Category Archives: Travel Tips

It’s on our minds; Travel or not to travel?

About a week ago I wrote a post about how strange it can be to travel in the midst of our current pandemic: “Travel 2020 in the age of COVID-19 (https://americantrekkerblog.com/2020/08/23/travel-2020-in-the-age-of-covid-19/ This is an addendum to that blog with additional information that we can all use to help make our world a safer and healthier place.

So Many of us have “cabin fever” and are trying the best we can to cope with the realities of this pandemic. Having a chance to get away is so important to our mental health, most would agree with that….yet we want to remember to take steps to protect our physical health as well. It’s even more important when considering travel. My Brother- in- Law (Thanks Larry!) brought to my attention a terrific article by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on this exact topic. Some of the pointers are things we already know, but it is helpful to be reminded of the basics so we can all work together to minimize this terrible virus.

Here is a re-print of the majority of the article from the CDC web-site. To read the entire article, and other relevant articles about COVID-19, their web-site is: https://www.cdc.gov

 

Travel during the COVID-19 Pandemic —Updated Aug. 26, 2020

Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

You can get COVID-19 during your travels. You may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can still spread COVID-19 to others. You and your travel companions (including children) may spread COVID-19 to other people including your family, friends, and community for 14 days after you were exposed to the virus.

Don’t travel if you are sick or if you have been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Don’t travel with someone who is sick.

Before you travel, consider the following:

If You Travel

During your trip, take steps to protect yourself and others from COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when in public settings.
  • Avoid close contact by staying at least 6 feet apart (about 2 arms’ length) from anyone who is not from your household.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Considerations for Types of Travel

Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. Your chances of getting COVID-19 while traveling also depend on whether you and those around you take steps to protect yourself and others, such as wearing masks and staying 6 feet away from people outside your household (social distancing). Airports, bus stations, train stations, and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces. These are also places where it can be hard to social distance. In general, the longer you are around a person with COVID-19, the more likely you are to get infected.

Air travel

Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19.

Also consider how you get to and from the airport, as public transportation and ridesharing can increase your chances of being exposed to the virus.

Bus or train travel

Traveling on buses and trains for any length of time can involve sitting or standing within 6 feet of others, which may increase your risk of getting COVID-19. If you choose to travel by bus or train, learn what you can do to protect yourself on public transportation.

Car travel

Making stops along the way for gas, food, or bathroom breaks can put you and your traveling companions in close contact with other people and frequently-touched surfaces.

RV travel

You may have to stop less often for food or bathroom breaks, but RV travel usually means staying at RV parks overnight and getting gas and supplies at other public places. These stops may put you and those with you in the RV in close contact with others.

Know When to Delay your Travel to Avoid Spreading COVID-19

People who are sick, have recently tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, or have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 should delay travel. Learn when and for how long to delay travel to avoid spreading COVID-19.

How Are Companies Protecting Customers from COVID-19?

When planning travel, you may want to check companies’ websites to see what they are doing to protect customers from COVID-19. Things to look for include:

  • Requiring people to wear a mask
  • Promoting social distancing
  • Using online or contactless reservations and check-in
  • Using contactless payment
  • Enhanced cleaning procedures
Tips to avoid getting and spreading COVID-19 in common travel situations:

In public:

  • Wear a mask in public settings.
  • Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from anyone who is not from your household.

Bathrooms and rest stops:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom and after you have been in a public place.
  • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

Getting gas:

  • Use disinfecting wipes on handles and buttons at the gas pumps before you touch them (if available).
  • After fueling, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. When you get to your destination, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Hotels and accommodations:

Food stops:

Anticipate Your Travel Needs
  • Bring a mask to wear in public places.
  • Pack hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Keep this within reach.
  • Bring enough of your medicine to last you for the entire trip.
  • Pack food and water in case restaurants and stores are closed, or if drive-through, take-out, and outdoor-dining options aren’t available.
  • If you are considering cleaning your travel lodgings, see CDC’s guidance on how to clean and disinfect.
Check Travel Restrictions

State, local, and territorial governments may have travel restrictions in place, including testing requirements, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine requirements upon arrival. Follow state, local, and territorial travel restrictions. For up-to-date information and travel guidance, check the state, territorial, tribal and local health department where you are, along your route, and where you are going. Prepare to be flexible during your trip as restrictions and policies may change during your travel.

If traveling internationally or across international borders, check with the destination’s Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health or the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information pageexternal icon for details about entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers, such as mandatory testing or quarantine. Local policies at your destination may require you to be tested for COVID-19 before you are allowed to enter the country. If you test positive on arrival, you may be required to isolate for a period of time. You may even be prevented from returning to the United States, as scheduled.

After You Travel

You may have been exposed to COVID-19 on your travels. You may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can be contagious without symptoms and spread the virus to others. You and your travel companions (including children) pose a risk to your family, friends, and community for 14 days after you were exposed to the virus. Regardless of where you traveled or what you did during your trip, take these actions to protect others from getting sick after you return:

  • When around others, stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people who are not from your household. It is important to do this everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.
  • Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when you are outside of your home.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
  • Watch your health and look for symptoms of COVID-19. Take your temperature if you feel sick.

Follow state, territorial, tribal and local recommendations or requirements after travel.

