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Monday, November 19, 2018

How to Plan a Trip to Central California

If you’re thinking of somewhere to head next year, you should be thinking about Central California. It’s a beautiful part of the world with tranquil natural landscapes for you to enjoy. If it sounds like the kind of place that would tempt you, it’s worth learning about how to plan this kind of trip and be prepared for it in the right way. That’s what we’re going to talk about now so read on to find out more.

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Find a Hotel Near the Action

There are many places where you can stay when you start your trip to Central California, but it’s worth finding a place that has good amenities and things to keep you entertained. From there, you can head out into the wild and explore the natural side of things. The hotel near Tachi Palace Casino is one that many people choose because it’s in the center of the action.

Enjoy the Culture and the Nightlife

There’s lots of great nightlife and local culture to be observed in Central California, so you should make the most of this when you’re moving between places and staying in towns in this area. It’ll depend where exactly in Central California you are, but be sure to engage with local culture and spend time in the bars and restaurants where local people spend time.

Make the Most of the Stunning Natural Landscapes

There are so many areas of stunning natural beauty in Central California, so if this is your kind of thing and you enjoy spending time in nature, you should research the spots you want to visit. You’ll be spoilt for choice. There are so many great places for hiking, walking and camping, among many other activities you might want to spend your time doing.

Use Sun Protection

If you are going to spend lots of time outdoors making the most of everything Central California has to offer, you should be sure to use sun protection. Sun protection matters because it allows you to spend time outside without putting yourself at risk, and the sun can do you a lot of damage in the summer months in California so you can’t be too careful.

Understand Safe Camping

Safe camping is vital, especially when it comes to fire safety. Campfires can cause deadly forest fires in California, so you need to be extra careful and be sure to put the fires out completely before you leave the area. You’ve probably seen plenty of coverage of forest fires in California recently, so it’s vital that no risks are taken. You should also make yourself aware of any natural dangers that might be present in the area before camping there.

Central California is a beautiful part of the world, so don’t let the other more tourist-friendly parts of the state overshadow what it has to offer. If you love spending time in nature and admiring the natural environment, you need to visit Central California when you get a chance to because it’s not to be missed.

Have you visited Central California? What did you like about it?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Visiting the Abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary

I'm a sucker for abandoned buildings, homes, theme parks, ghost towns. You name it. I'm one of those people who wants to go visit Chernobyl. Well, while in Philadelphia, we spent a good chunk of time taking a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary. Once the most famous and most expensive prison in the world, it is now crumbling and mostly in disrepair. 

While you may not have heard of Eastern State or been there, you are probably very familiar with the prison. The outside walls were the inspiration for the board on Monopoly. The turrets on the outside forming the large squares on the corners. You'll also find other Monopoly squares around town, such as Water Works and Pennsylvania Railroad, since the game was invented in Philadelphia, but let's get back to the big board. 

The prison was built to resemble a castle with ramparts and towers and everything that goes along with that, but you'll find that much of this is for show. The ramparts are fake and the slit windows that would be used for archers to protect the stronghold are also fake, but the facade does its job to be intimidating. You enter through a portcullis and then are pointed into a small hallway, which already starts your tour off before ever buying tickets.

Once inside, your audio tour, narrated by Steve Buscemi, takes you into the first cells of Eastern State, where you'll find rows and rows of small doors leading to small cells. You find out that these were, essentially, solitary confinement. Prisoners spent 23 hours a day in a small cell with a slit window in the ceiling (called the The Eye of God), where they could not see or hear any other prisoners. These inner doors were actually added later on. The only door a cell had in the beginning was a tiny door in the back that led out to the "yard". (I'll show you that later)

Here you can see that tiny door, which might have been 3 feet tall. The one hour a day they had outside was also segregated from the rest of the prison, unlike prisons today. This is what almost all the cells available to the public look like. The wall paint cracked and peeling, the ceiling crumbling and all the furniture breaking down. The prison was built in 1829 and used these cells until 1913 until they abandoned the solitary prisoner program. The prison was much more contemporary from then until it closed in 1971. The prison laid empty, aside from many stray cats, until the late 80s. 

Here you can see a recreation of a cell that once belonged to a cobbler. He was one of the few who had a job inside the prison. You can see his shoemaking/cobbling tools on the table on the left. Notice how sparse his cell still was.

The prison has a spoke style, so all the cellblocks radiate from a central hub, which you can see here. Many prisons after adopted that same structure. Half of the cellblocks are open to tours and the other half are uninhabited. You can view them from the hub, like the following photo.

I can only imagine how eerie those cells and walkways are, considering how creepy the rest of the prison felt with it's hard floors, small cells and echoing hallways.

There's also an entire second floor, which is off limits. You can certainly tell why. You are able to climb a set of stairs to get a closer look at this dilapidated side of the prison and get a bit of a chill from the view.

I imagine they look worse than this and are darker and danker.

We made a trip out into the main yard where we could see both a sealed door that went into an original cell "yard" and an opened one that we could walk into. Not only can you see that this door is still really small (I'm 5'1" and my head brushed the top), but the walls are super fortified. Any time a prisoner was moved around the prison and got to go outside into their private yard, they had to wear a bag on their head. They didn't want them to know anything about the layout of the prison. How fun, right? They wanted prisoners to be penitent and to be repentant for their crimes.

There are only two of us in this "yard" and there isn't much other room left. The outside area is about the same size as the inside, meaning prisoners really only got some fresh air (through their bag) and a little sun while they were outside. I have no idea if they still went out in the rain.

This is one of the guard towers, which looks out over the whole prison. Notice how the catwalks and spotlight give great vantage points and would make it almost impossible for a prisoner to escape being seen.

