My Travel Philosophy

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

Monday, January 30, 2012

Back to the Cold

We had a really wonderful time on our cruise and met some great people!  After clearing US waters (and losing our cell phones for a whole week), we started feeling some balmy air and seeing lots of sunshine.  As usual, we tried to get a whole summer's worth of sunshine in right away and had to be careful not to get burned.  [As it turned out, our last day at sea was cool and breezy so I ended up getting burned because I didn't put on lotion like I should have.]

Some of the highlights of our trip:

Salsa, Salsa, and Margaritas
Ours is the larger ship on the left.
Cozumel - we went on an excursion called Salsa, Salsa, & Margaritas.  We went to a resort (allowing us a great look at the area as we drove) where tables were already set up and ready for us to learn how to make 2 different types of margaritas and 7 different salsas (including pico de gallo and guacamole).  The margaritas were already being poured when we walked in, and continued to flow all afternoon.  After making and eating salsa all afternoon and drinking at least a dozen margaritas, our next step was learning to salsa dance.  We were both extremely graceful and quick studies, and I think we're going to consider "So You Think You Can Dance."  We didn't have much time for anything else, but I was able to grab a jacket at one of the shops at the port.  Note:  there was another Royal Caribbean ship in port next to us, and it was fun to be so close to the other ship and to see the size of them side-by-side.

Grand Cayman - Wow!  I haven't seen such beautiful beaches since Jamaica.  Because the port is fairly shallow, we had to be "tendered" in to shore.  This port must see a lot of activity as there are permanent tenders that are used and they're really big:  300 people on each one.  That's considerably larger than the ones that we're used to using.  There were 5 ships in this port while we were there.  Our excursion was later in the morning, so we could get a nice breakfast first and let the crush of people wanting to get ashore go ahead of us.  We, then, had to catch a bus that took us to the boat that took us to the sandbar where we were able to pet stingrays and enjoy the waters off Grand Cayman.  While we had a good time and I'm glad we went, I wouldn't do it again.  It literally took all day for this excursion that was supposed to last 2 1/2 hours.  Tendering into shore, the bus ride that took 30 minutes each way, the boat ride that took 1 1/2 hours each way, and then about 40 minutes in the water.  [Note:  the bus ride from the port to the boat was awesome!  Our bus was running late because we were waiting for some people so, to catch up, the driver drove like an Indy driver laying on the horn the whole time.  We were darting in and out of traffic and swerving around corners.  Then, on the last part of the drive, we saw iguanas everywhere:  big ones, small ones, green ones.  And chickens running all over the place.  It was awesome.]

Swimming with the Rays at Grand Cayman
The water around Grand Cayman is the most lovely shade of aqua, going out to the darker blue of the Caribbean.  It appears that there is a natural breakwater, which is where the sandbar is located where the stingrays gather.  The rays are really gentle and their bellies are very soft.  Our guides would pick them up and run them across your shoulder and back like a massage.  Some people gave them a little smooch, but I opted to just be good friends instead.

Very up close and personal
For some reason, I thought the rays would be really small, but it turned out that some of them were pretty good sized.  I tried to have my camera in the water with me as it was pretty shallow (in some places, it was knee-deep), but the waves were incredible.  After almost getting knocked over a couple of times and having the camera splashed, I decided to take it back on board.  However, I got a pretty good close-up of this guy before I left.

Lovely sand bar and warm water
From the upper deck of the boat, I could take some pretty good pictures of the swimming rays, and of the guide working with the rays standing within the group from the boat (including Jeff).

Again, I wouldn't want to do it again but it was a fun experience to do once -- and the water wasn't as salty as I expected it to be either.

