I am a Southerner born and raised who has lived in the North for many years now. Being that my husband and I are high school sweethearts, all of our family lives in the same small Southern town. During the holidays we try our best to get back there, no matter where we are living at the time. This year it was going to be more of an adventure because we decided to take Louie, our 4 month old Shih Tzu. We have never traveled with Louie before this trip so I was really concerned. Turns out, Louie was no trouble at all compared to the rest of our adventure.
I love Christmas traditions! There are some that most everyone does like stockings, the Christmas Tree and presents. There are some that less people do like the candlelight service, opening one gift on Christmas Eve, dinner out at a fancy restaurant. Then there are those unique to a small number of people like getting new pj's every year for the whole family, crazy Christmas card family pictures and my favorite...the ornament exchange. Every year each member of my family gets a new Christmas tree ornament. I get one for each kid and my husband and my husband gets one for me. There are a few rules to the exchange. First, the ornament has to relate to the past year of the person's life. For example...this year we got Louie for my daughter's birthday, so getting her a dog ornament would be perfect! (which I did :0) We have everything from cellphones & saxophones to Harry Potter & Cinderella. The second rule is that it must say the year on it. Even if that means writing it on with a permanent marker. This way when we get out the ornaments every year, we can reminisce about that year and what it meant to each person. It makes putting up the Christmas tree so much more fun. The last rule is that we open them on Christmas Eve and put them on the tree for Christmas. So why am I telling you about this on my TRAVEL blog? Well, over the years I have given my husband several ornaments from our travels. Obviously traveling is something I love to do. Well, so does my husband. So our trips can be the highlight of our year.
If you haven't ever tried Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House you're missing out. I have eaten there several times and have enjoyed it every time. Recently I met some friends for dessert. I just wanted to share my dessert with you. If this doesn't tempt you enough to go, I don't know what will. :) It is the chocolate mousse pie for $7. Enjoy!
Morning at Mammoth Hot Springs, afternoon at the Norris Geyser Basin...only in Yellowstone National Park is something like this possible. I truly felt like I was visiting another planet. How else would you describe the scene below?
As we entered Yellowstone the second day from Gardiner, Montana, we were greeted with this awesome monument/entrance. I love what it says...For the benefit and enjoyment of the people. Amen to that! We are the people who will be enjoying it today, thank you very much!
As you know, I got a Shih Tzu puppy at the beginning of October. His name is Louie and he was a surprise birthday present for my daughter. Well, I had never had a dog before, so all his insanity was new to me. I was pretty distraught over the whole thing. Boy have things changed! It is amazing how fast you fall in love with the little fluff balls. :) But how could you not with a face like that!? We have both figured each other out. Now he makes me happy and I make him happy. There is nothing like the love you get from a puppy. With two teenagers and a (sometimes) cranky husband, that was all Louie needed to do to have my heart. In fact, I think I might love him too much. Is that possible? I think about him all the time and hate to leave him alone. Maybe Louie isn't the crazy one...I am!
I know what I want for Christmas...a new camera! I was so disappointed with some of my photos from our Wild West Road Trip. Especially the ones that I had to take from the car. That happens a lot in Yellowstone. You will be driving down the road and all of the sudden there are tons of cars slowing down or pulled over to the side. In the city, this would mean an accident, but in mother nature it usually indicates animals. This happened to us several times. While I was sooooo excited to see wild animals, I was sooooo upset that my camera failed me. My goal is for you to have as close to the same experience as I did in person. This elk below was amazing! What a gorgeous animal! But I don't feel like the pictures do him justice.
After our stop at the Mud Volcano, we headed to Artist Point. It is unbelieveable the different landscapes you come across in Yellowstone, literally right down the road from the next. If you read my blog, you know I love waterfalls. I wasn't about to pass this one up. Have you heard that expression "a picture is worth a thousand words"? Not much you can say about Artist Point that these pictures don't.
Our first stop after we entered Yellowstone was the Mud Volcano Area. We walked the entire loop, a whopping 2/3's of a mile. ☺ Be prepared for the stink!