 

The Glimmer of Recognition

“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.” These wise words, spoken by the author of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” ring true about the joy of taking in a view, and sometimes there is a bit of Deja Vu happening…especially if you have seen something in photographs or have done your preliminary searching. Before I travel just about anywhere, I like to do my research about the area. It’s like exploring before you actually go exploring.  So wonderful to find out about the history, the terrain, and special “attractions” and features you may want to see when you are there. The beauty of this is not only learning new things, but also having the joy of seeing something with your own eyes after seeing a photo in a book or scrolling through sites on the internet. When you have already seen something as a reference point, if you have the opportunity of seeing something for the first time with your own eyes it brings a certain kind of exclamation of: “Oh, my Gosh…There it is!! That first initial Glimmer of Recognition, when the object or destination comes into view.

DSCN3322

Split Rock Lighthouse, Lake Superior

One of my most dramatic experiences with this phenomenon involves a lighthouse. Yes, a lighthouse. Not just any lighthouse, but my favorite lighthouse. I have a beautiful painting of it, and prior to moving near the north shores of Lake Superior…I had no idea it was so close to where I live. Venturing to visit there on a beautiful, sunny day we drove on the ribbon of highway around each bend and gradually approaching where we knew the lighthouse would be. Rounding a sharp curve, it was suddenly there up on the cliff. It almost seemed to jump at you from out of nowhere. I gasped and am a little embarrassed to say I actually teared up a little…it looked so small up there on that cliff over the turbulent waters of Lake Superior. Yet, I was so excited to see the actual lighthouse and tour it; hearing stories dating back to it’s construction in 1910.  Nevertheless, I remembered why it’s my favorite lighthouse: small in stature, but a mighty fortress as it sits atop that jagged cliff. It was a joy to see it and take my own photographs of it, not to just see it in a brochure or web site. And of course climbing the steps up to the lighthouse and admiring the view was a memorable part of the trip. I have been a few times and hope to go again.

Devil’s Tower, Wyoming

I have other travel experiences with this glimmer of recognition, but usually not quite as profound as my lighthouse moment. Any traveler can probably recall a time when they have exclaimed…Wow, Look….there it is! Some things don’t pop up suddenly, but instead gradually creep into view. Devil’s Tower in Wyoming is a perfect example of that.  It has special status within the National Park Service system because it was named as the first National Monument by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906. To accomplish this status, it also was the first act under the newly formed Antiquities Act. It truly is a unique feature on the landscape and can be seen for miles away as you approach the site.  When we drove there it’s truly amazing that you can see it long before you arrive there and calls of “Are we there yet?” are bound to come from the back seat…. It just appears on the low horizon as the highest thing around for miles. Viewing it from a distance is almost as amazing as up close. It’s kind of amazing when you get closer, because you can see that several brave souls climb it. My son ventured to explore the rocks at the base, and I just explored with my telephoto lens. That was high enough for me.

Quincy Market–Boston, Ma.

Another glimmer of recognition came recently on a trip to Boston. I heard many tales, and saw photos of the infamous Quincy Market. It was built in 1826 as a marketplace to accommodate the growing needs of the city and the overcrowding at Faneuil Hall. It has stately Greek columns and still serves as a thriving marketplace today. So in my quest to find it, we were walking and walking….and starting to wonder if we were going the right direction.  We rounded a corner and Voila! There it was, unmistakable. Doesn’t look like any other building in the area. Actually, when I first laid eyes on it, it seems bigger and perhaps more majestic than the photos portrayed. Interesting place to visit so I am glad I added it to our “to see” list while we were there.

There is such joy in seeing things with your own eyes, things that you have only heard or read about. Yet, that joy can be multiplied when as a traveler you take a little time to find out about your destination. The thrill of discovery will be yours! Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

 

Anchorage: Starting point of Alaskan adventures

Glacial cruise near Whittier, AK.

The name Alaska is derived from the Aleut word “Alyeska”, meaning “great land”. Very fitting for this land in terms of size but also the majestic mountains, glacial streams and miles of forested hills. Any time you set foot on this land, you can truly get swept away with the beauty here. Almost every Alaskan adventure starts with a flight to Anchorage.  Anchorage is the most populous city in Alaska: of the approximately 710,000 Alaska inhabitants, half live in Anchorage and the surrounding areas.

Anchorage is home to about 1,500 Moose

So the minute you land at the Anchorage Airport, you know you are not in any typical airport. The airport is filled with examples of animals that are readily seen throughout the state: bear, moose, wolves and a variety of water birds. Also on display is a variety of beautiful Native Alaskan artwork. Of course, included are several shops you can purchase the “usual” souvenirs from mugs to t-shirts and gourmet chocolates. However, I want to emphasize again…this is not your typical airport. I happen to see a vending machine that sells mittens and gloves. (Are you prepared for being “up North”?) That alone is unique, but it was pretty cool that they were made from Bison hair. I just thought it was pretty amazing to see gloves sold in a vending machine. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

 

459 lbs Halibut-That’s alot of Halibut steaks!

After descending the escalator to go to luggage claim, on display you will see another characteristic example highlighting the fishing industry in the state (both commercial and recreational) : a HUGE Halibut. This is the record holding Halibut at 9′ 5″ long and weighing in at 459 lbs. That must have been an exhilarating catch to watch them bring it in. (perhaps he was thinking: My name is Ishmael) Our family did go Halibut fishing a few years ago in Homer and had a very successful trip with several impressive catches. Then we had them fillet, frozen and shipped back home. It was exciting to have a whole freezer overflowing with Halibut. Halibut are sooooo delicious even though most people will admit, they are pretty creepy looking.