Onboard the ship - there were a lot of fun experiences on the ship: some fun comedians and entertainers, really nice pool area and great food every single day, lovely couple at our dinner table (originally from Russia, now living in Ohio), but the one that was particular fun and discovered with only two nights left in the cruise was the entertainer in the Pig & Whistle.  The Pig & Whistle was the English pub and every evening was a entertainment called Adult Day Care at Night.  It was a mixture of karaoke and jokes with a whole lot of naughty song lyrics and just plain fun.  We had planned to turn in early our last night, but got really good seats in the pub so we stayed 'til the end.
Lots of people trying to pet the Rays

The departure experience has vastly improved!  We were able to stay in our stateroom until 8:00, at which time we went for breakfast in the Windjammer and, then, sat out on the pool deck until about 9:30.  Our departure time was scheduled for 9:50 and we had to simply make our way to the assigned waiting lounge on the ship where we waited for less than 10 minutes before being allowed to leave.  We found our luggage immediately, got through expedited customs (a really wonderful process in New Orleans), picked up the iron, and we were escorted by a friendly porter out of the long line waiting for cabs around to where he could get us one quickly.  With so much time saved, I had the cab run to Southern Candymakers so I could get some pralines before leaving town!  Our longest wait was at the airport because everything else had gone so smoothly we arrived way early for our flight.

Can't say that I liked coming back to the cold and snow, but having Stacy, Jack, and Anna pick us up at the airport was fun and.....we're only going to be here until Wednesday when we fly off to Vegas!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Heading to the Carib

After a fun day and evening in New Orleans, we enjoyed a  breakfast of beignets at Cafe du Monde before heading over to the cruise ship terminal around 10:30ish.  It turns out to be directly behind the cafe court eating area at The Riverwalk so, if you stayed at the Hilton, you could almost walk to the terminal.

The process was incredibly easy -- we gave our bags to a porter and walked right in.  I had the paperwork ready so we were processed almost immediately.  Then, there was a short wait until we could actually board, but we were on the ship within 45 minutes of arriving at the terminal.  Really, really easy.  The cabins were not going to be ready until 1:00, so we went to the Windjammer buffet and had a really good lunch sitting at a table against a full wall of windows so we could watch the traffic on the river and watch the city.  Easily the most entertaining port we've ever visited.

Central Atrium loaded with shops & bars
Our cabin
We took a little walk around and found that the central atrium area is quite different on this ship:  it looks like you're walking along a block in a city shopping area. There was a sports bar, and an English pub, and an ice cream shop, plus various shops.  This area ended up being a primary spot each evening for entertainment as well as the ubiquitous sales that go on to clear out merchandise.  One of the wonderful surprises for me was the fact that they have Strongbow on board the ship!  The bar in Milwaukee after Stacy's book party and now this ship; I'm really pleased to see Strongbow being available in more and more places.  Another interesting thing about this "arcade" area is the fact that there are cabins with windows that look down onto the area.  You'd think that it would get pretty noisy but, in talking with some people who have a cabin in that area, it turns out that the windows are double insulated and they don't have any problems at all!

We have a balcony cabin on this cruise
Finally, at 1:00, we could go to our state room and loved it!  I had booked a balcony room because I thought it would be nice to be able to relax and enjoy the view without having to fight for chairs.  It sure makes the room appear larger!  The bed was already set up and our first bag arrived fairly quickly so we could begin unpacking.  Either we have poor memories, or the space is becoming larger in these rooms with a lot more drawers and cabinets.  It was really easy to store all of the suitcases under the bed, too.

A couple of notes:  in New Orleans, we stopped at a store and bought a bottle of rum and 4 little bottles of pre-mixed margaritas.  We know you're not supposed to take alcohol on board, but we figured the worst that could happen would be that it would be confiscated.  Turns out, I did a really good job of hiding it in the luggage and all of it made it through.  However, when our one suitcase never arrived we were told that we had a contraband iron that wasn't allowed on the ship.  Due to fire hazard, irons are no longer allowed to be brought on board.  After dinner, we went below and they were extremely nice about it:  just put a tag on it with our name and told us we could pick it up when we returned.  [Since it was in the suitcase with the margaritas, I didn't mind a bit!]  Sidebar:  after the cruise, it was indeed incredibly easy to recover the iron after we got our luggage and had gone through customs.

