Yesterday was our first day back in seven weeks! We only had time to change out clothes for others and spend the night with relatives. Today, we take care of some business before driving an hour to Galveston. A good friend’s daughter is getting married this evening and we just made it home in time for the event. It’s the weekend before Halloween and hotels are packed. There are ghost tours and all sorts of activities during this time. When my husband made the Priceline online reservation, he wasn’t using the mouse. Somehow, scrolling down, a one star hotel in an adjoining city was confirmed. It’s the first time we have ever hit a one star. Eeek! What are we in for?!? After talking to a friend who also couldn’t get the room they wanted, we don’t feel so bad. They wound up with a one star in Galveston because everything else was booked.
The wedding is a beautiful affair! It’s held in the circular garden next to the 1859 Ashton Villa, an elegantly restored Victorian home.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nowadays the villa’s only available for private events.
We go by the state capitol. The rotunda is being renovated and we’re able to get an up-close view of the massive electric chandelier that usually hangs as a focal point in the rotunda. Made around 1914, it weighs over 4000 pounds.
We visit the state treasurer’s office to hold $140,000 in bills. We also receive special coins as a memento of our visit.
Outside, we walk around the memorial to the Little Rock Nine. They bravely stepped through the doors of Central High School in 1957. The Arkansas governor had tried to prevent the school integration, but President Eisenhower intervened and the students were admitted.
That GPS did it again!!! It sent us down a narrow dirt road that deadends. We get the correct directions from a local business and go two miles down to the Crater of Diamonds State Park. A couple we met in West Palm Beach were the ones to tell us to check it out if we go through Arkansas.It doesn’t look like a crater to me, but it is – a long ago volcanic crater. It’s the ONLY diamond producing site in the world where the public can search for diamonds and keep their finds. Basically, it’s a big field (37 1/2 acres) divided by a raised dirt path and marked by sections. People are scattered about, carrying their tools – buckets, sieves, shovels, knee pads.
I use the recommended technique. Walk along and just keep your eyes open. Just two days ago, a teenager from Oklahoma found a 3.85 carat yellow diamond just sitting atop the dirt! She named it “God’s Jewel.” That makes it about 400 diamonds found here this year. (The largest diamond ever discovered the the United States was also unearthed here. It, “The Uncle Sam”, was a whopping 40.23 carats!) Lonnie stays up at the center. He thinks that’s a low yield and not worth his time. I tell him that if God wants me to have a diamond, I’ll find a diamond. Well, God didn’t want me to have a diamond. That’s fine, I have everything I need and even a memento of my diamond search.
We get into Dallas and go through two construction jams on the highways before arriving in Fort Worth. We’ll be staying with relatives tonight before heading home!
We make it to Memphis, Tennessee in time for lunch. The search for a good barbeque place pops up Central BBQ, 2249 Central Avenue. It’s pork has been voted #1 over and over. It’s the typical barbeque place. We can’t decide on sides. The sweet young woman taking orders at the cash register passes us a basket of handmade potato chips with a small dish of chunky blue cheese dressing and says it’s on the house, try it. If we like it we can order it next time. Now, doesn’t that just ring of true southern hospitality?!? We split a three meat platter and roll out happy!
Leaving town, we pass what could be six motorcycle cops and a line of black SUVs waiting at the beginning of the bridge. We cross over the bridge into Arkansas and suddenly see a l-o-n-g line of black jacketed motorcyclists with lights on, cruising toward Memphis. At the end of the procession, an ambulance with lights on flies by. If anyone knows what happened at 2:35p today, please fill me in!
We stop by the West Memphis, Arkansas visitors center. It has some of the cleanest restrooms and the nicest staff!
We arrive in Little Rock with plenty of time for a good night’s rest. For dinner, we walk through a Chinese grocery store to get to Mr. Chen’s restaurant. How interesting. That gives it character and the security guard for the store makes me feel protected!
The Old Mill area in Pigeon Forge is part of one long stretch of touristy amusements, shopping centers, restaurants and hotels. Reminds us of Las Vegas. Drove by the Dixie Stampede, but did that in Branson. Didn’t feel like going to Dollywood, though my husband did talk about it being one of the amusements to see when we got here. Well, after wandering through shops and eating at one of the restaurants, we’re done.
We drive a bit into the Smokey Mountains, but decide we’ll check it out another time as we have driven through and hiked up a few national parks on this trip already. We do stop and take a photo of the Hollywood Wax Museum entertaintment center. That, the Castle of Chaos and MagiQuest are s-o-o-o Las Vegas!
On the way to Nashville, a roadster passes us. It’s one of the teams competing in the annual America Adventure! This year, it’s from Nashville to Savannah, a kind of scavenger hunt-road rally. Sportscars to sedans to rental cars race like mad in the three-day rally.
Praise God! Due to the time change,
we gain an hour and get into Lebanon, just outside Nashville, when it’s daylight! This La Quinta just underwent six months of renovations and is nicely updated. Everything looks clean and fresh. Water and a snack are waiting for us and the bed has added softness with a pillowtop cover.
As with most of our stops, we don’t have a set schedule and often book a room the same day. Well, today is not our day for entertainment. The Grand Ole Opry is standing room only for a special “Pink” performance by country stars Amy Grant, Pam Tillis, Lorrie Morgan, LeAnn Rimes, etc. We check out mystery theatres/dinners and none are open during the week. So, we go to Bangkok Pad Thai for a #2 level that blows serious heat and reminds me what a wimp I am!
Today is Mayberry Monday! We have the complimentary breakfast and chow down on sausage patties, biscuits & eggs, cereal and yogurt. During checkout, I tell the front desk how really pleased we were with the room. It was previously part of another hotel chain, then fully renovated and is now only two weeks old as a Comfort Inn.
Walking around Mont Airy, North Carolina, AKA Mayberry, is a very positive experience. The locals are ALL so sweet to us. A woman out for exercise greets us as she strides by. We need a little help with directions, and walk into a local bank. The lady is happy to help us. She has a charming drawl as she gives directions to our next stop.
Standing in the long line for Snappy Lunch cafe, I see someone getting a haircut in the barber shop next door. Lonnie’s holding our place in line, so I walk on over. A man with an oxygen tank sitting by the door asks me, “Where’s your horse?” At first I’m a little taken aback. Then, “Oh!” I’m wearing my western-style straw hat. I say that I don’t have one but that I AM from Texas. He asks if I can sing “San Antone Rose” (made famous by Bob Wills). I say I can sing “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You” and sing the first stanza, to which I add a rousing, “GO LONGHORNS!!!” People in the barber shop get a kick out of that as I walk over to the barber chair. I ask for permission to take a photo and they agree.
Then, the barber, Russell Hiatt, starts telling me a joke about a cop, a driver, a bottle of alcohol and Jesus’ first miracle. Russell is said to be the inspiration for Floyd, the barber, on The Andy Griffith Show. He even changed the shop name to Floyd’s!
A meal at Snappy Lunch is rather uncomplicated. Sandwiches arrive wrapped in paper, the chips in a bag. My thin grilled cheese sandwich tastes like the sliced processed cheese that comes 20 to a pack at the store. Lonnie has the world famous pork chop sandwich: 1 fried pork chop, coleslaw, chili, mustard, onion and tomato and an iced tea. I know Yelpers and all just LOVE this sandwich, but it’s a like for us, though the coleslaw is really good. One thing that can’t be beat, though, is the total price of $7.06!
Our tickets to the Andy Griffith Museum also get us into the Siamese Twins exhibit and The Old Time Music Heitage Hall at Earle Theatre.
A highlight is the squad car ride. The “deputy” takes us around town, pointing out areas of interest – Andy’s childhood home, school, church and Wally’s Gas Station, etc. It was an interesting 30 minute tour, and you could tell the deputy loved presenting his dramatic interpretations. Lonnie asked about Andy’s first wife. (We’d speculated about that earlier in the day after visiting Andy’s museum. There wasn’t much mention of her after the early years.)
We step into Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies and take a moment for a big whiff of deliciousness! Here is the rich, full-bodied smell of real baking, not the overly sweet smell of pure sugar. Lonnie has a baked turnover, I have a slice of (I think) cinnamon sour cream cake. Then, for a late night treat when we get to Pigeon Forge, we add a huge piece of luscious, creamy German chocolate cake!
It’s our first breakfast in a Waffle House on the trip. Not my fav, but Lonnie wants a cooked-to-order breakfast before hitting the road. Yaay! We’re going to “Mayberry!” Well, Mount Airy, North Carolina – Andy Griffith’s real life hometown. On the way, we stop at the West Virginia visitors center off of I-77. The front desk tells us we missed the New River Gorge Bridge Walk, West Virginia’s largest festival, by a day. It’s the third Saturday in October each year and everyone is invited to walk on top of the New River Gorge Bridge. There are arts & crafts, food, BASE jumpers, rappellers and gorgeous Fall views. They also offer daily guided tours of the the long catwalk below the bridge that looks straight down 876′ to the New River.
One of the center staffers, Bonnie, is touching up her autumn chalk drawing. She was an art therapist for 25 years and has been delighting visitors to the center with lovely scenes like this. When it comes time to change the chalkboard, Bonnie takes a photo of her seasonal art before erasing it to create another engaging scene for all to enjoy.
We are persuaded to take a detour to see a couple of area falls. We get to Highway 19 and agree that the twisting hairpin turns are eating into the time allowed to get to the Gorge before sunset. The large waterfall requires a 3/4 turn onto a wooden bridge and down a steep, narrow dirt trail. This detour is taking too much time,
so we back up in reverse on the country bridge and then head out to the main road.
There is a brief stop at Kanawha Falls before we arrive at New River Gorge lookout as the sun descends.
The lookout is said to be a 600′ descent into the Gorge.
Leaving the gorge so late is a problem as night falls and Lonnie has to negotiate curving mountainous roads in complete darkness, with the occasional headlights of another lonely vehicle. We FINALLY arrive in Mount Airy and the Comfort Inn looks s-o-o-o good! It welcomes us with fluffy pillows and plenty of space to lay our things.