 

Anchorage Visitor’s Center

Once arriving, a very good start to getting familiar with the area and what’s available for the type of adventure you want to pursue, stop in at the Visitor’s Center. In the heart of downtown Anchorage, amidst the office buildings is a little log cabin with grass growing on the roof. This is the Anchorage Visitors Center. The building itself is so quaint and photo worthy and very easy to find: at the corner of Fourth Ave. and F street. The staff is so helpful there and can fill in the details of any questions you may have and they are also able to provide several different brochures about anything and everything within the state of Alaska. A definite place to stop by when in Anchorage and also a good starting point. The growing season in Alaska may be a little shorter, but they make up for it with beautiful displays of flowers all over the city. From block to block in Anchorage there are hanging pots with cascades of flowers. One of my favorite flowers, the Fireweed, gets its name because it is the first vegetation to appear after newly cleaned and burned areas.  It is a perennial  wildflower that is found in Canada, parts of Minnesota and of course Alaska. The purple and pink flowers light up the hillsides with color. Then in the autumn, they change to a soft, white fluff looking like lambs wool.

Ship Creek Fishing~Photo from Fish Alaska Magazine

Depending on the time of year you are visiting Anchorage, there are a few summer time activities you really should check out. Alaska is known for its abundance of wild salmon. Near the heart of downtown Anchorage is Ship Creek: an amazing place to watch the “salmon runs” and watch the anglers try their luck.  There is also a nearby fish hatchery. Not only do the local fisherman go to the shores, but the shorebird viewing in this area is amazing. When the locals say “the Kings are in”, you know the King Salmon have started to run. King Salmon are present in late May, then Coho Salmon run from August to mid- September. The best place for information is found on this link: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=viewinglocations.shipcreek

Another fun summer festival and Farmers Market that includes great food, music and an abundance of arts and crafts is the Saturday Market, held on Saturdays outside near 3rd Ave. by Buttress Park.  (summer months only) The craftsmen there provide many authentic Alaskan made products that are very unique and provide a wonderful remembrance of your Alaska trip. I remember when my boys were young we found some wooden toy frogs with washboard backs that made a “Ribbitt…Ribbitt” sound when the small dowel was racked across them. So cool! I believe they still have those. Also, at Saturday Market was the first time ever I had eaten a reindeer corn dog….Yum! Don’t knock it till you try it, and I actually like them better than the traditional Frankfurter dog.

Of course there is a whole diversity of fantastic dining in Anchorage besides corn dogs, with a diversity of price ranges. Simon & Seaforts boasts a beautiful view of Cook inlet and a great selection of Alaskan seafood. Beautiful restaurant with wonderful food, a bit pricey but worth it as a treat.  For a little less formal restaurant, and a place that is known for their wood -fired pizza try the Fat Ptarmigan. They are located in downtown Anchorage at W. 5th Ave. Great food in a casual, but very nice atmosphere. The Ptarmigan is Alaska’s state bird. Whenever I hear that, I think of a funny quip about the town of Chicken, Alaska (SE Alaska near the Canadian border). The founders wanted to name it after the state bird, but remembering how to spell Ptarmigan was a pain so they settled on Chicken…Ha. Probably not true, but a cute story. Last restaurant I want to mention is NOT known for Alaskan seafood, but surprisingly enough is a fantastic Mexican restaurant: Hacienda. I guess when I think of good Mexican cuisine, I thought one needed to head south (not north to Alaska?),…but this particular restaurant is really good and most of the locals are familiar with it. Not really on the beaten path of the tourists. And the Margaritas were perfect! Highly recommended fantastic Mexican food.

Are you craving chocolate yet? World’s Largest “waterfall” of chocolate

I know it’s “touristy” but one of my favorite places to go in Anchorage is the Alaska Wild Berry Products store. Not only does it have a wonderful array of “wild berry” products like jellies, candies and specialty teas…they have jewelry, clothing and just about any type of sought after souvenir you might like. AND….they have the World’s Largest Chocolate “waterfall”!(but it’s chocolate….Mmmmmm)  It is a 20 foot fall with 3,400 pounds of real liquid chocolate cascading down several buckets and ending up in a glistening pool of chocolate. Wow, you gotta love that. Here’s a picture, it really is neat and makes you crave a trip to the candy counter. Just for show, it’s really chocolate, but you can’t dip your pinkies in for a sample.

Well, this just scratches the surface of all the experiences that await in Anchorage.  There are also two awesome museums that really warrant looking into: the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum.  Additionally, exploring nature is easily accessible to the city with fantastic wildlife and bird watching at  Potter Marsh.  A hike up Flattop Mountain, in Chugach State Park, brings you to a dramatic, skyline view of Anchorage.  For more information on these features and much more about Anchorage, be sure to check out this helpful site: http://www.VisitAnchorage.com

So I hope I have whet your appetite for an Alaskan Adventure and don’t forget: Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Just Because its FREE, Doesn’t mean its Lame

We Americans frequently adhere to the adage: “You get what you pay for.” Sometimes in certain circumstances this is true, no denying that. Yet I am here to lift up the virtues of seeking out and enjoying FREE STUFF! Of course there are the many free things in life like love, friendships, holding a soft puppy, enjoying the sounds of soft spring rain and….well you get the idea. These things are all well and good, but I’m talking about less esoteric things, like entrance to a free museum.