Dinner was wonderful, as always, and we were really surprised to note how long it actually took to leave New Orleans and arrive in the Gulf.  Our ship departed at 4 p.m. and, when we went to bed around midnight, we were just leaving the mouth of the Mississippi and negotiating all of the little islands and land masses prior to actually entering the Gulf.  It was awesome to stand on the balcony and watch the shoreline go by -- for a while.  It became so incredibly foggy that the ship had to continually blow the horn, and oncoming vessels did the same.  Until we were side-by-side, we often couldn't see the other ships at all.  Jeff and I both loved it!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Back in New Orleans

St. Louis's Cathedral at Jackson Square
It was sooooo cold in Milwaukee this morning when we went to the airport (thank you Steve for driving us so we didn't have to mess with parking).  Two flights (connection in Memphis) later, though, and we were in lovely New Orleans where the temps were in and around the 70s all day.  We took a walk through the French Quarter and I was able to capture this photo of St. Louis's Cathedral in Jackson Square.  Look at the cute horse carriages waiting to take tourists on a ride through the Quarter. Jeff had a shrimp po'boy and I had a muffaletta (both of them are types of sandwiches you get in this area) for lunch, and we spent the next couple of hours walking it off along the Mississippi and along the streets.  Then, we somehow ended up at Harrah's casino where we both got free t-shirts for signing up for the player's card (actually, mine was free but Jeff's ended up costing him $25.  Guess we know who the real player is!)

Tonight we're going to dinner at Luke, a restaurant owned by John Besh.  During one of the past "Next Iron Chef" competitions (which I watched on TV a while back as a rerun), John Besh was one of the finalists -- and one of the chefs that I really liked.  He eventually lost to Michael Symon (who I also really like), but I was curious about him when I heard he was from New Orleans so I decided to try one of his restaurants while we're here.  I'm looking forward to giving it a try, after which I imagine we'll stroll down Bourbon Street before turning in fairly early.  Tomorrow morning, we're going to go have beignets for breakfast before heading over to the cruise ship terminal to board the ship.  We're both really excited about the departure because we'll be going down the Mississippi for quite a ways before hitting the Gulf, and it should be really fun to watch the shoreline.  The prediction is for rain tomorrow (at least, scattered showers) so I hope it doesn't spoil our ability to hang out on deck and watch everything go by.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Settling in Florida

This has been a fun trip and I can't believe it's been a whole week already!  We traveled through 9 states (3 new ones for Mom) and experienced temperatures on the low end of 14 degrees to highs in the 70s today.  After getting some sleep last night, Mom did a little unpacking today and we got to spend some time with Carol before she headed off to work.

Dean, Mom, Me, Dale, Aunt Jan at P.J.'s Oyster House
We went to Tampa to see Aunt Jan and Dale, and all of us took a drive over to Clearwater -- a truly beautiful area that I hadn't seen in ages.  Stopped for lunch at PJs Oyster House near St. Pete's Beach where I got to have fresh stone crab -- it's in season right now.  Dale had alligator and Mom had catfish so I feel like we truly represented both the south and Florida specifically.  [Side bar:  PJ (for whom the restaurant is named) is actually a green parrot that resides in the restaurant.]
The famous P.J. from P.J.'s Oyster House

Dean, Mom and I took a nice walk around the neighborhood this evening to review the landscaping and lawn decorations (and to give the dog a walk).  Then, following some of Aunt Jan's delicious taco soup, we settled for the evening.  I'll need to pack pretty soon as we're headed off to the airport at 7 tomorrow morning where I'll catch my flight back to Milwaukee, and I'll have 2 days at home to pack and prepare for the next trip:  our cruise.

It's the Destination...Finally!

Above ground tombs in New Orleans cemetery
New Orleans cemetery
It really must be Holiday in Europe as there was a whole group of young people (from some Scandinavian country) at breakfast on Saturday morning.  We did a little research and headed into New Orleans.  Nice thing about New Orleans:  it's a town that thrives at night so the streets were reasonably cleared in the morning and we were able to get into downtown and drive around the French Quarter with no difficulty.  Because we wanted to hit Southern Candymakers and it didn't open until 10 a.m., sightseeing seemed like a good idea.  After going around the French Quarter and admiring all of the wrought iron and architecture, we headed out to the Garden District to admire the big, beautiful homes.  Lafayette Cemetery is located across from Commander's Palace (former house of ill-repute, now a world-class restaurant), and easy to park and visit.  So we took a short stroll into the cemetery to look at the "city of the dead".  It was a gorgeous morning and there were others in there taking pictures, as well.
One of the beautiful homes in the Garden District

The homes in the Garden District are as beautiful and stately as ever and we both really wanted to knock on a door and ask for a tour, but better sense prevailed so we just admired them from the outside.  All along the streetcar line, the cars were running and the lines (as well as the trees lining St. Charles Avenue) on both sides were dripping with Mardi Gras beads.  We stopped at a McDonald's in the area to grab a soda and Mom got some beads of her own!

