Monthly Archives: April 2014

Epic Road Trip – driving to Charleston, SC, part 1

Thelma and Louise (names changed to protect the guilty) headed out recently on their Epic Road Trip from the DC area to Charleston and Savannah in a VW Jetta  Wagon.  No convertible, no souped up car, no music blaring forth but still, lots of fun.  Lots of logistics were involved…how long would we stay in each city, which city first, which hotels, whose car, etc.  With all those decided we thought we were ready to go until I noticed I had booked hotels in the same city for different nights and one of those bookings was non-refundable.  Oops.  I quickly went to the hotel booking site and cancelled and then quickly found a hotel for the correct dates in the correct city.

thelma-and-louise

Before we got on the interstate, we had to go by our local bakery for some freshly made doughnuts – every girl needs a snack for the road.  About two hours from home, we hit a traffic backup.  Seemed we went very slowly for about 6 miles and then…..nothing.  As we were passing through Fort Mill, South Carolina we saw a sign for Blue Rose Pottery.  Since we hadn’t stopped in about 30 minutes, we felt like we needed to stop and stretch our legs, or so we told ourselves that we did.  It looked like nothing on the outside but inside….it was Polish Pottery.  I felt like I hit a gold mine.  We probably spent about 45 minutes looking at the many different patterns.  I ended up purchasing two bowls and the knowledge of where to stop off I-77 when I need to “stretch my legs”.

polish

Our plan was to go to Charleston first for three nights.  We knew that we wanted to stay in the historic district and that it would be pricier than staying outside and then driving in.  We also thought it would give us more flexibility in case we wanted to come back to our room at the hotel.  In looking at the charges, we saw that staying Saturday night would cost us over $300 and then it would drop for Sunday and Monday nights.  We REALLY didn’t need to stay in Charleston for that price.  We knew that on Sunday we wanted to visit a plantation north of the city.  We quickly changed our reservation, again, to reflect only two nights.  In its place, we made a reservation at a Holiday Inn Express in Summerville, South Carolina, about 20 miles north of Charleston.

holiday inn

I hate to be picky but there were a lot of little things wrong with our room and I did all that I could to remedy it while I was there.  We checked in around 5 PM and took the elevator to our floor.  As soon as we got out of the elevator there was constant barking and it was about 4 doors down from our room.  I personally like dogs but I do not like barking dogs in a hotel room.  We walked into our room and about 4 steps in from the door was a large RollAway bed.  We couldn’t get around it very well because of where it was and how large it was.  I put my luggage down and went to the desk to see if we could have another room.  The person working the desk tried calling the room where the barking dog was and there was no answer which is against Holiday Inn’s rules.  Apparently you cannot leave a dog unattended, which really isn’t realistic since you most times go out to eat dinner.  I was worried about the dog’s barking and how long it would bark.  I asked if we could have another room and they said that they were fully booked up.  I knew that they were full but was I REALLY the last person to check in…I don’t think so.  About half and hour later someone came to get the RollAway bed out of our room.  We went to dinner.  Came home and found our room hot and stuffy.  No matter how low I turned the thermostat or high high I turned the fan, it remained the same speed and temperature.  When we went to use the bathroom, we discovered that the wastepaper basket hadn’t been emptied from the previous guest and it was quite full…YUCK!  The next morning I again went to the desk to complain about the night (barking dog was not a problem) and they offered me $25 off my $139 room.  Hmm, that was not sufficient for a poor night’s sleep.  She asked what I wanted and I asked points.  She told me to “name my price” and I suggested 25,000 knowing that it would be too much but it would give us a place to begin talking about compensation.  This young woman wrote “Guest DEMANDS 25,000”.  I objected to that word since I had been very nice (even my friend will say I was nice and polite).  Nevertheless we left with no firm offer.  In fact, they never called until I received a survey online and I reiterated everything that I had told them at the hotel in person.  I ended up with the guarantee that next time I check in we’ll have it personally inspected by the manager and that the night will be on them.  She indicated that I “might” find some points in my account to help offset the problems that we had in our room.

