beach is still as wide, and the water is still as warm and gentle as it was when the girls were four.

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Kiawah is our home away from home. While we have traveled abroad and spent time out west and in New England, we keep coming back to this beautiful barrier island that captured our hearts so many years ago. I hope that someday, I will splash in the tidal pools with the next generation of my family as our lives continue to evolve and grow and change over time.

A Couple of Die-Hard Travelers​

 

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When I met my husband, I discovered we shared the same passion for traveling. When we first starting dating, he was a competitive athlete and traveled a lot for his sport, competing in world cups in the United States and in Europe. While we were both working, he was able to take time off for competitions. I could accompany him when I had vacation days, but many times he set off and I stayed home. One time, I spontaneously quit a job I HATED, and booked a ticket to join him in Budapest, Hungary.  I would not recommend this if you have a family, but we were not parents at the time, we were die-hard travelers always looking for our next adventure.

These days, we are empty nesters. Without kids in the house, my freelance writing job is flexible and allows me to go with my husband on some occasions when he heads out of town for work. Last week, he suggested we take some time for a quick vacation around the first week in July before his business trip in Massachusetts. My thoughts went immediately to the charming New England shoreline. While I have been to Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard, I have never stayed on Cape Cod. Would there even be places available at this late date? I launched into planning mode.

The first step was locating lodging. I found an Airbnb in one of the scenic, seaside towns that sounded idyllic; and it was available. The historic home has a separate wing with a private bathroom. The location was near enough to a sandy beach, and beach cruiser bicycles were available to guests.

Now that we had a place to stay, I wanted to discover some fun activities in addition to enjoying the beautiful beaches. I primarily use the internet to start my research. Then, I tap my network of friends and family. If I happen to know anyone who has insider knowledge, I ask them for tips. Finally, I put together a fun list of things to do, places to see, and of course, restaurants to try. I made two reservations at high-end restaurants but canceled those and decided to create an itinerary of classic clam shacks instead. The kitsch of these long-established places that serve honest to goodness seafood in simple ways inspired me.

Waterside Dining in Hyannis, MA

This impromptu couples get-a-way with my husband was just the quick vacation we needed. I discovered we take a sight-seeing trip out of Hyannis. Next, we could bike on The Cape Cod Rail Trail– 22 miles of a paved trail that winds through six of the Cape’s quintessential towns. Then again we could rent a paddleboard at Cape Cod Waterwaysand splash around the Swan Pond River. After that, if we get thirsty, we can stop at a brewery to try some craft beer, or meander around a pop-up farmers market.

Farmers Market, Cape Cod

I am looking forward to waterside dining and slurping some littlenecks on the half-shell or heading to watch the sunset on Mayflower Beach after a long day of doing everything or nothing. If time permits, we could head up to Provincetown and watch some whales or catch a summer blockbuster at the Wellfleet Drive-In.

I have a list, but it’s not rigid. I looked up some restaurants, but I have no reservations, just a vague idea that if we happen to be in Chatham, and we are hungry, we can hit the Chatham Filling Station on Old Harbor Road. They only take cash. It will be simple and easy, nothing fancy but just the time and space to reconnect, fill our souls and enjoy our love of travel and each other.

 

 

A Frequent Visitor in A College Town

IMG_0448When your children go away to college, you inevitably take many trips back and forth setting up the dorm and moving them out. During the year, you try to visit as often as possible and make sure to go out for a delicious meal because the dining hall fare is barely edible. If you enjoy a cocktail, you pray that there are some decent places to grab a few drinks and if you’re lucky, enjoy some live music.

When we first started the process, we always scouted the area around the potential school. We wanted to make sure there were great places to eat and plenty of things to see and do, not only for the girls but also for us. As parents, we wanted to become “locals” in their college town. I remember one school had an excellent reputation and a beautiful campus, but there was literally nothing to do unless you drove an hour away. I said a silent prayer that it would not be the ultimate finalist.

When they made their decision, they chose to go to school together. We breathed a sigh of relief as there was no guarantee that our twins would want to stay together.  We celebrated the momentous occasion at one of the local restaurants. The ambiance was lovely, and the food was terrific. Luckily for us, their college choice ended up being within driving distance for weekend visits. We wanted to embrace our children’s new home and get to know the places where we could spend time together. Three years later, we are still enjoying the Finger Lakes. Not only is the scenery absolutely stunning, but there are also new businesses sprouting up constantly.

