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Fall’s Here. Can We Still Go Apple Picking?



Across much of the country, fall is the season of apple-picking, corn mazes, winery harvests and Halloween hauntings, luring day-trippers and weekenders to rural areas. But if summer is any guide, many fall festivities may require more planning this year to avoid the crowds.

While visitors may still launch a pumpkin from a catapult, pandemic restrictions will touch everything: Hay rides will now be socially distanced, and masked clowns will be poised to scare haunted house visitors from six feet away.

Apple-picking, pumpkin patch visits and corn mazes are fall traditions at many businesses.

In Hendersonville, N.C., 25 miles south of Asheville, the annual North Carolina Apple Festival celebrates the area’s fruit growers and has, in recent years, drawn some 250,000 attendees to town. This year, the September event was largely canceled, but area orchards remain busy.

“Down are the tour bus groups and church groups, but we’re getting a lot more families,” said Leslie Lancaster, an owner of Grandad’s Apples N’ Such, a 120-acre farm in Hendersonville that offers apple picking (pecks from $11) and has a store and bakery. “Everyone is trying to find something to do with their kids.”

The orchard, one of 20 on the regional Crest of the Blue Ridge Orchard Trail, isn’t taking reservations, but is monitoring the number of visitors to ensure social distancing, and recommending its slower hours, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, to avoid congestion. It runs a tractor-pulled train on the weekends, but has kept the jump pillow, where children may collide, closed this year.

“A lot of farms have gone to timed entries or tickets for a certain time frame to encourage crowd management,” said Suzi Spahr, the executive director of the North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association, a nonprofit trade group.

Admissions policies may vary by state or by county. In South Natick, Mass., Lookout Farm is requiring reservations for apple picking, and has shut down its train ride and play area (admission $20, including a half-peck of fruit). Pickers must wear masks, wash their hands before entering the orchard, use bags supplied by the farm and refrain from eating fruit in the orchard.

At Dr. Davies Farm in Congers, N.Y., about 30 miles north of New York City, reservations are strongly suggested for 30-minute windows, and visitors must buy a seven-pound bag each or a 25-pound bag for a group of up to six people (prices vary).

Carter Mountain Orchard, in Charlottesville, Va., has implemented a ticket reservation system — guests can choose from three time slots per day. “We absolutely cannot accommodate the same number of people this year that we have in previous years,” said Cynthia Chiles, the owner of the orchard. Visitors can also drive through the 200-acre orchard and purchase ready-picked apples from their cars. Tickets aren’t needed, but ordering in advance is recommended.

The alterations are similar at you-pick pumpkin patches. Though it does not take reservations, Hank’s Pumpkintown in Water Mill, N.Y., in the Hamptons, has added hand-washing stations and hand-sanitizer dispensers across the grounds that include areas for apple picking and a corn maze (admission to attractions from $10; free admission to the pumpkin patch; pumpkins sold by the pound).

At Whitcomb’s Land of Pumpkins and Corn Maze in Williston, Vt., opening Sept. 19, the spacing between pumpkin rows, like its corn maze aisles, are wider and hand sanitizer is provided upon entrance (corn maze admission, $5).

Many corn mazes this year will have wider paths, and additional passing lanes where maze-goers can distance themselves from others at points where they must decide which way to go; some are reducing the number of those decisions or eliminating dead-end options, according to Brett Herbst, the owner of The MAiZE, a company based in Spanish Fork, Utah, that works with more than 280 farms in North America and Europe in designing and building corn mazes.

“These are about three to four times the size of a Home Depot or Walmart,” Mr. Herbst said, noting mazes run 300,000 to 600,000 square feet. “I don’t know of a business that can social distance better than we can given that we’re outdoors and have such a large footprint.”

Mr. Herbst also operates Cornbelly’s, a corn maze in Lehi, Utah, that has partnered with Disney to theme its 2020 maze after the movie “Toy Story” (admission from $13.95). Both the maze, opening Sept. 25, and the film turn 25 this year.

To comply with pandemic-imposed capacity restrictions, most mazes require timed and ticketed admission this season. Near Fredericksburg, Va., Belvedere Plantation is selling timed tickets to its maze to keep within the state capacity limit of 1,000 people, and has made everything cashless except the animal feed dispensers that still take quarters (admission from $13.95). Its 34 campfire sites are available by reservation for four-hour windows ($75), though most attractions, including a pumpkin patch and hayride, are included with admission.

