Windy City Blowhards: 4 Stand-Up Destinations in Chicago

Comedy wouldn’t be what it is today without Chicago’s contribution. For one, the city is the birthplace of sketch comedy, producing the legendary Second City troupe in the 1950s. Chicago is also where SNL scouts for fresh talent when it needs to replenish its cast. In fact, the Windy City is where powerhouse comedic duo Amy Poehler and Tina Fey originally met. From this rich comedic history, Chicago has cultivated a world-class stand-up scene with a dizzying array of acts. If you’re in the city and ready for gut-busting, knee-slapping laughter, don’t miss these four stand-up destinations.

The Second City Mainstage
Specializing in sketch and improv comedy, The Second City launched the careers of comedians like Steve Carell, Tina Fey, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Joan Rivers, and Chris Farley. The group launched its 102nd revue this month, with shows every night of the week except Monday on the Mainstage. The club offers cocktails and food throughout the shows. While The Second City’s Wells Street location focuses mostly on sketch comedy, its new 300-seat UP Comedy Club on North Ave features stand-up regularly.

Chicago Underground Comedy
Chicago Underground Comedy
[Image via Flickr by -Tripp-]
According to the venue’s site, this is not the place to come if you want to hear a weary bit about stereotyped differences between men and women. But if you want local up-and-coming comedians’ fresh takes on things like working as a barista and getting a drunk-driving charge on a bike, Chicago Underground Comedy is the place for you. This spot is ideal for young-and-broke people who want a good laugh—admission is usually $5, and the average beer costs $4.

The Comedy Bar
Three nights a week, Entourage nightclub becomes River North’s The Comedy Bar, which is essentially a stage and 160 chairs set up on a dance floor. Expect to see standup veterans as headliners, with special events hosted by co-owner Jim Belushi. Ticket prices are around $10, the decor is über chic, and there is no drink minimum. The venue is near The Magnificent Mile, which is a great place for visitors to stay for easy access to comedy clubs.

ComedySportz
This club is unique in that it offers family-friendly comedy for all ages with shows ranging in price from $10 to $22. ComedySportz’s main show begins with two teams in jerseys facing off in an improv competition in which players receive penalties for swearing or using sexual innuendo. During the show, the players engage in a variety of short-form improv games, and the audience largely decides the victor. The founder of the ensemble first did improv with the people who went on to create Airplane! and The Naked Gun.

Finding a place with hilarious stand-up in Chicago is not exactly a challenge. With venues like these, the real problem will be trying to pick just one. Each destination has its own comedic niche, from alt-comedy to all-ages comedy, so choose the venue that offers your kind of jokes in your ideal environment.

4 Las Vegas attractions that don’t cost a penny

Sin City is well known for its money-spending casinos, romping VIP parties, and high-tag admission fee for many sights. However, in between all the glitz and glam, there are a number of fun things to do in Las Vegas that won’t cost you a penny. This way, you’ll have more extra change for that blackjack table. Now that’s Vegas!

Free Shows with Pizzazz

[Image via Flickr by Moyan Brenn]
Just outside of Bally’s Hotel, there’s a sound, water, and light show every 20 minutes after the sun goes down. Catch another spectacular water, light, and music show every half hour at the famed Fountain of Bellagio. The fountains are always performing new dances that are choreographically complex and beautiful against the lavender skies of Las Vegas. You’ll recognize some of the Broadway and classical tunes.

The Caesars Palace water show implements animatronic figures in its mythical Fall of Atlantis Fountain Show. Get ready to be amazed for some entertaining drama with the fall of a 20-foot dragon, thunderous sounds, neon lights and blazing fires. It’s a jaw-dropping show. Get a real bang out of the Volcano Show in front of the Mirage Hotel. Smoke, fire, and lava shoot from the 54-foot volcano in sync with a soundtrack from the Grateful Dead.

