Category Archives: Family Travel

What to do in Beantown, err I mean Boston

I don’t hide the fact, and my accent is a dead giveaway particularly since I live in the South (hey, I consider Virginia the South) that I am originally from Boston – about 14 miles north of the city. You’ll hardly ever hear me pronouncing the letter “r”.  It’s just the way it is.

I have had fond childhood memories of being dropped off in Revere at the Wonderland subway station  (blue line) to ride the subway into Boston.  It is super easy to ride the subway and to get around – you really do not need a car.  I have always loved Boston and I really believe it is the best city in our country.  More about that later.

We had an opportunity to go back “home” the weekend before Thanksgiving to visit some family members.  Award flights were non-existent since it was the weekend before Thanksgiving so we decided to drive.

As I was close to requalifying for Hyatt Diamond this year we stayed just outside of the city in Medford.  I received the Diamond status when Hyatt status matched to other hotels last December and they matched my Spire with Holiday Inn.  I was very surprised that they did it but I will say that I have enjoyed the benefits of the Hyatt program.  As they changed the qualifications for the following year, 2017 will be my last year as a Diamond member.  The Medford Hyatt Place is about 5 miles north of Boston and you can see the skyline from your hotel window. Medford is also the home of Tufts University and where we lived as newlyweds.img_1947

We took the shuttle from the hotel to the Wellington subway station (orange line) and got off at Haymarket which put us within walking distance of the waterfront, the North End and Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market – exactly where we wanted to be.

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We walked over to Faneuil Hall and the Quincy Market.  Faneuil Hall has such a long history with the city.  It had been a meeting place since the mid 1700’s and speeches by many of the early Boston patriots were made in this hall.  Three indoor market places are in the location as well; North Market, Quincy Market and South Market.  Most Bostonians call the entire area “Faneuil Hall”.  Inside Quincy market are stalls of food vendors and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a lobster roll – the kind with mayo in a squared off hot dog roll with some lettuce.  That. to me, is the traditional lobster roll though some places now sell it with melted butter in the hot dog roll.  Blogger Hubby had a cup of clam chowder (or chowda as I would say it) and a gyro.  In the center of the market are benches and table so you can find places to sit and eat.  If this isn’t your thing, just before you get to Faneuil Hall there is the Union Oyster House and other great restaurants as well.  Blogger Hubby’s favorite is Durgin Park, a favorite of President Kennedy.  Communal eating is the style and waitresses back talking to you is the norm.  Anyplace you go, you will get a delicious meal.

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After eating lunch we walked toward the waterfront and admired the views.  It’s always so restful watching boats on water.  Along the waterfront there is a Marriott hotel and attached to the outside of the building are restrooms but….if you go inside and up the escalator, you’ll find warm, clean restrooms inside.  This is my favorite hotel in Boston since it is on the waterfront and close to many things that I love.

We walked along the waterfront and turned into the North End  which is the Italian section of Boston.  I went to college and law school about 5 blocks away and would often come down to the North End for great pizza at Reginas where the waitresses are old, heavy, wear all black clothing and are somewhat rude – but it has such character and is an institution in Boston.  We walked by the Old North Church (“listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere”), and Paul Revere’s home.  img_1963

My absolute favorite part of the North End are the pastry shops on Hanover Street.  There are two pastry shops of note – Mike’s and Modern.  They are similar yet they are also different.  Here is a link comparing the two.  There were so many different fillings for the cannolis but I liked the traditional with the ricotta cream cheese filling with the mini chips on the ends.  After eating my cannoli in the shop, I left wishing I had brought a box back to the hotel with me.  The great news is that the Hyatt that we were staying in is within a couple of blocks of Modern’s shop in Medford.

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Since we had driven that morning from Connecticut and had walked most of the day, we took the subway (locals call it the T) back to the Wellington station.  When we got on the T, we called the hotel to have the shuttle head out to pick us up.  Within 10 seconds of us walking out of the subway station, the shuttle arrived and took us back to the hotel.

There is so much more to Boston than what I have lightly treaded on.  The Freedom Trail is a great start to seeing and learning about the early history of our country.  You will go by Old Ironsides (USS Constitution, a ship that fought in the War of 1812), The Old Granary Burial Ground which is the final resting place for Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, the victims of the Boston Massacre, Mother Goose, the parents of Benjamin Franklin, Peter Faneuil and so many more.  You’ll also go by Bunker Hill which looks like a miniature Washington Monument.  The Old State House and the current State House are also on the tour. Did I tell you the route is about 2.5 miles – very doable and very educational particularly if you are a history buff.  If your child is a scout, I believe there is a badge for walking the Freedom Trail.img_1962

Spring time you should head over to the Boston Public Gardens and take a ride on the Swan Boats.  They operate from mid April till mid September.  The boats are built on two pontoons with six bench seats on them and are propelled by the driver in the back peddling.  It is a favorite tradition in Boston.

A favorite childrens book of Boston children is “Make Way for Ducklings” by Robert McCloskey and part of the story takes place at the lagoon in the Public Gardens where the Swan Boats operate.  If you go there, look for the statues of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-9-42-38-pm

Of course, you can hop on the red line and head over to Harvard and walk around the square and university or go south and go to the Kennedy Presidential Library.  We also have the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Science Museum.  You can go to the top level of the Prudential Building and get a panoramic birds eye view of Boston.  Don’t forget the famous Aquarium – the one in Baltimore is modeled after this one.  If you are there in winter, go to the Boston Commons and ooh and aah at the all the Christmas lights.  In the summer, take the T to Revere Beach. There is so much to do in this great city and because it is relatively flat, it is a great walking city.

If you are a sports fan, there is no better place to be in the summer than at Fenway Park particularly the the Red Sox are playing against the Yankees.  Lots of strong support for the BoSox.  Of course, the Patriots, Bruins and Celtics aren’t too bad either.

I truly am skimming the service when it comes to what you can do in Boston and hope that you find time to visit the city.

 

 

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New Mexico – Land of Enchantment

“This land is your land, this land is my land.  From California to the New York island.”  That song always goes through my mind when I am traveling across our vast country and see the many differences.  This is our land and we need to spend time exploring and getting to know it. Foreign travel is exciting but traveling within our own country allows me to see the grandeur of our country and many spots that are very eyeopening and educational.  I think that sometimes I have preconceived ideas of what areas should look like or what I will find there. Most times I have been proven wrong. Sort of like judging a book by its’ cover and we all know that we shouldn’t do that.

As we sat by the window traveling through New Mexico it somewhat reinforced in both of our minds what we thought the landscape of New Mexico would be – somewhat flat with mesas, buttes, orange/red soil or clay and small little bushes popping up here and there.

When we arrived in Albuquerque, ending our epic Train Trek, we took a cab to pick up our rental car at at the airport, then we got some lunch (at Twisters – a delicious semi-fast food restaurant) and then began our drive toward Santa Fe for our first of five nights in New Mexico.

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We had been told that there are two ways to drive to Santa Fe and we chose the more scenic route which is known as the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway.  This is off the main highway and takes about an hour to travel between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  This trail was well known as a site for the rich deposits of turquoise, gold and iron ore.  You can find in this area the rare blue green turquoise names after the town of Cerrillos.  There are a few towns on the Turquoise Trail and they tend to be more artist’s havens.  Stop in some of the cafes along the trail for a bite to eat, go in the gift shops and look at the silver and  turquoise jewelry.  One shop that we stopped in at Madrid had turquoise that the elderly owner mined herself.  How many shop owners can say that?

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P1050675IMG_1074IMG_1075Santa Fe has some wonderful restaurants restaurants and a preacher on our train from Albuquerque advised us to eat at Tomasita’s for authentic New Mexican food that is family run.  Of course we had to obey the preacher.  Fairly easy to find and like all good restaurants, there was a line.  Food was delicious though it was a bit hot for this northern girl – even the green salsa.  They waiters wanted to make sure that I enjoyed this experience and with their help, I did.

Santa Fe has the most charming plaza of all of the cities that we visited.  I had looked forward to the Georgia O’Keefe museum which is only a couple of blocks from the center of the plaza.  I was able to get the last ticket to go on a docent led tour of her work and learned about her background – fascinating.  I think we all know her for her famous red poppy painting (which is only about 7 inches) but did you know she was also an abstract painter?  She painted many landscape scenes though they were of two themes familiar to her – the area around Lake George area where she would spend her summers with her husband and those of Texas and New Mexico with the beautiful colors of the mesas and skies that she grew to love.  Her personal story is very compelling as  well and you learn about her personal life at the museum.  I would highly recommend this museum.

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Walking to the Georgia O’Keefe museum we passed by shops that had animal sculptures along the street.  Blogger Hubby and I loved whimsical and fun sculptures.  What do you think of these?

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P1050840P1050838P1050843P1050839The Palace of the Governors  is within the Santa Fe Historic District along the plaza downtown and it served as the seat of government for the state of New Mexico for many centuries. The Palace of the Governors is the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States. Outside the building on the portico you’ll find native Americans selling their pottery, jewelry, metal work, drums, leather items, drawings, paintings and so much more. My word of advice, if you choose to purchase, which I did, pay in cash and do not bargain – it is an insult to the Native American vendors whose prices are very fair and less than what you would pay in one of the shops along the plaza.  They also have exquisite workmanship on all the wares that they sell.

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We also went to the State House, a few blocks from the plaza area.  This is the only state house that is round.  It also has four wing entrances, designed after their state flag.  The four wings represent the four cultures in New Mexico – Angelo, Spanish, Mexican and Native American.

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Across the street from the State House was a sign telling us about the Santa Fe Trail  and how it was a main thoroughfare .

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We stayed outside the downtown/plaza area at a Holiday Inn using our points.  It was fine – nothing special.  In hindsight, I would have preferred to have stayed along the downtown plaza area.  There is a lot of traffic in this area, parking is tight and it is just a vibrant place to walk around and be.  We would have gone there our first night except for all the traffic.  Learn from my mistake and stay by the plaza.

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AMTRAK’s South West Chief

We were finally on the last leg of our three part train trek around parts of America.  We enjoyed almost all aspects of the trip so far, perhaps with the exception of one of us having to climb into the upper, narrow bunk bed and the train whistles at night when going pass a crossing.  The South West Chief was originally  operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway until AMTRAK took over passenger rail service in 1971.

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Los Angeles, along with Chicago, has a lounge of first class passengers and we took full advantage of it.  When you enter the front of Union Station, walk straight back and near the rear, turn right and then go up the escalator.  There are chairs, a few tables and chips and soft drinks as well as coffee. There is an attendant sitting at the desk to help us with any questions you might have.

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As lounges go, or at least as compared to airline lounges, this wasn’t too much but it was a nice place to hang out and eat the few snacks that they had.  Because of the way that the station and tracks are laid out, when it was time to go to the track to board our train, we were driven there in multi-row golf carts.  If we had chosen to walk, we would have had a long way to go including going under a tunnel to get to the other side of the tracks.

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We weren’t sure if we would get dinner since we weren’t scheduled to leave Los Angeles till 6:15.  As we boarded we found out that we would get dinner and as the attendant came around, we signed up for one of the first sittings at 7:00.  Same menu that we had on both the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight.  Blogger Hubby was quick to let our table mates know how good he thought the seafood cakes were, which he had again!

We went to bed early because one of the stops in Arizona, early in the morning around 5:45 AM was Winslow, Arizona.  It seemed like I was humming the Eagles song” standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” all night while I was trying to sleep.  Unfortunately, I woke up about 5 minutes after we passed it.  At breakfast we met a couple who had just gotten on the train.  The did the option of going to the Grand Canyon through the Grand Canyon Railroad.  Although they had a good time, they were exhausted because they had to leave their hotel at 3:  AM to be at the train station at 4:00 AM – unfortunately, the train was late and they had to wait about an hour for the South West Chief to come by.  Although they loved the canyon, they wouldn’t recommend going by train other than the convenience of being very close to the rim.

For us, we enjoyed seeing the change in scenery across America.  Here are a few scenes that we passed on our last day on our train trek.

