Stressed Out? Try A Walk In A Cemetery

cemeteryCemeteries get a bad rap in the United States. The only time of year we really pay attention to them is Halloween, and then, it’s to equate them with fear or evil. I suppose Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day give cemeteries a little love, but those holidays are more about who’s in the actual graves, and not about the places themselves.

Unlike many of the world’s cultures, which celebrate or dignify death, we avoid it. So it’s no wonder that most Americans find cemeteries creepy. That said, I’ve met a number of people like myself who enjoy exploring cemeteries when they travel. Some enjoy the religious, spiritual, historical, or cultural aspects, others like visiting the gravesites of famous people. Many find wandering through graveyards peaceful and relaxing, a place for quiet contemplation.

The latter is the primary reason I enjoy visiting cemeteries, although I also use them as a way to find out more about the city, village or country I’m visiting. I look at the names on headstones, trying to discern the immigrant origins of the residents, or imagine what circumstances led to the death of, say, so many townsfolk in a given year. I also like looking at surnames, especially in 19th century American cemeteries, because they’re often (forgive me) amusing.

%Gallery-165496%cemetery Boulder, Colorado’s, Columbia Cemetery was established in 1870. It’s filled with pioneers, Union soldiers, miners, even an infamous 19th century “lady of the evening,” and a recently identified Jane Doe from a 1954 murder case. There are also lots of great surnames: Goodnow; Sex; Belcher; Hussie; Slauter, and Liverhaste.

Built on 10.5 acres near Chautauqua Park, and overlooked by the famous Flatirons, the cemetery is a favorite spot for locals to run, walk their dogs (how many other cemeteries have dog waste bags at their gates?), or go for a quiet stroll. I live right up the street, and visit at least once a week, using it as an interesting detour on my walks downtown.

My favorite cemetery of all time is Telluride’s Lone Tree, which I’ve written about previously. Located toward the end of a box canyon with waterfall, it’s not only beautiful, but historically fascinating. The Telluride Historical Museum occasionally offers tours of Lone Tree, but you can just as easily visit yourself.

While I find many small-town graveyards interesting and a good place for a mental time-out, some big-city cemeteries are bona fide tourist attractions, yet remain peaceful oases. I highly recommend Paris’ Pere Lachaise, for its elaborate tombs and grave markers, many of which belong to the likes of Frédéric Chopin, Edith Piaf, and yes, Jim Morrison.
la recoleta
At La Recoleta Cemetery (Cemetario de la Recoleta) in Buenos Aries, you can visit the tomb of Evita Perón, as well as those of many of Argentina’s most famous political and literary figures. It’s worth a visit regardless, for the architecture of the mausoleums, which range from Baroque, Art Noveau and Art Deco to Neo-Gothic.

[Photo credits: fall cemetery, Flickr user JamieSanford; Chiloe, Laurel Miller; La Recoleta, Flickr user pablo/T]

Photo Of The Day: Watching The World Go By

Ever have one of those travel days where time slows down? Where instead of heading off to check an endless list of museums, famous churches and restaurants off your vacation “to-do” list, you simply grabbed a seat at the nearest cafe and watched the world go by? Today’s image, taken by Flickr user LadyExpat, feels like one of those travel days. The man’s relaxed pose and dispassionate stare suggest it’s a day to relax, observe and enjoy the view of whatever happens to be in front of us.

Taken any great travel photos lately? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Favorite Travel Destinations: Where’s Your ‘Happy Place?’

maroon bellsLong ago, a friend of mine referred to Colorado as my “spiritual homeland.” I frequently jest that I’m spiritually bankrupt except when it comes to the outdoors, and she was referring to my long-held love affair with the Centennial State.

My friend was right. There are parts of Colorado that are my “happy place,” where I immediately feel I can breathe more deeply, shelve my neuroses and just live in the moment. Places like Aspen’s Maroon Bells, Telluride, and Clark, near Steamboat Springs, are my cure for existential angst. I love the mountains and rivers, but when combined with shimmering aspens, wildflower-festooned meadows and crystalline skies and alpine lakes, it’s pure magic.