So many people have the impression that things can’t be very good, or worth taking the time to look into, unless you have to pay an admission fee. I am here to strongly denounce that misconception. I have seen so many interesting museums and “freebies”, yet have also seen ones that were indeed lame. It’s always a gamble, but look at it this way, you haven’t paid money up front so you are not out anything. Yet, if it turns out to be an interesting and worthwhile place, you can almost always donate money on your way out the door. Museums and centers need donations to keep places running and also appreciate positive feedback….tell your friends, they might enjoy the place too!

In my area, there is a county museum that has an amazing collection of stories, artifacts and documentation on the settlement and growth of several communities within our county. The Polk County Museum in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin is housed in a majestic, red brick courthouse. The building itself is quite a sight to behold. Originally built in 1899, it was used as a courthouse until 1975 when it was converted to a museum and is operated by volunteers. It has been included in the National Register of Historic Places.   Inside the museum, there are three floors of galleries with some of the exhibits dating back to the Revolutionary War.  There is an impressive exhibit about the logging industry and its impact on the area. Logging and lumbering were the primary attractions that brought early settlers to the area in as early as 1837. I never knew that the logs were “branded” (just like cattle) before being sent down the river…neat.

The building also has unique and beautiful stained glass and interesting architectural details on every floor. Here is a stained glass window that is beautiful, but also informative: it shows a map designating the townships within Polk County. I thought this was so beautiful and I bet it looks very different depending on the time of day.

Not only do they have an impressive permanent collection, the museum also hosts traveling exhibits. Late summer, they hosted a fantastic exhibit about John Muir, the conservationist and one of the men instrumental in founding the National Park Service. John Muir spent much of his youth in Wisconsin.  The Museum has limited hours in the summer time, and frequently hosts private and school tours the rest of the year. The museum is at 120 Main Street Balsam Lake. For more information you can contact them at: (715) 485-9269

Another free and very interesting museum that I had the pleasure of visiting is the Bayfield Maritime Museum. Located in Bayfield, Wisconsin near the Apostle Islands, it is a treasure trove of cool stuff all related to the maritime industry, the history of the area and the wonders of Lake Superior.  Many topics are covered including boat making and the development of the maritime industry, shipwrecks on Lake Superior, lighthouses, and an impressive collection of historical photographs and artifacts related to the area. It is staffed by very helpful and knowledgeable volunteers, who are happy to answer any questions.

They also have a small amount of books and souvenirs about the area and the Apostle Islands. I purchased a nautical print of  Bayfield and the Apostle Islands and another print showing all the Lighthouses of the Apostles.  Both prints were very suitable for framing and it made me feel good knowing that my purchases went towards helping to operate the museum. This museum is only open during the summertime and is staffed by volunteers. For more information, check out their website at: www.bayfieldmaritimemuseum.org

 

My son Dan in seventh heaven @ the Spam Museum: Austin, Minnesota

Some FREE museums, like the SPAM museum in Austin Minnesota, have an ulterior motive like promoting and extra marketing of their product. But so what?!….if it provides an entertainment value and a diversion for weary highway travelers, more power to them.  Many people react with the comment: “There’s a SPAM Museum, seriously?” Yes, seriously. If you are passing through southern Minnesota, don’t forget to go. However…I’m kind of embarrassed to say I have been to the SPAM museum three times, with various family members so they too can enjoy that fun place. I’m not even a big fan of SPAM (except with mac&cheese), but it really is a fun place and a lovely gift shop too! (One can never have too many SPAM refrigerator magnets.) For more details about the SPAM museum, their website is: www.spam.com/museum

So next time you are out and about, or even in need of a local excursion, don’t forget the local small museum. You may be surprised of what new wonders await within.

Adrift in the Land of Lost Luggage

Traveling about this beautiful country by car, camper or motorcycle is a fantastic way to see the sights of this gorgeous country of ours. Yet sometimes the convenience and timely efficiency (and I use that term loosely) of airplane travel is a great way to get where you need to go in a WHOLE lot less time than if you were to drive. However, there are a few caveats that I would like to throw out there for anyone about to embark on the fun adventure of air travel.

I was prompted to write this essay based on a recent trip to upstate NY to visit family. My visit with them was wonderful and that surely made up for the craziness of the getting to and fro nature of the trip. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Murphy’s Law. Both coming and going, my connections were missed (through no fault of my own…flight delays) forcing me to stay in a hotel in a city that was not my final destination. On the return trip out of Charlotte, after spending the night in a hotel, rushing to the airport the next morning, changing gates 3 times and waiting patiently to board….the unbelievable happened: a message on the board appeared: FLIGHT CANCELLED.  Unbelievable.  My fellow weary travelers and I went into shock. Those of us who were in more of a stupor, hung out by the gate. Yet, the seasoned travelers who knew JUST what to do, had disappeared in the blink of an eye, or whipped out their cell phones to immediately book a flight out of there. This was approximately 60 people…all looking for flights. It was heavy competition. The first and foremost thing to do is to get in line at the customer service desk for your particular airline.  More than likely you will be automatically booked on another flight (I was) but you have to go to get a new boarding pass.  Also while waiting in line, many travelers called the airlines customer service to choose other flights that might be better. They were booking up fast! Now please refer to my previous indication about Murphy’s Law…right about this time that law kicked in: my cell phone started acting up and before I got on the plane, it had completely died. No, it wasn’t the battery, another problem.