Many farms that held fall festivals had to cancel or reduce them, often spreading more low-key celebrations out.

Lawrence Orchards in Marion, Ohio, canceled its annual Applefest and replaced it with Harvest Saturdays throughout September and October with events including pumpkin painting and scavenger hunts (free admission).

Fishkill Farms, in East Fishkill, N.Y., has also scrapped its fall harvest festival weekends, which feature live music and face painting. But one celebratory touch remains in the form of a fiddler who roams the fields serenading customers.

“That was a way that we could maintain a little bit of a festival atmosphere, without creating a crowded congregation area around live music,” said Joshua Morgenthau, the owner of the farm.

At Happy Day Farm, in Manalapan, N.J., the annual Fall Festival will take place on select days through Oct. 25, but at half capacity and without activities involving contact, including children’s pony rides and photos with the Pumpkin Princess (admission $16). The corn maze route is a little wider and the new hay wagons are 32 feet compared to the 20-footers used in previous years. Each activity features hand-sanitizing stations and signage on social distancing.

“We’ve never had to wipe down a tether ball before, but this year, we will,” said Tim Stockel, the owner of the 130-acre farm.

In many cases, restrictions have led to new activities.

“These entrepreneurs have very creative minds,” Ms. Spahr, of the farmers’ association, said, noting that many farms have added drive-through lanes to pick up things like flowers and doughnuts.

Among them, Leaman’s Green Applebarn in Freeland, Mich., offered drive-through cider sundaes in spring and a socially distant sunflower festival in summer. This fall, the you-pick farm is requiring timed tickets ($4 to $6) to limit the number of people on the 85-acre farm to no more than 150. Visitors are asked to sanitize their hands before and after activities and when each two-and-a-half-hour session ends, the proprietors will close for an hour to clean the playground, hayride and picnic tables.

“We want to provide a place to feel safe and still create family memories,” said Sara Reisinger, a manager of Leaman’s and a sixth-generation member of the family that runs the farm.

Fall is also high season for harvest visits to wine regions, and wineries are adapting to pandemic rules.

Instead of canceling harvest events entirely, members of the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail near Traverse City, Mich., created a disbursed event called Harvest Days that runs throughout September. Ticketholders taking self-guided tours have access to tastings and other perks at 26 wineries ($35).

In Starlight, Ind., Huber’s Orchard, Winery and Vineyards offers 30-minute walking tours and tastings in its winery and distillery on weekdays from Sept. 19 through Oct. 31, with limited capacity ($16.05). Visitors must remain six feet apart, and face masks are required for indoor tours and tastings. This season, the 600-acre estate also offers outdoor tastings of its wine and spirits on weekends. Tickets can be purchased on-site and include a fall harvest-themed glass.

In the Finger Lakes region of New York, home to about 140 wineries, indoor operations are limited to half capacity — at Fox Run Vineyards, tastings are indoors and first-come, first-served (flights $10), but most are entertaining visitors outdoors. Sheldrake Point Winery is offering flights, glasses and bottle service on the patio and allowing guests to bring their own picnic. The winery takes reservations online and asks same-day visitors without one to call for availability.

“We started with all reservations, but in so many cases we found people enjoying the views and missing their next appointment,” said Laury Ellen Ward, the president of the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association. “We encourage everyone to call, even if it’s 10 minutes ahead.”

Fall festivities that involve zombie chases, lunging clowns and stalkings by bloodthirsty psychopaths are having a harder time adapting to virus constraints.

“We thrived on big lines in front of the haunt that drew people in,” said J.F. Storm, a co-host of the podcast Big Scary Show that covers haunted attractions, often called haunts. “The best actor would entertain guests and build up suspense. That can’t happen this year.” When it comes to personal protective equipment, he added, “masks and face shields are becoming part of the character.”

Capacity limits, social-distancing measures and sanitation requirements are forcing many seasonal haunts to cancel this year, according to Larry Kirchner, who runs the website, which lists scary attractions worldwide. He also owns two haunted houses in the St. Louis, Mo., area, the Darkness and Creepyworld, that will open Oct. 2 with adjustments like nightly sanitizing, confining actors to scare zones and pinning back curtains that once guests reached through blindly to enter a room.

Some of the biggest pop-up Halloween horrors, including Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights at theme parks in Florida and California, have been canceled. “Terror Behind the Walls,” the seasonal fright at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, has been replaced with night tours, from Sept. 18 to Nov. 15, that aim for a quieter sense of creepy.