No-Cost Live Performances

Enjoy a live performance of Italian folk and opera music every day at the Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes. With a costumed troupe, jugglers, and gondoliers, it’s both fun and free entertainment. Enjoy a real circus experience at Circus Circus. Acts include clowns performing antics, flying trapezes, jugglers on high stilts, and much more. Garbed in medieval costumes, the magicians, jugglers, and fire-eating jesters put on a daily performance at the Court Jester’s Stage in Excalibur Casino. It’s pure knightly magic!

Complimentary Nature and Marine Exhibits

Expertly arranged by horticulturists for a theatrical effect, the Conservatory & Botanical Gardens is a spectacular display of beautiful plants, blooming flowers and majestic trees. Stroll through bridges and quaint gazebos as you capture the wonder of Mother Nature. It’s an unrivaled attraction. At the Flamingo resort, you can walk along the 15-acre Wildlife Habitat and spy colorful parrots, Chilean flamingoes, graceful swans and singing hummingbirds. Marvel at more than 4,000 tropical fish at Silverton’s massive saltwater aquarium. There’s even an interactive feeding show. Check out this Las Vegas travel guide on Gogobot to find even more attractions like this.

No-Expense Museums

East of the strip, learn about American Indian history at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History. There are impressive displays and artifacts from ancient Mexico and American Indian cultures. If pop art is your thing, head for the open-air Neon Museum. Strung along Fremont Street, the museum has set up Vegas’ yesteryear neon signs. Prepare to be dazzled. Car buffs will enjoy a visit to the Auto Collections at the Quad Resort & Casino. There’s a nice lineup of special-interest cars, muscle cars, and antique cars like the 1949 Buick Custom Sedanette and the 1962 MKII Deluxe Roadster.

Without a doubt, you can capture the true Vegas experience without spending a penny.

Video game locations you can visit in real life

Gamers are often accused of not getting out and about enough – why would you when you can immerse yourself in a virtual reality that is more fun that life itself? Well, for serious gamers who still have an urge to travel and explore the great outdoors, there are some excellent locations you can visit that come straight out of your favorite game.

In the early days of gaming, the emphasis was on creating a fantasy realm in which the players could explore and fight. However, modern games are starting to base more gameplay on real locations using incredibly realistic 3D environments that look like the real thing. Why not visit your favorite gaming locations?

Italy

For Assassin’s Creed fans, the most iconic location is the Colosseum in Rome, which is featured in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. In the game, the Colosseum has been recreated in its former glory as a fully functioning building at the height of its glory. Today, it is just an incredibly well-preserved ruin, and while impressive beyond imagination, its marble walls and carved statues are no longer present.

The Colosseum is also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, and it is on the Piazza del Colosseo in Rome. It covers an area of two hectares, so be prepared to do a lot of walking if you wish to take in all its magnificent glory.

Assassin’s Creed also takes players to Florence and Venice, both of which are recreated masterfully and are well worth a visit if you are in Italy.

Arkham Asylum

For Batman fans, a trip to the actual Arkham Asylum is a genuine treat. Arkham Asylum was set in a real psychiatric hospital called Danvers State Hospital. This 19th century hospital was built in the Victorian Gothic style and looked as terrifying in real life as in fantasy. It was built in an isolated site in rural Massachusetts near Danvers, and was a self-contained hospital built according to the Kirkbride Plan. Danvers State Hospital is thought to be where the first pre-frontal lobotomy took place.

The dim corridors of these huge, imposing Victorian era institutional buildings are the perfect setting for Arkham Asylum and create a nightmare vision in which art and reality become entwined and confused.

The Arkham Asylum in Batman was actually inspired by the master of horror fiction, HP Lovecraft, who first wrote about an asylum in Arkham, Massachusetts, after visiting Danvers. Today, it is a suburban luxury apartment complex, but you can still view the outside of the building.

Real life Azeroth?

One of the most iconic and popular video games of the past decade has undoubtedly been the World of Warcraft series. The first World of Warcraft was released in 2004, and it has been going strong for over a decade now. The game takes place in the fictional world of Azeroth; many people have reported discovering real locations that are extremely similar to places in Azeroth.