But travelers sharing the same agony frequently bond and we helped each other on a quest to get out of Charlotte.  A very sweet older couple graciously allowed the use of their phone so I could contact my husband with an update. I was on standby for a flight with 22 other people and I was #12 in line. I wasn’t too hopeful, and a few tears of exasperation and exhaustion rolled down my cheeks. I went through a lot of Kleenex that day, trying to keep my composure. Well, by some little miracle I made the flight. I sat next to a lovely couple from Charlotte who were exactly in the right place at the right time. (Hi Ronda and Irv!) God’s little helpers who were sent to help me retain my sanity. She lent me her cell phone to call my husband right away to let him know I made the flight. What wonderful people who helped to make a tense situation more bearable. Things like that help to restore one’s faith in humanity. Even after I landed, they stayed with me to get my luggage (which was delayed, of course) and I was able to call hubby again on Ronda’s phone. When we parted ways, they even reached out for a big hug and wished me well. If I am ever in Charlotte again, under more favorable circumstances I will have to look them up. You guys are the best!

Now some delays like this are weather conditions and of course they can’t do a thing about that, I want to fly safely. Yet, some delays are “crew availability”. I had heard there is a shortage of pilots these days, perhaps that is a big part of the problem.

Air travel was never the same after the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In response to those events, the Transportation Security Administration was formed to help battle security threats that sadly lurk in our world today. Most everyone is familiar with what is expected from passengers as to what they can and cannot have when boarding an airplane. If you need a refresher course, the TSA website is very helpful and spells out the specifics of the “3-1-1” rule for transportation of liquids,etc. The site can be found at: http://www.tsa.gov  

Nevertheless, even being familiar with these regulations confusion still arises. Take for example the time I was bringing back from Alaska a delightful collection of jellies made from a variety of fresh berries locally produced there.  It was a gift for my Mom, who appreciates jams and jellies on her English Muffins. They were small sealed jars, in a gift pack, that apparently exceeded the 3.4 oz. limit and the TSA perceived them as “liquid”. The only way I could get them home was to put them in a “checked” bag, as opposed to a carry on and pay an additional $25.00. Well, you can pretty much guess what happened: I paid the $25, didn’t want to give up my jelly. It’s the principle of the thing. It did make it safely home, and the TSA agents were not able to enjoy muffins and jelly that day. Now that was some expensive jelly. Luckily is was worth the trip and a great souvenir.
So put your traveling shoes on. (and remove them for the TSA) JES

“Big things happen here”…..Dallas

Dallas city skyline: Dallas, Texas

“Big things happen here”. So this is the official slogan of the city of Dallas, not surprising coming out of the Lone Star State that boasts about the grand scale size of things. Texas is the second largest state in the US, but the largest in the “lower 48”. Alaska weighs in at 663,267 square miles, Texas at 268,580 and California is in 3rd place with 163, 695 square miles. Yes…Texas is very BIG. Big with a diversity of interesting things to offer. Visitors to Dallas can get a taste of Texan living with a great eclectic mix of sites and sounds. A blend of big city life and frontier living all rolled into one place that is quintessential life in the Lone Star state: Dallas. Dallas seems so vibrant and youthful. It was incorporated as a city in 1856, but much of the infrastructure is very contemporary. Like many larger cities in the south, Dallas has a large cross-section of people and many “transplanting Northerners” have made a home there. The diversity of accents are as prevalent as the different occupations. Dallas is home to 21 Fortune 500 companies including Exxon Mobil, AT&T and Texas Instruments.

Old Red Museum, 1892

When in Dallas, a great place to start your visit is the Visit Dallas Visitor’s Center located in the Old Red Museum, 100 S. Houston Street. You can’t miss it…it’s the big beautiful red sandstone building with cool looking gargoyles. It is adjacent to the JFK Memorial and Dealey Plaza.  Originally built as a courthouse in 1892, it houses an interesting museum and also the visitors center.  The center is staffed by folks that can help you plan your trip and know everything from great hotels, shopping and where to find the best BBQ around. The “Dallas City Pass” tickets are also available for purchase here for discounts on many major attractions.  When we were in Dallas, I did purchase them and saved quite a bit. (you can buy them on-line prior to your trip at: http://VisitDallas.com/CityPASS A word of warning, you have to use them up within 9 days, can’t carry over for your “next” trip.

 

View of some “spaghetti bowl” expressways from the Reunion Tower

Dallas is ranked as the 3rd largest city in Texas. Houston being the largest, than San Antonio. Like many big cities, negotiating traffic is a challenge. Roadways in the city are well-marked, but there seemed to be a preponderance of “access roads” running parallel to the major expressways which frequently begs the question: How do I get over there? I can see where I need to go but how do I get there? Hence the U-turn spot in Dallas in quite common. Granted, helpful….but I think the roads could have been laid out better to begin with. Once you get a feel for it, you’re fine but navigating some of the “spaghetti bowls” can be tricky. We had a rental car so we felt compelled to drive everywhere, but it is my understanding Dallas does have a good public transportation system: DART: Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Then you wouldn’t have to deal with the highways. Yet, it is interesting to note that Dallas is the largest  metropolitan area in the US that does not on a navigable body of water, hence the development of all those roadways. Four major interstates converge in the city. Providing transportation is also enhanced by the railroad system: you gotta move all that cattle somehow.

