7 unforgettable winter escapes from NYC using only mass transit

Every holiday season, I promise this will be the year I gift myself driving lessons.

Yet, as a native New Yorker, the last time I put my foot to the gas pedal, uber was just an adjective.

Beyond my aversion to the driver’s seat, there are many practical reasons to go for public transportation for your next local getaway: it’s cheaper, more eco-friendly and often faster.

Whether you’re craving urban exploration or wide open country, it’s time to get on the road — but not behind the wheel.

Portsmouth, NH

In 2016, my dear friend Angie and I journeyed to Portsmouth.

We feasted at James Beard-nominated restaurants (Moxy, Black Trumpet), gaped at gingerbread houses at the yearly Vintage Christmas fête and tackled holiday shopping in Market Square, which originated in the 1700s. Under the omnipotent gaze of North Church’s white steeple, I swore I’d be back for another Winter Wine Festival — think jazz brunches, wine education, vintner dinners — at Wentworth by the Sea (in 2019, it’s from Jan. 18 to Feb. 17).

Check into the Water Street Inn (est. 2018) in Kittery, Maine’s oldest town; downtown Portsmouth is walkable via a quick stroll across the Piscataqua River. Or post up at the Residence Inn By Marriott, which offers Skate & Stay packages with two passes to Puddle Dock Pond.

Get there: C&J from Port Authority Bus Terminal to Portsmouth; ~5 hours

Monticello, NY

There’s a mythic, heavy quality to the air in the Catskills. Let it entrance your harried city soul at the new Resorts World Catskills as home base. When you’re done testing Lady Luck, tee up in the TopGolf Swing Suites simulators, dine at Cellaio, “Chopped” judge Scott Conant’s Italian steakhouse, or simply gaze out of your room’s mammoth windows at those restorative mountains.

This month, the $1.2 billion resort will welcome a second hotel, The Alder, followed by a (real) golf course and the Kartrite Hotel and Indoor Waterpark in spring 2019.

The resort can coordinate transportation to nearby Monticello Motor Club for racetrack thrills or Holiday Mountain, with three ski hills, ice skating and snow tubing. Grab a meal at lakefront haunt The Local Table and Tap, where regional outdoor photography cozies up the walls.

Get there: Various bus routes from NYC direct to Resorts World; ~2 hours

Providence, RI

In a land where slurred “Rs” still reign, PVD juxtaposes classic New England (historic homes, the Ivy League, seafood) with the surprising (indie art, vegan eats, nice people). This holiday season, draws include Art Providence Holiday Show, “A Magical Cirque Christmas,” ice bumper cars at the Providence Rink and boat rides with Santa. Survey the city’s outstanding food scene with three-course meals from $16.95 for Providence Restaurant Weeks (Jan. 13 to 26). Rest up at the centrally located Omni Providence.

Get there: Amtrak to Providence ; ~3½ hours

Saratoga Springs, NY

In colder months, Saratoga Springs takes on a roguish energy that lends itself nicely to cider sipping and fireplace lazing. Accomplish both at Henry Street Taproom before leaving the rest of the weekend to bacchanalian chance. Our picks? “A Christmas Story” at Home Made Theater, the Saratoga Farmers Market and steeping in a mineral bath at Roosevelt Baths & Spa. If you can time it, consider First Night Saratoga, which is expecting 15,000 attendees this year.

Now helmed by Lark Hotels, The Downtowner is a vintage motor lodge that reopened this summer with enough panache to delight David Hockney. For quainter digs, try the Geyser Lodge, walking distance to Saratoga Spa State Park and downtown.

Get there: Trailways Bus or Amtrak to Saratoga Springs; ~4 hours

Baltimore, Md.

Seasonal magic abounds at Charm City’s German Christmas Village (through Dec. 24) in West Shore Park. Once you’re Christkindlmarket-ed out, torch calories at Pandora Ice Rink or gain some at Bluebird Cocktail Room, a literary-themed bistro with tipples inspired by authors like Hemingway and Woolf. Another seasonal lure is Holiday Afternoon Tea at Baltimore Museum of Art’s Gertrude Chesapeake Kitchen, then catch “John Waters: Indecent Exposure,” a retrospective of the native Baltimorean’s visual arts pieces.

