My Travel Philosophy

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


In anticipation of the visit to Duluth and the Glensheen mansion I read "Will to Murder," the book written by one of the reporters who covered the case at the time of the murder of Elisabeth Congdon, along with the head detective and the (then) D.A. who prosecuted the case.  The book was riveting and I'm embarrassed that this entire story was unknown to me.

Interestingly, the route that I took to get to Duluth was through the far north of Wisconsin, which was done in an effort to see some Fall color. Looking at a map, though, I realized that the road would take me through Brule.  Elisabeth Congdon had a weekend home in Brule and, in fact, had been there the weekend before her murder. Didn't know if the property is still in the family (the house in Duluth passed to the University of Minnesota at Elisabeth's death as a result of a clause in her father's will), but the Brule property was privately owned by Elisabeth so it would have passed to her heirs. While it may sold in the past 30 years, I thought I'd try to see it anyway for the sake of symmetry given that I was on my way to Glensheen.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bed & Breakfast in Duluth

The drive this morning from Ashland took me near the Brule River and there was just the smallest amount of color in the trees, but we're definitely a couple of weeks from full color.  What an odd year:  terrible spring, indifferent summer, and now a late fall.
When I got to Superior, it was interesting to note that absolutely nothing looked familiar.  I realize that it's been 40 years since I lived here, and then only for a short time, but it was as though I had never been here at all.  All in all, Superior is definitely the poor relation compared to Duluth, but it appears that the downtown area of Superior is undergoing major renovations to restore the storefronts and buildings to former glory.  Perhaps it will be a beautiful community again at some point.

Oh, and by the way, I did drive around the area called Congdon Road near Brule thinking that maybe I'd stumble on the summer 'cottage' used by Elisabeth Congdon.  No such luck.  I'm not even sure I was in the right neighborhood.  Drove down a driveway just to check it out and surprised a nice gentleman who was getting ready to go fly fishing.  I just told him I was looking for a Boy Scout camp.

The lovely Ellery House in Duluth
In keeping with my 'historic tour' theme, I booked two nights a beautiful bed & breakfast in Duluth. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of information about the home.  It was built in 1890 by Ellery and Lilla Holliday and is described as a graceful Queen Anne Victorian with carved gables, turreted porch, and beveled and stained glass windows.  Holliday was a real estate developer and the home reflects the elegance and extravagance of the times.  It was built at a cost of $6,500.   Later, Thomas and Daisy Wahl owned The Ellery House.  He was a business tycoon known as 'Seaway Sam' for his enthusiastic and tireless promotion of the St. Lawrence Seaway.  Thomas and Daisy Wahl were also figure skaters.  They skated exhibitions for audiences around the world, including the King of England.

The Thomas Wahl room where I can see Lake Superior from the window
In 1987, it was purchased by the present owners, Joan and Jim Halquist, and they turned The Ellery House into an inn.  There are two guest bedrooms and two guest suites; I'm in the Thomas Wahl room. The room is one floor up and a lovely bay window and windows that open! There is a gas fireplace that I might try out tonight if it gets cool enough. There are hand-made tiles of pink flowers in relief all the way around the fireplace with alternating pink and green tiles on the hearth. The bathroom looks like maybe it was a closet at one time. The toilet and a tiled shower are behind the door, and a pedestal sink is in the bedroom portion. The dressers and side tables are marble-topped, like Grandma's dresser.

My delicious home cooked breakfast served in my room
Like all inns, the rooms downstairs are common rooms:  large parlor, dining room, kitchen. Breakfast is served each morning, or you can have it in your room (which I'm going to do tomorrow), and coffee and tea are always available. Also available are sherry and port for a nightcap.

I should have plenty of time to catch up on my blogs tonight -- there are no TVs anywhere in the house!  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fall Color (?) Drive

As part of my new hobby, I'm heading to Superior and Duluth for a couple of days of house viewing before heading down to Minneapolis for a 4-day conference of the Jane Austen Society of North America.  Since the long drive had to be undertaken, why not take the long way up through the northern regions of Wisconsin in search of Fall color.  Although I kept going farther and farther north today, there was very little Fall color to be had even though we're well into September.