The actual Mud Volcano is really small. I was expecting something much larger with the name "volcano". Anyway, it was quite stinky and muddy. Not much to write home about.
We finally made it to Yellowstone! We started the Wild West Road Trip with Yellowstone as our ultimate goal, but what a fun journey it has been to get here. Stopping at the Herbert Hoover Library, the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park and the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (along with several other stops) made it feel like one continuous vacation instead of just driving to get to Yellowstone. But we were super excited to get there, that's for sure! By the way, I took this picture from the car as we drove by... I have no idea who those kids are! :)
After we left Custer State Park, South Dakota, we kept driving west till we reached Cody, Wyoming. And what a drive that was! This is the highway we were driving on! Can you imagine?!
I had read that the Buffalo Bill Historical Center was a great stopping point on the way to Yellowstone. I would have to agree with the travel books. It was FIVE museums in one. We could have stayed all day and not seen everything. Definitely a must do if you are traveling through Cody.
Have you ever been on the look out for something and when you finally see it, you start snapping pictures, even though it is sooo far away? Of course you think this might be the best look I get, so I better take advantage of it. Well, here is my first sighting and picture of a bison at Custer State Park.
Can you even see it? LOL! Thank goodness for digital camera's because shortly after this I had the sighting below. Can you imagine wasting all that film on the above picture. I love digital!
After my recent visit with Oprah, I decided to go for lunch in Chicago. I wanted someplace close to Harpo Studios and decided to go with The Publican. I had been there before and really enjoyed it.
|Cool lights and fun pig pictures inside The Publican|
|Bloody Mary with a beer accompaniment at The Publican|
When I first started this blog in January I chose Bermuda as a starting point. Since then I have also started a YouTube channel. Today I used several of our Bermuda pictures to put together a postcard style video of our trip.
Several parts of Bermuda are covered in the video. Click on the links below to read more information.
As we continued our Wild West Road Trip, we headed south from Mt. Rushmore to Custer State Park. We had heard it was a good way to see some bison up close if you were lucky. Turns out there were some other animals wanting the attention of the tourists....the wild donkeys. I had read about them before we left, but forgot about it, to be honest. I mean, I grew up on a farm in the south, so I have seen my share of donkeys. It was the bison I was interested in. But I have to say, the donkeys knew how to get attention!
|He just stood in the middle of the road and stared at you as you drove by.|
I've been working on starting up a YouTube channel with lots of travel videos. So far I've made three. It takes some time to edit those things and as you know I have been focused on Louie. But I wanted to show you what I have done so far.
My last post was two weeks ago...and this is why!
We surprised our daughter with "Louie" for her birthday. My kids have always wanted a dog, but I have never given in to the desire. It always sounds fun, but then I talk myself out of it. I am a pretty logical person. Always thinking about the things that would make me not want a dog. For some reason, those things didn't seem as important recently. I thought if we were ever going to get a dog, now would be the time.
Southwest South Dakota has A LOT of things to do! After spending half the day at Mt. Rushmore, we headed toward Custer State Park. The only way to go is directly through the Black Hills, the mountain range that Mt. Rushmore is carved into.
Sometimes things don't go as planned. That is bad enough when you are close to home, with all the conveniences that you are accustomed to. But when you are in the middle of the Badlands it is a whole different ball game! I mean look at that landscape, nothing but... landscape! :) After our lunch and checking out the Ben Reifel visitor center, we were ready to hit the road again. We had only seen about a fourth of the park and we were ready to see the rest. Unfortunately, our car had other plans! To make a long story short, we somehow managed to set off the theft deterrent system in our car. It thought we were trying to steal it, so it wouldn't start. I always try to look on the bright side of things and believe it or not, this story has a few bright sides. First of all, we were parked at the visitor center. This is the only place on the entire Badlands loop with food, AC and nice restrooms. Since we ended up spending the next four hours there, that was a GREAT thing! This is also where the Park Rangers are housed. They were so helpful to us, offering to jump-start the car, letting us use the phone, showing us current projects they were working on. Really nice folks! Another GIANT bright side to this story is ONSTAR. We have the directions and connections plan and it was a life saver! After trying several different things that the Onstar advisor recommended (she was so patient), she ended up getting us a tow-truck. She made all the arrangements with the closest Chevrolet dealership and had the tow-truck driver text me when he would arrive. Honestly, without Onstar I know the day would not have gone as good as it did. Thanks, Onstar!