“There was no way to run a traditional haunted house safely when so much of the excitement of a haunted attraction is the surprise of being closer to someone than you realize, that startled scare,” said Sean Kelley, the senior vice president and director of interpretation at the 10-acre former prison, which opened in 1829.

With just 50 visitors per half-hour permitted, night tours, when floodlights sweep the grounds and a silent 1929 film made at the prison flickers in a cellblock courtyard, remain eerie.

Many attractions are emphasizing safety via mobility. The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, featuring more than 7,000 lighted pumpkins on the 18th-century Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., Sept. 18 to Nov. 21, has reduced capacity by 67 percent with signs, distance markers and Social Distancing Ambassadors to keep visitors progressing safely on the walking path. Timed tickets will be sold online only (from $24).

Some attractions are going to a drive-through model, including Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses in Ulster Park, N.Y. Running Oct. 2 to 31, the popular 65-acre attraction in the Hudson Valley will replace its hayride with a one-mile drive through the haunted grounds decorated with 1,000 carved and lighted pumpkins. Costumed actors will maintain six-foot social distancing and cars are also required to stay six feet apart (tickets from $39.95).

“It’ll be a visual experience until you get out of the car,” said the co-owner Michael Jubie, noting that after the drive visitors can park and walk through seven haunted houses with some safety modifications.

In Orlando, a group of artists with extensive resumes at Disney World and other theme parks, got together to create the Haunted Road, a 40-minute drive-through event in which groups of cars travel from scene to scene to watch a live-action play with original music and sound and lighting effects that recasts the story of Rapunzel set loose in a terrifying world (Sept. 25 to Nov. 7; $15 to $30). The script was inspired by the restlessness the collaborators experienced during the pandemic.

“When we started thinking about story lines with cabin fever, we selected Rapunzel,” said Jessica Mariko, the executive producer and creative principal of the Haunted Road. “She’s in a tower and when she finally gets out, she enters a world unlike she’s imagined it to be, running into crazy scenarios, characters, horror and death.”

For terror-phobes, there’s also a family-friendly daytime version.

Sara Aridi contributed reporting to this article.

By: Elaine Glusac
Title: Fall’s Here. Can We Still Go Apple Picking?
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Published Date: Tue, 22 Sep 2020 14:37:34 +0000

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Witnessing Peru’s Enduring, if Altered, Snow Star Festival




Stubbornly unfazed by warnings of “soroche,” or altitude sickness, I swung my legs up onto a donkey and began to ascend the steep trails. After trekking for a few dizzying hours alongside hundreds of others, I approached a glacial basin. The scene began to unfold before us: an immense valley flooded with so many pilgrims that it seemed to be covered in confetti, each tiny speck representing a huddled collection of tents and people.

The altitude sickness began to overtake every inch of my body. Even my eyeballs ached. But, undeterred, I slowly navigated through the throngs of people trying to take in every sight and sound.

Each year in late May or early June, thousands of pilgrims trek for hours on foot and horseback through Peru’s Andean highlands — slowly snaking their way up the mountainous terrain — for the religious celebrations of Qoyllur Rit’i, held some 50 miles east of Cusco, once the capital of the Incan empire.

Practiced annually for hundreds of years, the celebrations mark the start of the harvest season, when the Pleiades, a prominent cluster of stars, return to the night sky in the Southern Hemisphere. The syncretic festival, which is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, interweaves Indigenous and Incan customs with Catholic traditions introduced by Spanish colonizers, who sought to undermine Andean cosmology.

Celebrations were suspended this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the route to the valley completely blocked off. But when I attended in 2013, the crowds were remarkably dense.

The festival takes place in the Sinakara Valley, a glacial basin that sits around 16,000 feet above sea level. Celebrants swarm in colorful droves with costumes, enormous flags, instruments and provisions in tow.

The festivities begin with the arrival of a statue of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i, transported from the nearby town of Mahuayani, to the valley’s small chapel. For three days, from morning until night, amid the nonstop sounds of drums, flutes, whistles, accordions, cymbals and electric keyboards, the air is filled with billowing clouds of dust kicked up from twirling dancers; it settles on the sequins, neon scarves, ribbons, tassels and feathers that adorn people’s traditional costumes and attire.