It’s laundry day again. I only mention it if Lonnie makes me go with him when there’s no hotel laundry room. When the hotel charges $6 to pick up, launder, fold and deliver just one t-shirt, it’s time to find the laundromat. (Along the trip, we stayed with several different friends and family and used their machines.) Lonnie googles area laundromat reviews and finds one that’s “very clean” with shiny front loading machines, etc. that’s just down the street. A nice man shows us how much to load and how long to dry the different size loads.
Lunch time! We go to Milestones, a Canadian franchise. It’s like a nicer Cheddar’s. We’ve been to several Canada-only franchises along with independants. Then, more shopping with our son before he’s dropped off at the airport. Bye, Baby Boy.
Boo! I’m back to navigating. No more long naps and less mindless daydreaming. 😦 😦 😦
This part is a lesson in being prepared and consequences:
It’s pouring rain all the way to the American border. We’re asked for proof of vehicle ownership. We can’t produce it! We had it when we started this trip and it’s nowhere to be found. After more scrambling around, we’re told we have honest faces and we’re let through. “But … if a trooper pulls you over and you can’t prove vehicle ownership, it will be impounded.” Needless to say, my husband becomes an even more careful driver than he usually is.
We pull up at the Redhawk Grille in Painesville, Ohio for a late dinner. It’s been a long drive from Toronto and a light meal is in order. The menu sounds so creative. I have high hopes for the chef. Well, maybe their specialty is steaks and chicken, but Lonnie’s cod is overcooked and dry.
My scallops are the tiny sweet ones. There are more than enough, but they don’t taste sweet or fresh. Sigh … another dish I don’t finish.
We arrive next door at the Quail Hollow Resort. It’s a well-aged beauty. (Sorry for the distortion of the long back railing. It isn’t curved, but a straight rail across.)
We had read negative comments on Tripadvisor, but our fears are groundless. Issues we’d heard about are resolved and the room is fine. What’s even fine-r is the choice of ice cream for purchase in the lobby!
We don’t usually eat at a place more than once, but we enjoyed yesterday’s breakfast so much that we go again. I fancy a richly flavored soup and cup of sweet Hong Kong tea.
Now we’re ready for Niagara Falls! It has been raining, but the sun breaks out as we arrive.
We don super thin yellow plastic ponchos before going down the elevator.
There are plaques with historical facts along the tunnel to the second level lookout – oh yeah, look out for heavy mist coating the camera lens!
Once we have our fill, it’s on to the wine country trail. Lots of winding country roads. We get to a small town overrun by tour buses and shuttles. People pack the sidewalks, going in and out of cute little shops. It’s Bar Harbor all over again and no place to park. We don’t stop. Another day, Niagara-on-the-Lake!
Heading back, our son wonders if diesel truck drivers still pull the stack cord if you motion pulling it. We slowly pull even with an 18 wheeler with a shiny diesel stack. Our son waits to catch the driver’s eye, then pumps his fist up and down. The white mustached driver looks a little startled, then reaches up and gives the horizontal cord a quick pull. We cheer loudly and clap!!! It still works for a 20-something. Thank you, Grant Haulage, for such accommodating drivers!
Back in the city, Lonnie & I have our first visit to Tim Hortons. There are now Tim Hortons in the states, but we want to try it in Canada. I bite into a chocolate glazed donut. Hmm … it’s okay. I prefer a Shipley’s donut. I like to think that it was Shipley’s that ran Crispy Creme out of Houston. I probably prefer Shipley’s due to the fact that our dad would come home from an occasional all night mah jong game after the restaurant closed. If he did well, we might get a bit of his lucky money. Other times, he would bring home a white box of freshly glazed Shipley’s donuts and wake us up. It’s hard to beat a melt-in-your-mouth, still-warm Shipley’s!
For dinner, we go to Coquine, a restaurant recommended by a friend. My beet salad is very good. Lonnie’s $28 cod is not a generous serving, as our server claimed.
Our son enjoys his the most. He ordered French Onion Soup and … you guessed it, poutine!
Both have been voted Best of Toronto two years in a row. The poutine is especially tasty. The gravy includes a duck comfit and is rich and savory.
Back at the hotel, our son catches up on his social media while we go downstairs for dessert. The crème brulee is the best I’ve ever eaten! It’s creamy, rich with flavor and most importantly for me, not too sweet. If something is too sweet, you can miss the dish’s true flavor. Ah, the perfect end to a full day!
Marathon Cafe is a typical no-frills place, but they have an award-winning milk tea and decent food. They offer western-style breakfasts with bacon, eggs & toast. They also offer Chinese noodle soups and dishes.
We do a lot of window shopping at Eaton Centre before going to their huge food court. It must have over 50 options! We go in three different directions and meet over Chinese, American and Indian dishes. Bellies full, time to drive by Casa Loma, the local castle. It’s taken over by multi-story scaffolding. Cross that out for another trip. It’s raining. Cross out the CN tower.
To the biggest of the five Toronto Chinatowns, the one downtown. Canadian Chinatowns are the cleanest!
Then, to the House of Gourmet Seafood BBQ and Noodle Restaurant. It’s packed with Asians, a good sign.
Again, we order in English, are misunderstood and get a different dish than expected. Still, the food is flavorful.
Yesterday, a lovely Dutch woman greeted me in her native language at breakfast. Today, I try to repeat it and I mangle it badly. The man next to her smiles and repeats it. I do better the second try. He invites me to join them. I do! They are brother and sister, in for their older brother’s 50th wedding anniversary. They show me a photo of a happy group and we share family stories.
WelcomINNS is a simple, clean hotel that has a simple breakfast. The difference from the average American hotel that has complimentary breakfast is the way guests are treated. There are bright white tablecloths, silverware, ceramic mugs, juice glasses and trays to carry everything. The petite blonde who maintains the dining room greets everyone with, “Bonjour!” and a sunny smile. She hums as she bustles about stocking foods and condiments and cleaning off tables. A co-worker pops in to get a muffin and stays to help her re-stock some supplies, cheerfully chatting away in French. You can tell this hotel has great team chemistry!
Our sweet daughter has been calling us throughout the trip to see how we are doing. It is good to hear her voice.
I do not do well connecting with tweeters on this trip. @AnnTran_ , @earthxplorer @DanielHebert, all a miss! They agreed to meet with me, but it always depends on schedules. Ann Tran had just returned from hosting a tweet-up in Maui, Hawaii. She hosted a tweet-up in Washington, D.C., her home base, that Thursday. I had planned to attend, but we were still in Virginia. Then, she was playing catch-up when I was free. She tweeted me later to see how I was doing. What a lovely person! She has over 350,000 followers and still makes time to connect one-on-one. J.D. Andrews, was exploring the earth in Paris when I came to Miami, but took time to wish me safe travels. Daniel Hebert was coming back home to Kingston, Ontario but I couldn’t be sure when we’d be going through that day. Oh, well … there’s a reason for everything that happens and I accept that.
Everyone’s back from their Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, so it’s harder to find a parking space. We ask for directions to a tunnel entrance and a kind woman walks us to the nearest one! It’s a BIG underground system and we go to the area with lots of shopping. (Most of the businesses provide services for the downtown workers: eateries, cleaners, convenience stores, shoe repair, etc.)
Eureka! After looking for the past two years, I find my winter jacket! Most quilted jackets make me look like the Michelin Man – puffy. Or, they are short ones. I want one that gives a little more coverage. This one does that. It’s on sale and its slim-fit sillouette doesn’t make me look like a marshmallow. Happy, happy!
We enter the Biodome. It reminds me of Galveston’s Moody Gardens. The dome houses everything, whereas Moody Gardens’ three pyramids are separate buildings.
The five ecosystems represented in the Biodome are rich in animal life and flora & fauna.
We’re too old for the kids’ activities, so we make our own!
Tour the Biodome with us!
Tonight we lay our heads in Toronto. We’ll be based at the Delta the next three nights. It’s near the Markham Chinatown and is a former Radisson. It could use some updating, but right off the bat, I love it here – there’s a big view of the city lights, recycle trash bins, soft beds with fluffy pillow tops and a separate switch for the bathroom fan!
In the car, we listen to the CD of an older man who sang on the boardwalk yesterday. He sang French songs beautifully, but only had American songs on the CD. Our son can’t stop laughing as the man used an over-the-top Louis Armstrong voice in ALL of his songs!
Even with the GPS, we take a wrong turn and finally figure out how to get back on track. We visit the visitor’s center on Rue Notre Dame and get a walking map of notable landmarks. We view many, including Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. In the chapel at the back of the basilica, world renown songstress, Celine Dion, was wed.
My son pops into Restaurant Oh! Dumplings for a quick snack on the run. He says it’s, “Oh-kay.”
Lunch at Les 3 Brasseurs (The 3 Brewers) was alright. My goat cheese flatbread was good. Lonnie’s schnitzel with bratwurst was average. Our son’s beer-battered poutine was good.
Tonight, we go to the Montreal Botannical Garden. We visit the greenhouse and Insectarium first and are disappointed to have not gone to the Mosiacultures Internationales first!
Mosiacultures Internationales is winding down, with exhibits being dismantled.
We walk over to view The Magic of Lanterns. Hundreds of handmade silk lanterns from China illuminate the Chinese Garden. This year’s theme is “The First Emperor’s Procession.”
In the teahouse, a talented performer creates magic!
For dinner, our son takes us to a friend’s recommendation, Schwartz’s Deli. It has got to be the best meat sandwich I’ve ever had! Must be the authentic atmosphere and teasing waiters. It was special enough to have a musical made of it. For a quick dessert, a walk over to Ripples to enjoy Mint Oreo and Cardamon ice cream! My cardamon scoops are chock full of nuts – pistachio, almond, etc. and tiny bits of savory cardamon. It was great at the beginning, but a bit strong toward the end. A good choice for something different and a piquant end to a satisfying day out!