As the sign reads, this is The Big Badlands! After driving across South Dakota the day before, we finally arrived at one of our big stops, Badlands National Park. It was like nothing we had ever seen, or at least my husband and kids had ever seen, I came here as a child. :) It is hard to describe a landscape that doesn't really compare to anything else. It kind of reminds me of the Grand Canyon, except that it is so spread out. It also makes me think of the Napali Coast in Hawaii. But while it has the same shapes as the Napali Coast, Hawaii is lush and tropical, which the Badlands clearly are not! I think the Badlands are best described in pictures. Then you can decide what they might compare to.
Recently I was blessed with tickets to Harpo Studios in Chicago, IL to see a taping of Oprah's Lifeclass with Iyanla Vanzant. What an exciting experience! Definitely something that not a lot of people get to do. Honestly, I could attend every taping and never get tired of it. I am a huge fan of Lifeclass, as well as many of the new shows on the Oprah Winfrey Network, OWN. My favorite shows are ones that teach me something or help me grow as a person. Super Soul Sunday is the best, along with Lifeclass, Our America (with Lisa Ling) and Oprah's Next Chapter. Anyway, it was a blast and I wanted to share my experience with you. Here are my pictures and even a few videos from that day.
|Before the show started...super excited they let us bring in our phones! Started taking pictures immediately!|
You know that feeling you get when you spend hours upon hours in a car and you finally see the rest area sign? Sometimes you want nothing more than to just get out of the car and walk around for a few minutes. Even though rest areas are nice, we found the best place to stop, get out, walk around and enjoy nature. Less than two miles off the interstate, we discovered Sioux Falls Park. Beautiful!
|It was like heaven opened up and lit the way for a gorgeous walk!|
And we're off! Our first family road trip together. We have driven all day before to get to family, but never day after day after day for a family vacation because we usually fly to our destination. We started off our day at the German American Heritage Center, which is located in Davonport, Iowa. You know I love my history and especially family history. Most of mine traces back to Germany. I was pleasantly surprised with this little museum. There was lots of interesting information on German immigrants. My favorite thing was the videos of German immigrants (portrayed by actors) and their true stories of what life was like for them as they came to America. I had to watch them all! We took the German experience all the way and finished with dinner at Bier Stube bar and grill. I meant to take pictures, but I was so excited to eat when the food came, that I forgot! But it was a great place for German food. You'll have to trust me on that one.
|The city park that was the backdrop for our walk|
Today was another great Saturday in my life. It started like all my Saturdays do, with a family Bible study. This is one of my favorite family activities. Great discussions and learning moments are had by all of us. Then the day just took off from there. My husband and I took a long walk in a local park. We saw lots of pretty birds & cloud formations. Then we grabbed the kids for what we call linner (that's lunch and dinner combined into one big meal) at one of my favorite places to eat. And we topped it all off with Andy's frozen custard. As I was sitting outside in the sun eating my chocolate custard with peanut butter cups on top, I told my husband that today felt like being on vacation. Sometimes you have to make those days happen even in the middle of the chaos. You can escape right in your own backyard if you want to. :)
Where do you like to escape to for the day?
Where do you like to escape to for the day?
Labels: Works For Me Wednesday
Seattle was our starting and stopping point for our Alaskan cruise. We only had a limited amount of time there so we headed straight for the icon that Seattle is known for...the Space Needle. We decided to kill two birds with one stone, so we had dinner at Sky City restaurant while we took in the amazing views of Seattle and the surrounding areas. We love eating in revolving restaurants with a view and Sky City was no exception. It is rather expensive though. However, you don't have to pay the usual fee to get to the observation deck. So that helps! :)
I got married quite young, which was very normal at that time in the south. We didn't have very much money, but we already had a passion for travel. No money and wanting to travel aren't a good mix! So we did what we could...we started small. We traveled within our own state. We stayed at the cheapest hotels we could find. We ate cheap food. And we had a blast! Knowing that we planned to travel our whole lives, we decided to start a tradition on our honeymoon. We would buy a souvenir spoon in each new state or country that we visited. We literally started this tradition ON our honeymoon by purchasing the spoon rack and our first spoon. It has been 19 years and our marriage and this tradition are still going strong!