For example, the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc in Barcelona has been likened to the Sunwell, which the Blood Elves worship. The French Alps have also been compared to the Stonetalon Mountains, and if you wish to experience a realm similar to Sholazar Basin, you could head to the jungles of Central America.

A major driving force behind many of the most exciting massively multiplayer online games in the last decade has been executive Bobby Kotick, CEO of Blizzard, the company behinds games such as World of Warcraft, Diablo and HearthStone. Overwatch, one of Blizzard’s highly anticipated games for 2015, is set in areas called King’s Row, Hanamura, and Temple of Anubis, which are inspired by England, Japan, and the ruins of Ancient Egypt respectively.

San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York

Of course, some of the most realistic games on offer are not set in a fantasy world. For a modern, highly realistic game you cannot beat the 2011 game, Driver: San Francisco, which features many iconic landmarks from the city and a very accurate street layout.

Also in California is L.A. Noire, which is set in Los Angeles and features the famous Hollywood Boulevard along with most other streets. If you visit Los Angeles after playing this game, you will probably already know your way around.

If you have played Crisis 2 then you will know New York. Even without an alien invasion taking place, you will recognize many of the streets and landmarks. New York is always worth visiting if you have the chance.

Tokyo

Sega’s Yakuza is set in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward, and most distinctive is the red light district. In the game, the red light district is called Kamurocho, but it is based almost entirely on the layout and architecture of Kabukichō. Tokyo is one of the most exciting cities in the world.

London

A game that was created by former Blizzard employees is Hellgate: London. If you played this game, then many of London’s landmarks, including the underground system, will be familiar to you. Fortunately, the real London does not have demon-infested dungeons and city streets.

A more recent game set in London is The Getaway, which is another crime caper, but this time players can explore central London. It features many accurate representations of central London, including Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and Soho. Even many of the shops are accurate, making this game a great way to explore the city before visiting, so long as you do not mind being shot at!

London also featured in Tomb Raider III. The most prominent locations were the Natural History Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the disused Aldwych tube station.

Oxford

Gray Matter was a popular fantasy/adventure game from 2011. Much of the game was set in Oxford, with many iconic Oxford landmarks, such as the Carfax Tower and the famous colleges, being featured throughout.

The game also features some beautiful English countryside in the area between London and Oxford, which is an absolutely delightful place to visit.

It is a shame really that there are not more games located in our national parks and other scenic locations in America. Many of today’s games are focused on city environments. Maybe it is time game makers started to explore the great outdoors?

Tackling the Most Common Long-Haul Flight Issues

Long-haul flights are the quickest and often the most convenient way of reaching far-flung corners of the world. Over the years the cost of flying has fallen so today it’s a far more realistic option—and sometimes the only option—for travelers to get away from it all, visit friends, and conduct business. However, spending such a long time on a plane can have its disadvantages.


[By Kevin_Morris on Flickr.]

Dehydration

The air on a plane is very drying because of the low humidity. Our every day humidity levels are usually around 30 to 60 per cent, but on a plane it’s much more similar to that of a dry summer climate, so we’re more susceptible to getting dehydrated if we’re not careful. It’s important that we’re conscious of this and take precautions to ensure we stay hydrated during a long-haul flight.

Dehydration can cause a number of issues while flying—dry skin and itchy eyes are just a few of the minor conditions, while more serious conditions (such as respiratory problems, like asthma) can be made worse by dehydration.

You can keep your body and skin hydrated by drinking plenty of water before you even board the flight. It’s advisable to limit your caffeine and alcohol intake as these can make you more dehydrated. Packing a good travel-sized moisturizer and applying it at regular intervals will help to keep your skin moisturized, and we recommend always carrying eye drops while flying if you’re prone to dry eyes. If you’re asthmatic, make sure you have your inhaler with you on the plane.


[Tomatoes by kevin dooley on Flickr.]