Pioneer Plaza~Dallas

This leads me to the next feature about the state that is  highlighted in the city of Dallas.  Texas happens to hold the record as the top producer of beef cattle in the U. S., with 2.42 million head of cattle. That’s alot of beef! The proud history and heritage of cattle drives is documented as a public art exhibit in downtown Dallas at the Pioneer Plaza (1428 Young Street). An entire herd of longhorn steers and cowboys on horseback are depicted in beautiful bronze statues. Situated in the heart of downtown in the convention district, it is odd to see an entire herd of life-size cattle making their way through a stream with buildings rising up on all sides. They seem so real, that it seems they should be grazing across fields of grass, instead of surrounded by towering high rises. Yet, that is what makes the exhibit so stunning and a wonderful tribute to the trail riders. Also, adjacent to the plaza is the pioneer Park Cemetery which includes the Confederate War Memorial.

“So….what are you having for dinner?”

Along with being the leading beef cattle producer, comes the wonderful reality that Dallas is one of  the best places for steak! Well, of course. Steak and BBQ, that is. There are so many fantastic places to choose, but choose we did. I found a place that had great food, but when in Texas I have to admit….I looked for the ambiance as well. Nothing says Texas like cowboy boots, whips and a giant steer mounted on the wall staring at you while you dine on steak. Really fun place and it happens to be a chain with a few locations. It was called Salt Grass Steakhouse and I would go back, it was delicious! I know we will probably be making future trips to Dallas.  I missed the Dallas Arboretum this past trip….looks so pretty and of course we need another trip to Salt Grass–Cheers! Put your traveling shoes on. JES

 

 

See you in Seattle! Top 5 attractions.

On the west coast, Seattle is an iconic waterfront city filled with experiences that you “gotta see” when visiting there. One of the neat features about Seattle is so many  of the  sites are along the waterfront or within walking distance of the main downtown area. Even if you only have a day or two to spend in this vibrant city, here are the Top Five attractions that really help to define the Seattle experience.

1–FERRY BOATS-Simplistic, but this is probably my favorite part of the Seattle area. Many native Seattle folks take them back and forth as commuters every business day and they are very commonplace along the waterfront.  Nevertheless, I find them so much an exciting part of visiting  this city.  It is really amazing how many people and vehicles fit on one of these huge boats. Even more amazing, is how smoothly and efficiently the loading and unloading is accomplished several times a day. For  more information on the ferry system, current schedules and sailing routes, check the Washington State Ferries web-site at: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/  Crossing the water to Bainbridge or Kingston is not a long journey, but just long enough to enjoy being on the water and fantastic views of the skyline.  Also, usually just long enough to polish off a specialty coffee drink.  There are quaint little coffee shops all over Seattle and of course, right at the entrance to the Ferry terminals.  Seattle is  really big on coffee and is known for being the birthplace of Starbucks coffee. Which leads me to my next favorite: the original Starbucks cafe.

Original Starbucks on 1st and Pike, by Pikes Place Market

2–ORIGINAL STARBUCKS- Yup…this is where it all began: Starbucks Coffee. Even if you are not a huge coffee drinker, it is so neat to visit the original site where the first Starbucks opened their flagship store in 1971. It is smaller than one would imagine,  but therein lies the charm of the quaint place for the birthplace of this coffee giant. Tourists and locals alike seek out refreshment at this iconic stop frequently on their way to or from the next Seattle landmark: Pikes Place Market.  Another place that lends itself to lots of photo opps and an abundance of great sights and scents to sample.

3–PIKES PLACE MARKET-There are outdoor markets aplenty, but none can compare to the excitement and bustle of Pikes Place Market.  The Market opened in 1907 and is one of the oldest operating farmers’ markets in the country.  Before I went there, I heard that the vendors throw fish to each other in the process of filleting and also filling orders. What?! Sounds strange, and it is…but when you see a 15 pound salmon flying through the air it really gets your attention, not something you see in the average supermarket.  The Market is full of wonderful fruits, fish, vegetables, flowers and homemade honeys & jams.   Also, various craft items including jewelry, leather working, glass-works and pottery can be found there.  The building itself is quite impressive and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. It sits overlooking the Seattle waterfront. Built on a steep hill, it has several different levels with an abundance of differing shops.  The vendors take pride in beautiful displays of their wares, even the peppers are an art form in and of themselves; so many different colors and shapes!

 

4–PIER 54-IVAR’S & YE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP-Probably these two are the easiest to find attractions on the waterfront. Literally right when you walk off the Ferry boat and next to the ferry terminals. Ivar’s is the seafood restaurant with both “casual” dining (more like a fast food style…but the food is still top-notch) and a lovely sit down restaurant.  Both Ivar’s restaurants offer great cuisine, depending what you are in the mood for.  The “casual” restaurant has outdoor setting by the water; and adults and kids alike are entertained by feeding your french fries to the seagulls. Entertaining yes….but the seagulls can sometimes get pretty aggressive. Just use caution; very small children shouldn’t partake in this activity.  Might be nice to keep all 10 digits.