Ketchikan was one of my favorite stops on the Alaskan Cruise. It really summed up an "Alaskan" experience for me. When I think about who lives in Alaska, I think about the native people who have been there for so long and I also think about the rough and tumble folks who came for adventure from the lower 48! This excursion has both! We were cruising with Holland America and they refer to this excursion as the Saxman Native Village and Lumberjack show.
In the 1800's, Sitka, Alaska, was the cultural and political hub of Russian America. The town reflects on that fact in most of its tourist attractions. Several of Holland America's excursions are about Russian History. I have some Russian ancestry, so I thought it would be interesting to learn more while I had the chance. My husband loves birds, so going to the Raptor Center appealed to him. And always wanting to teach my children about the place we are visiting, the Sitka National Historical Park was a must see. When we visited, these were all combined into one excursion called Russian American, Raptors and Dancers. Today it seems to be divided up into two: Colonial Russian America and Cultural Sitka and Historic Russian America and Raptor center.
I am regularly amazed by mother nature and the Hubbard Glacier was no exception! As the ship approached, we were able to go out to the front of the ship to get a good look. Normally, this area is not open to the public. So it was a special treat. The snow capped mountains were breathtaking and the glacier seemed so small from far away. But as the ship got closer and closer, you realized just how amazing this bit of nature was! I have seen glaciers from planes, from automobiles and even walked on one, but seeing it from the water was something special! I will never forget it!
|From this point, the glacier seems small compared to those massive snow capped mountains.|
I've mentioned that I am a history buff, but you might not know that I am also a former school teacher. I love to teach (and learn)! So every opportunity I get to teach my kids something on a trip, I go for it! That is exactly why we booked this excursion. The current excursion name is Underground Juneau Gold.
|Our ship, the Oosterdam, docked in Juneau, Alaska|
Our Holland America Alaskan cruise stopped at several ports of call. The first one was Juneau, Alaska, which is the capital of the state, in case you forgot that from your 4th grade Social Studies class. Speaking of Social Studies, we were traveling with our young children who I thought would enjoy some activities, so I signed us up for two excursions on this day. The first excursion was Juneau icefield & flightseeing by floatplane. It was the most expensive of our excursions (at $174 for adults & $139 for kids), but I really wanted to do it! I was not disappointed! Very cool experience!
Keep reading for my secret to a great seat!
|Our floatplane...it was so cool to take off and land in the water!|
I have always heard people love or hate cruising. Well, this was my first cruise, and I LOVED it! I am one of those people that REALLY plans a trip. I mean every detail, down to the minute. Being on a ship forced me to take a break from all the exploring, unless you count exploring the ship, and just relax. There are a few days when you have no other option. You are on a boat in the water with no way to get off (except jumping, but don't be silly) so you just hang by the pool, see a movie, look at art or my favorite, eat! I took every advantage I could of the all you can eat food that is offered up, what seems like 24/7, and I paid the price for it. I gained 7 pounds in 7 days! YIKES!
|One of the many ways I put on my 7 pounds! This was a midnight desert buffet! Just what you need in the middle of the night, tons of endless calories! ;)|
I LOVE Disney World! I also LOVE to eat! So needless to say, eating in Disney World is on my list of super awesome things to do. In the 10 or so times I have been to Disney, I have eaten at several of their restaurants. Many of my favorite are at Epcot, so that is what I will be focusing on today. Several of them won't be mentioned in this post. So if you have any questions about places, feel free to ask me in the comments. It is very possible I have been there and am happy to share my thoughts with you.