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Keeping hydrated on a long-haul flight is also important for preventing more serious conditions such as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Along with being dehydrated, sitting for long periods of time without getting up and moving around can increase your risk of getting DVT, which is when a blood clot forms in a leg vein, causing swelling and redness. It can become potentially life threatening if that clot moved through your blood vessels and reaches the lung. The risk of DVT is low, but on flights longer than four hours you should get up regularly and walk around, and while seated, you can do calf exercises by pressing down the balls of your feet and lifting them up to improve circulation.

Tasteless food

Tasteless food seems to be a universal issue on flights, and you may not have too much control over it. There are many theories as to why this is the case, such as the change in air pressure numbing your taste buds, or the cabin noise having a psychological effect on how your taste receptors. The lower humidity can also dull your senses, causing food and drink to taste bland. However, recent research has found that tomato juice actually tastes better up in the sky than down on the ground.

As sugar and salt flavours are less intense in the air, tomato juice can taste more fruity and less acidic on a flight. Tomato juice also has the right level of water and sodium to keep us hydrated, so it’s an ideal drink either way.


[By Dylan Parker on Flickr.]

Hotel vs holiday apartment in Paris

Paris

Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, and for good reason – it’s a beautiful city. Seriously, it’s amazing. It is a place you have to see for yourself to understand why it is so popular. With such demand to visit you will notice once you start planning your trip how expensive hotels are compared to other capital cities in Europe. With such high prices and little value for money it is worth considering renting a apartment when staying in Paris.

When it comes to renting a holiday apartment many people may just assume that this type of accommodation is limited to beach resorts, but apartment rental is a common form of holiday accommodation in Europe. Apartment types can range from studio apartments, to homes with multiple bedrooms. You will find that you can get a much bigger place for the same money you would have spent on a hotel room.

One of the biggest benefits of renting an apartment is that you have a kitchen, which will mean you will be able to save money on food costs, especially if you are staying over a longer period of time. And obviously the more in your family/party, the more you will save.

Another benefit of staying in an apartment is the feeling of “living like a local”. Your apartment will most likely be in a residential street so you will not stand out like a tourist. You will be coming and going just like the locals do, going shopping at the local supermarket and getting to know the corner cafe.

Apartments are most suitable for longer stays. If you are just staying for the night then a hotel is probably more convenient. Chances are you wont have time to shop for food, and you wont have to pick up the keys.

When looking for an apartment it is best to go through a website that has pre-screened apartments for you. Sites like Housetrip offer holiday apartments in Paris. And if you don’t know which neighbourhood to stay in (or Arrondissement as they say in Paris), they also have a useful guide of where to stay in Paris. Going through a website agency you can read reviews by other guests of the apartment (by people who have actually stayed there, so no fake reviews) and they will have a clearly written process on how to get to the apartment.

Overworked couples can use a romantic vacation

It’s crazy to think that people would forgo their vacation time for work, but that is what is happening.

This infographic from theromanticholiday.com shows the work habits around the world, which shows that both men and women are working beyond the usual 40 hours a week. These extra work hours are eating up hard-earned vacation time.

Check out the numbers and if you have unused vacation time it’s time to claim them back!

[Image Source: www.theromanticholiday.com/romantic-vacation.]

How to travel the world solo

Travelling the world on your own can be scary, but it’s an amazing experience that you should have at least once in your life. Sure, it means you’re all alone and whatever happens, you have to work it out on your own, but at the same time, it gives you amazing freedom, it pushes you to your limits and it lets you discover just how strong you really are. And there’s the added bonus of making new friends – when you travel alone, you are constantly meeting new people, and some of them could easily become your friends for life. But if meeting new people doesn’t come easy for you, here are some tips that could help.

Stay in a hostel and say hi to others in your dormitory

Staying in hostels is one of the easiest ways to meet new people – almost everyone who travels alone stays there, so you should have no problem making friends. And all you have to do is say hi when you enter your dormitory room, and then see where it leads you.