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IMG_1042As I mentioned, our train, unbeknownst to us, was running late but what we found out on every line is that they build time into the schedule so they very rarely arrive late at the station at the end of the line.

Our final stop was Albuquerque.  Our train trek was over but now our New Mexico part was beginning.  It was 11:00 in the morning, the sun was shining and we were excited.  We gathered our bags, left the train and walked out front to get a taxi to the airport to get our rental car.  Problem was – there were no cabs.  I tried calling one cab company but no answer.  I tried Uber but it was surge pricing very high.  Finally got a cab company who would send a cab out to the train station in 10-15 minutes but no guarantee that we would get it.  After half an hour, one came but there was a little disagreement on how got to ride.  The other couple and us came to an agreement that we would share it since we were both going to a car rental at the airport.IMG_1047

We closely examined the car, loaded our bags and headed north to Santa Fe.

Would we do this again – yes!  We’d like to do the California Zephyr route which is San Francisco to Chicago traveling through scenic Colorado and the Rockies.

This entire train trip took 65,000 of my Ultimate Reward points that I had transferred over to AMTRAK (no longer available to do it) and remember, traveling first class included all of our meals.  I used points to stay at the Holiday Inn and Suites in Chicago the night before our train trip, also for the Weston Bayshore in Vancouver, points for our night at the Hilton Doubletree Checkers hotel in Los Angeles.  We paid for our night at the Seattle Grand Hyatt and used a Diamond upgrade for our Emerald Suite.

Up next, Land of Enchantment – exploring Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque and its environs.

REMINDER: I’m getting together a group for a cruise around the southern tip of South America.Come join us on March 5, 2018 (that’s right – 2018) on Holland America’s Zaandam, a vessel with about 1450 passengers as we board in Valparaiso, Chile as we cruise among the fjords, through the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, visiting the southernmost town in the world, Montevideo, Paraguay and disembarking in Buenos Aires, he home of fine leather and the tango.  With a group, basically in name only, we received the lowest rates and amenities. .  Leave a comment and I’ll respond privately to you about this cruise or contact my travel agent, Michelle, at michelle@mccabeworld.com and tell her you are in Jane’s group!

Coast Starlight Train from Seattle to Los Angeles

Traveling by train is not quick.  You will not get to where you want to go fast.  Train travel can be expensive but for some of these routes, it is much less than airfare for these remote locations.  Train travel is a lazy, relaxing way to sit back, and watch the scenery go by while you are going to your destination and enjoying the ride.  That’s something that most people don’t say about airplane travel.  You have the opportunity to meet people, share travel stories, get recommendations  if you are stopping in their hometown.  Train travel is almost a luxurious way to travel because you are not rushing.  It’s a throwback to other times for most of us.  Rooms are small, even the large bedroom that we got very very small.

In our "large" bedroom" on the train.  It was the same setup on all the trains.
In our “large” bedroom” on the train. It was the same setup on all the trains.
hallway where our bedroom was located
hallway where our bedroom was located

We began the second leg of our Train Trek across America in Seattle when we went to Seattle’s King Street AMTRAK station to board the Coast Starlight. We had heard so much about this leg of our trip that I wondered if it lived up to the hype. After reading this, you be the judge.  If you missed our first leg, you can read about it here.

At the King Street Station, there is no lounge.  Like airports, there is a dedicated line waiting to board for first class passengers. You need to look at your ticket for it to tell you which car you are on and which room. Our ticket said 1130 D which translates into train #11, car 30, room D. You need to remember this information because you will use it in the dining room to charge your meal to your room (remember, your meals are included if you are a first class passenger).

We settled in and went exploring. We had heard that this train was different and we wanted to find out how it was different. One car behind us was the Parlor Car which I don’t believe any other long haul train has. This is exclusively for first class passengers and it has padded, swivel chairs so you can look our the windows. This is similar to an observation car with the windows at chair level and on top as well. There are 12 of these chairs as well as about 8 tables.

comfortable chairs in the parlor
comfortable chairs in the parlor
tables for eating during dining hours in the parlor as well as the wine tasting.  We would play cards here as well
tables for eating during dining hours in the parlor as well as the wine tasting. We would play cards here as well

You can make meal reservations in the parlor car and they have a different menu that what we had on the Empire Builder or what we would have on the SouthWest Chief. Excited that we would have something different, I quickly signed us up for lunch. BIG MISTAKE. Nothing is prepared fresh, or at least as fresh as it could be on the train. I ordered a salad which was mainly arugula and sliced red cabbage with a salad dressing that was not to my liking – and I like most salad dressings. Blogger Hubby had the chicken salad sandwich and he said it was a “nothing kind of sandwich”, pre-made who knows when. There was another choice and it too was a sandwich. Lesson learned – eat meals in the dining room.

The parlor car is also where they have wine tastings for $7.50 for three tastings and an offer to buy a cheese platter for $10. The first day it was 2 wines from Washington and one imported wine from Argentina. The second day it was 2 wines from California and the same imported wine from Argentina. Although it was nice to do this, it could have been presented and run better. After we were served our wine, the parlor stewart disappeared. Sometimes there were long waits before pours. You decide whether you want to do this or not.

tasting a Washington State wine
tasting a Washington State wine

 

We left Seattle about an hour and more late. They had to put sand on the train for us to spray in the tracks where we would potentially have problems climbing elevation and possibly slippery tracks.

Once we started moving we were glad that we were in the comfortable parlor car seats as we admired the beautiful scenery that was unfolding before our eyes. We crossed smaller rivers, traveled along the Columbia River, climbed mountains, saw Mt. Shasta and just took in the sights. We certainly understood why Oregon is called the Evergreen State as we traveled southbound. What surprised both of us was that there was still snow on the ground.

Through the Cascade Mountains
Through the Cascade Mountains

On all of the trains, there are some longer stops where you can get off the train, go in the station or just stretch your legs on firm ground.  Here we are in Eugene, Oregon where the waffle sole was invented and Nike was begun.  The longer stops are called “smoke stops” as there is no smoking on the train.

One of our stops, Eugene, Oregon.
One of our stops, Eugene, Oregon.

As we traveled through California we stopped at Salinas which is nicknames “America’s Salad Bowl” and marveled at all the rows and rows of crops that were growing and being harvested.  We could quickly spot the red strawberries that were growing on the plants and wished we could have reached out the train window to grab some.

Salinas, California - America's Salad Bowl
Salinas, California – America’s Salad Bowl

Further down the coast, south of San Luis Obispo, came the sheer beauty of this coast.  There was nothing between us and the shore.  With colors ranging from deep green to tans and browns, it was breathtaking and made us glad that we were seeing this from the train – we could have never done it by automobile as there were no visible roads to our eye.  Mountains in the background, sand and ocean in front of us as we were zipping along on this stretch of track that this train route is noted for.

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Pacific Coast
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Pacific Coast south of San Luis Obispo

There is one point in this section that you go around a curve and can see both the front of the train as well as the back of the train at the same time.  Of course, I wasn’t able to photograph it but here is the front of the train.

The front of the Coast Starlight train
The front of the Coast Starlight train

Every train has a different personality with different crew. Also, each of the trains we rode had the same menu yet with different cooks, the same food was different on the trains.  Blogger Hubby loved the seafood cakes which were a combination of shrimp and crab meat.  He thought that was the best on the menu.  I had the signature steak on al three trains and the Coast Starlight had the best steak by far.  Salisbury Steak, the special on all the trains, was hit or miss.  We didn’t try the pasta with the overcooked veggies.  The herb chicken was also good.

We arrived in Los Angeles around 9:00 PM and took a cab to our hotel with an attitude from our cabdriver since our hotel, the Hilton DoubleTree was only a few blocks away.

As a reminder, everything on this trip with the exception one hotel night was booked using points.  Your meals on the train are included in your first class fare/miles.

Leg two of our epic train trek was now in the books.  Next up, what to do near the train station during the day.

Seattle – Our Layover and What We Did

We chose to continue our trip after we got off the Empire Builder and took the AMTRAK bus to Vancouver. We had about 4 hours between our arrival in Seattle and our departure. Not one to miss an opportunity to explore, we were off.

In the terminal in Seattle, if you go to the ticketing counter, they will help you in holding your luggage. They do this because the room where the locker is store is not always manned. The cost is $4 per piece .

King Street Station, Seattle
King Street Station, Seattle

We left the train station and walked down to Pike’s Public Market. We were so hungry because that morning on the train, the breakfast was open from 5:30 AM till 7:00 AM. With all the time changes, it was not a problem getting up for breakfast at that time.

What I love about Pike’s Market are the flowers that they sell and have arranged in bouquets. They are so fragrant, so colorful and so inexpensive. One of my favorite flowers is the peony and you could get a beautiful arrangement with white peonies, dark purple irises, purple delphiniums and other beautiful filler flowers for $10!

Rows and rows of beautiful floral bouquets many featuring peonies and irises
Rows and rows of beautiful floral bouquets many featuring peonies and irises

Pike Market is known for a fish stall that throws the fish to the wrapper once you have selected your piece to bring home. It gets very crowded and when a fish is thrown, loud applause follows in appreciation. It is a sight to behold and if you haven’t seen it, look for a crowd around a fish stall.

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A new meaning to the term “flying fish”

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We found Pike Barbeque inside the market – only 7 stools but worth waiting for a stool – do not attempt to eat this sandwich on your lap. It is juicy with lots of sauce on it. In fact, they dip the top bun in sauce before putting it on the sandwich. Being from Virginia, I am somewhat of a barbeque snob but this was very, very good. We shared the brisket sandwich and I was licking my lips and fingers afterwards.  If barbeque is not your thing, go downstairs and you will find a restaurant that serves local fish as well as Dungeness crab. There are many other choices for lunch so walk around first and find what you want.IMG_0775

What I like about this area is the complete diversity of shops although many are associated with food in some ways. There was a Russian restaurant, Turkish, cheese making, a pear store, hot dogs and so much more. I wish I had a larger stomach and larger clothing so I could have a sample of all of these tempting tasty treats.

For those that may be coming to Seattle for the first time and have a little more time, please allow me to make recommendation – go down along the waterfront and take the cruise to Tillicum Village on Blake Island for the Native American Dinner Show. The ferry ride out to the island is beautiful and the native story and the salmon dinner (you can request chicken at time of booking) is delicious. Walk around the island before or after the show.  This will be one of your highlights of your trip.

at the Wharf
at the Wharf

We walked back to King Street Station in time for our bus to Vancouver. Since we took the bus up to Vancouver and the train back to Seattle, I’ll write a blog post comparing both means of travel.

Nashville Rocks! Halloween at the Grand Ole Opry and Gaylord Opryland Hotel

I have a confession to make. I am not a country music fan.  I blame that on not being exposed to it while growing up.  I mean, back in the days when I grew up in Boston we didn’t have a country music scene.  We had one place in Boston called Hillbilly Ranch (true name) and it was somewhat of a joke.  Even its location was a place that you didn’t want to go into – The Combat Zone.

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Photo:  Getty Images/Boston Globe

While I was in college, we were all listening to the current pop music. Then I moved to Virginia and there was a lot of bluegrass music which was too twangy for me.  Honestly, I didn’t know the difference and thought it was all country music.  So I shied away from that genre of music and stayed away.  I just was never interested in it.

You’re probably wondering why I am telling you all this and it’s easy.  I was going to visit Nashville – home of country music – on our Road Trip. We would be arriving on Halloween and wondered what we should do on that night.  There was only one answer – go to The Grand Ole Opry. Yes, I was going to listen to country music.  We looked at the schedule and believe it or not, I had actually heard of some of the performers like Vince Gill, Charlie Daniels and his band, and the Gatlin Brothers were the main performers with others also on the show.

We first called the Opry box office ten days before we would arrive and realized that the only tickets left were behind the nose bleed sections.  Not what we wanted to hear.  We put our two great minds together and we came up with an idea.  What if we called the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and inquire if they had any packages that included tickets.  Gaylord hotels are part of the Marriott chain and although I did have a few points in my account, they weren’t enough to get us anything.  The operator found what we considered very good tickets, on the floor, off from the center a little bit and on an aisle. Cha-ching.  We booked the package even though it was expensive  but we figured that it was a unique experience.