Summerville has a charming historic downtown area.  Apparently it is the P1000237birthplace of Sweet Tea, the elixir of southern women.  There is a Sweet Tea Trolley Trail – and if we had more time, we would have gladly taken the tour.  I realize that I would like to stop in this city again particularly when the prices for a hotel in Charleston were so high.

 

Next up – Middleton Plantation

 

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Leisurely Cruising on the Danube

 

Setting Sail – Traveling the Danube

If you’re thinking of trying something a little different for your holiday this year, then why not try a river cruise? The number of people cruising has risen dramatically in the last few years, with river cruising in particular seeing a huge rise in popularity – especially within Europe.

With a vast network of rivers, river cruising in Europe enables you to see lots of different countries and types of scenery all in one holiday. For example, a Danube river cruise passes through cities such as Budapest, Vienna and Bratislava, and flows through ten different European countries including Austria, Germany, Romania and Hungary.

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The Danube is  Europe’s second longest river, running southeast from the Black Forest in Germany to the mouth of the Black Sea in Romania and the Ukraine, through lush valleys, patchwork fields, historic castles, tranquil villages and spectacular cities, making a river cruise the perfect holiday for anyone wanting to see as much of Europe’s splendour as possible. Travelling through 2,000 years of history at a gentle pace, you take in the sights of the river that inspired Strauss to write the Blue Danube.

avalon1Starting at the source of the river in the wonderful German Black Forest, the Danube river cruise follows the meandering river up to the medieval towns of Regensburg and Passau before the reaching Austria’s picturesque Wachau Valley, where you have a chance to try some of the region’s best wines in the town of Melk. The next stop is Dürnstein, an enchanting town steeped in history with a ruined castle that was once prison to Richard the Lionheart!

durnstein

One of the highlights of the Danube is Vienna. The capital city of Austria, Vienna is celebrated as the ‘City of Music’ having inspired composers such as Mozart and Beethoven, and it’s treasures include the imperial Ringstrasse, and the ornate Hofsburg Palace and Opera House.

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Leaving Austria, the Danube travels to Slovakia, passing through Bratislava, before arriving in the capital of Hungary, Budapest. The imposing Parliament building and historic Matthias Church make the city a ‘must-see’. Downstream from Budapest is a beautiful Baroque town called Kalocsa, where visitors can purchase some of the towns ‘red gold’ – paprika.

budapest

Serbia is the next stop on this tour of Europe, as the river brings cruise passengers into the atmospheric capital city of Belgrade. The home of Serbia’s film industry, it is a hotbed of cultural events with film festivals, theatre festivals, music festivals, book fairs and a beer festival taking place as annual events. It also boasts many museums such as the National Museum which is home to paintings by artists including Cézanne, Renoir, Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Van Gogh.

belgrade

After leaving Belgrade, take some time to relax whilst traveling through some stunning scenery before reaching the Iron Gates, a gorge that forms part of the boundary between Romania and Serbia and separates the northwestern foothills of the Balkans and the southern Carpathian Mountains.

iron gates iron gates 2

The cruise then moves on down the river within easy reach of Bucharest, another capital city with a lively and historic air. Visit the colossal Palace of Parliament, home to both chambers of the Romanian Parliament, and the world’s largest civilian building, most expensive administrative building and heaviest building. The Danube, along with the cruise, finishes at the Danube Delta at the Black Sea, one of the least inhabited areas of Europe. The area is made up of wetlands; the habitat of some extraordinary wildlife.

If you’re not quite ready to leave the luxury of the river cruise behind you, there’s the option to extend your stay in Europe with a voyage from the Danube to the Main and Rhine rivers via the Main Danube Canal. The canal, completed in 1992, crosses the European watershed, running from Kelheim to Bamberg via Nuremberg. The breathtaking scenery continues with quaint villages and romantic landscapes as the Main merges with the Rhine, which takes you past Cologne and all the way to Amsterdam – an ideal destination for a few days to spend enjoying the city or the perfect transfer point for journeys back to the UK.