Open until New Year’s Day is the can’t-miss “Miracle on 34th Street,” a stretch of row houses transformed into a dazzling lights display with themes running from Disney to TV shows filmed around town. Recuperate from the twinkles at Hotel Revival in the Mt. Vernon Cultural District or the waterfront Sagamore Pendry Baltimore.

Get there: Amtrak to Baltimore; ~3 hours

Uncasville, Conn.

This January, Mohegan Sun unveils Aspire, a luxe “hotel within a hotel” concept with butler service and private gaming within a sleek lounge.

Or splurge on a treatment at the Mandara Spa and stay in the 2016-built Earth Tower, with 400 pristine rooms. Food-wise, indulge at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse — this month, it’s introduced a trio of decadent mac and cheeses; Maryland crab, truffle, and duck with foie gras — or Mexican cantina SolToro.

After dinner, carouse at the 10,000-person arena where Justin Timberlake (Dec. 21 to 22), Kesha (Dec. 31) and country rockers Old Dominion (2/8) are on deck. Fancy cuisine over concerts? There’s the Sun Wine & Food Fest (Jan. 24 to 27), with chefs including Alex Guarnaschelli, Bobby Flay and Marcus Samuelsson.

Get there: Amtrak to New London then take taxi or ride sharing service 20 minutes; ~3 hours

Somerset County, NJ

For a romantic tryst, stay at Bernards Inn for their winter romance package with a four-course tasting menu and wine pairings. With youngsters? Book the historic Olde Mill Inn in Basking Ridge, New Jersey’s horse country. During your visit, plan outings to Branchburg Sports Complex’s laser tag arena and Duke Farms for snowshoeing.

On two Saturdays, Dec. 15 or Dec. 22, hit up the Winter Wonder Lights show at Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium.

The ample taxis and ride-sharing availability in this area are good reminders that those highway lessons can wait until next year.

Get there: NJ Transit to Bernardsville, Basking Ridge or Somerville; ~75 minutes

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Woman who gouged eyes out while on meth is relearning how to live

A South Carolina woman who made headlines earlier this year when she gouged out her eyes while high on “a concoction of tainted methamphetamine” spoke out this week about the incident that left her blind and changed her life forever.

Kaylee Muthart, 21, of Anderson, told People she had been “snorting and injecting” the tainted drugs for about 48 hours before her shocking act of self-mutilation on Feb. 6.

“The drugs take your fears and beliefs and amplify them,” Muthart told the magazine. “I thought I had to take my eyes out to survive and save the world.”

On the day of the incident, churchgoers in Anderson County watched in horror as Muthart removed her eyeballs. Earlier, in an interview with Cosmopolitan, Muthart described removing her eyeballs before she “squished them.”

After the incident, Muthart said she went to a psychiatric facility before completing a drug-treatment program. She also had surgery to save her optic nerves. She told People she considered herself a “recovering addict” but said it was not hard to get sober.

“The drugs took something from me and when you get burned by the fire you learn not to go back,” she said.

The woman said she was relearning to do just about everything now that she’s blind — including previously simple acts such as making coffee and cooking eggs. She said she has ridden a bike with the help of a friend and has even played a little basketball. She said she planned to attend a school for the blind next year where she will learn how “to do anything blind.” She told People she has accepted losing her vision.

“If you don’t, you can never be happy,” she said. “Accept it, analyze it and let yourself feel what you feel. I cry. Not a lot, but I bottle it up and then let it out.”

Muthart’s mother, Katy Tompkins, said her daughter “has been given a second chance.” But Tompkins said she still struggles with the incident.

“For a mother, it’s like, ‘Why? Why her?’” Tompkins told People. “So much potential, so beautiful. And her eyes — they were like the ocean — you could see her emotions in them.”