After we made the booking we heard from several different people what a fantastic property it was – large, gardens, a river runs through it and that it would take us a few days to go all through it.  In my mind, it just didn’t make sense that this large hotel that would be minutes from the Grand Ole Opry because in my mind the Opry is in downtown Nashville.   Confusion reigned as we drove up this long driveway in the outskirts of Nashville.  We pulled in at 5:30 and elected to do valet parking at $32 per day (yikes, don’t tell Blogger Hubby) because we needed to get to our room, do a quick shower and be at the appropriate door to ride the shuttle to the show.   Still thinking that the Opry was in downtown Nashville, we knew we had to hurry or we’d miss the shuttle and we didn’t know how expensive a taxi would be.  The show began at 7:00 and here it was at 5:30 and we had to be at the door at 6:00.  First tip if you are going to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel:  unless you are with a convention, ask to be in the Cascades section of the hotel.  We were initially booked by the desk clerk in Magnolia, next to the Convention Hall on the opposite side of this large hotel even though she knew we were in a rush.  That is one heck of a long walk; same goes for Delta. Our bellman, seeing that we were in MagnoliaCascades was able to change our room to make it easier to reach.  Cascades, where we ended up,  is where the main lobby is, where the concierge is where you are parked, and where you get your car from valet parking.

We met our shuttle and had a 3 minute ride to the Grand Ole Opry – not downtown but very close by.  We knew where to meet the shuttle for the ride home.  We walked in, and since we hadn’t had dinner, we were able to get drinks and popcorn to bring into the theatre with us.  Great seats awaited us.  IMG_2159

There was an Mistress of Ceremony warming up the crowd but shortly the show would begin.  We noticed there was a large screen over the stage of the Opry as well as a few other screens throughout the theatre.  As we were reminded, this is a live radio show and there are commercials about the sponsors of the Opry with the announcer standing near the edge of stage left.

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The show was divided into four acts with each act having their own Master of Ceremony who would introduce the performers in the acts.  Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers opened up the show welcoming us and then proceed to sing.  P1040912

The second act was a led by a substitute MC – Jeanne Seeley.  She was the only one dressed in a costume with a boa of dollars bills over her witch’s dress.  She characterized herself as a Rich Witch.  Singing during this act was Ricky Scaggs.  P1040918

A surprise guest during this time was  Florence Henderson aka “Carol Brady”.  The third act was MC’d by Charlie Daniels and his band and boy, can he fiddle.  We overheard from the row behind us that they had just heard him about a week or so before and he was really putting on a performance this night.  Charlie was given a standing ovation after singing and playing “Devil Went Down to Georgia”.  It went something like this.  P1040955

The evening ended with Vince Gill and a clip of him during his early years playing at the Opry, or as he liked to call it – 50 pounds earlier. Also performing in the final act was Mel Tillus.  It was a country music star studded evening – what a way to spend Halloween night!

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We really enjoyed our Halloween night at the Opry and I hope to enjoy a repeat visit to this house of music.

BTW, the Grand Ole Opry was downtown Nashville in the Ryman Auditorium but moved out to its present location in 1975.  If you are interested in tickets, follow this link.

 

 

 

 

 

Memphis – Ducks, BBQ, Civil Rights Museum and Dr. Ben Carson

I love children books – particularly well written ones that tell a good story.  One author, Patricia Polacco, moves me with the way she tells a story, usually based on her family but not always, as well as with her illustrations.  When I worked in the school system (upper elementary grades) I always seemed to gravitate toward this author’s books and I was always surprised that a few of my special ed students “got it” – the subtle meaning of some of her books.  One of her books, John Philip Duck, told the story (fiction based on fact) about how the ducks came to the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.  Since reading the story I have wanted to go see the ducks walk to the fountain or from the fountain back to the roof where they resided.  The ducks come down at 10:00 and return at 5:00.

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Knowing that, going to the Peabody Hotel in the morning became our first priority.  We were shocked that parking was very easy to find and relatively inexpensive in Memphis as was the hotel.  We entered the lobby at 9:35 and already people were lined up along the velvet roping to view the ducks.  Children were sitting on the floor along the red carpet so they could have an unemcumbered view.  Hotel guest were fortunate that they, and only them, could sit in the lounge around the duck fountain to view the duck walk.  Excitement was building and then the elevator doors open.  Led by the Duckmaster, the 5 mallard ducks (one male and four females) waddle on the red carpet to the fountain, walked up the ramp and plopped into the water where the swam around.  A few minutes later, the Duckmaster approached the fountain with a silver tray and on it was a silver bowl of duck food.  It was all over in about ten minutes.

Waiting for the ducks to come out of the elevator
Waiting for the ducks to come out of the elevator
Ducks swimming in the lobby fountain
Ducks swimming in the lobby fountain
The 5th Duckmaster ever and myself after the Duck Walk
The 5th Duckmaster ever and myself after the Duck Walk

We then walked down to the Cotton Museum.  It was okay and nothing memorable in my mind.  The museum was basically one room in a large building.  My recommendation would be to skip this museum and save your  time for the Civil Rights Museum.

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One of the displays at the Cotton Museum
One of the displays at the Cotton Museum

Before we visited the Civil Rights Museum we decided that it was time to have lunch and nothing would satisfy my craving other than Memphis style barbecue.  Everyone gave us their recommendations.  Some were too far outside the city, one location – The Rendezvous had been highly recommended but a local woman told us that it wasn’t very good anymore because the owner sold the restaurant and took his recipes with him.  With that little bit of local information and the fact that we were starving, we ate at a BBQ restaurant behind the Civil Rights Museum – Central BBQ.

IMG_2125All I can say is WOW – probably the best bbq that I have ever had.  The ribs, which we had half wet and half dry, were very nicely charred and the meat pulled from the bone.  The pulled pork sandwich was just as delicious, nicely smoked and flavored.  On the counter were various different bbq sauces though my favorite was the vinegar sauce.  Cole slaw was on the side as was the crispy onion rings.  I kept repeating during this lunch how delicious the food was.  If you find yourself in Memphis – do yourself a favor and eat at Central BBQ.

Ribs - half wet and half dry.  They were the best I had ever had.
Ribs – half wet and half dry. They were the best I had ever had.

As soon as you finish eating, walk around a very short corner to the Hotel Lorraine.   The Civil Rights Museum is inside the gutted hotel.  IMG_2127

The Lorraine Hotel with a wreath on the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated
The Lorraine Hotel with a wreath on the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated

I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was much more than what I did expect.  From the capture of Africans to be brought to the Jamestown Colony in 1619 through the current day, you see the struggle of the black population in our country.  The most memorable part for me was the early sixties as I remember watching events unfold on television – the KKK, the lynchings, the Freedom Riders, bombing of churches, Martin Luther King and his famous “I Have a Dream Speech”.

IMG_2135I remember my grandfather writing a letter to President Kennedy as one Boston Irish Catholic to another about how he needed to bring in the military to stop all the killings.  I probably was ten at the time and it still leaves a very strong memory.  Visiting the museum was a very emotional and at times I felt like I was on information overload since there was so much reading in the exhibits as well as emotions for such a dark period in the history of our country and in some respects probably still exists.  I had wished that they had a small cafeteria where we could take a break. Do not miss this museum – one of the best that I had been to including the Apartheid Museum that I visited in Johannesburg.  On our way out, we went by the room that was occupied by MLK, Jr when he was assassinated.  We could not go in but we could view inside the plexiglass wall to see the room just the way it looked in 1968.  Afterwards we walked across the street for more of the museum staying only about 10 minutes.

IMG_2140As we crossed the street to walk to our car, we noticed a very small crowd as well as two black SUV’s with door open.  As we approached, we saw that it was Dr. Ben Carson.  I approached him and asked if I could have my  picture taken with him.  He quietly agreed and I now have a picture of he and I.  After our picture he got into the car and took off.

Dr. Ben Carson and myself
Dr. Ben Carson and myself

Reflecting on our day, we came to the conclusion that it was a wonderful day.  From seeing the ducks, barbeque, the Civil Rights Museum and someone trying to win their party’s nomination for President.  This is why I love Road Trips – you just never know what you are going to do or see and we were very open to just let things happen.

Memphis – Graceland, a Pyramid and Arkansas

We left our hotel that was just outside of Memphis to head to our number one destination – Graceland.  IMG_2059

Yes, we were going to Elvis’ home.  I loved listening to Elvis when I was younger and even more so now that I have gotten older.  I cheered his comeback in the late 60’s and early 70’s and I was sad when he died while I was on my honeymoon in Ireland in 1977.

Elvis' 1968 television special
Elvis’ 1968 television special

Many people have told us that they thought Graceland was overrated, it was small but others have told us how much they enjoyed it.  Whether we were going to like it or not didn’t matter – we needed to go.

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The night before our trip we went on the Graceland website to review the ticket choices – that’s right you have a choice of 5 different ticket options.  We chose the Platinum tour that comes with an interactive iPad with the narration of the house by John Stamos as well as entry into his automobile museum and a few other locations.  We did not have the airplanes as part of our tour.  After we received our iPads and headsets we boarded a trolley to take us across Elvis Presley Blvd to the mansion.

Waiting in line for our iPad and then to board the trolley for the ride across the street
Waiting in line for our iPad and then to board the trolley for the ride across the street

We toured the first floor and the basement – the upstairs private rooms were not part of the tour.   The decor in some rooms was very nice for the time period; other times it was a little garish.  Walking into the dining room we saw a touching photograph of Priscilla and Lisa Marie on the wall.

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Living room
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Dining room
Kitchen
Kitchen
Jungle room
Jungle room

The kitchen seemed out of a time capsule.  Then there was was the talked about “Jungle Room”    The basement looked like a bumblebee to me with the black and yellow decor.  Also in the basement was a pool room.

What I call the Bumbebee Room
What I call the Bumbebee Room but is really a lounge in the basement

In one of the hallways was a collection of his gold records.

Love Me Tender gold record
Love Me Tender gold record

We then went outside to see the back of the home, the building where his offices were, saw the pasture for his horses.P1040801

His racquet ball building which was turned into an area where some of his  stage costumes were as well as several screens that played some of his concerts and television appearances.

P1040824For some reason that I certainly didn’t expect, I found that it was very moving and there were tears in my eyes.  I loved listening to his voice singing some of the ballads that he was so good at and were so familiar to me.  Maybe it was from sadness of seeing what drugs could do to a person.  I don’t know except that it was very emotional to me.  Exiting the building we walked over to the area where he was buried next to his parents and grandmother.P1040830

After touring the house, we took the trolley back across the street and went into the automobile museum.  The number of cars that he had, how he customized many of the cars was amazing.  Also in this museum were some videos of Elvis in clips from various movies where he is in some of these cars.

P1040842We had lunch at the Chrome Restaurant and I would not recommend it. Bring a snack, eat before or after but just don’t eat there.  It wasn’t that bad but in my mind it wasn’t that good.

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After doing a little shopping at the gift shops (some CD’s to play, postcards, etc) we left to continue our first day in Memphis.  Overall, we were not surprised to find that it was not a huge mansion.  We felt that it was more of a family home where he and his wife (later his daughter) could live with additional room for his parents.  This could have been considered a “mansion” at the time it was built by Memphis standards.  We were happy with our stop at Graceland.

As we drove along the river in Memphis, it was our goal to drive across the “Dolly Parton” bridge, so nicknamed because of the shape of the bridge, into Arkansas, a state I had not been to but I missed the turn.  As I was driving up, I spied in front of us a tall pyramid.

Bass Pro Shop pyramid
Bass Pro Shop pyramid

This was the new Bass Pro Shop that I had heard about.  We quickly found parking and walked inside.  We purchased tickets ($10) to ride the 28 story freestanding elevator to the tip of the pyramid where there was a bar/restaurant and an outdoor observation deck.

view from the ascending elevator
view from the ascending elevator

This blogger is afraid of heights but I did go out,  just not on the glass part.  I did hand my camera over to a braver soul than me to take photographs of Mud Island, the bridge and Arkansas.  P1040876 (1)

After we had our snack we went back down the elevator and was able to really look around.