We head for Old Quebec City, a designated United Nations World Heritage Site. By foot is the best way to see what is purported to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We park at Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac and take a short walk through the lovely historic hotel. My early-to-rise husband is right. We always get out of the hotel too late to make the tours. Our son and I say it’s vacation and we shouldn’t have to get up at 7am. So, we wander the streets with maps in hand, drinking in the atmosphere of days gone by.
Lunch at Le Petit Coin Latin is a simple, yet quite enjoyable experience. My spinach lasagna is good, but Baby Boy’s deliciously Crusty Cheese (with thinly sliced mushrooms) sandwich is better!
French is a beautiful, melodic language. Everywhere, we are greeted with a delightful “Bonjour.”
The narrow cobbled streets with their colorful shops are so inviting. The city draws me in to discover a quaint gift shop or the perfect chocolate bite!
There are wonderful art galleries to explore. Along Dufferin Terrace you can see so many parts of the city.
On a drizzly afternoon, staring out across the St. Lawrence River is calming. It’s like an old French village painting. Striding along, we check off the Fortification of Quebec, Dufferin Terrace, Place Royal and a little urban park, presumably the Plains of Abraham. There are more on the list we don’t get to, but I don’t mind.
No need to rush around like crazy people so we can say we saw all those things. We can see more on the next trip here. More important is the time we have with our son, enjoying the moment.
We’re off to Montreal! There seems to be more fall foliage here than in Maine.
We have diinner at a Portuguese restaurant with nice white tablecloths and a quiet atmosphere. Should have Yelp’d and Tripadvisor’d it. The complimentary olives were a nice appetizer, but the paella was mediocre and the pork dish was a little tough. Just shows that a presentable full service restaurant does not always equate good food. Should have gone to the casual poutine place that had high marks and roasted chicken. Still, we’re here in Montreal and lovin’ it!
I took an iPhone shot of Belfast Harbor from the deck of our little inn. It’s one of my favorite shots, so I tweet it out!
We go over the expansion bridge to Verona Island on the way to Bar Harbor. Or as the locals say, “Bah Hah-bah.” Acadia National Park surrounds Bar Harbor on three sides. President Woodrow Wilson established the park in 1916. Thanks to the efforts and generosity of dedicated citizens like Charles W. Elliot and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the park grew from 6,000 acres to today’s 49,000 acres.
The park is closed due to the government shutdown, but we’re given directions to the different coves around it that are accessible. We go through bays such as Seal Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor. Rockwall Pork Chop Lane has a gorgeous view of mountains rising behind the lake!
When you can enter the park, there’s something pretty cool that you can do. Go up to Cadillac Mountain before sunrise and be among the first in the United States to greet a new day!
Bangor on a lazy summer afternoon is quiet. Driving out, we hit another lobster roll place. It was good with crunchy french fries.
It’s nice having our son with us on this leg of the trip. He adds another dimension – like wiping the inside windshield and then pretending to wipe his father’s ear. He always opens car doors for me, unlike his father who will do it if someone’s watching!
As we drive through Jackman, Maine, the last rays of a glowing sunset hit the lake’s water and creates a magical moment with hazy, purple Appalachian Mountains. Wish there was a place we could easily pull over and record that moment!
We come over the bridge into Quebec City in Canada. Lights along the water’s edge dance in happy welcome! After checking in at the Clarion Sainte-Foy Hotel, we have a 9:30pm dinner at Paris Grill, a five minute drive down the “rue.” It’s one of six different types of restaurants listed together. Reminds me of Laundry’s Restaurants based in Houston. They too, often place them together.
It’s 60° and overcast. We’re back in Boston. Our son caught a bus in this morning. We pick him up in Chinatown and go for lunch at Gourmet Dumpling. We share a table with two strangers, which is a common practice in popular Chinese restaurants. The positive about this place – it’s filled with Asians so it must be good. The negative – if you don’t speak their dialect, your order in English might be misinterpreted and you get a wrong order (a 15 minute longer wait for us!). It was a decent meal. For a snack on the road, my husband picks up Chinese pastries (a beef curry bun, several char shew bows and don tot) from the bakery next to the restaurant. Our son goes down to another to get his favorite, Char Shew Bow (bao). We compare. The bow, a bun filled with Chinese style barbequed pork in a savory sauce, from the first bakery is not baked in the signature red barbeque sauce. It’s more like the pork is boiled and dunked in brown sauce with little bits of chopped fat added. Hmmph! Bow from the second bakery is better. They mix red tinged barbequed pork with regular pork in a thick sauce. To me, they are not true bows like we get in New York and Houston.
Yaay!!! Baby Boy rides shotgun so I can snooze/read/write in the back seat! He plays Navigator for Lonnie while I work on a blog entry and gaze occasionally at the passing scenes. Our son’s app finds an award-winning food truck, Bite Into Maine, known for their lobster rolls! The truck is in Fort Williams Park.
It’s by the Portland Head Light, the oldest lighthouse in Maine. I think it’s so cool that in 1787, George Washington directed this lighthouse to be built!
It’s a beautiful scene and a little strange to see a food truck there. I forego a lobster roll to rush down and take as many photos as possible.
Next, our son guides us to Commercial Street to check out the local trends. We split up and I go straight for a tasty cup of Lobster Stew! As Rachel Ray would say, “Yum-O!”
Enjoying the moment. I pick up a handmade mini photo art book by local photographer Anna Karlina Peplowski. On to Freeport and the L.L.Bean stores! Lonnie has been looking forward to seeing the 24 hour store. We get there and I decide the jackets are too puffy for me. I am also not into plaid and oxford shirts, so I save my money.
It’s pretty late when we arrive in Belfast Harbor, to a quiet little inn by the bay. It sorely needs a major renovation, but maybe that’s supposed to be the charm of the area. It’s the first room on the trip that has two entries, to the inside hall and to the parking lot. It’s also the first one to have a separate switch for a bathroom fan. I love good circulation! We eat left over dim sum. The Salt & Pepper Chicken Wings taste just as good as the others we ate in the restaurant!
Gloucester, Massachusetts is America’s oldest seaport. It’s the setting for the book, “The Perfect Storm”, a real life storm that hit Cape Ann in 1991 and caused massive destruction all along the coast. (George Clooney starred in the movie version of the book.) We stop by the visitors center and I find a thick sweatshirt with Cape Ann, Massachusetts embroidered on it for $25. That’s a good deal and it helps the center too! We decide to take a chance and go by Gorton’s Seafood and ask if there’s a tour. The nice lady at the desk says they no longer give tours and hands me a little bag of goodies – Gorton’s coupons, Gorton’s magnet and a fish shaped toggle clip. I’ll take it!
When asked for suggestions for a good local restaurant, she recommends the $10 lobster roll at Seaport Grille. It’s away from the main tourist area and by the bay. She says it’s s-o-o-o good! We get there and miss the $9.95 Lobster Roll special by a day. Friday is $9.95 Fish Taco Day. Wanna see someone sulk?!? My husband is so upset! His taste buds were all set for a mouthwatering lobster roll with all the trimmings for less than $10. That’s on top of not finding the restaurant that has a double lobster deal. Poor baby. So, if you’re going through Gloucester on a Thursday, check out the $9.95 Lobster Roll!
Rockport is nice and Bear Skin Neck has an interesting name, but Manchester-by-the-Sea is my favorite of the three towns.
It’s cozy. The cove is smaller and easily accessed from several different vantage points. There is an abundance of art galleries that makes me wish I’d packed my watercolors! The narrow streets that lead up to the water create anticipation for the glorious views that will unfold! So far on this trip, today has been the most beautiful for me.
A huge platter of cookies and coffee greet us as we arrive at the Courtyard by Marriot. Some of the Marriotts we have stayed at on the trip have recylce bins, but not so this one. 😦 Still, it is a lovely room. I swear the curtains are the same as the ones at the Courtyard in Coconut Grove!
We Yelp the list the front desk gives us and drive five minutes to Garrison’s. A big Friday night dinner crowd is waiting. We’re tired. We look across the street and see a Wendy’s. Hmm … let’s go! We happily munch on crispy salads and small sandwiches. To my salad I add the tortilla chips and nuts that they provide and make my chicken sandwich lighter by removing the top bun. This is the first time on the trip that we eat fast food and it’s the perfect light dinner!
We fill up on a hot breakfast before heading out. As we enter Boston, the traffic becomes congested. So different from the rolling hills and easy traffic of New Hampshire. We see parking garages charging $24 for two hours and more. Lonnie hits his EasyPark app and finds one for $20 for all day. We get there and realize they are repairing the entrance and everyone is using the exit for both ways! It’s a block from Chinatown with easy access to other areas. I say, “Go for it, Honey!” Talk about living dangerously! We have to honk before each concrete curve up the parking garage and a couple of times we or the vehicle coming down will have to back up to let the other pass. At the curve, many of the cars have no business squeezing into a small slot at the end, causing great concern as we carefully negotiate around jutting bumpers. “Whew!” We make it up to the top of the 8 level garage. When we tell the guys downstairs our harrowing drive up, one says matter-of-factly, “We all need a little excitement in our lives.”
We eat at the restaurant we’d eaten at about 15 years ago on a family trip with the New York cousins.
Then, we go by Fanueil Hall and walk the Holocaust Memorial. So poignant …
There are plenty of things to see and we just wander around, drinking in the atmosphere.
We settle in at the Residence Inn by Marriott. It’s a new experience as we haven’t booked at an extended stay hotel before. This is wonderful! We’ve stayed at plenty of Marriott properties on this trip. The Fairfield Inns by Marriott are not up to my expectations of what a Marriott property should be. The Courtyards by Marriott have lovely decors and nice touches. The larger Marriotts have been a lovely experience. But, this Residence Inn would be my choice when we settle down for a bit in Houston between trips. A full kitchen holds dishes, silverware and pots needed to cook meals. And, they have a recycle bin! No cooking this trip as we head to Legal Seafood to see if it tastes as good as it did 15 years ago! Our server is friendly and professional, but my lobster bisque is a BIG disappointment. A few small pieces of lobster in a pinkish bisque that had no seafood flavor … this one of the very few times I don’t polish off my soup. Lonnie’s seafood platter came out lukewarm. When we brought it to their attention, they made a new platter, hot broccoli included and comped his order. So, however we feel about the quality, Legal Seafood stands behind their food and will make it right!