Although Muthart has embraced her blindness, she said she has given up her dream of being a marine biologist.

“The part I would’ve enjoyed most about that” — watching orcas and dolphins slice through the water — “is gone now,” she said.

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The super rich no longer have to leave their yachts to get food

Grabbing groceries by land is for peasants.

“Bites and More by the Shore,” the world’s first floating supermarket, was recently unveiled in Dubai and will serve people on yachts, sailboats, jet skis and other watercraft who don’t feel like going back to the city to buy groceries.

The project was created by French retailer Carrefour and local shopping company Majid Al Futtaim. The store sells more than 300 items, including food, beauty products, nonalcoholic drinks and pharmaceuticals.

“Jet skiers and passengers in small sailing crafts can sail up to the Aqua Pod and order at the window counter, pay and receive their packed items,” a Majid Al Futtaim rep wrote in a press release.

And for people on bigger boats who can’t moor near the store, they can call a delivery driver to deliver their goods within 45 minutes.

The buoyant shop will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week and runs on rechargeable batteries

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The 10 best Christmas towns in America

If the festive feel of the holidays has you dreaming of an apropos getaway, the good news is there’s no shortage of utterly charming Christmas towns sprinkled across the United States.

From North Pole in Alaska and Taos in New Mexico to Bethlehem in Pennsylvania and Duluth in Minnesota, the best Christmas spots have lights, decorations and Santas aplenty — plus plenty of weird and wonderful traditions of their own. They’re without a doubt among the best places to visit this winter.

So pack your bags (and your Santa hat!) and head to one of these destinations that put the cheer into the most wonderful time of year.

Leavenworth, Wash.

Tucked away on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, this Barvarian-style village charms in any season but transforms into an alpine wonderland during the holidays. For three weekends leading up to Christmas, the village is illuminated with more than half a million lights and also features carolers and holiday concerts, sledding and sleigh rides, a Christkindlmarkt and visits from St. Nickolaus. There’s also a Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, which features more than 5,000 objects.

North Pole, Alaska

Located a short drive from Fairbanks, this year-round Christmas town is never more magical than during the month of December, when freshly fallen snow makes the town’s Santa Claus House — located on Santa Claus Drive, of course — look like a scene from a winter wonderland. In addition to photo ops with the big red man himself and meet and greets with his team of reindeer, the house features a Christmas shop with plenty of North Pole swag, even letters from Santa that can be sent with that all-important postmark.

Santa Claus, Ind.

This small town located east of Evansville has certainly earned its holiday cred: Every year, volunteers from Santa’s Elves non-profit organization and the Santa Claus Museum & Village mobilize to answer the thousands of letters addressed to Santa that arrive at the local post office. The town also has its fair share of local must-sees, include Santa’s Candy Castle, the Santa Claus Christmas Store, the drive-through Festival of Lights inside Christmas Lake Village and the Tremendous Christmas celebration at the Lincoln Pioneer Village & Museum.

Bethlehem, Penn.

Also known as “Christmas City,” this eastern Pennsylvania town celebrates all things Christmas with more than 50 events across town and perennially popular pop-up markets and exhibits to visit. Top draws include one of the country’s biggest Christkindlmarkts, which features more than 100 exhibitors, as well as the annual “Trees of Historic Bethlehem” showcase. Across town in the Southside Arts District, live concerts, comedy sets and screenings of classic Christmas films add an extra dose of holiday cheer.

Solvang, Calif.

Always a worthwhile stop en route from Los Angeles to California’s Central Coast, this quaint Danish village pulls out all the stops its annual Julefest. A busy calendar of events includes: a Christmas parade; candlelight and caroling tours; live Christmas concerts in the park, as well as other holiday concerts around town; holiday lights tours in the Santa Ynez Valley and a town-wide, month-long hunt for mischievous Danish Christmas elves called Jule Nisse.

Natchitoches, La.