Restaurant at the top of the pyramid
Restaurant at the top of the pyramid

The interior reminded me of a Louisiana swamp town.  There were alligators, “Bait Shacks”, little shops filled with outdoor gear.  I would recommend to anyone in Memphis in taking a drive over to the pyramid and looking around.  It was fun.

We were going to try again to cross the Mississippi River into Arkansas and we were successful.  We went one exit, turned around and drove back into Tennessee.  Isn’t that what you do on Road Trips?

Tomorrow we are planning on going to The Peabody to see the famed ducks as well as the Civil Rights Museum and to find good barbeque!

Lexington. Kentucky

We decided to spend our first night on the “Thelma and Louise” Road Trip Revisited in Lexington, Kentucky.  After driving seven hours through Virginia, winding West Virginia and part of Kentucky we made it to Lexington.  It was a beautiful day for a drive when the leaves in our area were at peak color.

We had made reservations at the Candlewood Suites at Exit 115 off I-64 in Lexington.  I was disappointed that it was in a small industrial park but the hotel was clean, we had a great room and the ladies that worked behind the desk were great.  When we asked where we should go for dinner that would be a local favorite and not part of a chain they immediately said Packette’s.  Sounded great and soon we were headed to the drive-in diner and restaurant that had been in existence since 1951.  They have 72 bays for  cars!  We also found out that it had been featured in the Food Network’s Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins.

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The ladies working at the hotel told us to make sure we had the fried chicken.  Parking out front is for the drive-ins and since we wanted to eat inside, we had to park out back.  We walked in and immediately knew that we had traveled back in time.  Chrome was everywhere, the old leather red booths and Pepsi Cola signs hanging everywhere.  The best part was our extremely friendly waitress Carla who was so helpful to us.  Chicken – well they pride themselves on being the original Kentucky Fried Chicken until a certain colonel came along and claimed that name.  It was delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal.

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Fried Chicken with Hot Brown fries. Mmm good!
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This is where we entered the restaurant but not where we ate. It sparkled and shined with all the chrome
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Red and white booths and walls with the glass Pepsi lights
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The famous Packette’s sign by the highway and a few of the 72 bays for the cars.

We woke up to a cold, windy morning with rain spitting down on us.  We drove over the the Kentucky Horse Park.

Kentucky Horse Park
Kentucky Horse Park

Not knowing much about it I was stunned to see all that was at the Park, which has been owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Kentucky since 1978.  We began outside admiring the different statues of well known horses such as Secretariat and Man o’ War.  A horses body is so interesting to me – how sleek yet how strong and muscular they are.

Secretariat
Secretariat
Man o' War
Man o’ War

We then went inside to the International Museum of the Horse and was able to only look around for about 15 minutes as it was time for the morning guided trolly tour.  We were in a horse drawn trolley and took a quick 15 minute tour around the more visited areas of the Farm.

15 minute trolley tour ride
15 minute trolley tour ride

We departed in time to catch the golf cart shuttle to go to the Hall of Champions where 4 different champions were brought out and introduced to us via television clips of their winning races.

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The horse that I was more familiar with was Go for Gin.  We also saw quarter standard horses that sulkies and another thoroughbred.

Go for Gin, the 1994 Kentucky Derby Winner
Go for Gin, the 1994 Kentucky Derby Winner

When that was over we headed over to the Breeders Barn where they have many different horses from all over the world.  We didn’t stay long as it was very cold, damp and windy and we needed to be somewhere else, but we saw Chincoteague ponies, Fells ponies from Scotland, a Chinese horse, and a Tennessee walking horse.

We wished we could have stayed longer as there is so much to see and do at the Kentucky Horse Park.  If I were to come here again, I would allow at least 5 hours, if not more.  We stayed off Exit 115 which is Newtown Pike and that was the perfect location to get to the Park very easily.

Next up on our Road Trip – Mammoth Caves and the two tours we took.

 

How to Book a United Award Ticket and Save in Two Different Ways

Blogger Hubby received an invitation that he would not refuse a few weeks ago.  Blogger Son #2 went out to Bozeman, Montana from the East Coast with his family the middle of June to begin work on his Masters in Science Education.  Spending some time in the West with his wife and two little children had been something he had wanted to do.  Combine that with his desire to begin his masters and the two ideas were able to come together this summer.  Of course, since he doesn’t live in Montana he will continue to work on his masters online and to go back out next summer for more classwork.

Blogger Son #2 recently took up fishing although he did have some lessons a few years ago from my husband in fly fishing.  Additionally when he was younger we took a family vacation in Montana at the 9 Quarter Circle Ranch and he watched his older brother take an avid interest in fly tying and flyfishing.

Knowing that my husband loves, did I say loves, flyfishing, he invited him to go to Montana and join him for some fishing in the Madison and Gallatin Rivers.  The Gallatin River was made famous in the movie “A River Runs Through It”.  Blogger Son #2’s family would be flying home while our son would be driving the family van back to the East Coast.  The plan was for my husband to overlap with our daughter-in-law and their two children then to spend some time alone with our son after his family left.

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The only airline that made sense for him to fly was on United using our Ultimate Reward points that we earned with our Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  Actually, United had good flights out but not any returning.  Instead, he would fly Delta home now that they had one way flights for half the points.  I quickly transferred our American Express Membership Reward points over to Delta and booked the return since we didn’t have many options.

For the flight out there United didn’t have any economy seats so I was forced to consider First Class but since he was only doing it one way, I was going to have to use 25,000 points AND have to pay $80 in fees.  Yikes, I could do the 25,000 but $80 in fees.

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Then I began thinking.  What if I transferred the points over to Singapore Airlines; would that change how many points I would need?  I called up Singapore Airlines and was told that it would be 20,000 points and 7.50 Singapore dollars which I quickly converted to be $5.49 USD.

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Instead of transferring my Ultimate Rewards points to United I would be transferring them to Singapore Airlines.  I called up Chase and it took about 5 minutes to do the transfer since I already had a Kris Flyer (Singapore’s Loyalty Program) account although the points did not show up in my Kris Flyer  till about 12 hours later.  Once in my account I called up Kris Flyer to make the reservation.  The seats were still there luckily but one thing that I didn’t know was that since the points were in my account with Singapore Airlines, I needed to “nominate” my husband to be the recipient of my points.  That was easily done online and then I quickly called up Singapore to continue booking.  I asked for the Record Locator number so that we could go on the United site and reserve his seat.

Final analysis was that I saved 5,000 Ultimate Reward points and $75 dollars.  Sounds like a successful award booking to me.  Remember, even though you might to fly on United, it might be better to book the trip through Singapore or another Star Alliance airline.

Photo Essay of Kruger National Park

I hope you enjoy these photos that I took during our recent safari in Kruger National Park:

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Warthog greeted us at the Paul Kruger Gate

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Lions on the road made us wonder if we would get to Satara Rest Camp before the gate closed (we did).

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We learned the difference between white rhinos and black rhinos – these are white rhinos

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Magnificent elephants in their natural surroundings.

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This male kudu has such unique markings on his face – almost like war paint.  Love the length of his horns as well.

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An endangered Saddle Billed Stork – it stood about 5 feet tall!

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What a cute little monkey

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A pride of lions took down this Cape Buffalo and was able to finish him off in about 5 hours.  Hyenas ate the bones.

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If you can notice, the white stripes held a brown stripe in this species of zebras.

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Profile of three lions

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This is how close we were to so many animals – loved seeing the many giraffes.

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We saw many beautiful birds – particularly this one – the lilac breasted roller

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Caught this elephant mid stream.  Looks like he is balancing a ball.

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Such a stately and beautiful animal.

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We saw several bones around the Kruger as well.

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Very, very early in the morning at Camp Shawu

What a Trip we Had – Guided Kruger Safari at Camp Shawu, Part 7

Now that we had done our self drive through Kruger, we were going to try another type of safari – a guided safari.  This is the type that you see in the  magazines and movies.  For those who might go on one, your total cost generally involves picking you up and returning you to the airport. Since we were already in the Kruger, we asked that they pick us up at the Lower Sabie Camp.  Because of that change we were able to save a little money.  Also factored into the cost is the conservation fee which I spoke about in an earlier blog – all guests into Kruger must pay the conservation fee.

Blogger Hubby is the one who did the research and made the decision on which safari we were going to go on.  Some of them were really expensive – about $1000 per person per day.  We did not want to pay that kind of money so the budget did come into play in deciding which safari we would choose.

After much research he chose Camp Shawu which is part of the Shishangeni Lodge.  Apparently there are several camps that are associated with this lodge.  This camp has a lease on land within the Kruger – they call it their concession.  They are limited to doing safaris on their land and no others can go on their land.  Their concession is located in the southeast corner of the park near the Crocodile Bridge Gate.

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After we were picked up in  a car at he Lower Sabie Camp we were taken to the Shishangeni Lodge where we checked in and waited for our 30 minute ride to Camp Shawu.  The reception area in the lodge looked really nice so I was very excited about what our camp would look like.

As we drove to our camp, I couldn’t help but notice all the burnt land within their concession.  We had seen this during our self drive but, in our opinion, not to the extent that we saw in this concession.  It was interesting to see the paths that the animals had made.

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When we arrived at our camp and I was surprised at how small it was.  There were 5 cottages for guests – I didn’t expect something this small but others came here for that exact reason.  The reception area was nice but small – again if you have max only ten guests you so not need to have have too much.  On the verandah, there was a small splash pool – about 6 x 8.

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We were walked to our cottage and though it was very nice.  It had the typical bed with the mosquito netting around it; a stand alone claw foot tub in the corner of the large room.  The dark wood floor offset by the white tub and fluffy towels made a nice statement.  In one corner of the large room was a toilet separated by a reed screen from the rest of the room.  The sink was on the other side.  There were also two leather chairs in the middle of the room.  The shower was outdoors and not in sight of anyone else. The front of the room overlooked a large watering hole which is the draw for this camp.  A screen was across the front opening as their are no windows.  The screen is held to the inside of the room with velcro. At night they roll down a heavy vinyl shade and that zips to open but also is velcroed to the inside of the opening to get outside to your verandah.

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We quickly changed and went to the reception room for afternoon tea.  I was a little disappointed in what they consider afternoon tea.  We had tea and coffee with pizza as the snack.  In my mind, afternoon tea was with scones, little sandwiches and little treats – not pizza.  After we finished we went outside and got into our safari jeep – a vehicle that held the ten guests and our ranger.  We had a soft roof to it and there were rolled up sides if it was raining or foul weather.  Luckily the sides never came down.  The was a seat outside the front of the jeep for what I would imagine be a ranger with a gun but it was never occupied.  The ranger/driver we had said he knew the behavior of the animals and had no need of a rifle.

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We didn’t see much on this first safari except near the end there was a report on the radio of a cheetah.  We went racing across the land to meet about 6 other jeeps to look at the cheetah.  When he got up to move, all the trucks followed.  This went on for about 15 -20 minutes and it got to a point where I didn’t care for it.  I really felt like we were stalking the cheetah.  I had seen him, I had taken photos of him – I didn’t need to feel like I was bothering him.  Another thing that our driver/ranger did was to get us between a mama rhino and her baby with the papa rhino.  We also got a little too close for my comfort.  Once again, when they moved, we followed.  I just felt like we were harassing the animals.  Just my personal opinion.

Toward the end of our safari we stopped and got out of the vehicle for “sundowners”.  The driver/ranger brought out wine and beer and a few little treats – dried mangos, nuts and biscuits (Cookies).  The last 20 minutes back to the camp was in the dark.  The driver/ranger had a spot light that he held as he drove looking for some of the nocturnal animals like badger.  We never saw any animals.

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A very hearty dinner was a 7:00 in the reception area.  There were 5 table for two people.  Two choices were given to you and you selected one.  Our first night it was lamb chops or pork chops.  They were fine but what was outstanding was their butternut soup.  I felt a little nickled and dimed at dinner because if I wanted water, I had to pay for bottled water.  Their water is “safe” they say although it is brackish and they do not serve it.  For what we were paying, and it was about $450 per person, per day – they  should have filled our water glasses with bottled water if we requested it.  Beer and wine was extra as well.