North of Tomahawk, I was stopped by an Oneida County sheriff's deputy who graciously let me know that the road had changed from 65 to 55 a few miles back.  Really nice guy who just gave me a warning; I suspect it happens a lot.  Anyway, I asked his opinion on the route I should take to Duluth with the goal being to see some color.  He agreed with me that I should just continue going north to Hurley and across Highway 2.  Jeff and I had gone as far north as Manitowish Waters to see Little Bohemia a few years ago, but I think that's as far north as I had ever gone.

The drive was beautiful but there just isn't much color yet.  Finally decided to stop for the night in Ashland and, as I came into Ashland, the sun started going down and the sky was a beautiful pink. Just as I finally found a Super 8 to stop for the night, I was able to get this quick shot of the sun setting behind Chequamegon Bay.  It's directly across the street from the motel so I'm looking forward to seeing the whole view tomorrow morning before I set out for Superior/Duluth.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Paine Art Center

Beautiful building and grounds at the Paine
On the list of historic homes in Wisconsin open to the public, I suspected that there was a tie to the Kimberly family with it being located in Oshkosh.  The whole thing actually turned out to be quite the surprise.

First, the building is really lovely and impressive when you approach it.  It reminds me of an English manor, which was their intent when designing it.  One can almost imagine the carriages pulling up in front -- until one learns that construction on it began in 1927 when people were, for the most part, not traveling by carriage any more!
The gardens are gorgeous
The grounds are lush and, surprisingly, planted with hundreds of basil plants (now in flower) interspersed with chives, kale, and other edible plants along with gorgeous red zinnias.  The smell was heavenly!  I knew that the Paine was on the list of approved project sites for Master Gardeners so I had been wanting to see the grounds for a while.  Unfortunately, I didn't get to spend as much time outdoors as I would have liked as I was with friends who were not interested in the plantings.  I intend to go back so I can see the plantings and pool in the back of the house as well.  Perhaps in a different season!

Construction on the house was begun in 1927 (by owners Nathan Paine and wife Jessie Kimberly Paine), and the outside was completed by 1930.  However, the onset of the Great Depression caused construction to stop in 1932.  It sat empty with very little work being done to maintain it until 1946 when it was established as a museum for the public.  So, in other words, it was never lived in!  He died in 1947 and she finished the work so that the museum could open in 1948.  Although they never lived in it, they did pick out all of the downstairs furnishings.

Warning:  the pictures for the interior of the house are not very sharp because, like many museums, photography is not permitted in the house so I had to pull pictures off the internet.  When making them larger, the pictures got blurry.

Grand Staircase in Entry
Like all great houses, the entry is impressive with a hand-carved oak staircase.  The intricate carving includes oak leaves and acorns.  The staircase was hand-carved in the Michigan workshop of Alois Lang, a Bavarian-born master craftsman.  The Main Entry to the house features three sets of doors and the ceiling of the foyer is vaulted in a style reminiscent of Gothic churches.  Off the entry is the Great Hall, the living room for the family.
Great Hall
Each holiday season, when 'The Nutcracker' is performed at the Paine, the main part of the action takes place in the Great Hall.

Breakfast Room
One of my favorite rooms in the house:  the breakfast room.  It has windows on two walls (almost floor to ceiling) and would be filled with sunlight and warmth.  There is a door that leads out to a lovely patio where meals could also be taken.  The formal dining room is nearby, but I would have spent more time in this room overlooking the gardens than in the more formal dining room.

There are three bedrooms upstairs, plus a dressing room that had been designed for Mrs. Paine.  During the presentation of 'The Nutcracker' part of the activity takes place in the guest bedroom, which is used as the little girl's room in the production.  The audience just troops upstairs to enjoy the performance as it moves around the house.
Master Bedroom
There is a 'gothic gallery' upstairs that looks as though it might have been designed as a chapel, complete with a stained glass window.  However, it was actually designed to serve as an echo chamber for the pipes of a large organ that would have been housed in the Great Hall directly below.  Additionally, there is a lower level that is used as a 'children's discovery center' -- like a children's museum.

A really lovely 'home' that was never inhabited.  I can't wait to see it at Christmas time when it's decorated for the holidays with multiple Christmas trees and garland on that beautiful staircase.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Villa Louis

Front Entrance to Villa Louis
Mom, Tom, Sylvia, and I decided to take a trip to southern Wisconsin to tour House on the Rock (Spring Green), and Villa Louis and environs (Prairie du Chien). Because it was a pretty big trip, I need to split it into a several blogs.