Christmas gets a Creole twist in this small town with big history: Natchitoches is home to Louisana’s oldest general store, the Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile, and the entire downtown is a registered National Historic Landmark District. More than 300,000 lights and 100 set pieces illuminate the town as well as the banks of the Cane River. Other celebrations include parades and live performances, historic home tours, carriage rides and fireworks. The southern town’s Festival of Lights is quickly approaching its centennial; this year marks its 92nd edition.

Taos, NM

From the torchlight parades that hit the local ski hills on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve to the annual Christmas Eve procession at the Taos Pueblo (during which massive bonfires and many luminara candles are lit and historic rifle salutes honor the procession of the Virgin Mary), it’s safe to say that Taos does Christmas in its own spirited way. The region’s adobe shops and storefronts, all gussied up in their holiday finest, are particularly enchanting when freshly blanketed with a dusting of snow.

Duluth, Minn.

This industrial town on the shores of Lake Superior has plenty of that legendary “Minnesota nice,” as exemplified during the holidays by volunteers who brave the frosty temps to hand out hot chocolate and other treats at the country’s largest holiday light show experienced on foot. The headliner is a 12-story Christmas tree illuminated with more than 150,000 bulbs. The city’s Christmas City Express — a vintage train wrapped in holiday lights and decor — is another popular family-friendly offering.

Frankenmuth, Mich.

The No. 1 reason millions of visitors make annual road trips to this small town in central Michigan? Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, also known as the world’s largest Christmas store. Open year-round, with the exception of a few major holidays, Bronner’s is a retail experience of epic proportion. Two to three times larger than typical big-box retailers, the shop features thousands of styles of ornaments, hundreds of varieties of lights and Christmas trees and hundreds of figurines depicting both festive and religious Christmas scenes — and that’s just the start.

Strasburg, Penn.

Located in the heart of Lancaster County, the historic borough of Strasburg celebrates the season by digging into its locomotive roots. Nicknamed “Train Town USA,” the area is home to both the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and also the Strasburg Rail Road, which is transformed into Santa’s Paradise Express every December. Meanwhile, the museum gets into the spirit with holiday programming that promises fun for kids of all ages. Consider a detour to shopping-and-dining destination Kitchen Kettle Village or amusement park Dutch Wonderland for even more wintertime fun.

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Oldest strain of plague found in 5,000-year-old human remains

Scientists have unearthed an ancient strain of plague that may have had a hand in wiping out some of our early ancestors.

A young woman who died 5,000 years ago was struck down by a previously unknown form of the disease, which has killed around 500 million people across its 12,000-year history.

The plague likely spread among ancient European settlements via traders traveling from camp to camp, scientists said.

Its deadly advance across the continent may have contributed to the decline of these settlements seen at the start of the early Bronze Age around 3,000 BC.

“Plague is maybe one of the deadliest bacteria that has ever existed for humans,” said study author Dr. Simon Rasmussen, of the University of Copenhagen.

“The kind of analyses we do here let us go back through time and look at how this pathogen that’s had such a huge effect on us evolved.”

Rasmussen’s study will be published in the journal Cell on December 6, according to Science Daily.

Researchers analyzed the remains of a 20-year-old woman who lived in Sweden during the Neolithic period – a time when humans first began to use farming practices.

It is believed that Europe was home to roughly seven million people during the Neolithic era.

Scans of the woman’s DNA revealed a newly discovered strain of Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes the plague.

The strain had the same genes that make the pneumonic plague deadly today, and traces of it were also found in another skeleton at the same gravesite suggesting the disease likely killed the young woman.

It is the oldest strain of plague ever discovered, and the closest scientists have gotten to the original virus, from which all other forms of the disease have sprung over its 12,000-year history.

Researchers said the new strain may have played a hand in the collapse of Neolithic “mega-settlements,” ancient European communities that boasted up to 20,000 inhabitants.

The settlements, which all but disappeared around 5,000 years ago, would have been the perfect breeding ground for new strains of plague.