However, hostels also have their downsides. If you plan on h0oking up with someone while you are staying there, you won’t have much privacy, which could turn out to be very unpleasant in the heat of the moment. So the choice between a dormitory room and a private room really comes down to just what kinds of friends you would like to make…

Go to a bar

Going to a bar alone may sound dreadful, but it is really one of the simplest and most efficient ways to meet new people. People in bars are generally in a good mood (a couple of drinks will do that to you!), so they are more open to talking to strangers.

You can simply sit by the bar and try talking to people sitting next to you, join a large crowd that could surely use another member, or just try to find someone like you – look around and if you see anyone sitting alone, just say hi, introduce yourself and start talking.

Always carry a pack of cards

Travelling is a wonderful thing, but let’s face it, it can be pretty boring at times. Long waits at the airports, train stations and bus stations, insanely long flights, bus rides and train rides, and bad weather that prevents you from leaving your hostel – it can all be a very boring experience.

If you’ve got a pack of cards, you will surely be the most popular person in such situations. Simply pull out the cards and ask if anyone would like to play – you will successfully escape the boredom and you will make a couple of new friends in the process. A win-win situation!

Costa Rica Vacations

It is rare that we come across a travel agency that covers you from head to toe when searching for the complete vacation package. But we found one such agency.

CRV – short for Costa Rica Vacations – has been the top agency of that country for over 15 years and has customized vacation packages from all around the world. Whether it’s adventure, romance or just a great family getaway, CRV has a package to suit.

Founded by Don Halbert, the company was acquired from the previous ownership in 2013 and since then has grown exponentially in popularity and the quality of service the company provides it’s clients.

Speaking with their “travel specialists”, you’ll immediately understand one of the major benefits to dealing with a local company as opposed to a big brand. And that is…experience.

First-hand experience is something that big brands have missed the mark on. Imagine booking your long anticipated honeymoon only to find that, because the travel agency had no previous knowledge of the hotel, you end up spending what should’ve been the time of your life, in some seedy 2 1/2 star motel-no-tell.

Fortunately with CRV the team have stayed at each hotel in which they have listed on their site so that they can gauge the quality of service themselves in order to best recommend the right hotels for their clients. And what if they don’t measure up? They don’t get listed in their inventory of hotels.

But where Costa Rica Vacation really shines is when they personalize a tailer-made vacation package.

Although our trip to Costa Rica was shorter than anticipated, we did enjoy a 7 day stay and here’s our own experience with CRV.

Picked up at the airport and whisked through customs like VIPs. We were then transported to the lavish Grano de Oro hotel in San Jose. What a place! Top quality service with world-class food, we highly recommend a stay at Grano de Oro if you’re in the area.

Following morning we were picked up after morning coffee to head to our next destination…Arenal Nayara Hotel & Gardens.

From the moment we stepped off the transport bus we were breathless. This place is unlike anything we’ve experienced before. A 5-star resort with hot springs on-site and gardens surrounding it like something out of the Garden of Eden. Nayara is the place to be when visiting Arenal. In fact the hotel sits in the shadow of the mighty Arenal volcano – one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Our time at Nayara was lamented with frequent visits to the posh spa, lounging in the hot springs and even a few sunset evenings simply staring at the volcano while sipping drinks on our deck with a built in jacuzzi.

Thursday we said goodbye to Nayara and headed to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, Manuel Antonio National Park & Beach.

This is the place to get in touch with nature. Not that it’s not all around you already given you’re in Costa Rica – the #3 most “greenest” countries on the planet.

We stayed at a beautiful hotel situated on the hills above the bay overlooking the Pacific called Si Como No.

This hotel – albeit slightly less posh than Nayara – has it’s own unique allure. Branded as “barefoot luxury”, this boutique style hotel has plenty to offer. Onsite they have a private full cinema, two pools – one for families and the other adults only – world class dining with two different restaurants featuring contrast cuisine. There’s even a short waterslide that plunges you down to the wet bar located partial submerged in the pool. Prices were reasonable here however we did find it slightly overpriced in comparison to what we’d already experienced at Nayara and Grano de Oro.

Then it was time to go home. Oh wait!