If you are interested in cruising the Danube with Avalon, clickhere and the link will take you to all the cruises that they offer on the Danube.  Of course, you might want to cruise another river so take a moment and look at all the offer.  As I have mentioned before, this was the line that we cruised the Rhine on a few years ago and had a wonderful time

Article contributed by Avalon Waterways, specialist in first class river cruising experiences in Europe and Worldwide.

NOTE:  I am trying arrange a group to travel on the Danube River probably in the Spring of 2015.  I am looking at all river cruise lines to get the best deal.  If you would like more information and might be interested in joining to group to hopefully get group rates, please leave a comment and when I have information, I’ll forward it on to you.

What to Do in Rincon and the Surrounding Area.

Spring Break #1 – Rincon, Puerto Rico

Our Home Away Rental in Rincon, Puerto Rico

2nd Rental Home in Rincon, Puerto Rico

What to Do in Rincon and the Surrounding Area

 

el faroEl Faro, as it is known, is the Punta Higuera Lighhouse  It has been lovingly restores and is surrounded by a park with a snack shop.  This park is one of the few passive whale watching parks in the world.  Additionally, we were able to watch surfers ride some of the waves in.  In other areas, many people were snorkeling.  On your way to the lighthouse, you’ll pass lots of snorkel and dive shops.

 

 

Arecibo Observatory – the world’s largest radio telescope which is used to

aceibo fathom the sounds of the universe.  This site is so impressive that Hollywood has used this observatory in many films including Contact (Jodie Foster) and James Bond’s Golden Eye (Pierce Brosnan).  This is about an hour away from Rincon.

Camuy Cave Park – Caverns  – Rio Camuy Cave park is the third largest cave system in the world with 16 entrances and 7 miles of passages that have beencamuy 2 mapped to date.  The park has picnic areas, walking trails food facilities an exhibition hall and souvenirs (of course).  When you arrive you see a 12 minute film then walk to the open air trolleys for a ride to the bottom of a 200 foot ravine.  You’ll have a 45 minute guided walk through the caves.  This is about 45 minutes from Rincon.  I am saving this excursion for when I return with Blogger Hubby.

camuy1camuy3

 

La Paguera – the phosphorescent bay makes an interesting trip after dark particularly when there is no visible moon.  Boats leave for the one hour trip to the bay beginning at 7:30 PM.  Smaller boats can be rented for a closer view.  This is about 40 minutes away.  The owners of our rental suggested using Aleli Tours at http://www.aleitours.com and to task for Ishmael.  We did not do this but when I return we will.

bay 1

Other sightseeing venues:

  • Guanica Dry Forest Reserve – designated a World Biosphere by the UN; 1600 acre forest.  Located on the southern coast off Rt. 333. dry forest
  • Gilligan’s Island – just south of the Guanica Dry Forest off Rt. 333, a 5 minute ferry ride to a coral reef cay with unique currents and vegetation.
  • Maricao – this is for coffee lovers since you’ll be in the heart of coffee country.  A great road trip through the mountains in the Cordillera central
  • Mayaguez Zoo – great for the kids when you need a day away from the beach
  • El Yunque  – the only tropical rain forest in US Territory located east of San Juan.  I’ve been here twice both times on guided tours.  The first time was riding horseback through the lower levels of the forest; the second was in an air conditioned SUV where we could get out and hike around.
  • and finally, Old San Juan.  Although I wouldn’t stay here more than one night, it does need to be visited.  Some of my favorite spots The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist where Ponce deLeon is buried.  El Morro, which is part of the San Juan National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service) is amazing.  Park Rangers talk about the life of the Spanish conquistadors and really make history come to life.  Another favorite spot is the Bacardi Visitor Center where you can take a tour of their factory, learn the history behind how the bat became the logo of this brand.el morro

 

2nd Rental Home in Rincon, Puerto Rico

1.  Spring Break Trip #1 – Rincon, Puerto Rico

2.  Our Home Away Rental in Rincon, Puerto Rico

3.  2nd Rental Home in Rincon, Puerto Rico

4. What to Do in Rincon and the Surrounding Area

As I mentioned earlier, I joined Blogger Daughter and her family in a rental on the beach in Rincon.  Our home was called Casa Serena.  Click here to go to that blog.  Blogger Son #2 and his family also rented a home on the beach about 5 houses down the beach from us – Casa Mac.