Back inside the prison, some cells are set up for art exhibits. This was really interesting, because it gave it both a more somber feel and a more hopeful feel. This was one of my favorites, as it pays tribute to those who lost their lives to murderers who were locked up at Eastern State. Cindy Stockton Moore's exhibit, entitled Other Absences, had a series of drawings of murder victims that she was able to find photos of. They may be gone, but they are not forgotten.

I strolled along a whole block where the back wall had crumbled and had just become a part of nature. Vines and plants have taken over and many had trees and branches taking up the entirety of the cells.

And then there were the infamous and prominent prisoners who called Eastern State home. One of those, who spent a very "grueling" 8 months there was Al Capone. As you can see, he had it super hard. It was said that he was a favorite of the warden and as such got special treatment. It's not 100% clear if Capone actually lived like this in Eastern State, but what is known is that his cell was no bigger than anyone else's, so thank goodness for small favors, I guess. If nothing else, you can see that bribery and charm will get you everywhere, even if it's just a more comfortable tiny space than anyone else got. I'd just as soon not have to go to prison in the first place. Capone made the rounds in prisons after his short stint in Eastern State, also spending time in Alcatraz.

If you're interested in prison history, abandoned buildings, prisoners or both, this is definitely a must-do on your Philadelphia trip. You can easily spend half a day wandering the grounds and building. We were there for probably 3 hours and there were many "side quests" on the audio tour that we skipped or didn't get to, as we were getting hungry. I'd love to go back to do a private tour.

Make sure to bring good shoes when you visit, because you will walk a lot and there is some uneven spots. I'd recommend closed-toe shoes. If you can visit on a weekday, you'll probably face a much thinner crowd. We went on a Wednesday afternoon and there were hardly any people. I think we had just missed a large group. Most of the hallways were deserted, which made it easier to spend as much time exploring as possible. 

If you are into haunted houses, Eastern State hosts Terror Behind the Walls on certain nights leading up to Halloween, and it is said to be the scariest haunted attraction in America. I'll never know, because that isn't my thing, but it appears that people jump out of cells at you and the prison is plunged into darkness during the event, so that alone would be too much for me. 

For more info on Eastern State Penitentiary, you can find them online:

Do you have any closed prisons on your travel list? If so, which ones?

Disclaimer: Visit Philly gave me a VIP attraction pass in order to visit Eastern State Penitentiary at no cost, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Money Saving Tips For Time Share Properties

All travel bugs love the sense of adventure and deep end experience that comes with overseas travel. However, when we truly fall in love with a location, it’s not uncommon for us to want to put down roots there. Thus, we buy a holiday home which we hope will provide us with a home away from home in a beloved holiday location that gives you the same sense of luxury as a hotel, yet with the familiarity and comfort of home. We may hope to retire to this property some day and most likely use it as an extra revenue stream by renting it out to our fellow tourists when it’s not in use.

Image by PxHere
While purchasing a holiday home may not be within most people’s budgets, investing in a timeshare property can allow you to share the upfront costs and inherent running costs with others. That said, even when sharing these costs, we can quickly realize that the overhead costs of managing a holiday home can cut into our precious disposable income. In order to make a timeshare property a viable and profitable enterprise we need to find ways to cut costs wherever we can. With that in mind, here are some ways in which you can save money on buying and running your timeshare property...

Save a hefty downpayment

Of course, saving money on a second property, whether it’s a holiday home or an investment property starts with your mortgage. Needless to say, you should do your homework and take the time to find the best housing loan, but that’s just the beginning of where you can save. If possible you should aim to put down a hefty down payment. Typically on second homes the minimum down payment is around 10% as opposed to 5%, but you can save considerably if you’re able to put down a deposit of 20% or more. This will prevent you from having to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) which usually runs between 0.5% and 1% of the full loan every year. This might not look like much on paper but it’s an expense that you and all who you share the property with could do without.

Take advantage of tax deductions

If you purchased your holiday home exclusively for your own personal enjoyment and not as an investment property, don’t forget that this makes you eligible for certain tax breaks. There are numerous deductibles on a timeshare property including;

  • Maintenance fees- Please note that these are only a taxable expense if you and your fellow investors rent out your timeshare.
  • Loan interest payments- If you used a secured loan to co-finance the property, the interest you pay is tax deductible.
  • Property tax deductions- If your property taxes are billed separately from your maintenance charges, these also qualify as deductions.

Keep an eye on energy use

With so many energy tariffs on the market, it behooves you to select one that’s appropriate for the property’s use. For example, if you will use it predominantly as a holiday home and renting it out for very limited periods, it’s likely that it will be consuming little or no energy for the majority of the year. With this in mind, it makes no sense to select a tariff that will give you a great price on energy that’s not being used. On the other hand, if your property will be used for most of the year, it helps to monitor the usage and select a tariff that gives you a great deal for how much energy you’re using and when. Compare prices regularly to ensure that you’re saving as much as possible on both of your properties. No matter how much usage the property gets, installing energy smart measures like energy saving CFL bulbs is a great way to drive down your overheads.

Make sure your vacation property is water smart

Even if you’re very conservative in your water usage at home, if you’ll be renting out your holiday home, there’s no guarantee that your tenants will be quite so water (and cost) conscious. As such, it’s a great idea to install some water saving features. Most of them are relatively inexpensive and easy to install and while some may result in some upfront costs they will invariably save you money in the long term while also helping to conserve one of our most precious natural resources;

  • Water saving dual flush toilets
  • Gray water showers
  • Water saving shower heads
  • Water butts for the garden

Although the maintenance costs are offset by the contributions of others when you invest in a timeshare, it’s still in your best interests to strive to keep costs down where you can and take advantage of the unique tax benefits available to timeshare holders!

Are you already a timeshare owner or looking to buy one?
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