Adventure? You want to know what we did for adventure? Well…

We went ziplining in Monteverde Cloud Forest, we hiked around an active volcano, we lounged in thermal volcanic hot springs, we saw 13′ crocodiles, monkeys, sloths, toucans and even…took a parasailing trip in Manuel Antonio. So yes…we had some adventures we’ll never forget for a long time to come. At least in this lifetime.

For more information visit: costaricavacations.com.

The Great European Food Tour

If you are travelling to Europe anytime soon (or just dreaming) then check out this interactive guide to the foods and festivals of the countries of Europe, compiled by Travelex. Pick a country and it will display the national dish, types of street food available, cheapest meals, and luxury restaurants.

The Great European Food Tour

In addition to that it also lists upcoming food related festivals, just incase it has made you hungry to visit.

Check out The Great European Food Tour.

Road trip essentials

Not too long ago my best friend and I set off on a once in a lifetime road trip around Cairns. We flew over to the wet tropics from Melbourne and noticed the car hire at Cairns airport when we landed.

On my return, I was asked what I thought was essential when planning such a trip. Below are some of the things I feel that I couldn’t have completed the trip without.

Maps
Plan your route and research any points of interest you want to see to make the most out of your time on the road. Outlining your route helps you figure out what you need to take and book any accommodation if needed.

Map

Take a map or create a custom route plan online. Sites such as Google Maps are great for planning your journey as you can identify any highways, toll roads or construction areas prior to driving. They also allow you to change your route easily and add many different destination points.

Using a GPS system can also be a good way of ensuring your heading in the right direction. GPS systems automatically calculate a new route if you make a wrong turn and can also redirect you if there is heavy traffic expected. Most smartphones now have a built in GPS system which can really come in handy even when on foot.

Food and Drink
Stocking up on food and drink is crucial, take healthy snacks that are not going to expire quickly and make your car smell. Use a cool bag or box to store plenty of bottled water and stop off at supermarkets where possible to restock.

Eating out regularly can really add up when travelling, taking your own food and drinks is a great way to keep costs down.

Travel Apps
There are many travel apps available that can give you ideas on activities nearby and any landmarks you may want to visit. You can check the weather forecast allowing you to plan your day or stay away from any storms that may be expected. Having information at your fingertips can sometimes be a lifesaver, helping you locate nearby places to eat, sleep or fill up your tank.

Apps

Music
Music is an essential part to any road trip. Create a playlist of your favourite tracks, including something for every mood. Don’t rely on the radio as you may lose signal in some areas, burn a disk or use your mobile.

Good music can really add to your experience and help you to remember the good times you had along the way.

Camera
Yes this tip seems quite obvious but remember to capture all your memories on film. Take any spare batteries, memory cards and accessories you may need.

Toiletries and Essentials
We all know that travelling isn’t the most glamorous activity, bring wet wipes, hand sanitizer and paper towels to help you freshen up. It may also be beneficial to bring toilet roll just in case your rest stop isn’t quite what you expected.

First Aid

Make sure you remember to take any medication you may need, as well as painkillers, travel sickness tablets and a first aid box.

Clothing
There is nothing worse than being stuck in traffic in uncomfortable clothing or shoes. Take lots of comfy clothes and be prepared for the weather to take a turn for the worst. No matter how hot it may be during the day you are going to feel the cold when the sun goes down so taking a blanket may be the saviour.

Car Chargers
Prepare all of the chargers for your devices and make sure they work prior to your journey. Most modern cars now have a USB port for charging. If the car is a little older you may need to buy a cable that connects via the cigarette lighter.

Documents and Money
Bring along anything you feel may be important such as your ID, licence, car documents, insurance information and passport. Photocopy everything and keep them somewhere safe in case of emergencies. Don’t forget to take more than enough money and always have a reserve!

There are multiple inexpensive companies that offer car hire at Cairns Airport. Choosing to hire your car as soon as you land is worthwhile investment as it means you can start your adventure immediately, avoiding any taxi fees.