There aren’t a lot of restaurants around, but someone mentions Vermont Apple Pie for breakfast. We recognize the couple at the next table as being at the hotel last night. We strike up a conversation. Another table comes in. They join in on the conversation. A fourth table is seated and asks if we all know each other before jumping into the lively conversations floating around. One of the diners impresses me. He’s 78 years old and used to ski in the area. A couple of weeks ago, he bought skis and will be taking to the slopes this winter! (His wife voiced her concerns with a “What can I do?” shrug.) Lonnie’s breakfast is fine and my breakfast quiche is pretty good. Hmmm … apple pie after a full breakfast? Well, that’s what the place is named for, so we order Apple Pie a la Mode. Another hmmm. Let’s just say that if the pie is not freshly baked or has not been re-heated in the oven to crisp up the crust, microwaving it is not a good way to go.
When we reach Vermont, it’s time to go by a visitors center. Sharon, Vermont has an interesting one. It has a Living Machine System (with a glorious view of the countryside). There are two tanks – an anaerobic (without oxygen) reactor and a biosolids holding tank.
The man at the front desk says on Father’s Day, in the valley below, there’s a hot air balloon festival. When they launch, a magnificent mass of brilliantly colored balloons gently rise up past the center!
Rock of Ages quarry is a short stop. We go to the visitors center first to watch a video about the history of the quarry before walking across to the visitors’ platform in the factory. The video is interesting, but it’s really an infomercial. We don’t make time to visit Hope Cemetery to see the granite car, soccer ball, etc. Maybe the next trip around.
On to take the Ben & Jerry’s tour and drop by Cabot Cheese. I especially enjoy trying more types of cheeses than the ones I usually buy in Sugar Land.
Arriving at the LaQuinta in Manchester, New Hampshire, we’re pleasantly surprised. The last LaQuinta (New Haven) was the worst LQ we’ve experienced on this trip. Happily, this one was renovated in 2011 after its purchase. It has had at least five owners and was a neglected child in the Clarion family. LaQuinta came in and changed everything! Along with a cheerful, professional staff, it was awarded a 2013 Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence. It’s also the #2 LQ in the East Region. (One of my very favorite LQs is in Aurora, Colorado!)
The front desk gives us a list of area restaurants and we Yelp the Red Arrow Diner before heading over. It seats maybe 25. It opened in 1922 and besides a short break, has continued to serve the surrounding community. The third owner created an interesting menu. It even has a favorite of Guy Fieri’s. My husband’s Chicken Fried Steak has a cream gravy with sausage bits. He says the sausage doesn’t overpower the other flavors and it’s good! My Turkey & Rice soup has lots of vegetables, so it’s a pretty balanced meal. Red Arrow Diner has a really nice way of welcoming newcomers. If they find out it’s your first visit, they have a surprise for you! It involves the whole diner and includes a small commemorative memento. Come visit and feel the love!
New Haven, Connecticut is also called “Elm City” for all those trees scattered throughout town. We stop by Barnes & Noble to pick up a Yale t-shirt before walking around the Yale campus. I love the old architecture!
I know that some of the buildings were built in the early 1900s and made to look older, but still … it feels like we’re at Hogwarts, waiting for Harry, Hermione and Ron to walk by on the way to class.
We walk over to Hillhouse Street to see the brown house where former President George F. Bush lived as a graduate student. (At one time, Charles Dickens thought it was the most beautiful street in America!)
Parking tip from a local. Beware of meter people. They have been known to write a ticket for metered vehicles that have 5-10 minutes left. If they think you aren’t coming back in time, they’ve been spotted writing early tickets!
We stop by the PEZ factory to take the short tour. There’s a timeline and other PEZ history. There are also PEZ dispensers you might not find in your city. Sorry, I think I got too close to the Swarovsky crystal-ed Hello Kitty collection, so the image isn’t very sharp. They’re not for sale, but you can make your own using 200-900 crystals!
The Hobbit series impressed me too. A ticket price includes one complimentary dispenser. Unless you really enjoy learning about PEZ history and want to see what other dispensers you can buy, I wouldn’t recommend taking the short tour.
Time to try out Frank Pepe’s pizza! The friendly server says that the clams are fresh so we share a medium pizza with half clams and half sausage with mushrooms. Some of the clams were chewy but the flavor was rich and the crust was crispy. If you like a good char on the crust bottom, they certainly do that here.
I ask our server about the founder and she brings over a pamphlet and Pepe’s postcard. How generous! When I ask if they use a wood burning oven, she gives me a look and says, “It’s a coal burning oven.” She walks me over to the counter and asks a worker to open the oven door. He does and there’s a red-hot outline of a pile of coal that shoots a 20 foot burst of heat right across the kitchen into our faces! WOW!!! I’m impressed.
We arrive in Cavendish, Vermont mid-evening. We’ve been in so many mediocre hotels that I have to say how much we are enjoying the night at The Pointe in the Hills. It was a bit hard to find, but once here, I am happy. It’s like a little lodge near Okema Mountain. There are two other buildings in the Castle Hills Resort & Spa. One rents out bigger units and the other is “The Castle.” “The Castle”, built around 1900, is the former home of Vermont Governor Allen M. Fletcher. It was the first home on the mountain to have electricity and an elevator. The elevator doesn’t work, but the original light switches do! Downstairs, it’s a restaurant with a library and private dining room. Upstairs are 10 hotel rooms that are always booked.
We spring for the dinner and enjoy a romantic meal for two! It helps that our room came with coupons for a relaxing massage and dinner at “The Castle.” After dessert, I’m given a brief tour of the mansion. The original embossed wallpaper graces a portion of the stairway. It feels like tooled leather! The library has it’s original books that guests are welcome to read, but with care, please. It’s been a long day as we drive the short distance down the trail to the lodge. Our room is simply done, but has an elegant feel. The towels are the luxuriously fluffy ones that make me feel pampered.
As we head out at 9am for West Point, we see more signs of Fall. Red tinged branches, bright golden hues and fiery orange leaves fight for attention! Leaves drift silently down to add to piles of withered brown discards. It’s a windy day and sunlight reflects off fluttering leaves, creating a glittery dance of tints and hues.
We arrive in West Point and stop by the visitors center before going to the museum next door. A woman at the front desk says they were supposed to be off (furloughed) but were called in this morning. I tell her we appreciate that! The museum gave an interesting history of West Point, along with the types of weapons that have been used over the years.
West Point graduates have played important roles throughout American history.
We drive around the campus and I’m impressed by the preserved architecture. We pull over for some pics of the river, but an overcast, rainy afternoon doesn’t yield many good shots.
In town, we stop at Andy’s. The baked chicken lunch special has Lonnie going “M-m-m!” all through the meal.
The present owner says the restaurant is over 50 years old. He poudly says there have only been three owners and they’ve all been Greek! The owner before him had the restaurant for 37 years and he’s had it for 13.
It’s late when we arrive in New Haven, Connecticut. So glad to stop for the night!
Our son is out of town so we decide not to get lost trying to get to church. Instead, we head to the 9/11 Memorial ticket office. (We were told tickets are free, but they have to be picked up at the ticket office.) A long line snakes through exhibits as we slowly edge our way to the ticket counter. Merchandise is also for sale. We stuff a bill in the donation box. Our assigned time is an hour away. We wander the streets and head over. What?!!? Another line at the entrance is for people without a ticket to go through to get a ticket and walk right in! Yeah, yeah, I know, life’s not fair.
A work in progress, the 9/11 Memorial Museum disappears into the mist.
It’s an awesome sight.
There are two huge, identical square water walls next to the museum. Visitors next to it seem teeny tiny.
Names are cut through the metal, creating an unexpectedly lovely way to secure flower stems. A light rain refreshes blooms left to remember and honor loved ones.
I take a picture with a security guard who was there when the tragedy struck 12 years ago. He doesn’t usually smile for pictures, but I tell him that now is a time for the celebration of life and the resilience of New Yorkers. That got me a small smile.
It’s time to wander downtown. Famous department stores and lovely displays. Wish we were here in December when everything is lit up with Christmas greenery and lights!
For dinner, we’re going Turkish. Aroya (?) is a tiny cafe that has maybe 20 seats. They serve complimentary flatbread with olive oil. Sorry, I have to compare that with Bijan restaurant in Sugar Land. It also serves complimentary flatbread, but with feta cheese and mint sprigs. That’s my favorite part of a Bijan meal, honest! Anyway, the food is delicious, especially the creamy pureed eggplant! A good way to end the night.
Lonnie & I take the train to visit relatives in Flushing. There are many stops along the way.
Usually we see street musicians and subway musicians, so we are surprised to see (what I assume are) three Mexican musicians hop onto the train along the route. They play enthusiastically all the way to the next stop and quickly exit!
The relatives take us to dim sum in Flushing. The food is delicious and the restaurant is impressive. All the columns around the very large dining room turn the same color at the same time – lavender, blue, pink, etc.
I notice that their Chinatown looks busier than the one in the city. Cousin explains that after 9/11, many of the Chinatown businesses moved out of the city.
Flushing’s Chinatown is a thriving community and very busy on a Saturday.
We visit various Asian markets on the way to Cousin’s house. Everyone follows Aunt as she goes through, picking and choosing the best thinly sliced beef, vegetables, lobsters, tofu, crystal noodles, fish and shrimp balls, etc. All will go into a hotpot dinner – yum! We go by a couple of bakeries. Aunt says they have the best char shew bow and other savory pastries. We can snack on them late afternoon as dinner will be quite late – some relatives are coming after a long work day.