“These mega-settlements were the largest settlements in Europe at that time, ten times bigger than anything else,” Rasmussen said.

“They had people, animals, and stored food close together, and, likely, very poor sanitation. That’s the textbook example of what you need to evolve new pathogens.”

“If plague evolved in the mega-settlements, then when people started dying from it, the settlements would have been abandoned and destroyed. This is exactly what was observed in these settlements 5,500 years ago.”

Traders hoping between settlements likely brought the disease to the small community where the Swedish woman lived, he added.

While plague is often seen as a disease of the Middle Ages, strains of the bacterium that cause it still infect humans today.

The illness has a history spanning 12,000 years, but the most famous strains are the bubonic and pneumonic plagues of the 14th Century, which together killed an estimated 200 million people across Europe and Asia.

It is thought that the disease killed off 90 percent of Neolithic Britons in the space of just 300 years around 2,500 BC.

Plague is transmitted via pests like fleas and causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

In its worst cases, the infection causes the skin to go gangrenous, eventually turning black and falling off.

Today, around 1,000 to 2,000 cases are reported worldwide each year, with the highest incidence in Africa.

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Black markets are being flooded with fake weed vape cartridges

As the legalization of recreational marijuana spreads across the United States, weed enthusiasts in prohibition states who rely on the black market have also enjoyed a premium selection of branded cannabis products, especially a wider variety of cannabis concentrates sold in pre-filled disposable cartridges. Some of the legal industry’s leading companies have made significant advancements in extraction techniques which have improved the quality of concentrates and made vaping the preferred method for on-the-go consumption. In states where marijuana is still illegal, cartridge concentrates are popular thanks to their relative lack of smell and resemblance to cartridges containing nicotine. Branded cartridges from major industry leaders like King Pen, Brass Knuckles and Heavy Hitters are particularly coveted for the assumed assurance that they contain a premium concentrate free of contaminants like pesticides, cutting agents, and heavy metals. But what if the cartridges are fakes?

According to a new article from Merry Jane reporter Zach Harris, there really is no way to know what is inside black market vape cartridge. While states like Colorado have rigorous mandated licensing and testing regulations which guarantee consumers are being sold high-quality product from legitimate companies, no such controls exist for the black market. Even cartridges branded with the names of the industry’s biggest companies can’t be trusted. That’s because there is a booming wholesale market for empty counterfeit cartridges produced in Shenzhen, China, the very same place where many legitimate cannabis companies source their hardware.

According to Harris, counterfeit wholesalers have flooded Instagram with photos and videos of endless stacks of empty cartridges and packaging that replicate the branding used by King Pen, Brass Knuckles and Heavy Hitters. Black market dealers who purchase the cartridges can fill them with whatever they want — pesticide-ridden distillate, heavily-cut oils, synthetic cannabis, to name a few — and consumers would have no way to tell, and little recourse even if they could.

The combined prevalence and lack of awareness about counterfeit branded cartridges filled with low quality, even dangerous concentrates have hurt the reputations of these legitimate companies in still prohibited states where they hope to operate legally in the future.

“We are taking a hard line against counterfeiting and have engaged our legal team to identify the unlicensed vendors and others that are offering to sell, selling, or distributing counterfeit products,” Kate Denton, the Chief Marketing Officer at Loudpack, which owns King Pen, told Merry Jane. “We have implemented advanced monitoring systems, but [counterfeits] are also one of the reasons that we are constantly evolving our product.”

In a statement to Rolling Stone, a representative for Heavy Hitters urged people to not buy off black markets. “In order for consumers to stay safe and know they are buying authentic Heavy Hitters products, they should only buy from licensed California retailers. Verified Heavy Hitters retailers are all listed at HeavyHitters.co. This is a public health issue, and we want to ensure consumers are not put at risk.”

Rolling Stone’s request for comment from Brass Knuckles has not been answered, but according to Merry Jane, the company appears aware of the counterfeit problem.

