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Chicagoans Need Getaways In Winter To Survive Polar Vortex

HIGHLANDS, NC—Chicago the “world-class city,” is a delightful place to live, if you can overlook the riots, looting, expressway shootings and carjackings.

Hot lead flew through the streets last year and took the lives of 800 souls. In 2021, expressway shootings skyrocketed three times higher than 2018. Once more, there was an astounding 2,100 carjackings last year.

Despite these interesting statistics that rival the Ukrainian war zone, many Windy City residents believe Chicago is not the place they want to reside in January, February and March during the “Polar Vortex.”

Mirror Lake, Highlands, NC

These are the winter getaway months, where this writer escapes to Highlands, NC, a tranquil community of 3,000 people that resembles Mayberry. Aptly named, Highlands is situated 4,018 feet above sea level—the highest incorporated town in the Smokey Mountains.

The biggest police event in the town, located in the extreme southwest corner of North Carolina, is a two-car fender bender on Main Street.

In this magical place, which travel agents call the “Aspen of the South,” winter temperatures rise to the 50s and 60s, the sun is bright and it hardly ever snows, so don’t bring your skis.

Highlands, located within the Appalachian temperate rain forest, sits on a plateau surrounded by National Forests on three sides and rushing waterfalls, mountain streams and pristine lakes abound. Politically, it may be Trump territory, but most of the residents are very nice, friendly and welcoming.

After two complete knee-replacement surgeries by the renowned Dr. Dennis Nam at Rush University Hospital in 2020 and 2021, this pandemic-weary writer dreamed of the ultimate getaway—Europe.

The vision was a romantic, slow-boat cruise on the Rhine or Danube rivers, sipping wine with my beautiful wife, viewing ancient castles and absorbing the great architectural history of Europe.

“History is full of important lessons,” said lifelong traveler Rich Steves last week in his latest Public Broadcasting Service epic to peddle DVDs and books about decades of European and world-wide history and travel to pandemic-numbed Americans.

Budapest, Hungary

You can buy the entire package, which includes a book on Steves’ first Hippy Trip around the world when he was 23 years old. Because of the pandemic, travel-addict Steves was not allowed to travel.

So, bookish Steves went into his attic where he found dozens of his dusty travel ledgers and notebooks, which turned into a treasure trove of copy for his new travel books.

Don’t get me wrong. This writer loves Rick Steves, one of the best travel reporters and tourers on the globe. However, Steves’ new PBS package of books and DVDs, now available for $240, are being pitched in the wrong time zone.

In March of 2022, when the Russians are invading the Ukraine and thousands of people are dying, Europe is the last place sane Americans want to be vacationing.

Meanwhile, we are being bombarded with emails to take Viking River Cruises, and discounts are rampant.

Fly to Europe for free—take a river cruise for $1,999.

One alluring deal is a 15-day Grand European Tour, a cruise on the Rhine and Danube rivers from Amsterdam to Budapest with dockings in four countries—The Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Hungary.

The perks are free international airfare from dozens of U.S. cities—a $1,499 value—and a $400 shipboard credit for first-time guests.

“Our most iconic itinerary traces the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers between the windmill-dotted waterways of Holland and the stunning landscapes of Hungary, with engaging encounters at every bend,” the Viking Cruise travel pitch chirps.

Depending on which email pitch you read the price per person for the Grand European Tour trip with basic accommodations ranges from $4,299 to $5,499. A three-day side-trip to Prague in the Czech Republic also is offered for $799.

The problem is Budapest, Hungary is only 700 miles by car from Kyiv, the capitol of the Ukraine.

With President Vladimir Putin already bombing a nuclear reactor plant in south Ukraine, and threatening to utilize tactical atomic weapons in this senseless war, chances are the radioactive fallout could reach the restful banks of the Danube, depending on the wind.

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit


“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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