We aren’t home too long before relatives start coming. Loud greetings and big hugs ensue. The calm afternoon morphs into a noisy evening. Latecomers arrive and steaming hotpots are brought to the table, ready for quick immersions. Small mesh ladles are loaded with raw ingredients to dip into the roiling broth. Shrimp and fish balls dance about as they are pushed aside to make room for several ladles at one time.
Surprise! A cake and butcher knife come out, wrapped presents appear and we celebrate an upcoming event! “Happy birthday, Cousin Eva!”
What makes the meal so enjoyable is the love that glows within, the give and take conversations of a close-knit family. So nice to be here to soak all this up!
We visit the Guggenheim Museum. There’s a major installation going on and they offer reduced tickets. Visitors can visit three floors. Whining, buzzing machines seem to amplify as the sounds echo off the walls of the spiral building and make me wish we hadn’t come. It’s nice that we can ask questions of any of the staff with (I think) “Let’s Talk Art” buttons. I ask a question and one staff member launches into a perception of what is implied in the gray cast of a particular art piece. I did enjoy seeing the works of many masters, but the torn paper, scribbles and other haphazard pieces of Modern art is not a favorite. My husband said I should pull out some of my doodles and practice papers and start tearing! Suggestion: Wait until the end of October when that major art installation is finished and you can visit all the floors in peaceful contemplation.
Afterward, we head over to Chinatown. There’s a restaurant that Lonnie wants to visit. We can’t find it and check Tripadvisor before eating at Red Egg. The food is fine and we continue on our quest to seek NomWah Tea Parlor. It’s found! We order. I whip out my camera to take a picture. A man rushes over and says they usually charge for pictures, but since I’m eating there, I can take no more than two. The waitress brings out our desserts. Disappointment. The oversize almond cookie is a little hard and has a cashew on top. The sesame balls were not as crisp as what we get in Houston. Oh, well…
New York is an exciting city. Walking in Chinatown, we run across a fashion shoot. Wonder what magazine will post it.
We thought we were finished with mediocre food as New York has so many great restaurants. Yuka restaurant on 80th St. has a sushi special. For $20, you get unlimited sushi from a set group of choices. Don’t! Don’t! Don’t do it! The rice is overcooked and becomes a sticky, textureless blob and there was too much sauce on the eel. The crab roll was made with sea legs, a fish product. I consider that false advertising. As you can see from the photo, the filling is not consistent in thickness or shape so each bite will yield different tastes. The pieces are also smaller than the regular size. You have to eat all the rice, seaweed wrap, etc. or whatever you order or you will be charged for what wasn’t eaten. I forced myself to eat the last handroll as it wasn’t very good but I didn’t want to be charged more – the special wasn’t worth it.
We visit our son’s office. His very sweet co-workers present me with flowers that remind me of Texas!
We also meet our son’s boss, a mobile marketing guru. I can’t let the opportunity pass without asking for an interview! Twelve years ago, he brought music libraries (ringtones) to America. In last month’s Mobile Media Summit in New York, he sat on several panels. He shares his views on the omnichannel, his top three apps, The Internet of Things, tips for marketing students and more:
Afterward, we have lunch with a cousin at BonChon, a restaurant specializing in Korean fried chicken. BonChon is Korean for “My hometown” and has become a very successful international franchise. The chicken is deliciously crispy and flavorful!
We walk off the lunch by visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Massive displays and fabulous collections make for an enriching experience.
Walking back, I see the wide entrance to a period building. It’s the Ukrainian Institute. It seems familiar. I believe I’ve seen a write-up about the building. There’s a 20th Century Art Collection on display until October 18. By now, I’m dying to see the inside and tell my husband we can squeeze in another exhibit. It is eye-catching and has a beautiully preserve quiet beauty. Oh, the stories I can imagine it could tell!
Today we get some Vitamin D! Central Park has a little fun for everyone. There are wide expanses of lovely green grasses and walking trails throughout the park. You can rent a bike or get a pedicab or horse drawn carriage for a leisurely ride under shady trees. We walk as those bikes, cabs and carriages are not allowed along the footpaths that wind through parts of the park, such as around the lake.
Our son leaves work in time to meet us for the evening performance of Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark at Foxwoods Theatre. There have been some serious accidents with the actors as it’s a physically demanding musical. We bought rush tickets for about half price in the morning. My considerate son gave me some earplugs as those seats will be in front of the speakers! It isn’t bad at all. We sit in the front row, just a yard away from the stage. I love it when the actors stand a foot away from the edge of the stage as they speak or sing! In one scene, the men belt out a boisterous song as they lean over the edge. We couldn’t take pictures or videos during the performance or I would have been able to show you a photo of one of the actors giving my son a fist bump during the song!
Our son’s girlfriend meets us for dinner at Ippudo, a Japanese restaurant known for it’s signature “Tonkotsu” ramen. You might say that ramen is Japan’s “soul food.” There are two locations and we are at the Westside location. It’s their American flagship. In the basement is where the hand-pulled noodles are made for both locations. It’s also where they test new dishes. Ippudo’s Founder and President, Shigemi Kawahara, “The Ramen King,” brought his complete staff in from Japan with him. They can be seen around the restaurant in their more colorful garb. The 61 year-old Kawahara is in town to personally demonstrate his latest vision of “The Universe in a Bowl”. Mr. Kawahara has been in town all week and just finished a full day of work, which is rare that he works so hard these days. It all began about 35 years ago, when young Shigemi was at a crossroads. Should he continue on track as an actor or should he hone his skills as a chef? Even though his family was not in the food service business, he chose food! It was after he bought a bar that noodles entered his life. At the time, ramen was a working man’s dish. It was a greasy food from simple origins. Shigemi’s bar must have been a nice one, as single women would frequent it. He began hearing comments that lit up a lightbulb in his brain. He kept getting requests for ramen that wasn’t greasy. He took that idea and ran with it! Sixty restaurants later, Kawahara decided to open his first restaurant outside of Japan, in midtown Manhattan in 2008. It was a rousing success and other locations followed – Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, Malaysia, etc.
I ask our server if I may meet the Ramen King. She in turn brings over a manager who says he will see if that can be. The Operations Director comes over and explains that Mr. Karahawa has been recovering from a long day and may not look his best. I don’t mind, so he nods and leads the way. As we walk, he tells me that “Ramen King” is not a self-proclaimed title, that it was given him by others. We enter the room and when Mr. Kawahara bows, I bow. (I hope that is acceptable. I don’t know Japanese etiquette, but that’s what I’ve seen Chinese do.) With the help of the Director, we exchange a few pleasantries. I hand my iPhone over and a quick photo is taken. On the way back, the Director mentions that he is considering opening an Ippudo in Houston. Lovely!
Today, we take a shopping list and head over to Target. The only one we know is in East Harlem. Off we go on the bus. We eat at Applebee’s for lunch. This particular Applebee’s is one of several owned by one man. I like that you can put a radio on the table that can correspond to any one of the bank of televisions on the wall.
It’s a catch up day and we’re lazy! At night, our son takes us to a neighborhood Mediterranean restaurant. It’s very busy so I know the food will be fresh. It’s so nice to be able to walk down the street and have so many varieties of food establishments to sample!
Our son takes us on the subway with him and sends us to the right transfer train before going on to work. So far, so good. He hasn’t seemed to mind that we’ve taken over his bedroom and disrupted his sleep pattern!
Today, we meet the “cousins” to catch up on family news as we tour the city.
The Statue of Liberty may be closed, but I’ve never been up the Empire State Building.
There are displays along the way to give a more detailed view of its picturesque place in history.
It’s lunchtime and we wander around K-Town, looking for a restaurant. Tripadvisor and Yelp are guides to many of our food choices on the trip. We slowly wander down the walk and before we get to the menu displayed outside one eatery, a woman rushes over and gives us their credentials – well-established, mentioned in USA Today, etc. We look at each other, shrug and she leads us inside Kun Jip. It was the perfect lunch, with all the little side dishes (seconds on the seasoned fish and bean sprouts) and attentive service!
We need to walk off the lunch and head to Grand Central Station. Cousin takes us to the intersection where you can whisper in one corner and someone will hear it in the diagonal corner. Too bad there’s no flash mob at the station today!
The cousins have to leave and we decide to go by Hello Deli to see Rupert Gee. The business is just steps away from the back door of the David Letterman Show. For years, Letterman would send Rupert around to say crazy things to people and get their reactions. One day, they went too far and the victim strongly objected. Now, Rupert just sells the show’s merchandise in the show’s lobby and his little deli. Lonnie has an autographed Hello Deli t-shirt and a mug that our son gave him. A couple of years ago, our son sent a clip of Rupert wishing Lonnie happy birthday. When we told our son that we were leasing out or possibly selling the house, he called my husband and put Rupert on the phone. Rupert relayed that our son was quite concerned about what we’re planning to do with the house. He asked if Lonnie was sure he wanted to do that. So funny!
Anyway, we walk by a barricade near the back door of Letterman, with several photographers waiting. I ask what’s going on. The two nearest me don’t answer. I’m pretty surprised as it’s normal in Texas to respond when someone speaks to you. The third person tells me that they’ve been waiting almost three hours for Sting to come out. The man tells me about his blog and gives tips on how to find celebrities. It’s almost time the show finishes taping. I stick around with my non-DSLR older camera, ready to experience life as a paparazza. Next to me, a grizzly old man is holding a Sting photograph and a permanent marker. To make conversation, I say, “Oh, you’re going to get his autograph.” Without looking at me, he replies, “I’m bakin’ a cake. Whatta ya think I’m doing?!!?” I have to laugh! Don’t bother someone focused on work.
Sting steps out, waves and disappears into the SUV. After his vehicle enters traffic, the light changes to red. There’s a rush as fans try to get his attention. That’s when I leave. I wouldn’t want people to follow me all over.