Where our home was a duplex side by side, theirs was a 2 story home with the rental on the first floor and the owners quarters on the second floor.  The owners were not there so they had the entire yard to themselves.

house

 

With two homes so close to each other, there were bound to be some comparisons.  We had 3 adults and a baby; they had 4 adults, a teenage and 2 toddlers.  We had a two bedroom, they had a three bedrooms and their rooms were larger than ours.

j bedroom

One difference they had that I wished we had was that they had a front door and a back door which let in light and breeze.  Their living room was larger and was lighter since they had more windows.  Their livingroom was at the front of the house (street view) and ours was at the back of the house (beach view).  We did not have windows along the side as they did.  As I am getting older, I have begun to realize how important sunlight is to me – it just makes me feel better and happier 🙂

j livingroom

We had a small kitchen table and 4 chairs, they had 4 stools on the kitchen bar but a larger table outside on the lanai.  We also had a table on the lanai but again for 4 people.

j kitchen

Since we had a 2 bedroom, that is why seating was arranged for 4 people.  They had a washer and we had a washer and dryer.  We had a much larger yard but they had a larger overhang to help keep out of the noon time sun.  Small differences but sometimes they can be important and make or break a vacation.  Know what you want and what you need.

When you rent a home through VRBO, HomeAway or Vacation Rentals, know what you are looking for, ask questions and read the reviews.  I tend to throw out the truly negative one but if there are multiple negative reviews then that is a home I am not interested in.

This was our second rental through HomeAway but the first one that we have stayed in – the first one we booked we’ll be staying in next month.  We have been very pleased with our experience so far.

 

 

Our Home Away Rental in Rincon, Puerto Rico

1.  Spring Break Trip #1 – Rincon, Puerto Rico

2.  Our Home Away Rental in Rincon, Puerto Rico

3.  2nd Rental Home in Rincon

4.  What to Do in Rincon and the Surrounding Area

The Nitty Gritty of Our Rental

Our homes were located right on the beach in a neighborhood made up of rentals and residents. We were in one side of a duplex. They day after we arrived, the other tenants left so we had the entire yard to ourselves. Even if they had stayed, there was no need for worry as the yard was HUGE.   We had about 12 chaise loungers and 12 chairs in addition to the fold up beach chairs.

casa serena 1

We also had 2 hammocks.

casa serena hammock

One of the great things about the yard is that there was a sunny side and a shady side. I like the sunny side and Blogger Hubby likes the shady side. We also had two enclosed outside showers to wash the sand off and a water bucket to wash our feet off before we went in the house. The yard was fenced in and we only had to walk 4 steps down to be on the beach.

casa serena deck

When we were there, the back yard was all grass except for a concrete walk way.  The beach itself was about 15 feet of sand before we actually went into the Caribbean. Little bit of trivia here – Puerto Rico sits by a trench where there are two moving tectonic plates. The eastern side of the island is in the Atlantic while the western side is in the Caribbean.

casa serena beach

We entered into the water and as you walk out you’ll notice that there is a rock shelf with some small growth on it. It was not slippery to us though the rock does have deep cracks in it. Do not step into the crack. The water is clear enough that you can see these cracks. After you pass the rock shelf, you have sandy beach again until you get to the drop off. Our family liked to snorkel here at the drop off where they saw all different types of fish. Our guest home provided boogie boards, noodles, sand toys, inflatables, a high chair, a booster seat and a pack and play. That made it so much easier for Blogger Daughter.

The home had 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, a combination kitchen, dining room and family room. It wasn’t a large space but then we weren’t there often. It was large enough for what we needed. No central air but there were fans and window a/c units in each room.