This camp is on a generator and that can present some problem.  They turn the generator off at 11:00, which is fine but we were charging our cameras and since we only had one outlet that did present a problem.  The generator was also turned off at different times of the day.

Although our room looked really nice, it was not very functional for us.  We like to read a little before bed.  Although both sides of the bed had lamps, only one had enough light to read by.  The other one was useless.  No light in the corner where the toilet or the tub were.  A small light over the mirror by the sink but no outlet for Blogger Hubby to shave by.  There was a dual outlet between the two leather chairs and one of the outlets had a lamp plugged in; the other outlet didn’t work.  We had to unplug the lamp and have them get an extension cord to plug in our camera, kindle, iPhone, etc to use when we had electricity.  There was no drawers or bureau to unpack your clothes.  In the closet should have been drawers but they were broken and on top of the bureau.  There was also only luggage stand yet we had two pieces of luggage, mine and my husband.  There was no light whatsoever where the luggage was and that made it difficult getting things out of your suitcase or finding what you needed.

No drawers
                 No drawers

 

 

Here is one of the drawers
               Here is one of the drawers

In the closet we had one bathrobe to share 😦    Maybe I am being spoiled but two would have been so much nicer.

More about our safari and the Camp tomorrow and yes, there were some very good parts of this aspect of our trip.

 

 

 

What a Trip we Had – Self Drive Kruger, cont’d, Part 6

What a Trip we Had – Layover in London, Part 1

What a Trip we Had – Uxolo Guest House, Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip we Had – Touring Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip we Had – What I Packed, Part 4

What a Trip we Had – Kruger National Park, Part 5

What a Trip we Had – Kruger Self Drive and Satara Rest Camp, Day 1 Part 6

Our morning routine was the same each day.  We got up and left our bungalow about 6:00 when the gate opened into the park from the rest camp.  We were able to view the beautiful African sun rising over the savannah – the skies were pink, the sun a bright yellow/orange color the most glorious of colors.  We could  see the animals as they would begin the early morning hunt. Breath taking!

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After we drove around on the roads, both paved and washboard, for a few hours, we would all meet at a rest area where we would cook our breakfast.  This quickly became my favorite part of the morning.  The rest areas were generally managed by men and sometimes their wives as well.

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You could rent a propane braai from the rest area manager  so you could cook your meal.  They rented for aobut 30 rand which is about $3 USD.  It looks like a wok on a metal pipe where the propane heats up the braai.  There was a certain order in which we cooked our food – we would first cook the bacon (South African bacon is the best), remove it and  then in the bacon fat you would saute the sliced onions, mushrooms and tomatoes.  These would then be removed to another dish/pan and it was time to cook the fried eggs in the bacon fat.  While the eggs were cooking sliced bread would be place near the top of the braai so they would toast.  Everything was cooked in one pan.

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Our experienced family members brought all the breakfast food, coffee, tea, marmalade, jam, and butter as well as plates, cups and silverware.  It was the best breakfast I had ever had.  The gentleman who managed the rest site would earn extra money by washing your dishes and his wife would watch your children while you ate.  We went to the overlook at the rest area while the manager washed our dishes for us to take with us.  At our first breakfast, the wife held and walked with our grandson while we ate.  It was a means for them to supplement their income.  At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it – it was so different than here in the States.  Perhaps with South Africa’s apartheid history it made me feel a little uncomfortable.  I didn’t want to take advantage of these people however, I changed my mind and saw that it helped them and there are not many opportunities to earn money, particularly in the Kruger.  This was a theme that I also saw in Soweto near Johannesburg of people trying to earn extra money doing menial work. Something to continue thinking about.

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We would return to our bungalow around noon-ish and inevitability we would all take a nap after a little snacking.  After all, we had been up early in the morning.  We would head out again around 3:00 in the afternoon till about 5:30.  We’d come in and get ready for dinner.  Every night we had a braai with South African sausages (and I have no idea of what they are filled with), lamb chops, steaks, and chicken kabobs.  We certainly ate well.  What I found out on this trip is that South Africans love their meat and their meat is very good.

We would get up early in the morning.  Now, don’t groan but we would be up and out of the bungalow by 6:00 AM.  It would be cool/cold then since we went during the tail end of their winter.  Sweaters on, long pants but not a need for more than that.  The best way to dress was in layers.  We would find ourselves later in the morning and in the afternoon wearing short sleeve shirts and shorts!

Within the park, there were eleven bird hides (we call them blinds) where you would walk into the structure and sit or lean against the slatted openings in the hide so you could observe the birds without them seeing you. You are encouraged to “be quiet” within the hide.  We were along a watering hole and there were many birds but also a crocodile.

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When you are driving through the park, not only are you looking for the animals but also looking to find other cars that are pulled over wondering what they are seeing. Many times if you ask someone, they’ll tell you but if you want to be sneaky and see something that you want to keep to yourself, then when a car is approaching quickly open up a map and pretend you are looking at it. When they see you looking at the map, they’ll keep on driving thinking you are lost.  Sneaky but effective.

Some days you would see lots of animals; other days, not as many.  You needed to scan the horizon, look close to the roads and finally look for colors or movement that were a little out of place.  My daughter-in-law was fantastic in spotting animals, telling us stories about the animals that she learned from her parents as well as naming all the animals and birds that we saw.

If you don’t have a spotter like we had, you can sign-up at the reception center in each camp to go on a tour with a ranger.  You can even go on a night safari with them.  These are great opportunities if you want a safari like the locals.

I really enjoyed the local way and to be honest it was so much less expensive than going on a guided tour.  Of course with the guided tour, the rangers keep in communication with each other on their radio and will drive you over when something is spotted by another ranger.  Of course, I’ll talk about it when I write about our guided safari. If you are going to do a safari the local way be aware that you need to book about one year in advance – really.  You can book directly with the South African National Park Service.  Click here for the link.  The bungalow prices are considerably less expensive and much more authentic.  It is safe as well.  Consider having this kind of trip into the Kruger.

 

What a Trip We Had – Kruger Self Drive and Satara Rest Camp – Day 1, Part 6

What a Trip We Had – London, Part 1

What a Trip We Had – Uxolo Guest House, Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip We Had – Touring in Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip We Had – What I Packed, Part 4

What a Trip We Had – Kruger National Park, Part 5

We needed to be at our rest camp, Satara, before 6:00 PM when the gates close. We drove along the paved road leading to Satara seeing elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, Cape Buffalo, herds of impala, kudu, zebra and so much more.  I couldn’t believe how well these animals were hidden; they just blended in including the elephants and giraffes.  Hard to believe but true.

Finally, we were about 5 km from our rest camp gate when we rounded the bend in the road and found a male lion walking along the road.  He looked a little ragged, like he had been in a fight.  A little further up were 8 lions just lying in the road.  Obviously we sat and waited…….and waited…….and waited.  One by one the lions would get up and walk a little but they were not leaving the road.  We enjoyed this but we knew that the gates would close at 6:00 and it was 5:30 at this time.  There is a penalty you have to pay if you arrive after the gates close.  We were getting a little anxious but the lions weren’t.  Traffic was stopped in both directions and everyone around us was getting worried about getting to the rest camp in time.  Finally one car decided to be brave and drive around the lions; we quickly but cautiously followed and made it to the camp on time with about 10 minutes to spare.

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We immediately went to the Reception Building where we checked in and were given the keys to our family cottage.  I’m not sure what my expectations were of the rest camp but they were exceeded.  In Satara, there are different camp sites.  You can be in the area of the rest camp where it is for tent camping, another section is for those with a trailer, or rent a one bedroom bungalow, two bedroom bungalow or a family lodge that sleeps about 16-18.  We were in a 2 bedroom family bungalow that had a kitchen livingroom/diningroom along with an outdoor dining area with braai (South African barbeque).  Each bedroom had their own bathroom which made it very convenient.  Maids would come in and tidy up your rooms, make your beds, and replenish your towels.

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I was very impressed with the rest camp.  We had the mini-market/gift shop, coffee shop, reception area, amphitheater that had movies or presentations in the evening, swimming pool, playground and so much more.  We were in Circle D and in the center was an open space where kids could play as many kids did while we were there.

We got settled into our bungalow putting things away, feeding the baby while our husbands began working on the braai – South African barbeque.  This was to happen every night.  South Africans love their meat and it is such great meat too.  We would have South African sausage (not sure what it was stuffed with), chicken kabobs, lamb chops, steaks and so much more on our patio – we never ate inside.  We certainly ate well.

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After dinner we  walked to the perimeter gate that encircled the rest area to see what was on the other side of the fence.  We had our flashlights with us and we were able see eyes glowing at night.  When we shined our flashlight, we found spotted hyenas staring at us.  I had to keep reminding myself that there was a fence between us and them.   We also took the opportunity to look up in the southern skies to see the constellations that we don’t see here in the northern hemisphere.  The Southern Cross was pointed out to us.  While we we looking up at the skied we heard the sound of owls.  Turned out they were Scops Owls – my first ever sighing of owls.   As we sat on our patio and talked about all that we had seen and done who comes strolling up but an African Wildcat.  It looks just like a domesticated cat but it isn’t.  They are somewhat rare so it was a great surprise to see one coming up toward our patio.

At 9:00, yes 9:00, we went off to bed to get ready for our first full day of going of safari.

What A Trip We Had – Uxolo Guesthouse, Johannesburg, Part 2

We arrived in Jo’burg a few days before our son and his family were scheduled to arrive.  I felt that it gave us “older people” a chance to acclimate to the time change and to see a little of Jo’burg.

Months prior I booked the Uxolo Guesthouse through AirBnB.  The guesthouse is located in a residential neighborhood north of the central city.  In my correspondence with Karen Morgan, the owner, she recommended Norman, a driver that her guests use, for transportation to get us from the airport to her home.  We contacted Norman and he agreed to pick us up at OR Tambo Airport and drive us to the Guesthouse for 350 Rand ($35 USD).  As he drove us to the Guesthouse he pointed out the sights and gave us some history about Jo’burg and South Africa.

We pulled up to the Guesthouse and Karen  came out to greet us.  We walked inside and I was excited about the choice I made for our lodging.  The decor was definitely South African.  The home felt very warm and just what we wanted.

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There was even a built in pool in the yard

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We had a large room with a small courtyard with a working water fountain off our room.  The down comforter duvet with the large overstuffed pillows was very inviting.  Our private bathroom had a shower stall which we prefer.  Most homes in South Africa do not have heat but there was an electric portable heater in our room if we needed it – which we didn’t.

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There were many sitting areas in this home that made it comfortable for us.  In addition, she had a pool table in a room overlooking the covered terrace where we would have breakfast every morning.  When it was very cool in the morning, the shades would come down.  Karen’s main rule is not eating in your room (she likes to keep it clean for future guests) so we would bring our snacks to the terrace area to consume.

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Karen went out of her way to be helpful and accommodating to us though in speaking with repeat guests, she does this all the time for all guests when she can.  While we were sitting on the terrace with Norman and Karen, she asked us our plans.  Norman made a suggestion for dinner that night which we followed with an appointed time that he would pick us up.  Karen also made arrangements for me to go on a Soweto Tour and that I would be picked up at the door the next morning by the tour company.  Blogger Hubby wanted to go into Jo’burg to do the HoHo bus tour (Hop On, Hop Off) and Karen drove him to the train station, about 15 minutes away,  to take the Gautrain into the city the next day.

The guesthouse is in a residential neighborhood.  The first thing you notice is walls/fences and security  around the homes with an armed response to a security alarm system.  Our guest home also had a male employee who sat inside the front door all evening long.  Now don’t let this scare you – we never saw any type of violence in South Africa in all the locations we were in but to deny that there is violence in this country would be a fallacy.

We were a five minute walk (and we felt safe) to a local mall that had two grocery stores inside, pharmacy, coffee shops with meals and clothing stores.  We could pick up items that we left at home.  One night we even bought our dinner there at the hot food salad bar section of the grocery store and brought it back to the guest house – and it was good.