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In the summer when we drive up to move them in, we opt for a visit to some of the outstanding wineries. On the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, there are 35 wineries around the lake – more trails than in any of the other Finger Lakes. On a beautiful fall day, we often take a short drive to Watkins Glen State Park the hikes range from easy to challenging, and there are 19 waterfalls some of which you can climb over or under on the Gorge Pass. The views are incredible.

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If you aren’t a wine drinker, the beer scene is outstanding. The Finger Lakes Beer Trail has over 20 craft brewers with taprooms all along the lake. The craft cider served alongside the craft brews is really fantastic with some of my favorites poured at         Lake Drum Brewing on 16 East Castle Street in Geneva, New York.

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Being a foodie family, we are all about the good eats in and near the town. For casual,  road-side food, we love FLX Wienery. The homemade sausages, hotdogs, and burgers are elevated with suggested wine pairings from the chef who happens to be a master sommelier. If you want a traditional sit-down meal, try Ports Cafe on West Lake Road, Geneva, New York. The cozy restaurant is consistently packed because of the specials list, which is almost as big as the regular menu.

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To say that we could not be happier that my children chose to attend school in the area around the Finger Lakes is an understatement. As we near our last year as college parents we are pondering what we will do when we no longer have a reason to make regular treks upstate. Then I remember that we have family that lives nearby and they love wine as much as we do.

Foodie Friends in San Antonio, Texas

 

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Charcuterie Board at Cured

 

My husband Tony travels for his job. While his work trips can separate us more than we like, sometimes our schedules align, and I can join him. I know this is not vacation together, and even though I miss his companionship, I totally respect his commitments to meetings and dinners. I remind myself that I am just traveling solo but with my husband. On the flip side, it is an excellent opportunity to explore on my own.

When Tony is in meetings, I check out the city. I adore wandering through the neighborhoods and checking out the sites, the boutiques and the galleries. When I go into a store, I inevitably end up talking with the people I meet inside. Usually, everyone is so friendly and open, so when I get into a conversation, I typically ask my new acquaintances about where to eat in their hometowns. I love to discover the restaurants that local people think are worth visiting and the attractions that are worthwhile. Actually, I get some of my best suggestions this way.

On Tony’s recent trip to San Antonio, Texas, I tagged along. He had a free day before his conference, so we got the chance to be tourists together. I had been given a tip to visit the funky shopping and dining area in the re-gentrified Pearl neighborhood. The suggestion was spot on. We arrived there around 11:00 am, and we had not eaten breakfast. The community was buzzing with people of all ages strolling through an early morning farmers market. There were coffee shops, bakeries, a wine bar, and really hip retail and outdoor spaces. We were both eager to check it out.

 

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Open Space in Pearl

 

We knew we wanted to eat so we walked into “Cured” restaurant and asked if we could grab a table for brunch. Without a reservation, we would have had a long wait, but the hostess suggested sitting at the “bar” table. The reviews were excellent, and we were starving, so we jumped at the chance to eat there. We saw two bar stools next to a couple, and they smiled at us as we took our places. Common tables can be awkward (especially when you sit at a bar-style table) but these folks seemed really lovely.

We were looking at the menu when their food arrived. I peered over and made a comment about how delicious it all looked. We ended up talking all through breakfast. It was a blast to meet such friendly foodies. The next thing you know they were offering us samples of items off their plates. We spent the brunch sharing some goodies and talking about the fantastic food scene in San Antonio. As they were finishing up, we asked them where they would tell a friend to go for dinner. They both knew exactly which place to suggest and it was right there in the Pearl District.

 

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Bar at Supper

 

 

Travel is an adventure and meeting warm, friendly people just adds to the experience. We took their suggestion that night and ate at “Supper” in the Emma Hotel. Not only did we love the food, but we also let our new friends know how much we appreciated the suggestion and meeting them. I love connecting with fellow foodies, you always know they will lead you to the best dining experiences no matter where you are.