There are other places in the world that have a similar soporific effect on me: Hanalei, Kauai; almost anywhere in Australia; Krabi, Thailand; Atacama, Chile.

I’ve been in Colorado for work the last two weeks, and have devoted a lot of thought to this topic. Everyone, even if they’ve never left their home state, must have a happy place. Not a hotel or spa, but a region, town, beach, park, or viewpoint that melts stress, clears the mind and restores inner peace.

I asked a few of my Gadling colleagues this question, and their replies were immediate. Check them out following the jump.

Ruby BeachPam Mandel: Ruby Beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

Kyle Ellison: Playa Santispac, Baja, and Kipahulu, Maui.

Grant Martin, Editor: “Happy place number one is a fifth-floor patio in the West Village with my friends, and a few beers. A garden and a quiet spot in a city surrounded by madness. Number two is at the sand dunes at Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon, Michigan. Hop over the fence in the large camping loop head up the hill and towards the lake and you’ll find the quietest row of sand dunes in West Michigan. It’s a great place to camp out and gaze over lake, and also a good spot to take a date.”

Jeremy Kressman: “There’s a tiny little park buried in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona – one side of it is flanked by a Roman wall and there are balconies all around. It’s far enough off Las Ramblas that there’s not a lot of tourist foot traffic and the little side alleys off it are lined with little tapas bars and fire escapes thick with little gardens. I’d like to be there right now!”
lake cabin
Meg Nesterov: “Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. My family has a 100-year-old cabin on the lake with very basic plumbing and a very wonderful view. I’ve spent many childhood summers there and honeymooned there, like my parents did 35 years ago. I travel a lot to find great beach towns, but few match the bliss of bathing in the lake and eating fresh blueberries from the forest.”

Jessica Marati: The banks of the Tiber just outside Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome.

David Farley: “I grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs where the gridded streets were flanked by nearly identical houses and the stripmalls were dominated by the same chain stores that were in the next town (and the next town and the next ..). Few people walked anywhere. The civic planning implicitly left little room to stimulate the imagination.

So when I moved to a medieval hilltown near Rome, I felt like I’d found the place – my happy place, the spot I’d been looking for. Calcata, about the size of half a football field, is a ramshackle of stone houses, a church and a diminutive castle that sits atop 450-foot cliffs. There’s only one way in and out – which is not even big enough to fit an automobile – making the village completely pedestrian free. I would often stroll its crooked cobbled lanes or sit on the bench-lined square thinking that I was literally thousands of miles, but also a dimension or so from my suburban upbringing. I don’t live there anymore but I’ll be going back later this year to participate in a documentary that’s being made about my book (which was set there).”
Melanie Renzulli: The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Chris Owen: “Predictably, mine would be at sea, on any ship, completely surrounded by water in all directions as far as the eye can see.”

Jessica Festa: Sydney, Australia.

McLean Robbins: Telluride. “Descending into town on the gondola, in the middle of falling snow and pure silence, felt like heaven.”

Alex Robertson Textor: “My happy place is La Taqueria, at 2889 Mission Street in San Francisco.” To which I add, “Hell, yes.”

Where’s your happy place (keep your mind out of the gutter, please)? Let us know!

[Photo credit: Maroon Bells, Laurel Miller; Ruby Beach, Pam Mandel; cabin, Meg Nesterov; Calcata, David Farley]

Four quiet spots in London

London is a wonderful, energetic place and easily ranks as number one my list of favorite large cities. Yet the very qualities that make London so enjoyable can grate on the nerves. Most parts are crowded, noisy, and stress inducing. If you need to get away from it all, here are four peaceful spots in or close to the center of town. Wander around enough and you’ll find more on your own.

Parts of the Thames Path: The Thames Path is a 184 mile National trail running the length of the River Thames. Most of it runs through beautiful countryside and historic villages, yet there are peaceful spots on the London section too. Avoid anywhere that has a shopping area right next to the river or is near an attraction such as the Tate Modern. Walk for a while and you’ll get into residential areas where the only company you’ll have are the occasional jogger and the seagulls. One of the attractions of the Thames is that it’s the largest open space you’ll see in central London. After the crush of Tottenham Court Road or Piccadilly Circus, it’s a profound relief to bring a lunch, sit down on a bench, and watch the boats go by as the sunlight plays on the water.