Located on the same Pier is a very fun, touristy shop: Ye Old Curiosity Shop. Filled with many “curiosities” like shrunken heads, a 4 -legged chicken and mummies.  Some of the stuff is kind of creepy, although entertaining.  It has been part of the Seattle waterfront since 1899.  They have changed exact locations several times, but are generally in the same area. In addition to all the oddities, they do carry lots of the “usual” souvenirs, jewelry and also unusual items for purchase to remember your trip to Seattle. The totem poles at the front of the stores make great photo opps for you and your group. A terrific place to stop by and it’s right by the waterfront.

5–SEATTLE SPACE NEEDLE-One of the most recognized landmarks in Seattle is the Space Needle.  It is an observation tower that reaches 605 feet high and resembles the home of The Jetsons, if you remember that cartoon from the early 60’s. The tower was opened in 1962 and was built in honor of the World’s Fair held in Seattle that year.  The views from the top are fantastic and every one visiting this ocean front city should go up once. Yet, if you’ve done it once, that is probably enough.  Great views, but repeat visits to the city don’t really warrant several trips to the top of “the Needle”.  We did it once when my kids were little, but on subsequent visits I have always longed for and participated in the above listed “top 4”.  I wouldn’t think of going to Seattle without a trip to Pikes Place and lunch at Ivar’s. Polished off with a view of the setting sun by the deck of a Ferry boat.  Just writing these words make me realize I need to get back to Seattle soon.  Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Photo by Sigma Sreedharan (on Twitter, WA State Ferries)

How about a “Staycation”?

There really is something to be said about the joy of finding rest and relaxation in your own little neck of the woods and partaking in a  vacation in your own area…a “Staycation”, as it has been called in recent years.  Frequently budget demands require this, but there is much to be discovered when you change your view from that of a local to that of a tourist. Opening your eyes to new possibilities can be very rejuvenating even for close, local delights.

What a Welcoming Welcome sign!

A recent move to Wisconsin, has brought this to my mind and made me realize there is so much to discover just within a days drive of our new home. I recently drove back to Iowa to visit my Mother. When crossing the border back to Wisconsin,  seeing this welcoming sign brought to me not only a welcoming home, but also memories of dozens of trips to Wisconsin when we were Illinois residents. Seeing this sign makes me want to shout “VACATION TIME! ” But now that Wisconsin is my home, I feel like I am perpetually on vacation. **Sigh** Life is Good.  My apologies to the working people out there that only get 2 weeks vacation a year, but I feel blessed to have 52 weeks. Even though I am still working as a writer, it does not feel like work. I enjoy it so very much. ( I Digress) So back to the Staycation concept.

If you are visiting locally, you probably already know the interesting places in your area and your favorite restaurants, but for extra pointers I would recommend a visit to the local Chamber of Commerce or Visitors Center.  You can visit either online or the building itself.  I personally think it is great to go and “collect” brochures and also talk to the staff there about highlights of the area. Depending on the area, many Visitor Centers are organized by what type of activities you are pursuing: hiking, biking, shopping, trying a new restaurant, local museums, etc….. There probably is a whole lot more to do than most folks realize. For example, in my own little neck of the woods, I really did not expect to find a terrific vineyard. Wisconsin is a Dairy state after all, but vineyards are found in many areas. Even in these northern climates, some of the most terrific “cold crop” grapes produce fantastic wine! If you happen to be traveling in Wisconsin, check out the Wisconsin Winery Association at: www.wiswine.org to find a local vineyard.

Besides the obvious advantage of saving money on a Staycation, there are additional numerous advantages about the simplicity of a Staycation. If you don’t have to deal with airline travel you don’t have the hassles of cancelled flights, overbooked flights, crowded seating and adjustment to time changes. Granted, flights are great for quick travel that would take so much longer by car, but it is nice sometimes to do without the hassles of flying. When you travel locally, another perk is having the luxury of sleeping in the comfort of your very own bed. You don’t have to worry and wonder what the hotel will be like.

I love to travel, both near and far, yet there is alot to be said about the joy and simplicity of a Staycation.; defiantly worth a try.  Share with me here your Staycation adventures. And then…..Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Summer travel season begins! Minimize Travel costs using Internet travel planning.

Travel planning on the Internet: it really is not as confusing and intimidating as it might initially seem.  After planning and executing a few trips, it is amazing how adept one can become. travel planTravel Planning for that fantastic trip sometimes requires some “practice makes perfect”, but there are a few caveats that help make the learning curve a little less painful and more economical. In planning several trips, both airline travel and by car, I found out through trial and error several tips to improve travel planning. Internet travel is not limited to searching for airplane tickets, some of my best car trips were planned with the help of internet searches. Nevertheless, my first venture with using the Internet for travel planning is probably where everyone starts: getting the best deal on airline tickets.  There are so many sites out there to chose from, but here are a few guidelines to assist you in getting the best deal:

Airlines:

  1. Try to fly in the middle of the week and include a weekend stay, this should help reduce your rate.
  2. Bear in mind that when you do multiple searches for the same flight information, search engines DO remember and sometimes flights will increase in price if they know that’s what you are looking for. Erase your cookies/search histories and start fresh for an “unbiased” search.
  3.  It may be inconvenient, but it is almost always cheaper NOT getting a direct flight.  Usually you are routed through one of the hubs, but it can shave quite a bit off the price of each ticket.