Cedar Key, Florida
Heading out of town (after getting our candy, of course) we headed out of town along Lake Pontchartrain and along the Gulf coast on our way to the panhandle of Florida.  The drive entailed going along causeways and over bridges that provided really beautiful views of the area.  We had originally planned to go to Apalachicola, driving along the north shore of the Gulf the whole way.  However, in taking another look at the plan, it made more sense to head farther along our route and save the 3 hours that detour would have taken.  As a result, we got as far as Perry, FL -- a very long drive.  We checked into an EconoLodge along with the Harley group and slept as well as the horrible beds would allow -- heading out first thing Sunday morning.

We went to Cedar Key and were surprised by a couple of things:  the water level is extremely low (not sure how the fishing boats even go in and out), and the pier is now enclosed with steep pipe railings.  There are other, small changes:  the Captain's Table has a new name, and Cedar Key Canvas has moved out of downtown into a larger building as you come into town.  Otherwise, it looked much the same.
Eagle's nest on pole

We were amazed by the number of large birds flying -- I thought they were hawks, but then decided that they were golden eagles.  They're everywhere!  [Note:  when we got to the rental unit, Dean pointed out a next on top of a telephone pole with an eagle in the nest and a smaller one farther along the line.]

Mistletoe in tree
Back to the trip, I love the look of the live mistletoe growing up in the tree tops where you can see it before the trees get their leaves.  I was enjoying seeing the clumps and would really like to be able to grab some of it, but it's generally too high in the tree.  Also, the beautiful Spanish Moss is silver and literally dripping out of the trees. 
Spanish moss in a Live Oak tree
By late afternoon, we finally arrived in Lakeland at the rental.  Dean had already opened everything up and aired it out, and the refrigerator was already full of food!  The computer had to be fired up to get the wireless working and, apparently, the phone also runs off the computer line.  The only thing that wouldn't work was the TV -- the cable must have been off.  We were so tired we just headed to bed.  This morning, the cable is working fine so maybe it had been temporarily suspended.

Visiting with Dean and Carol this morning (Monday) before Carol heads off to work; later Dean, Mom, and I are headed over to Clearwater to visit Aunt Jan

Friday, January 13, 2012

It's the Journey...(Day 3)

Mom and 'the King'
Literally struggled to get out of bed this morning:  the Days Inn-Graceland has the worst beds ever!  The mattresses have double groove running length-wise -- the imprint of hundreds of people who have gone before and broke down the support.  Mom said she had to climb up the side of the hole she was in.  It was nice and quiet, though.

Traveling with a dog is definitely a challenge as you try to visit metropolitan areas.  The hotel claimed to be dog friendly, but it charged an additional amount to have the dog and there was absolutely no where to walk her.  Kept all of that in mind as we traveled today toward New Orleans!
First, though, our day started with free breakfast.  The lobby and breakfast room are all-Elvis all the time, including full size statues and photos.  When we walked into the breakfast room, there were 3 couples in the room -- all from the U.K.  One of the guys was fairly good-sized and clearly an Elvis fan.  He had the hair and the sideburns.  Wish I could have gotten his photo, but I didn't want to offend him by asking and he left before I could sneak a picture with my phone.  Other people filtered in (one couple from Scandanavia), but it's definitely the off-season.

I've been to Graceland before (this was my third visit) and I'm always struck by the size and location.  You're just driving along down Elvis Presley Boulevard past gas stations, gift shops, fast food restaurants, motels, etc. and you end up driving right by Graceland if you don't know it's there (reminds me of The Alamo in that regard).  Fortunately, I've been there and knew when to slow down and point it out to Mom as we slowly drove by last night.  It's a pretty house and nowhere what would be considered a mansion. 