We take a few photos at Rockefeller Center before catching a bus to Little Italy. We tell the driver where we’re going and he says we’ll have to walk over a couple blocks when we get off. We get off and look puzzled. He opens the door and asks us again where we’re going. Instead of telling him where, I give him the address. He looks at us and jerks his head as if to say, “Get back on.” Several times we think we’re near the destination and each time he says, “Not yet.” So patient he was with us! I wave as we cross to the curb and he waves back.
Our son leaves early to wait in line for seats to the noon service at Hillsong NYC. His girlfriend comes by to take us to the subway and show us how to buy metro week passes. We three hop on the subway and head out. Hillsong NYC is an offshoot of the original Australian church. The New York congregation meets at different venues around the city. From what I understand, they want to make it easy for those who don’t normally attend church to do so in familiar surroundings. We must be at the contemporary service. Today’s worship service is in a nightclub. It’s different, seeing the lighting system beam color all around, the bright tones bouncing off a large mirror ball hanging from the ceiling. Our son saved seats in the balcony as he knew the music would be too loud for us downstairs. The message is about forgiveness, something we can all relate to.
Baby Boy takes us to sample Joey’s Pepperoni Pizza’s $1 slice of cheese pizza. Lonnie pays a buck more for meat. I prefer cheese and am glad I did! Then, we go to Baohaus to sample their baos.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, a bao is the breading that goes around a filling. It’s usually savory. The bao could be folded like a taco shell or shaped like a round bun with filling inside. Baohaus is one of the original bao places that started in New York a few years ago. My fried tofu bao has plenty of sauce and crusted peanuts. I’m not a fan of braised pork belly. Though I seldom eat pork belly, I like it crispy.
My favorite place for Chinese buns in Houston is Fat Bao. It’s good and they have created some interesting combinations. Their Fat Fries is a favorite – fries with a topping of bulgogi beef or pork belly. And, Fat Bao has complimentary cucumber infused water!
We go by Union Square and laze around in the sun, eating our baos and soaking in the sounds of musicians on the stage and tourists milling about.
“Family” joins us and we go to a local bakery, Eileen’s Special Cheesecake. Yum! So light and not too sweet – my kinda cake!
At night, it’s a multi-course dinner with family at Foo Kee Seafood Restaurant in Flushing. The meal is delicious! If you haven’t noticed by now, our family and friends consider it their duty to stuff us to the gills when we come visiting. They will often greet guests with “Have you eaten?” and proceed to push food on you, whether you just ate or not!
The City of Brotherly Love is sunny and bright. We visit Benjamin Franklin’s gravesite.
The line to see the Liberty Bell is quite long. We reason that we’ve seen it and walk around reading and watching the displays outside the Liberty Bell area.
A feast for the eyes and mind can be found in the Magic Gardens. The non-profit uses space inside and out to showcase the cool mosaics of Isaiah Zagar, share folk art and tell the history of South Street through creative works of art! If you cross the street to the grocery store and go up to the top floor of the parking garage, you can get some great shots from above.
We drive into New York in time for dinner. Our son takes us to a nice restaurant to celebrate our finally coming to visit him. His girlfriend joins us at Arlington Club Steakhouse. Baby Boy loves their complimentary popovers! Mine is a little too crispy and that makes it a touch bitter. The crab cakes, gnocchi, and other dishes are quite good. After we leave, our son asks if we noticed (singer-songwriter) John Mayer.
We decide to go on a buggy ride and pick Aaron & Jessica’s. It claims to be the only Amish owned and operated buggy ride in the Lancaster area. A group of us plod on down the road to visit a working farm. A young woman flies by on her scooter.
Life on the farm is calm. Cows are housed in the shade of the barn. We’re told that they produce more milk that way. Drying tobacco leaves fill the rafters of another barn. A newborn calf is still a bit wobbly.
We enter Maryland on US-15 North and immediately curve around a big mound of dirt in the middle of the highway – strange. Now, if it had been like the Mecom fountain (in Houston) in front of the former Warwick Hotel (now Hotel ZaZa) that would be different. The Warwick, built in the 1920s, was a gracious reminder of days gone by. When comedic legend Bob Hope visited, he said that looking down on the cars curving around the Mecom fountain and going straight down the street was a beautiful sight and one of his favorites.
We park on the street and find out that the parking meter only takes dimes. We didn’t have dimes and put in a quarter. It didn’t even register so we went into a business to get change. So, if you’re visiting Gettysburg, bring plenty of dimes!
The Gettysburg Museum of History is not all about Gettysburg. Owner, Erik L. Dorr, has curated an eclectic and just plain weird collection. There are Civil War artifacts,
political and other military items and odd things like George & Martha Washington’s hair!
All over Gettysburg monuments, statues, artillery and other items can be seen.
On the road to Amish country, we stop by Perrydell Farms and again I am flabbergasted! Such a nice building puts a port-a-potty for customers across the parking lot! Now, I carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer everywhere. I will say that the Perrydell Farms store carries an excellent chocolate milk and a delicious (and generous) $1 ice cream scoop with an optional pretzel cone. I enjoy the peanut butter ice cream, the pretzel cone not so much.
It’s late when we pull into Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We go by Katie’s restaurant looking for authentic Amish fare. Turns out that they eat the same foods as the average American – pot roast, chicken pot pie, meatloaf, etc.
We drive through the Virginia countryside. There are horse farms, orchards and vineyards with wineries. We go by a sign selling fresh duck eggs and past a well-stocked pumpkin patch. There are so many idyllic rural scenes of grazing animals, red barns and silos along the winding hills. We mention how nice it must be to live here. We’re told that Lynchburg would be a good place. It’s near the University of Virginia and there are enough activities to make it interesting. Our friend points out the deep valleys and told us how his friend was using a backhoe to dig through the snow. It was so deep that the backhoe got stuck and needed another backhoe to get it out! Oh, well, we won’t be moving any time soon.
There are people walking around, but there’s plenty of elbow room. This is definitely a tourist area as a large portion of the buildings were just storefronts of old-time businesses. You can peer in or open the door and walk in for a better view. Our friend and his wife lead the way as we start the hike up to the lookout point in the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. It was a two hour hike each way. Teens to seniors occasionally pass us, but no problem, we will get there. Oh, what a sight! The whole town was laid out in front of us.
Our friend, the walking encyclopedia, gives us a history lesson on the way through Shenandoah National Park. We will be missing all the apple festivals in Virginia. The area’s festival promotes vintage apples, like the species that Thomas Jefferson developed. The October festival sells varieties of heirloom apples to encourage local growers to preserve them by continuing to grow them. The first apple originated in what is now Afghanistan. If I remember correctly, it was later noted that one, the Golden Pippin, was the only apple the French Emperor would eat. A light comes on and our friend pulls out the owner’s manual, tells us we have low tire pressure. The young woman at Boyce Service Center checks the tires and says they’re fine – it’s possible the spare is getting low. Tires these days have wireless pressure sensors built into the tire that can send out a signal to the car’s system if there’s a problem. I will say, if you are ever going through Boyce, Viriginia and need a pit stop, Boyce Service Center has a clean restroom. As the only female there, the young woman says she cleans it every day! Here are some sights as we drive through the park. The perfect opportunity to see teeming wildlife on a glorious September day. Then, we have lunch in Luray before touring the caverns. Uncle Buck’s restaurant had decent food, but we had to wait quite a while before it came out. Found out that the owner came in and wanted lunch, first. Hmm.. We tour the caverns and hear the usual story of discovery. The guide then reveals the mystery of finding bones of a young girl, fossilized into the stone. How could anyone have entered the cavern? The opening was too small. And there were only a few bones. Where are the rest of them? You’ll have to take the tour to get our guide’s take on what might have happened. We’ve been to Natural Bridge Caverns in Texas, but there is no fallen stalagtite as huge as the one here! During the tour, we come upon a tribute to locals who went off to war and perished. I also found it interesting that there is an organ on the cavern floor. How enterprising. They book parties down here.
Our tickets also get us into the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum next door. There are some good displays of Rolls Royces, milk trucks, etc.
Owning one of the few automobiles of the time, feeling the open air whizzing by as one tooled down the open road must have been exhilarating!
We start for home. Pit stop when we fill up at the Mobil station at 63 West 14th St. in Front Royal. Horror of horrors!!! There’s no inside restroom, just a port-a-can on the side of the building. Yuck!!! Yuck!!! Yuck!!! Well, that aside, it’s been a long but enjoyable day.
We eat lunch with a friend at Dave’s Seafood & Subs. Loved their fried crab sandwich! The batter on the onion rings stays put, no sliding here! There’s also a stop at Willard’s BBQ to take brisket to another friend. Willard’s has the closest thing to Texas style ribs and brisket!
We spend several days with another friend. He missed some things about Texas: Blue Bell ice cream that is made in Brenham and is slowly working it’s way through the states. His favs are Butter Pecan and Condensed Milk. Mine are any of the Blue Bell Vanillas and Cantaloupe! He also misses Holmes Pecan Smoked Sausage.
He takes us to his favorite pie place. We picked a pecan pie made with brown sugar. Very good.
Yaay! Today is the Lord’s day and we go with a friend to church. This congregation meets at different locations around the city and I am loving the lighting in a ballroom of the Marriott Hotel. What joy can be found in singing hymns with gusto! After service, we walk through the lovely hotel.
We’re coming to the close of week three and enjoying the beautiful, wooded areas and wide open spaces. The absence of billboards (that litter the highways and byways in zone-free Houston) makes everything visually pleasing!
The Charleston Visitors Center is not an easy place to find. When we finally find it, the woman at the desk agreed that it could be easier. We suggest the first thing to do is to cut back the tree that covers the sign pointing to it! Moving on, it is cool to house it in an old grain elevator.
We wind up on a bus tour because my dear husband talked me into seeing more of Charleston this way than in a horse drawn carriage. Sadly, he’s right.
The “Talk of the Towne” tour guide, Alan, was a Literature major and loves to read. He rattled off so many facts that were gleaned from accounts of the Civil War, Charleston and the South.