Churches: London is filled with historic, beautiful churches, and everyone is welcome to sit for a while and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Nobody will bother you or expect you to be praying. Professionals often come on their lunch break and do sudoku. You can, of course, come to worship, and with the Anglican Church being so welcoming, you don’t have to be Anglican (or straight, or even a believer) to join in the services. Friends of The City Churches, an organization preserving churches in central London, has an informative website. My favorite guidebook is London: The City Churches by Nikolaus Pevsner.

Parks: Some of London’s many parks are more peaceful than others, but they all offer respite from the chaos that is London. Richmond Park or the Regent’s Park are good choices for their wide-open spaces. Richmond Park even has a herd of wild deer! Hyde Park is less peaceful but more central. St. James’s is a favorite for its beautiful lake alive with waterfowl, which turns into a magical sight in the golden light of evening.

Temple Yard and Gardens: The most peaceful place I’ve found is, strangely, right in the middle of The City, the bustling financial heart of London. The area around the old Templar church is owned by barristers, and they have a series of peaceful yards and gardens with shady trees, lush grass, sparkling fountains, and convenient benches. It never seems to be terribly busy, and everyone maintains a hushed silence, as if in unconscious respect of the one peaceful spot in this high-energy neighborhood.

Please keep these places peaceful! There’s a severe shortage of quiet spots in London, so come and be still.

Five ways to get the person in the seat next to you to stop talking

Some people don’t mind a little chat on the airplane, but what do you do when you’re sitting next to the world’s most effusive babbler and all you want is to read, work, sleep or jump out the window?

It’s not your responsibility to act as your seatmate’s captive audience, but ignoring people is mean and feels awful. Here are five ways to delicately end the conversation.

1. The Book Heisman. Rather than the traditional “stop talking hand,” get your book between you and the talker. This works especially well when you have the window seat; pretend to lean against the airplane wall. Magazines can be even more effective, as they are larger. Once they notice the book is open, and between you, they should get the hint. If not, say “Sorry, I really have to finish this.” Let them figure out why you need to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on their own.

2. Offer them an activity.
No, don’t give them a book or puzzle; they’ll ask you for help and talk to you about it the whole time. Just remind them of what they (hopefully) brought. Say: “What did you bring to read? Oh, I haven’t read that book, can I see it?” This gets their book (or laptop, or whatever they have) out of their bag and into their lap. Digging out their own entertainment may have been what they were trying to procrastinate by talking.3. Headphones. The only problem with this is that they’ll know there’s nothing to listen to during takeoff (because that’s before plane music starts and you’re not allowed to use your iPod) or landing. If you can stand it, let them talk through the first few minutes of your flight, then pop the earbuds into your ears and close your eyes or get to work as soon as you can. The trick? You don’t have to actually listen to anything at all. If they ask you anything, make sure they ask at least twice and pretend you didn’t hear them over the music. If they still don’t get the hint, add #1, The Book Heisman.3. Get excited about your activity. Even if it’s feigned,

4. Get excited about your activity. Even if it’s feigned, tell the person you are so excited to read your book, or dive into work, or nap. This works best right after they’ve told you something that you didn’t know (no matter how mundane). “Huh. I didn’t know that. Thanks. [yawn] Anyway, I’m really looking forward to this nap. Have a good flight.” If they interrupt whatever you’re doing, give them the puppy eyes so they remember they’re disturbing you.

5. Honesty. Is it always the best policy? Maybe not always, as this one might make the person feel bad. Still, if you’re tried 1-4 to no avail, the person probably needs someone to level with them about airplane talking: not everyone is into it. You’ll be doing someone on a future flight a favor. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t like to talk on the airplane. This is one of the only times I get to be quiet” works well. If that doesn’t work, or you have to repeat it more than once, you are totally within your rights to just ignore the person. You tried to be nice.

More ideas? Share them below.