The breakfast was a buffet of fresh fruit and juices, tea, coffee, eggs cooked to order, bacon, sausage – a delicious and hearty meal to begin the day off right.

I would highly recommend The Uxolo Guest House in Jo’burg.

The Result of our Home Away Weekend Rental

As you might remember from this post, Blogger Hubby and I decided to rent a seven bedroom home on Lake Anna in Virginia for a long weekend to celebrate his BIG birthdays as well as Mothers Day.

The landlord and I had several emails in the months leading up to our rental – did I need to bring linens?  what about paper goods?  did they have kayaks for our use?  what was I expected to do before we left?  and many more questions.  I felt confident leading up to our weekend.  It was in a great location for those who were flying in since they flew into Richmond and it was only 75 minutes from the airport.  We had our children take care of lunches and dinners and Blogger Hubby and I took care of breakfast.  What was also great about this rental is that there was no check-in or check-out time.  We could have 4 full days there.

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We arrived first and from the street it looks like a small two story home with a three car garage.  From the back it was an impressive three story home.  We excitedly begin exploring. The first plan had the open floor plan that encompassed a large and well stocked for crowds kitchen,  six stools around the kitchen bar, the living area had a two story stone fireplace, a large kitchen table, a screened balcony with table and six chairs and another open aired balcony.  There was also a dining room that we never used.  The master bedroom was on the first floor as well and what a bathroom it had with six shower jets.  We too had our own balcony that overlooked the Lake.  In what should have been the office, held two twin beds with a bathroom in the hallway.  Upstairs there were three huge bedrooms with one of them another master suite with en suite bathroom.  The other two bedrooms shared a large bathroom.   In the basement were two more bedrooms with one having a queen bed, a double bed and two twin beds.  The other bedroom had a queen bed. The huge game room was well equipped with a ping pong table, Wii, a poker table and chairs for 6 people and many more games and activities.  This was a very family friendly home and we appreciated the high chairs, trucks, legos, etc that was available for our use.  We also utilized the sliding door to walk to the dock.  As we walked out there was a huge gas grill (with a spare tank in the garage) for our use.

The land did slope down to toward the Lake but there was a flat enough space for a game of Spite Ball and for our Family Photo Op.

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The dock was huge – the owners told us it was the largest on the Lake.  The children were able to fish off the dock or walk down the few steps to get into the water.  There were so many fish that one of the grandkids actually caught over 100 fish – mainly sunfish and catfish though he did catch a large carp that “got away”.

Our children took turns cooking dinners.  One night it was a hamburger bar with all the fixings, another night it was barbecued pork butt that we turned into pulled pork sandwiches.  Our daughter and her husband did tacos with all the great toppings.  Lunch and breakfasts were casual with an assortment of cereals, fruits, yogurts, lunch meats and leftovers.  We didn’t want anyone stressing over meals and Blogger Hubby and I thought we would “take a break” from meal duty.  We were happy to pass the torch to our very capable children.

All and all it was a great family filled time and I would highly recommend that you stay a vacation close to home with activities and rooms for everyone.  This home and vacation fit our family like a glove.

Bonaventure Cemetery and Tybee Island, Sightseeing in Savannah, part 2

I never know when I am visiting a city if I should go to the “popular attractions and sights” or to be a little freer and see what else is out there.  I try to do both – the attractions that a city has is what draws me to it but I know there is more out there.  As we met people and traveled around, we would ask “what should we see before we leave Savannah”.  Everyone wanted to help us enjoy our time and the consensus was that we had to go to Bonaventure Cemetery.  We already knew that we were going to Tybee and this was somewhat on our way, at least according to my trusty Garmin GPS device.

After the free breakfast in the lobby, we got the car out of the garage under the hotel and we were off.  We tried to time it so we would miss rush hour and we did pretty good.  I wasn’t sure if the Garmin was correct because we were in a residential area that didn’t seem to me to have a famous cemetery but it did.

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As we pulled in we walked a little bit but unsure what we were seeing or where we should be going.  We did find the Administration Building that we went into (door on right side) where we could pick up a map of the cemetery.  We were given advice by the employee as to which section we should visit and walk around.  There is also restroom at the front of the building.  We were in awe at the beautiful sculptures of the various tombs.  I will say it was hauntingly beautiful.  This is a 100 acre cemetery that can be lush due to all the Spanish moss and its location along the Wilmington River and the marches.  I’ll let these photos speak about this cemetery:

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We weren’t the only ones here.  There was a tour taking place.  A van pulled up with a trailer carrying bicycles.  There were about 10 bicyclists who got their bikes off the trailer and biked around the cemetery.  I never thought about this being a destination for cyclists.  if you are interested, this is the van with their logo.

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The cemetery has among its section the Jewish Chapel and Circle, the Colonial Monument Garden, Order of Railroad Conductors, American Legion Field, Spanish American War veterans.  Four time Academy Award winner Johnny Mercer, born and bred in Savannah, is also buried here.  After we walked around around the cemetery, we decided to continue on with on day’s tour.  Time to head to Tybee Island.

I had been to Tybee before but never driven around much.  One of my excursions going to Tybee is to eat at the Crab Shack.  We had found it about ten years ago when when we stopped at a Visitor Center on I-95 and was told taht we HAD to go here by the woman working the counter.  How can you not do it  when it was so strongly suggested.  Well, she was right and every time we have driven by the area, we always make it a point to stop for a meal.  Now I would be introducing “Louise” to the Crab Shack.  She was somewhat concerned because it was still cold and she thought that the only seating was outside…surprise, they also have indoor seating with heaters around.

As we drove in and parked, there were lots of cages and fenced in area where there were lots of baby alligators, some larger.  It is a fun and eclectic place.

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Of course I ordered shrimp and it was delicious as was the corn, cole slaw and hush puppies.  After our meal we walked around.  It seems that most times I’ve been here has been at night so it was good to see it in the daylight.

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Wrapping up our visit to the Crab Shack, we headed toward Fort Pulaski, a National Park Service Monument.  We pulled in and saw that there weren’t many activities going on,  We got our of the car, looked around and then got back in the car.  We probably should have gone in but we were anxious to get to the Tybee Island Lighthouse as well as drive around the island.

The lighthouse has been guiding sailors to a  safe entrance into the Savannah River for over 270 years. The Tybee Island Light Station is one of America’s most intact lighthouses having all of its historic support buildings on its five-acre site.   I napped, oops meant sat, in the car while “Louise” climbed the steps into the lighthouse.  She was happy to add this to her growing list of lighthouses visited. If you look closely you can see “Louise” walking around the lighthouse walkway.

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We drove back to the hotel to get ready for our last night in Savannah before we turned our car northbound.  Once again the concierge directed us to another fantastic restaurant for us.  Since we had a big lunch at the Crab Shack, we didn’t want a huge meal for dinner.  She thought Jazz’d, a tapas restaurant with entertainment.  Once again she was right.  We had a leisurely stroll to the restaurant which is down a flight of stairs.  It somewhat reminded us of a speakeasy.  Lots of tapas for us to choose.  They even had a special where you could choose two tapas and a soup with dessert.  More than we wanted but who could resist.  While we ate there was a singer singing in the style of Sinatra with all the old classics.  A very enjoyable restaurant.

The next morning we said goodbye to our Spring Road Trip.  A trip that was fun for both of us.  I think next year we’ll do St. Augustine and Amelia Island.

Have you ever gone on a Road Trip with your best friend?  I’m so glad we did it and it has already given us such fun memories.  Hope you enjoyed traveling along with Thelma and Louise

 

 

Sightseeing in Savannah, part 1

Once again we were very close to the Visitors Center.  We walked around and acquainted ourselves with the exhibits.  In the parking lot next to the Visitors Center is where we boarded our Old Town Trolley for the tour of the city.  This one was recommend by the concierge at our hotel because there would be a surprise for us on the trolley.  It was similar to a Hop On Hop Off tour that you will find in many large cities.

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The original city of Savannah was built around 4 open squares.  As the city expanded, so did the number of squares.  There were originally 24 squares throughout the centuries though two have been lost.  As our tour guide told us, this is Savannah’s living room where everyone would come out with a drink, sit on a bench and converse with each other.  They take great pride in their squares and what it represents to their citizens and their way of life.   Savannah is such a pretty city that I would recommend getting out and just wandering around, walking the streets and visiting many of the squares.  It seems that each square has a piece of history attached to it.   I heard a story that people from Savannah instead of asking “how are you” will ask “what would you like to drink?”  After all, Savannah is known as the “Hostess City of the South”.

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All the tours guides were very informative and we enjoyed seeing the city, learning the history and folklore as well as some of the scandals (“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”).  When we stopped at the Lucas Theatre, an actress came on board our bus and acted as a southern antebellum lady.

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We elected to get off the trolley along the River for lunch and our boat tour to follow.  We had a great lunch at The Shrimp Factory.  Although I had been on a shrimp quest and eating as much as I could I couldn’t resist the fried green tomato BLT.  I like them both and together it was a great lunch.

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After lunch we had plenty of time to walk along the riverside.  This was a very, very cool day – bordering on cold.  I think the temperature was around 45 degrees and we had not dressed for weather this cold during the third week of April.  As much as we were looking forward to our river cruise, we didn’t relish the thought of sitting outside on the deck to view the sights.  We finally found a spot that allowed us to sit in the sun until, a few minutes before we left the dock when an announcement was made that the smokers could sit and smoke exactly where we were sitting.  Gesh…we had to find another seat and there were very few to choose from.  We actually went inside for a while due to the wind and cold.  There was not a lot to see and I would not recommend this cruise.

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After the cruise ended, we had an opportunity to walk around some more on River Street.  They had the most amazing candy store.  Several different sections all connected inside.  There was one “room” that was for making taffy; They were also making in other sections fudge, pralines, chocolate covered rice krispie treats on a stick…..so many treats.

We hopped back on the Old Towne Trolley and finished our tour of Savannah.  On the way back to the Visitor Center we went past the Thunderbird Motel and saw this cute hotel sign – guess it sums up the New South.

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Of course we couldn’t leave  the Visitor Center without some souvenir shopping.  Be aware, there are two shops inside the Visitors Center and only one of them supports the Museum inside the Visitors Center.

Back to the hotel where we rested a bit, actually rested our feet and legs.  For dinner that night, we walked a few blocks to Mellow Mushroom and brought a fantastic pizza back to the hotel.

The next day’s adventure – Bonaventure cemetary and Tybee Island.

 

 

 

Sightseeing in Charleston, South Carolina

After we woke up at the Embassy Suites in Historic Charleston, we headed downstairs for our made to order eggs and breakfast.  This is one of perks that Embassy Suites has to draw people to their hotel – and it is worth it.  Other hotels claim a hot breakfast with a make your own waffles, or a casserole dish of rubbery scrambled eggs but Embassy Suites takes your order and cooks your eggs just the way you like it with any of the veggies you want.  I am not a scrambled egg person but I do love my fried egg with some sauteed onions so after having this breakfast, I was good to go.

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The Charleston Visitor Center was the block behind our hotel, one of the reasons we chose the Embassy Suites.  We walked over and looked at the many exhibits they had including a woman making a sweetgrass basket.  Her work was beautiful and worth every dollar she was asking for it (except that I couldn’t pay that much).  I do appreciate her workmanship and the skill level it takes for those fine row of sweetgrass and pine needles.

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Next we paid our $2 for the movie at the center about Charleston, the history and the geography.  I was a little surprised that we had to pay for a movie since most of the visitor centers I have been to show a movie without a charge.  While at the visitor center we purchased tickets for a harbor cruise and a horse drawn carriage ride through Charleston.  We decided to take the 1:30 cruise.  Since we had a few hours before the cruise, we took the trolley  to the city central area.  Yes, we could have walked, and we did walk home last night, but it was rainy and at times raining pretty hard.

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We went first to the City Market  where we were protected from the rain.  This was where we could find everything we wanted and things we didn’t know that we needed.  I bought my sweetgrass basket, freshly made Pralines, a pair of earrings that is a design from one of the very many wrought iron gates around the homes in the city (intertwined hearts was my design).  Before we knew it, it was time to walk to the wharf to catch our 1:30 harbor cruise.  We were told it was only a 5 block walk but it took us 45 minutes and we were not walking slow.  While we were walking we passed a Carnival Cruise ship that was in port disembarking and embarking new passengers.  Traffic was crazy!