We were within walking distance of a grocery store though we did use our car to go to that one as well as another grocery store.  Great bakeries and pastry shops were nearby as well.  We found a fruit/vegetable vendor by the side of the road and every day we would get ripe, delicious pineapple, large avocados, fresh mini bananas still on the stalk (or is it called hand), freshly picked cilantro and so much more.  Our owner even gave us the name of a local fisherman would bring us fresh fish if we wanted it.

Next – Blogger Son #2 rental

 

 

 

Spring Break Trip #1 – Rincon, Puerto Rico

1.  Spring Break Trip #1 – Rincon, Puerto Rico

2.  Our Home Away Rental, Rincon, Puerto Rico

3.  2nd Home Rental in Rincon

4. What to do in Rincon and the Surrounding Area

 

The Beginning

When Blogger Son #2 told me that he and his family were renting a house in Puerto Rico I was very happy for them and a little envious that I wasn’t going along – after all, who doesn’t love a little spring breaking?  I must have said something to Blogger Daughter who, a few weeks later announced that she and her family were also going to Puerto Rico and would I like to come with them.  Would I – what a silly question.

 

puerto rico

 

Blogger Son had rented a home through Home Away right on the beach in Rincon, Puerto Rico which is on the northwestern coast of the island.  Blogger Daughter was able to rent one a few doors down.  Being with two of my three children, three of my four grandchildren plus son’s mother-in-law (who I really like to spend time with), her husband and their 14 year old nephew – it sounded like this was going to be a fantastic family trip.

 

How We Got There

We were able to find tickets on US Airways for about $300 roundtrip from Richmond, VA to San Juan via Philly.  We were all going to be on the same plane from Richmond to Philly but then Blogger Son and his family were scheduled to take an earlier flight from Philly to San Juan than we were.  We just didn’t feel comfortable with a 45 minute connection and traveling with a 10 month old.  We all arrived at the Richmond Airport at 6:30 AM to find that our flight to Philly would be late…. late enough that we would miss our connecting flight to San Juan.  They quickly rerouted us through Charlotte, which just made more sense to us anyway.  The problem was that the flight was leaving in about 25 minutes but they didn’t want to load our luggage since we had less than their required 30 minutes.  Son was able to get on just fine but they gave us some difficulty.  I mentioned to the agent that we were all together – all eleven of us.  I think that did it because before you knew it, a supervisor okayed it.  I was disappointed that we didn’t receive an email, text message, tweet or smoke signal letting us know of the situation.  We could have arrived earlier, reserved our seats or have them protect us on this earlier flight to Charlotte.  Disappointed in US Airways.

david edgar death cert

We, and at least 3 others including one in a wheel chair,  raced to security and made the flight just fine.  We all breathed a sigh of relief as we got settled into our seats.  Once in Charlotte we found that we had about an hour connection before our flight.  That gave those of us who didn’t get the boarding passes in Richmond time to get them.  All the time we took when we booked the seats to get the seats where we wanted and with whom went out the window.  We were just glad to get seats.

All the kids were good on the flight and it was a faster flight since we were now on a much larger airplane.  There was a time when we had some turbulence.  Two in our group were in the aisles changing seats and the flights attendants told them to sit in the aisle and to hold on.  It was really rocking – going up and down and side to side.  After about 7 minutes it was over and was smooth sailing the rest of the way to San Juan.

After getting our luggage (mine was easy to spot with the decorative duct tape) and picking up the rental car, we were on our way.  Our first stop was Fort Buchanan so I could stock up on groceries at the Commissary.  If you travel with any active duty or retired duty military personnel, I always advise stopping off at a military installation to get groceries, liquor/beer/wine or discounted tickets to local events.  The base is about 15 minutes from the airport and was on our way to Rincon.

fort buchanan

Rincon is about 2 1/2 hours from San Juan and there is a closer airport to it, Aguadilla, which US Airways doesn’t fly into.  I understand that Jet Blue does and so does United though after a quick look, it seems like all the United flights arrive at 1:30 AM.

Next up, our homes on the beach.