I have always loved history. In school it was my favorite subject and on all my travels I want to learn more about it. Reading about history is always a good option, but going to the places where the events occurred - even better. Unfortunately, most of those places are in ruins or long past looking like what they did in their prime. That is why reenactments are such a good option for the history buff! It truly is like going back in time. What a great tool to teach your children history as well. I recently took my kids to Cantigny Park in Wheaton, IL for a Revolutionary War reenactment.
|View of the city and lake from our table|
We all have special occasions in our life: birthday, anniversary, promotion, graduation, the list goes on and on. A great place to celebrate is The Signature Room in Chicago, Illinois. My husband surprised me with dinner here for my birthday recently. Chicago is a great place to spend the weekend. So many things to do. But that is another story. Whether you live in Chicago or are just visiting, I suggest this restaurant for your special occasion. It is located on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building.
The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia is an icon in America's hotels. So much history, so many celebrities, so much to see and do....if these walls could talk! In my last post, I talked about much of that, so in this one I want to focus on the newest part of the hotel, the casino.
I am not a big gambler, but if I were, the Greenbrier casino would be my favorite, by far. First of all, there is no smoking! Best rule ever! Second of all, there is a dress code. Thirdly, only resort guests allowed (with one exception: see the Greenbrier policy page.) That is my kind of place to hang out and people watch. I did find one game that caught my eye. It was a penny slot machine called Gold Fish. I put $20 in and had the most fun time. I ended up hitting the "penny" jackpot and made $50! It was so much fun! After I hit my jackpot, I called it quits and took my winnings to the Twelve Oaks equestrian-themed lounge. There was a jazz singer belting it out while I sipped my mint julep and enjoyed my husband's company. By far, the most enjoyable evening in a casino I have ever experienced.
|The front of the hotel|
I LOVE the Greenbrier! It has so many of the things I love rolled into one location: history, southern hospitality, beauty, relaxation and yummy food! I mean, how could you not love this place?! Let's start with the history. The Greenbrier is an award-winning resort located in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It is a National Historic landmark, that has hosted distinguished guests from around the world since 1778. Yes, I said 1778! The story of The Greenbrier begins at the sulphur water spring that remains the center of the resort property. The spring sits below the Springhouse that serves as The Greenbrier's symbol. As I said, since 1778, people have come to "take in the waters" in order to restore their health. In the 19th century, visitors drank and bathed in the sulphur water to cure everything from rheumatism to an upset stomach. Because of the water's draw, the resort was known as White Sulphur Springs. Some of it's historical highlights include: During the Civil War, both sides occupied the grounds using the hotel either as a hospital or military headquarters; It was used during WW2 for several things, including a hospital; It was decorated by Dorothy Draper in late 40's; Sam Snead was the golf pro there; it held the Emergency Relocation Center-a bunker or bomb shelter-to be occupied by the U.S. Congress in case of war, that you can now tour; And it has been visited by at least 26 Presidents! For more details on the history of the Greenbrier click here.
So when most people think of Las Vegas, thoughts that you wouldn't want to tell your kids might come to mind. While I like the shows, the over the top casinos, dancing & drinking...I like it in a much tamer way than some people! :) Let's just say that those that know me, wouldn't guess Vegas as my favorite place. However, I have been to Vegas several times, none the less. On the most recent trip, I discovered Serendipity 3. Wow! Super yummy! Those are Balsalmic Strawberry Cream Waffles that I am about to devour above. Freshly Sliced Strawberries, Macerated in Balsamic Glaze & Cream, Sandwiched between 2 Jumbo Waffles, Topped with Fresh Strawberries & Drizzled in Chocolate. And I know this is hard to believe and quite ridiculous, but then I had the Frozen Hot Chocolate! And honey, it was AMAZING!!! These are the kinds of excess I enjoy in Vegas!
There are a few extra things I didn't get to tell you in my other posts on Bermuda.
- Ginger Beer...YUMMY! Some places even have diet. This is what they use in the famous Dark and Stormy drink, which I also really liked! It has rum in it with the Ginger beer, which isn't beer at all, more like a ginger ale. If you are a fruity drink kind of person, I suggest you try the rum swizzle.