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The harbor cruise was great – one of my favorite things we did in Charleston.  It was a two hour tour.  We sailed up the Cooper River, around Forts Sumter , Moultrie and Johnson, the USS Yorktown, and many more places.  A relaxing time on the Cooper.  We even met a local celebrity (though we didn’t know it till he was announced).

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We decided we didn’t want to walk back downtown  and took a pedicab back downtown and had him take us to the Palmetto Carriage Tours part of our sightseeing package we purchased at the Visitors Center.  The interesting thing about this horse drawn tour is that there are about 3 different tours of the city and you have no choice in which tour you get – even your driver doesn’t know.  Once in your carriage, you stop at a city booth where through the luck of the bingo ball, you are given your route.  I was disappointed that we didn’t get Battery Park but instead got the homes and church route.  Not sure if I want to go on the carriage ride again since I could see the same sights.  Apparently the city does this to help with traffic flow but it still was a disappointment.

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With the ride over, it was time to eat again.  All through we day we asked many people where we could eat good seafood that wasn’t going to cost us an arm and a leg.  Of course some people loved Hymans, others thought it was too commercialized and really not that good.  Finally we came to a consensus with Fleet Landing – the only restaurant on the water n Charleston, or at least so we were told.  The wait was about 45 minutes, not bad.  We had a delicious meal of shrimp and hush puppies, and cole slaw.  Just what we wanted.

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To finish our evening, we took a pedicab back to the Embassy Suites and crashed in our room.  We had a wonderful time in Charleston and would visit it again, particularly north and south of the city along some of the beaches.  I’ve heard so much about Folly Beach and  Kiawah Beach that I would like to visit them on another trip to this Holy City.

 

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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.

 

 

Spring Break Planning 2014

You might think that I am a little too old for spring break but truthfully, I’ve grown very accustomed to it after working for the school system for over two decades.  A good friend of mine is still working for the school system and has asked me to go on a spring break trip with her.

We looked at several possibilities.  We both like cruising though we didn’t have too many choices that fit entirely within her time off. Additionally, the air fare would be more expensive because this was prime time.  We quickly scratched the idea off our list.

cruise in caribbean

We then looked at taking a road trip.

road trip 1

We thought of Branson, MO only because neither of us had been there before.  After looking at the drive, we decided we didn’t want to drive 1,000 miles spending two full days on the road.

branson

Now we are thinking about staying on the East Coast but heading south for  warmth.  We are thinking about driving to Charleston, South Carolina for a night or two.  We’ll have low country boils, southern charm and hospitality, visit Ft. Sumter, take a carriage ride and enjoy what the city offers.  I’d love to pick up another sea grass basket at the famed City Market.

charleston sc

From there we will drive to St. Augustine, Florida which is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental United States.  We’ll be following in the footsteps of Ponce de Leon looking for the Fountain of Youth!  We’ll visit the fort and walk around the historic area.  This will be the furthest that we’ll go.

st. augustine

We’ll turn around and begin our trek north stopping off at Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, take a boat ride on the river as we sail past some of the barrier islands.

amelia island

Continuing north we’ll spend the night in Savannah where we hope to get a bite to eat at The Lady and Sons Restaurant.  Regardless of what your feelings are about Paula Dean – she is a good cook!We’ll explore the river area and hopefully get to drive out to Tybee Island stopping at the Crab Shack on our way out there.

crab shack

Eventually we’ll have to come home.  If you have any suggestions for our Road Trip, please send them my way.

 

Passport DC – Visiting Embassy Row, May 2014

If you visit Washington DC in the spring time then you might want to take part in Passport DC 2014.  According to About DC this is an annual celebration of international culture that showcases embassies and other cultural organizations with a wide range of performances, talks, and exhibits. In addition to embassy open houses and events, several Washington, DC museums participate in Passport DC with special programming.”

photo credit: washington.org
photo credit: washington.org
  •  May 3 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm is an Around The World Embassy Tour that highlights embassies in Africa. Asia, the Middle East, Oceania and the Americas
  • May 10, 2014, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. will be the Shortcut to Europe: European Union Embassies’ Open House. The Embassies of the European Union and the Delegation of the European Commission to the United States will open their doors to the public
  • May 17, 2014, 10 a.m.-7 p.m  Asian Heritage FestivalThe festival offers a variety of activities including musical performances, a multicultural marketplace and art exhibits.

Participating embassies are:

Embassy of Afghanistan
Embassy of the Argentine Republic
Embassy of Australia
Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Embassy of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Embassy of Barbados
Embassy of Belize
Embassy of the Plurinational State of Bolivia
Embassy of the Republic of Botswana
Embassy of Brazil
Embassy of Chile
Embassy of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire
Embassy of the Commonwealth of Dominica
Embassy of Ecuador
Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Embassy of Ghana
Embassy of Guatemala
Embassy of the Republic of Haiti
Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia
Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
Embassy of Japan, Japan Information and Culture Center
Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Embassy of the Republic of Korea: KORUS House
Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic
Embassy of Malaysia
Embassy of Mexico: Mexican Cultural Institute
Embassy of the Republic of Mozambique
Embassy of Nepal
Embassy of the Republic of Nicaragua
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Embassy of Peru
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
Embassy of the Republic of South Africa
Embassy of Serbia
Embassy of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Embassy of St. Kitts and Nevis
Royal Thai Embassy
Embassy of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Embassy of the Republic of Turkey
Embassy of Ukraine
Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Embassy of the Republic of Zambia

For a complete schedule of events please click here.

Renting a Vacation Home for a Weekend

Blogger Hubby has a BIG birthday coming up in May.  What we enjoy most is spending time with our children and our grandchildren.  My father-in-law will also be joining us.  We thought we would try do a family reunion/birthday celebration all in the same weekend.  We had several constraints that we needed to work with.  Since it would be a weekend, we wanted it to be in a location that most could drive to and for those that were flying in it would be within two hours of an airport.

We looked at Smith Mountain Lake but for Blogger Son #1, who would be driving from Washington DC, we felt that a 4 1/2 hour drive would be too far.  For those flying in, they could have flown into Roanoke, VA but the cost would be more than flying into a larger airport.  We looked into Williamsburg, VA but couldn’t find a place for all of us.  Finally, we looked at Lake Anna and that location seemed perfect for us.  At the most, it was only about one hour and forty minutes from the furthest airport and an hour from the closet airport with two other airports in between – lots of options for those flying in.

With three children ages one and under who take morning and afternoon naps and a 2 year old who takes an afternoon nap, we decided that we wanted to rent a house.  That way all the parents who have napping children can be together and find things to do.  We had looked at cabins and lodges at another location (Cacapon State Park in West Virginia) but then the mons or dads would be in a room with their sleeping babes without much to do.

Now, to find a house that had 7 bedrooms.  Yes – that was how many we needed.  We looked at airbnb, vrbo, vacation rentals and home away.  We found several that sounded great through vrbo, homeaway and vacation rentals.  We struck out with airbnb.  We reviewed what their minimum nights would be; how many could sit at the dining table; what amenities they had like kayaks, foosball, png pong table, pool table, etc.  We also read the reviews and if it was a negative review, what the response was and if it was only one bad review.  Finally we reviewed the costs.  Some charged tax, some charged a booking fee, most charged for a cleaning fee though some were more than others and the security deposit.

The home we chose seems perfect for us – always something to do no matter what the weather is.  We have room to be together, as well as our private rooms.  There are two grilling areas and I can smell the steaks and ribs cooking.  You can fish from the dock which we know that the grandchildren love to do.  The home is only about 45 minutes from Kings Dominion Amusement Park.  Additionally there is a state park on Lake Anna and they might have weekend activities.  Finally, the closest airport is an hour away and the most anyone has to drive is 90 minutes.

Want to see what we are renting.  Here it is:

Screen shot 2014-02-16 at 7.52.29 PM

 Screen shot 2014-02-16 at 7.59.21 PM

Winter Getaway – The Mountain View Grand Hotel in Whitefield, New Hampshire

Sorry for not having a post yesterday but I have a great excuse.  Our family increased by one yesterday with the birth of our grandson.  My stepson Mark agreed to fill in with a guest post from his recent family trip to New Hampshire over the holiday break.

Oh so close.  The Mountain View Grand Hotel in New Hampshire’s White Mountains is oh so close to marrying family amenities with a luxury turn-of-the-century grand hotel experience that my family and I can’t help but root for them.   Just a few issues to fix (more on those below) and the hotel would be fully there…except maybe then it would book solid and stop offering the frequent deals that make this extravagant experience financially within reach.  So maybe we won’t root too hard.  If you’re the type who is accustomed to luxury and scoffs at every imperfection, then this is oh so close, but not quite your hotel.  But if you can brush off a few minor issues, you’ll love the MVG, and your kids will too.

mgh3

The White Mountains are a four season draw, and there are plenty of flavorless motels and quaint B&Bs to choose from (if you don’t mind invading the intimacy and calm of a B&B with children).  But if you want to experience the charm and history of the mountains, dine where presidents once dined, and enjoy fireside extravagance, then the grand hotels—leftovers from a bygone era of horse drawn carriages and wealthy families escaping (with staff) for the full summer—stand out.  There are several nestled right in the heart of the mountains: Eagle Mountain House, the Balsams, the famous Mount Washington Hotel in the shadows of its namesake mountain all come to mind.  And then there is the Mountain View Grand, which is not quite in the mountains, but oh so close.  It’s just north of the main mountains and the main towns, perched on a hill with a glorious view spanning the slopes of Cannon Mountain ski resort, Franconia Ridge, and all the peaks of the Northern Presidential Range.  But unlike the other grand hotels, you’re not quite in those mountains; you’re admiring them from a 25 minute drive away.  And you’re not quite near any towns of appreciable size either.  So if you want to get away and stay away, which is what we did, then you’ll be happy.  But if you want the slopes or the trails or the shops and restaurants at your doorstep, keep looking.

mgv1

We spent four days with our two kids, and the kids didn’t want to leave.  The list of what we parents and the kids loved is long:  live piano music in the lobby in the evening; a mini movie theatre with reclining leather seats where you can pick the movie you want and request the staff bring down free popcorn; a good sized indoor pool, hot tub, exercise room, exercise classroom, and sauna.  Wide hallways adorned with oil paintings and stocked bookshelves; a game room with pool, ping pong, air hockey, and foosball; a parlor rooms with checkers and chess.  The food in the restaurant is excellent again this year—two years in a row now, and a marked improvement over earlier years.  There is a barn stuffed with alpacas, lamas, sheep, ducks, and donkeys, with an engaging farmer who provides excellent and educational tours for the kids.  The golf course offers a good hill for sledding.  There are daily activities (ax throwing anyone?) and a fully staffed “Explorer’s Club” activity room if you want to deposit the kids for a few hours of supervised fun.   There are other things too that we haven’t sampled, either due to price or season, among them the spa, golf course, outdoor pool, tennis, mountain bike rentals, and snowmobile rentals.

diningroom mvg

There are also more basic conveniences.  After its heyday in the pre-WWII era, this style of hotel in general, and this one in particular, fell out of favor and repair; the MVG eventually closed in the mid-80s.  But it was purchased, gutted, and redone via a major renovation inside and out before re-opening in 2002, and the results are the little things that make a grand old hotel feel modern where you want it to:  modern windows that seal, modern heating, outlets where you need them, modern bathrooms…in short, it’s still has the grandeur of the old hotel, ornate and with crown molding on the crown molding, but is quite new in all the right ways.