Savannah, Georgia is the first “planned” city in the United States. It also has the largest historic district in the country. Founder James Oglethorpe was a member of the British Parliment, so he probably liked things nice and orderly. The city still maintains 22 of the original park-like squares that make driving a straight line a challenge. We take a trolley tour and learn things like: Their theatre is the oldest in the country; in the movie, Forest Gump, Savannah’s Independence Presbyterian Church (established 1755) is where a feather floats gently down to the bench where Forest sits; Girl Scouts of the USA founder, Juliette Gordon Low, was born in Savannah. We also welcome two visitors to the trolley.
The river walk along the waterfront is packed with shops and restaurants and visitors willing to part with their money. We take the short ferry ride across to the Westin Hotel and back. Nice view of the city from the water. Next, a walk over to the City Market, home to The Lady & Two Sons, Paula Deen’s restaurant. We were just curious. She’s asked for forgiveness more than once and I believe in second chances. Asked a local, and he puts Mrs. Wilkes’ in the top two. Sorry Paula, you just missed it. Mrs. Wilkes’ dining room is only open weekdays, 11am-2pm. We arrive around 12:30pm and there’s a line out the door and down the sidewalk. When we finally sit down, it’s dish after dish after dish! Comfort food – mashed potatoes, crispy fried chicken, homestyle mac ‘n cheese, cabbage, collared greens, beef stew, etc. It’s good, plain, Southern cooking!
It’s time to leave for Charleston. Savannah and Charleston have a friendly rivalry on who has the nicest historical district.
Two hundred and twenty five years ago, on September 8, 1565, Don Pedro Menéndez de Aviles announced the birth of a new city, St. Augustine. What a life it has had! It has recovered from hurricanes, wars, plagues and countless pirate raids to become our nation’s oldest continuously inhabited city. St. Augustine is the first city in America to celebrate 450 years of unbroken history! With that, there are places to visit all over the city. We arrive too late in the month for the celebration – landing re-enactment, the Celebration of Mass and 16th Century Cooking Contest.
The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. It’s a national monument and was de-activated in 1933. There’s so much history there that I was really looking forward to exploring it and attending the cannon firing. But, it’s been steadily sprinkling all morning, so the Castillo de San Marcos is crossed off. If I fall in the slippery ruins, it could be my ruin, so we decide to visit the Pirate Museum. We come in, pay for discounted tickets and then decide to eat lunch before going through. The attendant gives us the museum’s crossed bones & skull stickers and says they are our 10% discount at a couple of nearby restaurants. We wander around the shops. (One even had alligator jerky!) After lunch, we make our way past quaint shops back to the museum. It looks like any other attraction, but it’s not. Yes, there are fun things for the kids to do such as lighting cannons that go “Boom!”, looking for hidden caches using a “treasure map” and listening to ghost stories in the dark! But, there really IS treasure to be found. Local archaeologists have unearthed numerous artifacts that are displayed. Explorations under the seas have brought up even more pirate booty. You can touch a 400 year-old metal trunk, the world’s only surviving pirate treasure chest! You can view one of only TWO known true pirate flags. There is even a chance to lift up a real, solid gold bar recovered from the Santa Margarita, a Spanish ship that sank around 1622! Every piece that makes a historical claim has been authenticated. I think it’s a pretty cool way to make history come alive for the young and not so young.
Good-bye, Florida! Loved our stay in your sunny state!
We arrive in Savannah just in time to enjoy the manager’s reception. The Fairfield Inn is competing with many other, newer properties and I think this is a great way to welcome guests. There’s cream of potato soup, cheese & crackers, Caesar Salad, cheesy nachos, and Miss Beverly’s specialty, deviled eggs! We then head out with a map to see what sights we may want to visit tomorrow. We check some out and wind up following a ghost tour bus a block or two as an eerie voice spilled out into the quiet night, describing chilling events. We go down another street and see a horse drawn carriage clip clopping along as the driver points out an area of interest to her passenger. We pass through silent streets, alongside trees laden with Spanish moss. Lonnie says that growing up, they called it Witch’s Hair. O-o-o-o-w, time for a break! I mention a local vegan cafe. Lonnie, with a pained expression, says, “My stomach’s starting to hurt just thinking about it.” I give up getting him to go meatless. We stop by a local coffee shop, then decide to get dessert elsewhere. Found “Local” through Yelp. It has a rich, young ambiance and a wonderfully secluded rooftop lounge called the “Perch.” At night, it’s the perfect hideaway for unwinding from a busy day or enjoying quiet conversations.
Breakfast buffet is compliments of sweet Diana at the front desk. The man supervising the buffet needs customer service training, but there’s sausage, eggs, fresh fruit, etc.
We leave and miss the exit. We’re using printed directions that didn’t say how soon to get over to the far lane. It was very soon! Out comes the GPS. It’s not 100% accurate all the time either, but using a map with it makes for less wrong turns. Maybe we should allow 10% getting lost time. We drive by a power line pole shaped like Mickey Mouse’s face – nice touch Disney World!
Bok Tower Gardens was a nice break. Edward W. Bok had a vision, so he brought in people who were well-respected in their fields to create a serene oasis. He hoped his tower grounds would be: “A spot which would reach out in its beauty to the people, and fill their souls with the quite, the repose, the influence of the beautiful.”
The 205 foot singing tower is a 60 bell carillon that plays at set times during the day. We walked around Pinewood Estate, the 1930s mansion on the grounds. We lose our way and ask for directions. A walker gives more information about the gardens.
We leave and lunch in Haines City. R-Place is preferable to the string of fast food places on the way. Lonnie’s spaghetti is average, but my lightly battered whitefish sandwich is delicious. Asking your server what’s fresh is always a good thing!
We have lunch with another old friend. That’s two hours of reminiscing and trying to out-do each other at having senior moments. His son works for Universal and he offers to get us in. We thank him and tell him we’ve “Been there, done that” with kids. We need to get some things done before dinner.
I look forward to seeing my old boss again! She and her husband meet us for the “Outta Control Comedy Show” at Wonderworks. It’s an endless stream of popcorn, salad, pizza and beverages as we enjoy catching up on each other’s lives and former co-workers we still see. The television station we worked at is a smaller one and many of us interacted and often socialized away from work.
I will say this about the comedian/magician – not only was he hilarious, but he patiently worked with a young audience member who had a disability. The maybe 12 year-old could not stay focused and would wander around the stage looking at things. The magician would call him back many times and coach him to do the few steps needed to complete the illusion. It was a “feel good moment” when everyone cheered the young man.
The Best Western Plus in Orlando could use a renovation, though it is close to activities and has one of my favorite pluses – double sinks! They had 5 sets of towels for us and the “Clean” TV remotes, designed to be easily wiped down. I wipe down every hotel remote we use as they are the germiest items in hotel rooms!
We have so much to be grateful for on this trip – new experiences, learning to blend together better as a team, meeting so many interesting people. So, I was very happy to be going to church service with a childhood friend! Pastor Ron delivered the message well. He also made a comment that more churches should encourage their members to do: “Embrace visitors. Let family and friends sit elsewhere. They’ll forgive you. Visitors won’t forget.” I also learned that there is a dengue fever outbreak up the coast. They prayed for that situation and many others. How comforting!
During the greeting each other part of service, the woman next to me asked if I was a member. Told her “No,” that we were on a seven week trip. The moment service concluded, she turned to me, grabbed my hand and exclaimed, “It’s so good to meet fellow travelers!” That started off a full ten minute discourse on the joys and challenges of travel. Mary and Warren had recently returned from one of their trips and gave us plenty of advice on Canada. Mary said one of her favorite places is the Bay of Fundy, located near Nova Scotia. It is renowned for having the highest tides on the planet, reaching up to 53 feet. Two times each day, one hundred billion tons of sea water flow in and out of the Bay of Fundy. Because of that, it forms an exciting and varied marine ecosystem.
Even though we’re touring the West Coast at another time, Mary raved about Alaska. The first of May is when they leave Florida for Alaska. In Alaska, Fred Meyer stores are traveler friendly. Mary says if you have a camper, you can park in their parking lot up to three days. They have a concierge for the people staying in the parking lot. That person will greet them and direct them to free morning coffee. I hope that’s still true by the time we get there. My husband, at one time, wanted us to travel in an RV. I nixed that when I reminded him if he ever became sick, I wouldn’t be able to drive as I can’t reach its pedals. Mary recommended a camper truck because:
There were limited places that they could take their RV and gas usage is very large.
It’s no problem to drive a camper truck.
If you get a camper truck, they recommend you have a shower installed.
Get at least a 2000 watt water generator.
Don’t go to Alaska with a pop-up camper – go for the hard top.
The car ferry price will be the same as an average car.
Fun things to do:
Arkansas has the 911-acre Crater of Diamonds State Park. Where else can you publicly mine real diamonds?!? They’re always discovering diamonds in the field, including the world’s only perfect diamond ever discovered, the Strawn-Wagner Diamond.. If you go, there are three stategies: dig, sift, stroll. Digging in the hard soil is pretty difficult. Warren prefers just strolling around as the fields are plowed often.
Mary advises talking to locals. They were at an Amish yard sale in Pennsylvania when they were invited to go down the street for a wine tasting at the local vineyard. Adventures are all around us!
For lunch, our friend took us to the Singing Bamboo for dim sum. It was delicious! I miss Houston’s many choices of Chinese restaurants. One, Fat Bao, is focused on the bao, a bread bun or folded bread with different fillings. When we get home, I want to try the (ahi?) tuna tacos. They’re pricey and I heard baos are half the cost in N.Y. We’ll be there in a few days!
We drive into Boca Raton just in time to have lunch with an old friend. He takes us to JB’s on the Beach in Deerfield Beach. We walk along, breathing in a beautiful day.
