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Hôtel de Glace version 9 is coming soon

When the nights are long and the weather is icky, you can make like a bear and tuck in until spring, or you can make the most of it and have fun with the cold weather. Maybe you've outgrown your sledding and snowman days, but you can still live it up in a real winter wonderland at Québec's Hôtel de Glace.

Open every year from January through March, this ice hotel is newly rebuilt every year with a new design, featuring sculpted archways and enchanting ice sculptures. There are 36 rooms and theme suites for overnight visitors, all featuring ice beds with heavy duty sleeping bags. Temperatures inside the hotel are steady between -3°C and -5°C, no matter what the weather is like outdoors. The hotel's information guide tells you everything you need to know about dressing for a trip like this.

You can tour the hotel without spending the night, or you can take advantage of the special packages the Hôtel de Glace offers -- they have special couples packages, a dogsledding adventure, and even several wedding packages.

Visit the Hôtel de Glace website between now and November 26th, and you can enter to win a free stay at the ice hotel.

All photos courtesy Hôtel de Glace and used by permission.

The scariest swimming pool EVER

Acrophobia is described as an uncontrollable, irrational, and often crippling fear of heights. I'm not sure if this concept has an opposite -- acrophilia, maybe? Love of heights? -- but that's how I'd describe anyone brave (crazy?) enough to go for a dip at the Devil's Pool.

The Devil's Pool is a natural swimming hole surrounded by just-below-the-surface rocks at the top of Africa's Victoria Falls, right at the edge of the 108-meter falls on the Zambezi River. When I say right at the edge, I don't mean near the edge, or sort of close to the falls, or in the grass next to the falls -- I mean it is on the edge of the falls.

Just looking at pictures of the tourists who've gone there makes me a bit light headed. I know myself well enough to know that I could never, ever get in that water -- but the photos from those braver than I are absolutely stunning. No, these aren't photoshopped. It's allegedly very safe, but I can't help but think that those who scoot out over the edge for a once-in-a-lifetime photograph are really pushing their luck.

Are you brave enough to dive in?
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Flight attendant ruled too fat to fly

A 20-year legal battle between Philippine Airlines and flight steward Armanda Yrasuegi has finally ended with a Supreme Court ruling that grounds Yrasuegi for good. The airline dismissed Yrasuegi in 1989, because the 5'8 217-pound man had failed to lose weight, as required in his contract.

Yrasuegi cried discrimination, stating that his weight was a "sickness and physical abnormality" beyond his control, but this argument carried little weight when the flight attendant refused repeated offers of medical weight loss assistance. The Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling in favor of the airline, stating that Yrasuegi's weight "indicates absence of willpower rather than an illness."

The ruling went on to say that Yrasuegi's weight would likely keep him from performing his job efficiently, especially in the case of an emergency. According to Gadling's own flight attendant, Heather Poole, flight attendants must be able to fit through the exit door and buckle up in the jump seat, which may be difficult for a man nearly 60 pounds overweight.

The airline industry is one of the few where weight requirements aren't discrimination, but rather simply necessary. We don't know what Yrasuegi's contract with Philippine Airlines specifically required in terms of weight, but it doesn't seem that any airlines are asking their employees to have unrealistic Hollywood bodies. It also sounds like Philippine Airlines was willing to pay for its employee's weight loss program -- how many other companies would do that?

The sounds of travel 2: "The Mountain"

Here at Gadling we'll be highlighting some of our favorite sounds from the road and giving you a sample of each -- maybe you'll find the same inspiration that we did, but at the very least, hopefully you'll think that they're good songs. Got a favorite of your own? Leave it in the comments below and we'll post it at the end of the series.

Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer -- "The Mountain"

The first time I ever heard a live performance of "The Mountain," I was sitting on the hillside at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in the Berkshires of New York. Tracy Grammer was singing the song written by her late partner, Dave Carter, and the melody and poetry put me in a trance. What mountain is she talking about, I wondered. For a while, I believed the song must be about the very mountain I was on at the time.

To me, it felt like the song was about finding peace, and there is no place I'd ever felt more at peace than at Falcon Ridge, surrounded by gentle spirits, people who love the world well. Dave Carter wrote a lot of music about wandering the earth, going places and seeing things, and listening to Dave & Tracy's albums always fills me with a desire to hit the road, but "The Mountain" always takes me to specific destinations.

First it was Falcon Ridge, and sometimes it still is, but then I visited Portland, Oregon. Dave had lived there when he wrote the song, and seeing Mount Hood for the first time, it dawned on me that this was probably the mountain in the song. While traveling in Oregon, I felt constantly drawn to the mountains, and so much at peace when I could just sit and stare at them. I felt like I really got the song this time. I wrote to Tracy Grammer to confirm my theory. She wrote back and told me this: "'The Mountain' isn't about any particular mountain, far as I know. The song was inspired by a dream Dave had, where he stood on a mountain and watched the wind move through the long grass in waves ... a place he felt the power of grace as if for the first time."

Perfect. That's exactly the way I felt sitting on that hill at Falcon Ridge for the first time, thinking This! This is where I need to be. This is where I need to keep coming back. And I do return for the festival every year (so does Tracy Grammer). It's also how I felt when I saw Mount Hood for the first time, like I would always feel happy as long as I had a clear view of the Cascade Range. Mount Hood became my Utopia, and I know I'll keep returning to it for the rest of my life.

"The Mountain" is closely associated with my two favorite places in the world, and whenever I hear the song, I feel at peace the way I imagine Dave Carter felt when he wrote it. I think the underlying theme of the song is not necessarily about going to the mountains but rather being exactly where you want to be. This song takes me there.

