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The Check-In: 2022's best and worst airports, discovering the kookier side of the United States, and more

Turns out airport travelers like yoga rooms and minimal blaring loudspeaker announcements

Welcome to The Check-In, our weekend feature focusing on all things travel.

Is SFO the best airport in the United States?

If you ask The Wall Street Journal, it is. The newspaper recently released its 2022 rankings of large U.S. airports and midsize U.S. airports, basing its scores on 19 different categories, including security waits and on-time performance. San Francisco International Airport came out on top for the large airports, thanks to its on-time rates of more than 80 percent, and perks like yoga rooms, the SFO Museum, and a limit on how many blaring announcements can be made over the loudspeaker. SFO Director Ivar Satero told the Journal the airport invested $10 million in new GPS landing technology to make it easier for planes to land in bad weather, and that has helped with on-time rates.

The Painted Ladies in San Francisco.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

California airports fared pretty well overall, with the Sacramento, San Diego, and San Jose facilities named the top three midsize airports. New York and New Jersey airports can't say the same — Newark came in last for large airports and LaGuardia came in last for midsize airports, both due to flight delays. The Journal is hopeful for both airports come 2023 — LaGuardia is now going through extensive redevelopment, and Newark has a new Terminal A opening this month.

The town of Presicce, Italy, is paying new residents $30,000 to move in

Ciao Italia! If your wanderlust is in overdrive, consider moving to the picturesque Italian town of Presicce. Officials there are finalizing a plan to start offering people €30,000 (about $30,000) to purchase and move into one of Presicce's abandoned historic homes. Presicce is in the Puglia region at the heel of Italy's boot, not far from Santa Maria di Leuca. The town, which dates back to the middle ages, has just 9,000 residents, and officials are looking to revive the population. They are putting together a list of houses to put up for sale, and believe most will cost around €25,000 — the new residents can use their €30,000 to outright buy a house and spend the extra money on renovations. Applications will open in the next few weeks, and will be available on Presicce's website.

So you want to ... explore the offbeat side of the United States

Spending a week at the beach or in the big city is great, but predictable. The United States has so many unusual — and in some cases downright bizarre — places and attractions to visit that it's worth considering making 2023 the year of the offbeat destination.

The moment you drive into Casey, Illinois, you might think you're shrinking — but really, the town is home to more than 30 giant objects, with 12 of them setting world records. There's an enormous mailbox, rocking chair, barbershop pole, and mouse trap, among other items. It all started in 2011, when resident Jim Bolin opened a sandwich shop. Wanting to grab customers' attention, he decided to make the world's largest wind chime for his restaurant, and he's been making humongous creations ever since. Bolin told Fodors visitors should plan to spend an afternoon in Casey, where they can "just look at stuff that's kind of crazy-looking and just enjoy life for a little bit. It's a stop-and-smell-the-roses-type thing."

The Enchanted Highway in western North Dakota is a road like no other. Stretching 32 miles from Gladstone to Regent, it's lined with giant metal structures, including "Geese in Flight," the world's largest scrap metal sculpture. Pull over to get a closer look at these massive works of art, and be sure to take lots of pictures — when else will you find yourself in front of a 70-foot-tall trout jumping out of the water?

Pheasants on the Prairie.

Bernard Friel/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Winchester Mystery House has been spooking people in San Jose, California, for more than 100 years. In 1885, Sarah Winchester moved from Connecticut to San Jose after going through several tragedies, including the deaths of her infant daughter and husband. She bought an eight-room farmhouse, and from 1886 until her death in 1922, she oversaw extensive construction on the property. It grew to 24,000 square feet, with 160 rooms, 10,000 windows, and 2,000 doors — as well as oddities like stairways leading to nowhere, walled-off windows, and trap doors. Legends about the property abound, including that it's haunted — find out for yourself on the Walk With Spirits guided tour.

At the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, what you see (corn, and lots of it) is what you get. It was founded in 1892, and has been a staple in the community ever since, with proms, graduations, banquets, dances, and other events held inside. The Corn Palace gets a refresh every year, as a new theme is chosen and workers use different varieties of corn, other grains, and native grasses to create murals that cover the exterior. If you have a chance to visit when the murals are being updated, it's pretty a-maize-ing.

The Corn Palace.

Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

5-star gift idea: Invisible World Julia embroidered alpaca hat

Winter is in full swing, and if you know someone who is traveling to a cold climate to ski or hang out in a cabin in the woods, give them the gift of warmth. Invisible World's Julia hat is made from 100 percent alpaca wool that the company says is sourced from alpacas that roam freely in the Peruvian highlands. It's hand-knit and embroidered, and as pretty as the hat is with its tapestry of warm colors, the recipient will truly appreciate just how toasty it makes them feel.

Invisible World's Julia hat.

Courtesy of Invisible World

Plan accordingly: Upcoming events to add to your calendar

Storytelling is an art form that has been bringing people together for centuries, and from Feb. 12-19, 2023, a gathering of some of the best spinners of yarns will take place in Morocco. The Marrakech International Storytelling Festival held its inaugural event last year, and it's coming back with a new theme: "Ancestral Voices." It's free to listen to the storytellers, who perform in museums, cafes, riads, and public spaces, sharing their tales in English, Darija, and Amazigh.

The Koutoubia Mosque minaret and palm trees in Marrakech.

Sergio Pitamitz / VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

For more travel news and features, sign up for The Week U.K.'s Travel newsletter, delivered to your inbox every two weeks.

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