Pilgrims here are divided into “nations,” which correspond to their place of origin. Most belong to the Quechua-speaking agricultural regions to the northwest, or to the Aymara-speaking regions to the southeast. The delegation from Paucartambo has been making the pilgrimage for longer than any other.

“It’s important to maintain this tradition, because we have a lot of faith,” said a young Paucartambo pilgrim dressed as an ukuku, a mythical half-man and half-bear creature. Costumed in red, white and black alpaca robes, the ukukus are responsible for ensuring the safety of the pilgrims; they act as intermediaries between the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i and the people.

Other participants include the ch’unchus, who wear headdresses and represent Indigenous communities from the Amazon; the qhapaq qollas, who wear knitted masks and represent inhabitants from the southern Altiplano region; and the machulas, who wear long coats over fake humpbacks and represent the mythological people to first populate the Andes.

Hundreds of ceremonies are held throughout the three-day festival. But the long-awaited main event is carried out by the ukukus in the early morning hours of the last day. Carrying towering crosses and candles, ukukus from each nation ascend the Qullqipunku mountain toward a nearby glacier, regarded as alive and sentient. (The snow-capped mountains circling the valley are also believed to be mountain gods, or Apus, that provide protection.)

According to oral traditions, the ukukus, after scaling the icy slopes, once partook in ritualistic battles that were eventually prohibited by the Catholic Church.

Another tradition was also recently put to rest, this time by Mother Nature.

Up until only a few years ago, ukukus would carve slabs of ice from the glacier, whose melted water is revered as medicinal. Pilgrims would eagerly await the ukukus, backs bent from the weight of the ice, who would place the blocks along the pathway to the temple, to be used as holy water. Sometimes the ice was even transported to Cusco’s main square where, as Qoyllur Rit’i draws to a close, Corpus Christi celebrations kick off with comparable religious zeal.

Many believed that carrying the ice was a penance for sins, and that fulfilling this ritual meant the Apus would offer blessings.

But because much of the glacier has melted, significantly reducing its size, the tradition of carrying chunks of sacred ice down the mountain has been banned.

Climate scientists say that glaciers in the tropical Andes have been reduced by nearly a quarter in the last 40 years. Some scientists predict that such glaciers could disappear entirely by 2070.

These changes have not only affected agricultural practices in the Andes, but also, as witnessed by Qoyllur Rit’i pilgrims, cultural ones, too.

Although the ukukus now carry only wooden crosses back down the mountain, they’re still met with great jubilation — a testament to human resilience in the face of destruction caused by climate change.

By: Danielle Villasana
Title: Witnessing Peru’s Enduring, if Altered, Snow Star Festival
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Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 09:00:33 +0000

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British Airways updates interim catering with – gasp! – hot food




British Airways have been offering an extremely abbreviated on board service during the pandemic. Only passengers in first class received hot meals, with everyone else relegated to cold food. The interim catering has received a mixed reaction, especially as other airlines continue to offer full on board service.

All of this was wrapped in the safety banner, to reduce touch points and protect people. While perhaps admirable in its intention, frequent flyers have pointed the finger squarely at cost cutting, due to various inconsistencies in the approach. Either way, things are now moving back towards normality.

Updated Interim Catering

Hot food is back on British Airways long-haul services. First class continue to have theirs, and now everyone else on the plane gets to experience it too. That means business class passengers flying Club World, premium economy World Traveller Plus and economy World Traveller people can all chow down on something a little more fitting.

The Club World meal will be hot and served on a meal tray with a table cloth, with the second service a chilled item delivered the same way. The second service will come in a box as it does now on some return catered flights.

Those at the back of the bus will also get a hot meal, served on a half tray for the interim catering period. The second service will be chilled and be issued in a box or bag, depending on how lucky you are.

What About European Flights?

There are no changes to the current interim catering for European flights. This means that Club Europe continue to get a meal in a box or bag, and EuroTraveller customers receive a small complimentary on board snack.

The previous buy on board menu from M&S won’t be coming back, as the agreement expired this year and is not being renewed. A replacement British retailer is in the process of being recruited, so we will see a totally new buy on board menu on BA in due course.

Overall Thoughts

It is great to see some changes in the long-haul interim catering offering at British Airways. Not too soon either! Emirates return to their usual pre-Covid service on board from 1 November for example, so competition is afoot.

No doubt we will see further changes from BA as time passes on. Until the catering changes, I see no value in booking a flight with BA in a premium cabin. All my future travel is booked in economy with BA, as the value proposition for me in the higher classes has a lot to do with the food and drinks, which anyone who has read a flight review of mine will well know.

