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Driving Miss Norma: One Nonagenarian's Epic Road Trip

Last summer, 90-year-old Norma Bauerschmidt was preparing to say goodbye to Leo, her husband of 67 years. The day after he was admitted to hospice, Norma was dealt another blow: Doctors had discovered a large, cancerous mass on her uterus. She barely had time to process the news when Leo passed away. Just two days after his death, Norma found herself at the doctor’s office, discussing how to treat her cancer. Her doctor recommended surgery to remove the mass, but was concerned that she may not survive the operation.

Norma decided the typical late-in-life path—surgeries, nursing homes, assisted living—wasn’t in the cards for her. Her son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Ramie, had made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: to join them on the road. The retired couple spent much of their time roaming the country in an Airstream trailer, but if Norma would join them in their nomadic lifestyle, they promised to upgrade to a 36-footer and see whatever sights she wanted to.

Norma didn’t have to think twice, and said no to the cancer treatment. “I’m 90-years-old,” she told her doctor. “I’m hitting the road.”

Less than two months later, she did. Their first trip was a little over a year ago, when they left Norma’s home in Presque Isle, Michigan, and headed west toward Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone. Tim wasn't sure if she would make it to South Dakota. Twelve months later, Norma is not only surviving—she's positively thriving.

“If you could have seen her when we left,” Tim told the Washington Times, explaining that her transformation has been utterly amazing. Not only is she doing better physically, going from 94 pounds to 110, but she's also been transformed emotionally. “I’m open more now than I used to be,” Norma said.

Since last August, Norma has been to several National Parks, Roswell, the Kennedy Space Center, Walt Disney World, Niagara Falls, the French Quarter, and the Grand Canyon—and that's just to name a few of the sights she's seen.

She has served as an honorary Atlanta Hawks cheerleader, dipped her toes in the ocean, experienced her first pedicure, eaten her first oyster, and she shook a lot of hands at the National World War II Museum—Norma is a veteran herself, having served with the Women Accepting Volunteer Emergency Service unit in 1945.

But out of all of the amazing things Norma has experienced in the last year, one of the most memorable may have been the hot air balloon ride she took in January. She and her husband had always wanted to experience a ride together, and while he was in the hospital, Leo said he still hoped to be able to take her someday. After his death, as his family was cleaning out his papers, they found multiple newspaper clippings about balloon rides among his things.

As of Labor Day, the traveling trio was in the Pacific Northwest, where they have visited a lavender farm (one of Norma's favorite flowers), watched Orca whales, and celebrated the one-year anniversary of the beginning of their journey. Wherever Miss Norma heads now, she's likely to be one of the main attractions—since starting her journey last year, her Facebook page has gained more than 400,000 followers, and she's been featured on the CBS Evening News, the ABC News, the Today Show, and the Huffington Post. What's next for Norma, Tim, and Ramie? Possibly California for a peek at some redwoods. Follow along with her adventures on Facebook—you'll be glad you did.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

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Mike Hewitt, Getty Images
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How Many of the World's 20 Most Popular Museums Have You Visited?
Mike Hewitt, Getty Images
Mike Hewitt, Getty Images

If you went to the Louvre last year, you're in the company of 8.1 million people. According to the latest Museum Index from the Themed Entertainment Association [PDF], the Paris institution was the world's most-visited museum in 2017—an honor it hasn't earned since 2015.

Attendance at the Louvre went up 9.5 percent from 7.4 million visitors to 8.1 million between 2016 and 2017. The National Museum of China in Beijing, 2016's most popular museum attraction, also saw a significant 6.8 percent boost in traffic last year from 6.5 million to 8 million guests‚ landing in the No.2 spot. Two U.S. museums, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, are tied for the third slot with 7 million visitors each, and the Vatican Museums rank fifth with a 2017 attendance of 6.4 million.

The Louvre's impressive attendance numbers look much different than they did in the year following the Paris terror attacks of November 2015. The number of tourists traveling to the French capital dropped by 1.5 million in 2016, and the Louvre alone saw a 1.3 million decrease in visitors. The city has since rebounded, and in the middle of 2017 tourism to Paris was greater than it had been in a decade.

Museums around the world saw more people coming through their doors overall last year, with an attendance boost of 0.2 percent from 2016 to 2017. The museums with the biggest spikes were the Victoria & Albert Museum in London with 25.4 percent and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C with 22.8 percent. Though the museum didn't make the top 20 list, the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. last year helped contribute to the 3 percent increase in museum traffic in North America.

You can find the full list below.

1. Louvre // Paris, France
2. National Museum of China // Beijing, China
3. National Air and Space Museum // Washington D.C., U.S.
    Metropolitan Museum of Art // New York City, U.S.
5. Vatican Museums // Vatican City
6. Shanghai Science & Technology Museum // Shanghai, China
7. National Museum of Natural History // Washington D.C., U.S.
8. British Museum // London, UK
9. Tate Modern // London, UK
10. National Gallery of Art // Washington D.C., U.S.
11. National Gallery // London, UK
12. American Museum of Natural History // New York City, U.S.
13. National Palace Museum // Taipei, Taiwan
14. Natural History Museum // London, UK
15. State Hermitage // St. Petersburg, Russia
16. China Science Technology Museum // Beijing, China
17. Reina Sofia // Madrid, Spain
18. National Museum of American History, Washington D.C., U.S.
19. Victoria & Albert Museum // London, UK
20. Centre Pompidou // Paris, France

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You Can Now Rent the Montgomery, Alabama Home of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Through Airbnb
Chris Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The former apartment of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps the most famous couple of the Jazz Age, is now available to rent on a nightly basis through Airbnb, The Chicago Tribune reports. While visitors are discouraged from throwing parties in the spirit of Jay Gatsby, they are invited to write, drink, and live there as the authors did.

The early 20th-century house in Montgomery, Alabama was home to the pair from 1931 to 1932. It's where Zelda worked on her only novel Save Me the Waltz and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of Tender Is the Night. The building was also the last home they shared with their daughter Scottie before she moved to boarding school.

In the 1980s, the house was rescued from a planned demolition and turned into a nonprofit. Today, the site is a museum and a spot on the Southern Literary Trail. While the first floor of the Fitzgerald museum, which features first-edition books, letters, original paintings, and other artifacts related to the couple, isn't available to rent, the two-bedroom apartment above it goes for $150 a night. Guests staying there will find a record player and a collection of jazz albums, pillows embroidered with Zelda Fitzgerald quotes, and a balcony with views of the property's magnolia tree. Of the four surviving homes Zelda and F. Scott lived in while traveling the world, this is the only one that's accessible to the public.

Though the Fitzgerald home is the only site on the Southern Literary Trail available to rent through Airbnb, it's just one of the trail's many historic homes. The former residences of Flannery O'Connor, Caroline Miller, and Lillian Smith are all open to the public as museums.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

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