So then what about those imperfections?  Why oh so close?  I mentioned the location—not quite in the mountains, a bit more than a hop skip and jump from the slopes, and at least 20 minutes from any sizeable town.  Good luck trying to run out for a meal.  But there are other little things as well.  Our first year we fell in love with the outdoor skating area, surrounded by a snow covered string of lights for a quintessential New England experience.  But for three straight years now, they can’t quite bring themselves to get the skating ice up and running.  Either they try but forget how to make an outdoor skating area, or claim the weather is not quite right (even though every fourth house in our neighborhood has their backyard rink running smoothly), or they can’t be bothered to set it up in time, or they forget to shovel.  We bring skates each year, and leave disappointed.   Oh so close.  And I mentioned the movie theater…except many of the reclining leather seats are broken and slumped—not a surprise with kids climbing all over them on a daily basis—except the slumping chairs remain year after year.  Oh so close.  Service in the restaurant is prompt and attentive and our breakfast arrives quickly.  And yet there is no syrup with our pancakes and waffles, and it takes repeated requests and ten whole minutes to get some.  Oh so close.  The sledding hill is great but used to send us straight into bushes and a stone wall behind.  Last year they field-mowed the bushes but left the eight inch stalks in the ground like awaiting daggers that made short work of our inflatable sleds.  (Whoops—stupid us.)  Finally this year they’ve taken a bulldozer to the area and cleared out the bush trunks and wall altogether.

The hotel is not inexpensive, and if you go at peak time and pay full price, you’ll be paying full luxury fare commensurate with the ice sculptures and doormen that will great you.  But if you can pick an off season or keep your eyes open for a deal (we found ours through Groupon), and you’re willing to overlook a few rough spots, then you’ll love relaxing and exploring this historical grand hotel.  And your kids will not want to leave.

Thanks Mark for your review.  For those unfamiliar to this area, you are close to the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington.  For the skiers, downhill skiing is available at Bretton Woods, Canon Mountain, Wildcat, Attitash.  If you visit in the spring, summer or fall, make sure you go over to Mt. Washington and take the cog railroad to the top of the mountain or hike up but remember, it is much colder at the peak so be prepared with clothes for a much colder climate.

The Top 3 Best Airports in the World in 2013

I admit it…when we first began traveling internationally a few years ago, I was extremely green behind the ears.  I didn’t really know that airports had personalities or that they were made for more than passing through.  After all I lived a few miles from IAD so I would exit and come home.  Over the course of the past few years I have been fortunate to fly to and through about 10 different international airports.  I was curious to see how the airports that I visited stacked up against other airports throughout the world.

I turned to Airport Awards to see which airport was voted number one in the world.  It’s an airport that I have visited.  Not to keep you in suspense but it was Changi Airport in Singapore.  You may wonder what it has that makes it number one.  For children it has an indoor playground, a beautiful butterfly garden, an interactive Enchanted Garden, a Family Zone with diaper changing areas, MTV booth and gaming area.  If you have a layonver, there are free tours of Singapore with a choice of a Colonial or Cultural Tour.  There is also a movie theatre, koi pond, interactive art for the children, horticulture center, orchid garden, a swimming pool (yes, inside the airport is a swimming pool), a sunflower and light garden and so much more.

Butterfly Garden

Second on the list is Incheon Airport in Seoul, Korea.  Incheon was number one last year and it shows why it is in the top ten of airports around the world.  This spacious airport that is built to let in a lot of natural sun boasts 7 gardens within the airport.  There is a .0001% rate of baggage mishandling so you can rest assured that your bags with transit through without any problems.  The airport has free wifi, computers for you to use that are free, showers for you to quickly feel refreshed after a long flight, a playroom for children, dry cleaning in case your seat mate spills something on you, a sauna and spa area, 2 movie theaters, an area where you can make traditional Korean crafts.  They, like Singapore, also have free transit trips into Seoul for either shopping or visiting historical sites.

one of the 7 gardens at the Incheon

A newcomer to the top three airports is Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.  It has the world’s first permanent library. It also has an annex of the world famous Rijk Museum in the Museum Annex part of the airport.  If you feel like gambling, there is also a casino.  Children need to run after being on a plane for a long time so the Dutch built a Childrens Park/Playground just for that purpose.  Of course, it has a slower shop where you can buy the famous Dutch Bulbs but if you are planning on bringing them back to the US, make sure that they are of the type that can be imported.  The employees at the flower shop will know and most likely they will be in a separate section.

Childrens Park and Playground at Schiphol

Antigua, Guatamala

Welcome Readers from Girl and the Globe.  I was glad to do a guest post for Becky today while she is traveling. I enjoy reading her blog and have met her several times.   I hope you enjoy my blog and come back to visit. 

My son and I made a last minute decision a while ago to take advantage of a long weekend and have a short holiday in Guatemala.  We have talked about traveling together for years and finally it happened.

We both were extremely excited about this trip for some of the same reasons, as well as different reasons. For me, I was excited to have my own adventure and to travel with my son.  I had been living vicariously through my kids travel adventures for the past few years; always helping with flights, alerting them to the dangers of some countries (hey, I’m a mom, I can’t help but worry), and what souvenirs they should bring home for me (opals in Australia, silk in Thailand, turquoise in India, etc). Another factor was that while I was raising my children we spent lots of time together but as we  grew older, that  time seems to be diminished as they began working full time, married and began raising their own children.  They get busy with their lives and we try adjusting as empty nesters.  This trip would be a good chance to spend some quality time together.  For my son what he was looking forward to was watching me haggle  with a Guatemalan woman over the price of a purse.  For some reason he thought the idea of me haggling would be comical.

On the way to IAD (Washington Dulles) my son wanted to  prepare me just in case things did not go smoothly, so he decided to talk about “worst case scenarios”.   Here was our conversation.

Son “Mom, lets talk about the worst thing that could happen just so that we can be prepared.”

Me “I could get brutally raped and murdered.”

Son “No silly, we could miss the ride to Antigua”. So anyways….neither of those situations happened.  Obviously my worse case scenario was very different from my son’s.

C + J Dulles

The actual traveling to Antigua part went by without a hitch.  Things could not have gone smoother. We flew TACA from IAD to San Salvadore and did a quick change of planes to fly directly into Guatemala City.  My son had arranged to have a driver pick us up as Guatemala City can be very dangerous.  I was grinning like a little girl before Christmas on the plane as I was taking my very first adventure.

Our driver met us with our names on a sign and brought us to his car.  We were instructed by the driver to keep our windows shut till after we left the city as  hoodlums could reach in the car through the window and rob us.  The drive to Antigua was through the mountains in the fog and at times I was a little nervous…okay, at times very nervous.  We got to our hotel as planned and I have to admit, it was not too shabby. We were a block from the Parque Central (where all the action is) and we had our own bathroom with hot water.  What more could we ask for.

hotel antigua

We managed to go out for dinner by the arch in Antigua at Frida’s (they have the best tortilla soup) and then out for a drinks.  We enjoyed watching some of the young men and ladies as they were dancing the salsa.

arch

The first day we spend the day wandering around the city. We did a lot of window shopping where I bought some handmade necklaces.   We actually ended up eating a lot of street food. We found this little street vendor that was selling ceviche and he got one of those.  We then noticed these strange beers that everyone was drinking so of course we had to try one of those as well. Apparently you took a normal beer, add diced onions, juice straight from a lime, and then some brown stuff that looked a lot like soy sauce (but wasn’t).  It was very different and  was pretty tasty according to him.

Our big adventure for the day was a dangerous hike  from the center of town up to the cross at Cerra De La Cruz.   The overlook at the top gives you the best view of  the entire city of Antigua. The hike was not dangerous because the hike was difficult, but dangerous because a lot of people get mugged.  So we hid all of our money in my shoes (it was a lot of money to us) and then we hiked up the mountain without a problem….Blogger Son #1 and I both shared a laugh about the poor ladies at the market the next day that were going to end up with our stinky dollars.

antigua

crossThe next day we took a shuttle to the famous market of Chichicastenango …this was an an all day event. I really looked forward to Chichi because Blogger Son had told me that typically Guatemalans come from their small villages to the Chichi market to sell their wares. He had been there before a few years earlier and thought it was something that I would want to experience.  It was a great chance to see traditionally dressed Guatemalans and eat local food.

chichi woman

Antigua is a beautiful city, but it is also a hub for tourists….while there are inevitably many tourists in Chichi,  it didn’t take away from the craziness of a market.   My son was hoping to get me on a chicken bus….saying that it was something that everyone should experience in Central America. But I opted not to do it which I felt was wise but instead drove there in a mini-van.   We still had a lot of the excitement – passing buses going 90K on a blind corner, barely dodging stray dogs, and of course the Nascar- like approach to the windy mountain passes. In a shuttle bus you don’t have to deal with the kids crawling on your lap and the live animals in the walkway.  We got there without any problems and met some pleasant other travellers on the bus ride.

chicken buses

The market was more intense  than he had remembered. It was really crowded – so crowded that you couldn’t turn around without bumping into someone or something.   I’m tall for a woman and my son is tall for a man; the Mayans ten to be short so we really stood out.  It was hard to get away from all the hustle and bustle…but I guess that is part of it.  I had a lot  of fun but  just could not get the currency conversions down, or how to say numbers in Spanish, which led to a lot of funny haggling conversations. My son tried as much as possible not to get involved and to shoot me silent signals. I ended up with a number of nice souvenirs including two  blanket.    I think the most memorable part of being at the market was the lunch that we had. We ate at one of the most basic “restaurants” that Blogger Son  have ever been too. It’s difficult to describe without  being there but it was great and he was very proud of me for handling it  well.  The rest of the day at the market was much of the same…haggling and haggling, and the shuttle ride back wasn’t too bad…we both managed to get a good amount of sleep which always makes long rides shorter (imagine that!).

market

The next day  we had a relaxing day around town…we opted not to do the volcano tour, instead we explored some more of the city, churches, museums, and some of the local restaurants. We each planned an activity for the day. I chose a relaxing day at a local spa, it was inexpensive and I needed to pamper my feet from all that walking!   My son chose a horseback riding adventure through the local country side (mountains). He has loved horseback riding since our days at the 9 Quarter Circle Ranch and managed to hire a guide to take him alone, which was a real treat. They went all over the area, through the city …but on top of a horse…going through the middle of town…that was a whole other experience for him.  Apparently his horse was afraid of cars, and motorcycles so anytime one would pass, which happened a lot, he would jump…which made it even more exciting for him.  Not quite the Roy Rogers parting shot jump…but the horse’s front legs definitely got off the ground!  He felt like a true Gaucho! After his ride was finished, he met me at the spa as I  was just finishing.  I felt very relaxed and thought it was a wonderful way to spend our last afternoon in Antigua after all that we had done.  My son was still walking kind of funny from the ride and I was relaxed and ready to go!

antigua dinner

Funny side note: On the morning of our first day, we were walking around town. A man selling macadamia nuts came up to me and asked if I wanted to buy any. This was the first vendor that tried to engage me into buying something, and I quickly said NO gracias, a typical, if not somewhat automatic response, anytime someone is asking you to buy something on the street. As we walked away I mentioned to my son that I really would have liked some macadamia nuts. I would randomly bring that up, throughout the rest of the trip anytime that we walked by that area. I was so excited to say NO that I didn’t really take time the to realize that I might want something. On our last night, we ran into the nut man and according to my son my eyes lit up when he approached us. I highly doubt he remembered us…but the way I was smiling I could have worn a big neon sign that said SUCKER that you could read a mile away. I practically jumped out of my shoes to purchase some nuts, and to avenge the mistake I had previously made.  My son was laughing up the entire time.

Another side story – sometimes when I am traveling I wake up really early in the morning and can’t get back to sleep. and my mind will  wander.  On one of our last mornings while my son was sleeping I was going over the 50 US States in alphabetical order.  I worked in an elementary school and one of the school musical programs was the Fifty Nifty United States.   I also decided to memorize my conversion table! I was really bad at it the day before but was an absolute pro on this day.  My son thought it was really a remarkable change…and really funny for him when I told him what I was doing in the wee hours of the morning as he pictured me laying in bed working on her 8’s tables (conversion rate is 8 to 1).

We had a great time and I would encourage some of you to go on a trip with one of your children.  You get to know each other in a different way, make new memories and have fun!   Antigua is not too difficult a place to travel and I was fortunate that Blogger Son kept trying to push the envelope with me and to encourage me to try different things.   I think the fact that he was very proud of me and how well I handled the weekend made me feel proud of myself.