Lodging/Hotels:

  1. When booking directly with a hotel, many chains have their own “reward” programs.  If you choose to use an internet search engine like hotels.com or expedia.com.com , they also have reward programs but remember that you can’t “double dip”.  I made the mistake once of booking a Best Western hotel on hotels.com and could not use my Best Western rewards points because of how it was booked.  We were very happy with the hotel, I was just frustrated with the rewards system.  So make sure you know before booking, which “rewards” program you wish to pursue.  Personally, since I do a fair amount of traveling, I like the hotels.com system of getting your 10th night free. That’s a good deal and it’s a reward you can really use.
  2.  Don’t get stuck in a rut by only staying at certain types of hotels, try a Bed & Breakfast with a local flair for something unique to the area.  A really fun way to find interesting places is to do a Google Earth search on the area you will be visiting.  My husband & I found a fantastic ranch/resort just outside Yellowstone using this method.
    Yellowstone-2012 230

    Main lodge @ Shoshone Lodge & Ranch~Wyoming

    The Shoshone Lodge & Ranch in Cody Wyoming: www.shoshonelodge.com is a beautiful place right near Yellowstone National Park that surprisingly enough does not show up in several internet searches. My husband found it by simply hovering the cursor around the east side of Yellowstone. We were glad we found it then the rest came easy: their web-site has everything laid out nicely.  So never underestimate the power of just “poking around” on the internet, you will be amazed at what you will find.

  3. Do take the time to read other reviews of hotels, for example Trip Advisor, but bear in mind some people are more picky than others.  Sometimes you can almost tell when reading the review which are legitimate complaints and which are from folks who really “got up on the wrong side of the bed”.
  4. Bear in mind that some search engines, including Priceline.com get great prices for you with their “name your own price” program but you have to give your credit card in advance of the search and the exact hotel is not revealed until after you are booked.  This is great if you can be flexible, but I am uncomfortable with making a committment in advance when I don’t know exactly what I will be getting.

Car travel:

  1. When planning a lengthy car trip, start first by determining how many miles you wish to log each day. Then from there you can get a pretty good idea where you will end up and where to book a hotel or campsite. A wonderful aid for determining mileage and drive times is:www.calculator.net/mileage-calculator.  You can enter the starting destination and your next stop and not only do you get a recommended route, you get total miles and estimated drive time.  This is fantastic for mapping out a car trip and you can estimate how many miles you want to travel per day, and in turn where we want to end up looking for lodging.  If traveling during peak periods and at a popular destination, it’s probably better…and alot less stressful to have a reservation.
  2. Once again, I highly recommend Trip Advisor for not only lodging recommendations, but also restaurants, coffee shops and even the best places for a scrumptious ice cream cone. Sometimes if you’re visiting an area that you are unfamiliar with, it is good to get some insights from others who have been there and get the “low down”…for better or worse.

Planning and negotiating the ins and outs of a trip with the help of the internet can help in so many ways.  Not only do you save money by shopping around for the best deal, once your trip is planned you can sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Put your Traveling shoes on. JES

Put Your Traveling Shoes On

Why do I end every post with :”Put your traveling shoes on.  JES” ? Well, the last part is easy,  JES  are my initials: Julie Etta Smith. The  Put your traveling shoes on goes a little further than just a request for some sturdy footwear. It is always a good idea to wear comfortable shoes, a trek on a wooded trail would not be too easy with spiky sandals.hiking shoes Yet, I am using that phrase as more of a metaphor for preparing yourself, both mentally and physically, when starting out on a trip.  When you start to plan a trip, I like to encourage people to go beyond the usual hotel reservations, airline tickets and road map plan.   When you complete those first, it’s best to take it a step further and find out more about where you will be visiting.  What about the local history? Is there a favorite local cuisine? Are there products exclusive to that area of the country~ in my case: a fantastic wine, perhaps? Always good to be on the look-out for a memorable souvenir. It is so incredible to read articles and see photographs of an amazing feature or place and then view it with your own eyes. I remember seeing photos of the “freak of nature” prismatic springs at Yellowstone National Park and thinking to myself they must be photo-shopped. Nothing could look that strange. Yet, seeing the rainbow colors with my own eyes made it that much more spectacular. It is good to get some background on the local history and lore of an area.

On the same trip we made to Yellowstone I was in the back seat reading a local publication with a feature about a HUGE mansion that was being built in the late 1970’s.

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Smith Mansion~on the road to Cody, Wyoming

The man building the Pagoda-inspired design was tragically killed when he fell from the highest floor.  Locals say that it is still haunted and sits atop the hill untouched since his death. AND to add a little more intrigue to this story, it is referred to as the Smith Mansion. I know Smith is a common name, but nevertheless this story just keeps getting better.   Do you have goose bumps yet? Well, as I was describing this story to my family, I looked up and there it was…just a short distance from the side of the road. “OH, MY GOD……THAT’S IT!”  I shrieked to my family as they wondered the cause of my alarm. Now that was creepy: just when I was reading about that local story it appeared before us. Other than a story of unique coincidence, if I had not read up on the local history we never would have known the story behind that interesting Pagoda on the hill.

It is truly amazing the things you can learn before a trip that will really make your trip more memorable. So take a trip to the library, peruse the internet, talk to friends and family that have been there and be sure to enjoy the ride. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

 

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