- The colorful houses are awesome. My family all picked their favorites by the end of the trip. They have these white roofs that are pretty, but actually serve a bigger purpose...to collect rain water for household use. See the ridge around the bottom. Very interesting!
I've added this post to What I Ate Wednesday at peasandcrayons.com...enjoy!
The Newport Room is known as the premier dining experience in Bermuda. Serving French cuisine presented with style and elegance in the setting of what looks like a yacht. They use silver service, crystal and bone china to make it a special experience for any occasion. Men are required to wear jackets. Yes, it is that kind of place!
Some of their achievements include:
*First ever AAA Five Diamond-rated restaurant in Bermuda and the Caribbean
*2002/05/06/07 Winner of Bermuda People's Choice Awards
*2010 Top 5 World's Best Resort Restaurants - Food & Drink Digital
*2010 Top 5 World's Best Resort Restaurants - Food & Drink Digital
If you just order from the regular menu, then this restaurant isn't much more expensive than others in Bermuda, but of course, I was tempted by the tasting menu that far exceeded the price of other places. I mean come on, who doesn't want to try the tasting menu...it just sounds fun! Plus there were six courses in the tasting menu and that sounded fun as well! In hind sight, I might have just ordered from the regular menu. While the tasting menu was fun and neat to try, I was quite full by the end and it was expensive. I don't mind spending some money on good food, but I don't like to think I spent too much money. The tasting menu is $120 plus a 17% automatic gratuity (that's $20.40) for a total of $140.40 per person, not including drinks. And with a meal like that, you have to have a couple glasses of wine, right? Plus, my husband did not order the tasting menu and his was absolutely delish! You can't go wrong either way, really!
Bermuda Rockfish with roasted almond crust, butter poached Maine lobster and mascarpone potato is what my husband ordered from the regular menu. Yes, that is some kind of foam on top! His was heavenly! I was a little jealous. ;)
This was my amuse bouche, which is a little tidbit of food served before the first course. It is not on the menu and it is complimentary. It gives you an idea of the chef's approach to cooking. It was good.
First course: Lobster Waldorf deconstructed with champagne mangoes, celery, apple jelly mingionette and natural yogurt. Notice the green foam, very cool. It was quite tasty!
Second course: Tortellini with Morels...acorn squash tortellini, madeira thyme essence and parmesan foam. Absolutely fabulous! My daughters favorite! Yes, both the kids had the tasting menu as well. :)
The third course came to the table like this. That is a piece of glass with cedar planked infused smoke under it, because the salmon in there was cooked on a cedar plank. The waitress lifted it toward me and wafted the smoke toward my nose. It smelled good, but more importantly, how freaking cool is that presentation!!!
The third course: Atlantic Salmon with smoked haddock brandade, creamed leeks, peas, courvoisier lobster cream. This was my favorite! That lobster cream sauce was to die for!
Next came a palate cleanser. Again, it wasn't on the menu, so I don't know exactly what it was, but I do know it had something to do with blueberries. It was really yummy and I could have had more! My daughter liked this as well.
The fourth course came served like this to the whole table. Each person had their own dish opened up before them. :) That little one was the butter...how cute is that?!
The fourth course: Steak Frites...an 8 ounce ribcap of beef with duckfat fries and bearnaise sauce. This was my sons favorite. He said it was the best steak he had ever had! :) The fries were the bomb, figuratively and literally, I mean they were cooked in duck fat! I wasn't counting calories this night!
The fifth course: Artisinal Cheese...fourme d'albert, bacon wrapped dates, toasted pecans with aged balsalmic. Not my favorite. The pecans were about it for me here. :(
The sixth course: Apricot Mousse with salted caramel brule and caramelized pineapple. Yes, that is real gold on top. I love desert, but I was so full at this point, I couldn't eat it all. Maybe if it had been amazing, I would have crammed it all in, but it was just good.
So that completes my six course tasting meal at The Newport Room. I truly recommend that you go. The food is fabulous, the service was fantastic and it will be a night that you will never forget. In fact, writing about it now makes me happy that I went with the tasting menu. What a unique experience that I will always remember as a fantastic night.