Click here for previous Sounds of Travel

Politics, the Vegas way

Who knows what kind of publicity John McCain expected to drum up when he selected little-known Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate -- but he probably wasn't counting on anything like this.

Club Paradise in Las Vegas recently held a risque Sarah Palin lookalike contest. Contestants had to compete in a debate and strut in a swimsuit while guests voted on who looked most like the vice presidential candidate. The winner received over $10,000 in cash and prizes, including a trip for two to the January 2009 inauguration in Washington, DC. Will there be one or two Sarah Palins there in January, though?

This may be the first time that sex appeal has played such a prominent role in a major US election. But will Palin be able to draw voters to the polls the way she brings people to the stripper poles? We'll find out in a few days. If her ticket falls to Obama/Biden, at least Palin knows she can find work in Nevada.

You can watch a video of the contest here, but it's almost certainly not safe for work.

Last chance for your photo op with Sarah Palin in Brooklyn this weekend!

Sarah Palin has already come and gone to New York City, but you can still take a picture with her at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition if you visit by the end of this weekend.

Artist Dawn Robyn Petrlik created "Photo Op with Sarah Palin" after she saw a newspaper photograph of the vice presidential candidate posing with her daughter and a dead caribou. Now visitors to the display can suit up in a faux fur vest, grab a prop rifle, and pose with the Palins.

The piece has drawn visitors from both the left and the right. While Palin supporters happily pose with the display, many of her critics pose with their rifle pointed at her. Petrlik put a price tag of $12,500 on the piece. She says that way if it pisses someone off and they want to take it down, they can buy it from her.

"Photo Op with Sarah Palin" has been on display since September 13th, but it's coming down this Sunday, so your opportunity for the photo op won't last long. If you get a good shot, feel free to share it with us in the Gadling Flickr Pool.

New TSA rule aims to improve security and cut down on hassle

Up until now, airline passengers have only been required to provide as much as their first initial and last name to get a plane ticket. However, due to the high rate of false matches to names on the government's terrorist watch list, passengers will soon be required to provide their full name and birth date before they can fly.

If your name resembles a name on the watch list, you might get held up at security. It has happened to Senator Edward Kennedy as well as to numerous children, but the TSA says that if they have a full name and birth date for every passenger, they won't get all the false matches they get with the current first initial and last name system.

Airlines have resisted because of the cost and hassle of updating their computer systems, but as of July 2009, full names will be mandatory. Travelers who book flights without giving all the required information will be unable to print or receive boarding passes until they confirm the missing information with an airline ticket agent.

While the TSA is confident that the new procedure will greatly reduce false matches, it's not clear that it will actually improve security. Security expert Bruce Schneier says terrorists could get around the rule by buying a ticket using someone else's name.

Obama to hold election night party at Chicago's Grant Park

Want to spend election night with Barack Obama and thousands of his closest friends? The Obama campaign announced yesterday that the Democratic nominee for president will be hosting what he hopes is an election night celebration outdoors at Grant Park in Chicago.

Obama will appear at Hutchinson Field at the south end of the park, which is often referred to as Chicago's "front yard." The park is often used for major events like festivals, sporting events, and concerts. Pope John Paul II held a mass here in 1979 that drew a crowd of nearly 1 million people.

The Obama campaign has not yet announced ticketing details, but those who wish to attend will likely need to register online or get tickets in advance, as the Illinois Senator and Presidential hopeful has been drawing huge crowds throughout his campaign.

If you're going to attend, be sure to dress warmly. The windy city can be bitterly cold in November.

Museum of Funeral Customs

If you're looking for another great Halloween fun house, this isn't it, but if you want to learn a few things about death and funerals, you'll probably enjoy a visit to the Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield, IL, conveniently located near the most popular tomb in America.

As one of few things every human experiences, death and grieving rituals have a wide, multicultural and ancient scope. Exhibits at the museum shed light on many different types of funeral rituals, and offer visitors a behind-the-scenes look into body preservation and presentation. You'll see lots of different gadgets and tools used in the embalming process as well as a postmortem fashion display, showing popular funeral outfits for the deceased.

Of course, there's a gift shop. The most popular souvenir, according to the director, are the locally-made chocolate coffins. When you open the lid, there's a chocolate mummy inside. Now there's something you can give out to trick-or-treaters!

After your visit to the museum, go less than a mile to Lincoln's tomb, and while you're there, be sure to visit the defiant tomb of Mr. Accordion, which is another fascinating and amusing story. Read about it here.

Air Canada passenger sues over spill

Have you ever had a flight so bad that it just ruined your whole vacation? An Air Canada passenger claims that a clumsy flight attendant spoiled her month-long vacation to Africa and Europe in 2006 when she spilled a hot beverage on the passenger's lap.

Now, two years after the alleged incident, the passenger is suing the airline for $85,000. She thinks she's entitled to the money because she required medical treatment for burns while on vacation, suffered mental distress, and "diminished enjoyment" of the vacation due to the burns on her inner thighs and "private areas."

$85,000 sure sounds like a lot of money, but compare that to the multi-million dollar 1994 judgment in the now infamous McDonalds coffee case (wherein a woman spilled coffee on herself), and it doesn't seem like much to ask -- especially given that the plaintiff couldn't enjoy full use of her "private areas" on vacation!

I guess we'll soon see if the Canadian legal system is anywhere near as outrageous as it is in the US. Air Canada has not yet commented on the lawsuit.

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