Afterward, we head over to West Palm Beach to stay with another old friend. It is a blessing to be able to spend time with dear ones we haven’t seen in many years. She tells the family we’re coming and everyone meets at Havana, a popular local Cuban restaurant. So good!
We drive over to South Beach. Finding parking on the streets is impossible so we go to the public parking garage. What a deal, only $1 an hour!
We book a bus & boat tour and go next door to Pizza Rustica, 9th and Washington, for a quick lunch before the tour. My spinach pie is delicious! My husband’s is just as tasty.
One of the tour stops is Little Havana. The cigar shop we visit is owned by a Cuban exile. Our tour guide shows us the humongous cigar the owner will smoke when Fidel Castro dies.
Further down the sidewalk, I see people coming out of Azucar ice cream parlor. Went in and asked for something different from the others. He goes back into the kitchen and brings out a metal container of creaminess. Out of the shop I walk, luscious Cuban Flan ice cream in hand!
We wander down the street to the local gathering place, Maximo Gomez Park. The men tell me they don’t mind my documenting a slice of their daily activities.
There is live music on the pier as we wait for the boat tour to begin. A scuba diver with a buoy and waving flag attached swims by. We’re told she has a boat in the marina and is scouting for lobsters. Once she locates them, she’ll take orders from customers and go back the next day to get them!
The celebrity tour takes us around South Beach. There were so many celebrity homes they start running into each other. It’s a beautiful day for sightseeing.
I have included a Qwiki of how others have enjoyed a visit to Miami:
We arrive at the Hilton near the airport. It’s an older, but nice hotel. I start to talking with the bellhop as we go up. He tells me the hotel is closing April 1, “No joke.” Explains that the airport is expanding and the Hilton is two stories too tall for aircraft clearance. 😦
We go to Grampa’s Bakery down the street. Grampa is not a name of affection. It’s the owner’s last name. We’re told the breakfast is the best in town. Wonder if I can get up in time to do it justice …
We have breakfast before checking out of Inn of Naples. Down the street we meet a local who recommends heading further down the coast to Marco Island, the largest barrier island within Southwest Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands area. It’s a lovely isle with beautiful people, beautiful restaurants and a comedy lounge/restaurant that showcases famous comedians that don’t mind having their picture taken with you. Many of the restaurants offer a daily printout of the day’s catch. They will list the captain and sometimes a photo of the boat that brought in their fish. You can book fishing trips on those boats and then bring back your catch to sell or donate to the restaurants. If you’re considering driving to Key West, Hwy 75 gets you there faster but Hwy 41’s scenic route is a great way to view another side of Florida. It allows you to see all the different communities along the way and you will really see the Everglades. There’s a good chance you will see alligators. There have even been Florida panther sightings! Another way to see Florida is aboard the ferry that goes from Ft. Myers to Key West. Cars load onto it for the approximately 4 ½ hour ride. If you arrive early enough, you can see dawn break over the water. You can even purchase a glass of wine to sip as you relax and enjoy the view from the second level. Arrival in Key West is around noon. After you spend a wonderful day on the key, the ferry picks you up for a sunset ride back to Ft. Myers. The $150 fee can be factored in as part of the experience. Thanks for the tips, Mike!
We go by the beach one more time before leaving town. There, we meet two simply charming sisters. One from Boston, the other from The Woodlands, Texas – just north of Houston! We compare notes on travel. They bought a condo for their parents and leave a car here so it’s easy to get around whenever they fly in to visit.
They tell us about 5th Avenue, the fancy part of Naples. So, we follow them out as they drive through it. We lunch at 5th Avenue Coffee Co. It’s casual, with affordable, good food.
Here we are, Miami! Coconut Grove is an area that has had it’s heyday. It is the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood in Miami. I am so glad to see the Courtyard Marriott has a recycle section in the trash can. We recycle in Sugar Land and I feel so guilty throwing perfectly good, clean maps and brochures into a regular trash can! On our trip, only Courtyard and Sheraton have offered recycling. Wish more hotels would recycle. This is the first time during the trip that we could actually walk down the street to dinner. The restaurants on the side streets were filled with locals. There’s a nice neighborhood feel. I liked how one place described their style:
As we head down Central St. straight to the pier, there are shops, restaurants, tattoo parlors. A trip to the pier in St. Petersburg before leaving town sounds good. We want something local, not another chain restaurant. Leafy Greens Cafe caught my eye. It’s vegan. Never had it. Vegetarian, yes. Vegan, no. I LOVE it! Every spoonful of their Thai Curry Soup is full of flavor. Spices roll over the tongue, cool bits of cucumber give a rich pop of freshness. Hubby struggled with his burger. He’s so used to red meat that it threw him a little. It’s pricey, but expected for raw dishes that require the safest of preparation procedures.
We see flags flying at half mast today in memory of 9-11. I thought of a friend who was part of the mass exodus from New York City to the suburbs after the Twin Towers came crashing down. No city transport services were working. She, along with hundreds of thousands (dare I say even a million?) of others walked for hours to reach their homes. The disbelief, shock and fear that transpired was earthshattering. A year or so ago, we talked about it. I ask if she thinks about that day. She says, “Yes.” It never goes away.
Sarasota was the winter home of the John & Mabel Ringling. They left a rich legacy for all to enjoy. You can go to http://www.ringling.org and be amazed at what 20 acres can house!
It’s said that one morning, one of the centaurs at the front of the museum had been pushed over. After questioning everyone, it was discovered that a group of Russian musicians, who had performed at an event on the grounds the night before, had imbibed a bit too much and pushed over the centaur!
We would like to thank Francesca, one of the golf cart shuttle drivers, who went past her shift time to give us one last view of each of the buildings on the Ringlings’ vast estate!
Arriving in Naples around dinner time, we check out a local restaurant, Noodles & Sushi. I recommend it for an eclectic meal in a trendy atmosphere!
We enjoy a wonderful breakfast, compliments of Sheraton East Tampa! Yesterday, when we checked in, my husband gave them the spiel about our birthdays, retirement, leasing out the house and being nomads, without a home. He asked if we could get complimentary breakfasts. Isaiah thought about it a moment, smiled and said he could do that.
As we check out, hubby comments that most of the hotels we’ve visited on our trip don’t charge for internet service. He was told that they could do something about it if he mentions that on the next visit. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. The worse thing that could happen would be that they say, “No.”
The Henry B. Plant Museum is a fascinating trip back into early Tampa. It’s the former Tampa Bay Hotel, flagship of Mr. Plant’s eight luxury hotels during the Victorian era. Plant also owned railroads and steamships. The museum is the perfect snapshot of America’s Gilded Age.
We take a quick ride to Ybor City, the Cuban area of Tampa. We go by the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn. It has a lot of history. Even Fidel Castro has a part.
We’re told Carmine’s has the best deviled crabs, that all the other restaurants use frozen crab. It is s-o-o-o good! You can see the pieces of shredded crab and the waiter shows us how to eat it. My husband has the house-made tartar sauce and ranch dressing with his. We split a big Cuban pork sandwich that the man at the next table said was very good. He was right!
Well, it’s time to head to St. Petersburg! The Holiday Inn had complimentary bottled water and a snack waiting for us at check-in. Wonder if it’s because we’ve stayed at their inns 4 times in just over a week. (Priceline is their friend!) We head to Madeira Beach to catch a sunset. Wow! Drove about 10 miles before we could find a public beach access among all the hotels and condos squeezed in front of the water. It was another beautiful sight. Heard from one senior joking with another as that woman banged an aluminum chair on the concrete to shake off the sand, “Take care with my valuable furniture!”
We go back to the square in Ocala to wander the shops before leaving. Just off the main street, we see a little diner called the Lunchbox. Kids’ metal lunchboxes are displayed and locals fill the tables. The wait staff is friendly and give good recommendations. My fish sandwich is delicious. The broccoli is buttery and gently seasoned. Haleigh, our server, says that customers tell her if they had had Lunchbox’s broccoli when they were growing up, they’d have eaten it. Haleigh says, “Eat your broccoli!”
After lunch, we drive down the street to the Ocala Stud Farm. We had wanted to visit a horse farm or ranch that gave carriage rides or guided horse rides. When I ran across this listing, it sounded interesting.
So down the road we go! We find a groom, Leon, who makes time to take us around. Petting the velvety soft muzzle of young thoroughbreds is a memorable experience. To me, horses are the most beautiful of animals.
We get into Tampa in time for dinner. The Sheraton East Tampa is nice and spacious. It’s a conference center and the staff is efficient and friendly. Two complimentary bottles of water greet us as we step into the room. When asked for the name of a good local restaurant, the hotel front desk says that Jesse’s Steak & Seafood in Brandon has been around for years and that’s where locals go for good steaks and seafood. The décor is somewhat dated, but it’s been there a long time and seems to do well. Our waitress is friendly and helpful. When we say we’d like to share the 16 oz. prime rib, she suggests that for $5 more, a second baked potato and salad could be served. The prime rib comes au jus and with mushrooms. The chef was kind enough to cut the steak in half. It’s tender and flavorful. We agree and later realize that we should have split the 12 oz. portion as there would have been plenty to eat!
We enjoy a complimentary breakfast at LaQuinta before leaving Panama City Beach at 11am.(I try to balance 2 biscuits & sausage gravy with rice krispies, low fat milk and apple juice.)
We arrive in Tallahassee and head to the Tallahassee Museum of History & Natural Science. What a nice outdoor venue! The museum covers 52 acres and has many outdoor exhibits, lots of water (or is it considered a swamp?), zip lines and an obstacle course. Shady trees keep it from being unbearable and areas such as the science lab and art gallery are in air-conditioned buildings.
Is the sea otter hiccuping?
Today, the John Spohrer wildlife exhibition opens in the museum’s art gallery. Mr. Spohrer has his photography book available and takes time to give us a tour of the photographs.
Dinner found us at the Ocala town square. We were told that Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grill has good food with a New Orleans flair. The dishes we had were quite good! And the gumbo is how I like it – with celery and bits of other vegetables in the thick broth.