What say you? Are you happy with the improvements to the interim catering at British Airways? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

To never miss a post, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
All my flight and lounge reviews are indexed here so check them out!

Featured image by Rafael Luiz Canossa on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.
With thanks to Inflight With James.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: British Airways updates interim catering with – gasp! – hot food
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Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 13:03:17 +0000

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4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020




Dark skies, bright stars are every stargazer’s main attraction spots. All around the world, people travel to experience the best spot the world has to offer. To most city dwellers, their experience with stargazing is bumping into the latest celebrity at the mall or grocery store checkout line thanks to air pollution and the city lights.

But there is nothing as magical as looking up into the dark skies dotted with constellations, planets, and shooting stars. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) recognizes over 130 spots that preserve the most star-filled skies. UNESCO recognizes several starlight reserves on its Astronomical Heritage sites list. These spectacular spots offer stargazers an opportunity to reconnect with the planet and learn more about the universe.

We believe you deserve to know the top spots that will give you the most magical experience, yet.  Here are 4 top places to visit in 2020 for stargazing.

The Best Stargazing Places to Visit

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Located in the remote Lake Powell of Utah, Natural Bridges was the first to be certified by the IDA as the international dark sky park. The IDA is the leading organization in combating light pollution, it is a big deal. The designation recognizes areas with some of the darkest and clearest skies in the world. It acknowledged darkness as a resource worthy of conservation and protection and appreciates the efforts extended to achieve this. The main attraction of the dark skies of Natural Bridges is a phenomenon that rises over the natural rock formation of Owachomo Bridge creating one of the most spectacular Milky Way you have ever seen. The bridge forms some sort of a window to the sky by beautifully framing thousands of stars, all of which are visible with the naked eye.

Plan to camp here overnight to have the full experience. Night photographers do get some of the most marvelous shots at the Natural Bridges National Monument, but always remember artificial sources of light for photography are prohibited.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii, United States

Located about 2,500 miles Southwest of California, Hawaii has evolved to be one of the leading astronomy destinations. The high volcanic peaks offer some of the most spectacular sceneries around the world.

Mauna Kea Summit is perhaps the most popular stargazing spots in Hawaii.

13,803 feet above the town of Hilo and close to Mauna Kea is the Mauna Kea Observatory, the largest of its kind in the world. It is a major astronomy hub.

What’s more, is that it is one of the few places on earth you can drive nearly 14,000 above sea level. Just make sure you check-in at the Visitors Station to acclimatize. You don’t want to experience altitude sickness. Still, the journey is magical with starry rewards. Make sure to bring the best telescopes as from this spot you get to see the celestial wonders of the Northern Hemisphere from bands of Jupiter to the constellations of Orion. Also because Mauna Kea is close to the equator, the stars of the Southern Hemisphere are visible, too. This means that over 80% of the earth’s stars can be seen from Mauna Kea.

Photographers have been known to capture the rare lunar rainbow from Mauna Kea. Lunar rainbows are essentially lit by the moon and not the sun, and occur under precise conditions.

Pic du Midi, France

Located in the Pyrénées Mountains of France, Pic Ddu Midi is good enough of a spot for NASA to take photos of the moon surface in preparation for their missions; it’s good enough for you.

A cable car from the La Mongie will get you to the summit, where an observatory is perched right above the clouds.

Also, the reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a major French national park. Plan to book an overnight stay to experience an unforgettable night under the stars.

Los Angeles, California

It is primarily known for another kind of star, the Hollywood star, and smog that is ever-present. To many, Lost Angeles does not come off as an ideal place to go stargazing. But those that have visited the iconic Griffith Observatory will tell you otherwise. Perched atop Mount Hollywood, it is one of the most astronomically intriguing places to visit. Depending on the time of the year, from Griffith Observatory you can observe assorted double stars, nebulae, Jupiter, and Venus. And with powerful telescopes, the incredibly detailed view of the Moon’s craggy surface can be visible.

The stars are accessible from most places and to everyone but some locations can get you the most from a night sky. Add these spots to your bucket list and start ticking. Once you do, you’ll be treated to an amazing view few people will even get to see.

The post 4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020 appeared first on Travel Experta – Family Travel Blog.

By: Marina Villatoro
Title: 4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020
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Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 15:30:03 +0000

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