During this off-season, the ticket office opened at 9:30 this morning with the mansion opening at 10:00, which is later than I had hoped given the amount of driving that we had to do today, but it gave us a chance to watch 'Viva Las Vegas' on the Elvis channel in our room after breakfast!
The music room appears through the glass doors
Famous gate at Graceland
The first time I went through Graceland was several years ago when Jeff was working in Memphis.  It was a lovely day and we spent almost all day going through the mansion and out-buildings, plus the visitor's center, car museum, and the airplanes.  Since then, changes have been made (one more room open now inside the mansion but you still can't go upstairs) and both airplanes are now open to the public).  What hasn't changed is the fact that Graceland is not at all what you'd expect for someone of Elvis' stature.  There's a low stone fence in front (with the famous music notes gate) instead of high, electric- or razor-wire fencing and the "mansion" itself is no more than a large house.  I've been in houses of friends that were as large or larger.

Mom waiting for Elvis to start the dinner party!
The tour is self-guided using an audio recording, which allows you to move at your own pace since you can pause it at any time and even back it up to catch interesting tidbits.  The dining room is full of silver plate, both on the table and in multiple cabinets throughout the room, and is adjacent to the kitchen where the famous fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches were made.

The main level includes the foyer, living room, music room, dining room, kitchen, his parents' bedroom, and the 'Jungle Room' (an addition put onto the back of the house).  For the most part, the decor is nice (although clearly 70s).  [Sidebar note:  the worst time in the world to have died and be immortalized had to be the 70s!]  The basement, though, is another story.  The TV room includes 3 TVs, stereo system, and bar -- all classic 70s (meaning: tacky).  Then, there's the pool room for which there really are no words!  350 yards of fabric covering the walls, ceiling, and furniture.  Very claustrophobic!

Billiard room with the fabric ceiling
There are always a lot of memorials at the gravesite, but 2012 is the 35th anniversary of Elvis' death AND his birthday was just a few days ago (January 8).  As a result, the area was overflowing with flowers, pictures, and other tributes.  Many of them have been clustered around the graves of Elvis, his parents, and grandmother while others have been arranged along the pathway back to the driveway and the bus back to the Visitor's Center.

We were out of Memphis by noon with the entire length of Mississippi in front of us!  The day turned out sunny and managed to get up to 49 today, and the speed limit is 70 in these southern states so we made good progress.  Stopped at Sonic because, since the ones in Appleton closed, I've really missed my cherry limeades! 

Gravesites of Elvis & his family
As we approached the New Orleans area, we were traveling on causeways along Lake Pontchartrain just as the sun was going down and turning the sky a beautiful red.  The reflection on the water with the sunken tree stumps and houses on stilts in silhouette was really pretty and enforced the fact that we're in swamp country!  We stopped short of New Orleans (in Metarie) so we'd have a little open space for the dog.  The hotel is sooo pet friendly that the place is practically over-run with dogs -- including a really cute basset hound next door.

Hoping for better beds tonight (not looking great at this point, but I'm optimistic) and a good night's sleep.  Going to head into New Orleans in the morning with plans to visit one of the cemeteries with all of those above-ground crypts, a quick run through the French Quarter, some beignets at Cafe du Monde, and a visit to Southern Candymakers to pick up the very best pralines in the entire south!  Then, we're off along the Gold Coast to view all of the beautiful vacation homes on the Gulf as we head to Apalachicola [no real reason for Apalachicola other than the fact that I like the name and it's about the right distance for the day's drive].

Thursday, January 12, 2012

It's the Journey...(Day 2)

Well, this has been an interesting day!  The agenda that I put together included travels through Springfield, IL as I was recently reading "Killing Lincoln" and thought it would be interesting to visit some of the National Park sites related to Lincoln.  To do it, though, meant swinging farther west than we would have otherwise done so and we ended up being hit with the first real winter storm of the year.  Sigh!

Lincoln's Springfield home
When we got up this morning (at 5:30), it was 18 degrees and a mixture of snow and sleet was coming down pretty heavily.  Visibility was poor and, due to high winds, the snow was blowing across the road and drifting.  By 6:30, we were able to go for a great Drury Inn breakfast and we were on our way at 7 a.m.  Now, I didn't drive all the way to Springfield just to turn around and leave so we drove downtown with the idea of, at least, seeing the Lincoln home from the outside and getting some photographs.  Turns out they've incorporated 4 blocks around the home to create a complex, or visitor's mall, so we weren't able to get very close.  The whole complex, though, is really lovely and would probably be a great place to visit when the weather is nice.  The adjacent homes have all been purchased and incorporated as part of the complex, and there are 19th century wagons and buggies sitting on the various streets.  So, I wasn't able to get my photograph, but I'm resolved to come back during nice weather!  The photo here is from the internet from a much nicer day than today!