“Starting July 1st, all authentic Brass Knuckles cartridges have exclusive, serial numbered moving hologram stickers on the side of their acrylic casing,” reads a recurring post on Brass Knuckles’ Instagram page. “All authentic product also has either CA or NV compliance test result labels on our packing depending on the state it is manufactured in. We do not ship product and we do not service nonlicensed locations in CA or NV. If you see Brass without numbered holograms or compliance labels it’s fake!”

However, counterfeit manufacturers have apparently been able to replicate Brass Knuckles’ hologram stickers, and wholesalers on Instagram are already advertising the latest version of the empty cartridges. According to Merry Jane, King Pen’s strategy is to pursue intellectual property protections in China, and the company is also filing a “major comprehensive lawsuit” against a number of international counterfeiters.

“We feel that it is important to put our resources out there to protect our customers from potential health risks and to act as an example for other brands to follow suit and protect their brands under the California State Trademark Law,” Denton said. “International counterfeiters appear to be at the core of the [fake vape] problem, and we take this specific threat very seriously. It is a top priority for us to to protect consumers from synthetic and potentially lethal products.”

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‘Wrestle it to the ground’: Inside the dangerous world of Chinese bullfighting

BEIJING/JIAXING, China – Several times a week, kung fu teacher Ren Ruzhi enters a ring to spar with a bovine opponent around five times his weight and capable of killing him.

Ren’s mixing of martial arts and bullfighting worries his mother, but the 24-year-old has never been hurt. Besides, he says, grappling with a snorting bull is exciting.

“It symbolizes the bravery of a man,” Ren told Reuters in Jiaxing in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang.

Unlike Spain’s more famous sport, the Chinese variant of bullfighting involves no swords or gore but instead fuses the moves of wrestling with the skill and speed of kung fu to bring down beasts weighing up to 882 pounds.

“Spanish bullfighting is more like a performance or a show,” said Hua Yang, a 41-year-old enthusiast who watched a bullfight during a visit to Spain.

“This (the Chinese variety) is truly a contest pitting a human’s strength against a bull. There are a lot of skills involved and it can be dangerous.”

Bullfighter Ren Ruzhi, 24, fights with a bull during a practice session at the Haihua Kung-fu School in JiaxingBullfighter Ren Ruzhi, 24, poses at the bull stable of the Haihua Kung-fu School in JiaxingMartial artist Ren Ruzhi, 24, shows off his kung-fu skills before a bullfight in JiaxingZhong Xiaojie, 19, wrestles a bull to the ground during a bullfight in JiaxingBullfighter Ren Ruzhi, 24, fights with a bull during a practice session at the Haihua Kung-fu School in Jiaxing

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Here’s why you should stick with your petty spouse

For couples who find themselves constantly bickering with each other, have hope. A new study found that people in marriages tend to have less disagreements with their partners as they age.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, videotaped conversations of 87 baby boomer couples who have been married for more than 15 years. The husbands and wives’ interactions were analyzed over the course of 13 years. The study found that with age, couples displayed higher levels of positive behaviors like humor and affection and a drop in negative behaviors like criticism and defensiveness.

“Our findings shed light on one of the great paradoxes of late life,” Robert Levenson, a Berkeley psychology professor and co-author of the study, wrote in a press release. “Despite experiencing the loss of friends and family, older people in stable marriages are relatively happy and experience low rates of depression and anxiety. Marriage has been good for their mental health.”

The study also found that over time, wives displayed higher levels of domineering behavior and less affection.

“Young women identify with more feminine energy,” Bianca Rodriguez, a Los Angeles-based family and relationships therapist, told The Post. “But as we get older, we become more masculine after the age of 50 because our [estrogen levels] change.”

Rodriguez also adds that emotionally mature couples who make it through the first 10 years of marriage can look back and laugh at their petty arguments.

“Couples who’ve been together for 20, or 30 years have been able to withstand all the stress and navigating the hardships of their relationships,” Rodriguez said. “Couples who have this solid foundation learn what’s really important and not sweat the small stuff so much.”

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