Illinois state capital in the snow
Memorial at Lincoln's tomb
There weren't a lot of cars out on the street (fortunately) so we were able to drive right up to the state capital and I could take a couple of pictures right through the window of the van (shame)!!  It was really pretty with the snow and the lights and the hazy visibility.  From there, it was a short drive to the cemetary and the Lincoln Tomb.  Again, it was snowing pretty hard and was also too early to actually visit the Tomb.  I remember being here when I was in grade school, and you could go inside and see the crypts.

The nose has been polished from all the rubbing for luck
This time I had to settle for just taking some photos in the snow.  The Tomb is really beautiful with images from Lincoln's life, and there is also a large bronze bust of Lincoln in from of the Tomb.  Apparently, it's good luck to rub his nose so it's the only shiny part of the sculpture.

Not surprisingly, everything in the area is "Lincoln-" something:  parks, schools, businesses.

Gateway Arch in St. Louis
We were able to get on the road headed south by 8 a.m., but we didn't go very far or very fast before the reality of the storm kicked in.  Within the first 4 miles on the Interstate we saw at least 20 vehicles in the ditch or crashed.  My favorite was a small car that had obviously spun up and off the road, landing on top of a large boulder.  I thought we might move out of the storm as we went south, but the route is actually more south and west so every time we would turn west, we'd enter the storm again.  It did clear up enough to see the Gateway Arch as we passed St. Louis [note:  this is an internet photo -- we weren't quite this close].  The wind and snow continued for most of the day -- we finally got out of it and had some nice sunshine about 40 minutes north of Memphis.  Despite the sunshine, it was still cold and windy when we got to Memphis -- about 34 degrees.

Days Inn lobby

We're staying at the Days Inn-Graceland, which is totally Elvis!  The Graceland visitor center is next door and Graceland is kitty-corner.  This place is all-Elvis all-the-time; there's even a 24-hour TV channel that only plays Elvis movies!  It's actually pretty nice -- much nicer than I was expecting.  The rooms have all new linens, microwave, fridge, but absolutely no postcards, pens, brochures or anything else that people can take.  People must collect everything!

Guitar swimming pool
If we came back to stay here, it would have to be in the summer because the swimming pool is awesome!

We went out after dark with the intention of finding a place to eat, and we drove past Graceland.  It's still decorated (I'm sure it's for Christmas) with red and green lights at each tree in the front.  The famous gates were just being closed.  We're planning to go for a mansion tour tomorrow when it opens at 10 a.m.  Should take a couple of hours (with lunch) and I'm guessing we'll be on our way to New Orleans, then, by no later than 1:00.  Hope it's a touch warmer tomorrow as we didn't really pack for temps this cold!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It's the Journey (Day 1)

Got a pretty early start this morning after (once again) staying up most of the night.  Not sure what's up with this insomnia.  We were out of the house right after 7:30 a.m. and started south with both vehicles but, after going only a few miles, Mom realized that she had left her glasses back at my house.  So, back we went but really only lost about 20 minutes.  Hit Steve's house before 10:00 and spent some time catching up and having a hot beverage.  The GPS lady was pretty unhappy with me when we left to head south and I went via Beloit instead of through Chicago.  But she eventually calmed down and allowed us to choose our route! 

I haven't been on this route for years (maybe since helping Steve move to Oklahoma so many years ago), so I was really surprised at how nice the roads are -- and how incredibly boring the drive is between Rockford and towns to the south.  There are a lot of wind turbines, but essentially nothing but open land as far as the eye can see.  I thought we were in Nebraska.  Because we were traveling so close to Chenoa, we decided to take a quick run over to see Aunt Ethel but she wasn't home.  We left a note, but I guess maybe a phone call would have been smarter than going for the surprise visit!

During the day, I got a text from Susie advising that the snow and sleet was moving into western Wisconsin and was moving toward our part of the state -- so I'm really glad we got out of there this morning!  It was still sunny and relatively warm (mid-50s) during our drive but, by the time we got to Springfield, the temperature was already dropping and it was rainy.  The weather forecast indicates that snow is expected for this area starting tomorrow morning.

We're staying in a Drury Inn tonight.  Steve and Stacy have been recommending it for a long time since they allow dogs and provide both a free hot breakfast as well as hot snacks and free drinks at night.  Recently, Hollie mentioned it as well and we needed a place since Sandy is traveling with us.  Turns out that this is the same one that Steve & Stacy stay at when traveling to Oklahoma!  It's really a nice place:  clean, large room, free wifi, refrigerator in the room, no additional charge for the dog, and the hot snacks tonight were really good (nachos, baked potatoes, salad, hot dogs, hot wings).  You also get 3 free drinks per person.  Unbelievable!  Looking forward to the hot breakfast tomorrow morning.

Not sure what our itinerary will be tomorrow.  I wanted to stay in Springfield this first night with the intention of visiting the Lincoln home and Lincoln tomb while here.  Now, with the snow on the way, I'm not sure if we'll do that or move on to avoid the storm.  I suppose it will depend on how things look in the morning.  I'll be disappointed if we have to miss those attractions, but it will probably end up getting us into Florida sooner -- so maybe that will be a plus.  We'll see.

Note:  Sandy is really a good traveler.  She lays down and just relaxes during the drive and sits quietly in the van whenever we stop.  When we left the hotel room briefly this evening to get our snacks, she didn't make any noise -- just went over and laid down 'til we came back.

Monday, January 9, 2012

It's the Journey...Not Just the Destination!

2012 traveling is about to get started: leaving day after tomorrow for our driving adventure trip to Florida. The plan is for Mom to drive over here tomorrow (Tuesday) and we'll enjoy a fun dinner at Red Lobster tomorrow night to celebrate Ian's birthday. Then, we'll leave Wednesday morning in two vehicles and drive to Milwaukee where I'll be able to leave my car at Steve's. Thinking that we'll grab a cup of coffee with Steve and probably get back on the road by 11ish.

Then, it's 4 hours to Springfield -- putting us there mid-afternoon (taking lunch into account). I'm looking forward to seeing the Abraham Lincoln home and tomb. I think both are in my National Parks passport so I'll be able to get a couple more stamps. Additionally, I'm about to start reading 'Linoln' by Gore Vidal. I read it years ago and remember really enjoying it. I just finished 'Killing Lincoln' by Bill O'Reilly which is really a hot bestseller right now. I'm in the mood to see everything again now. Kind of wish I could make a trip to DC. [Sidebar: I saw a video on YouTube by a Park Ranger doing a brief description of the tour of Ford's Theatre. The place was refurbished and reopened in 2009 and there is a distinct difference. I remember being there with TCA years ago (work conference) to see "The Fantastiks" and we sat on straight-backed chairs, and were able to go up to the Presidential box. The door with the hole in it made by John Wilkes Booth so he could peek through at Lincoln was still on the box. The doors were open and there was a velvet rope across the doorway, but you could see everything. It appears that the door has now been moved down to the museum, and the chairs have all been replaced with theatre-style seats. I'm so glad I was able to see it before the refurbishment.]

My plan is to stay the night in Springfield (probably a Drury Inn since they permit dogs and I've heard nothing but good things about the hotel chain), and then on to Memphis. It's only about 6 hours from Springfield to Memphis (through St. Louis but I don't think we'll have time to go see the arch up close) so, again, we should get into town early enough to look around and maybe take a tour of Graceland. Yesterday (Sunday) was Elvis' birthday and I'm sure glad we weren't trying to get into Graceland yesterday. We'll probably stay in Memphis Thursday night (and get some yummy bar-b-que), and leave Friday morning for New Orleans. It's about 6 hours from Memphis to New Orleans and I have no real plans for New Orleans except a visit to Southern Candymakers and maybe one of Emeril's restaurants. After being in New Orleans Friday night, we'll head along the Gulf to Apalachicola for Saturday night, heading on to Cedar Key and Lakeland on Sunday, the 15th. Mom's rental starts on the 15th so the timing is perfect. That gives us Monday to find the grocery store, the Walgreens, a church, etc. and get some rest after the trip. Then, Tuesday morning, I'm flying from Orlando back to Milwaukee where I'll pick up my car and head home to pack for our cruise.

This is going to be a fun month!