After visiting Laurium Manor with Jeff in Michigan, this was the second great house that I visited in just a couple of weeks and really sparked my interest in getting out there and seeing more.  I had visited in back in the 60s on a weekend trip with the family but had not been back since.  We were really lucky because we were there midweek so it wasn't crowded and we were told that the entire place had recently been completely renovated.

Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the house but I was able to find some good photos on the internet to go along with the ones I had taken outside.

Mr. Dousman's office building
The tour actually begins at the Visitor/Gift Shop across the street, of course, and the guide is in costume.  Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and really nice.  We walked over to the grounds and began the tour with Mr. Dousman's office building.  The house and office were wired for electricity even though it was new.  Underneath the office is a stone wine cellar.  The history of the Dousman family and the estate was really fascinating and can be found on the website by visiting:

Only invited guests were allowed to come through the front door -- everyone else had to use the side entrance.  On this trip, we were invited guests and got to go in through the front entrance!  Immediately inside is a beautiful glassed-in veranda that goes around 3 1/2 sides of the house.  In the mid 1990s, the Villa Louis interiors underwent extensive restoration to re-create the house as it appeared in the late 1880.  Photographs appear in many of the rooms showing the home as it appeared when the family lived there -- including this veranda.  The restoration has returned the home to the appearance that it had then.  From this veranda, it would have been possible to watch the carriages passing on the road in front, as well as viewing the race track that once existed in an area that is now park land.

Entry Hall
From the veranda, you enter the front door into the main entrance hall.  To the left as you enter is the formal parlor, that was in use only for special guests and on special occasions.  To the right was the less Family Parlor where the family would spend time in the evenings.  From the family parlor, a door led to the dining room.  In the formal parlor, there is a marble statue of two of the daughters, which is repeated in a painting in the Family Parlor.

Formal Parlor
There is a lovely old iron cook stove in the kitchen that reminded me of the one that Grandma Fosdick used to have (only hers was a lot bigger).  There are cisterns in the attic to hold water so there was no need to haul water into the house so often.  As a result, there was both hot and cold running water in the house.  The property is often used now for meetings, weddings, and special events so the kitchen is actually used for cooking.  As a matter of fact, there was a tent being erected for a wedding rehearsal dinner while we were there.  Weather doesn't look too promising so I hope it turns out ok for them!

In the kitchen there were actual utensils used for cooking and some old recipes that they're still using.  At the back of the kitchen is the rear door where non-invited guests (servants, delivery people, etc) would come.  From this back door, you would have access to some of the outbuildings used by the servants:  the Preserve House, the Laundry Building, and the Ice House.  The family employed a laundress to wash, dry, starch, and iron the mountain of clothing for the family.  In the Ice House, blocks of ice were cut and taken from the Mississippi River and rolled in sawdust so they wouldn't melt.  Then, food could be stored through the entire summer.  The back of the house faced the Mississippi River and there was a landing for boats as well as a depot for the trains that ran on tracks between the Dousman grounds and the river.

Villa Louis from the rear
On the grounds, there are two artesian wells that the family drank from religiously because people believed that the minerals were good for the health.  We all took a drink but I'm not too sure it's going to do anything for us.  It did remind me, though, of the times we used to go to get water at the artesian well in the park in Joliet.  At the time, everyone would stand in line to get the fresh, healthy water.  Years later, when visiting the site after we had lived in Wisconsin for a while, all we could see and taste was the iron in the water!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My New Hobby: Grand Old Houses

Jeff and I took a weekend trip to the U.P. as Scott was using the cottage for the weekend and I had always wanted to see the waterfalls.  It was a great weekend and we had a fun time -- and it started a new hobby for me.  When I went to England in 2010, I visited a lot of manor homes and mansions that are now open to the public.  When we went through Laurium, Michigan, I saw signs for a mansion tour so we found the home and did take a tour of Laurium Manor.  As a result, it dawned on me that we probably have a lot of really wonderful old homes, manors, and mansions in this country that are open to visitation by the public so that's now my new hobby.

Laurium Manor
From the brochure about the home:  "Copper mining on the Keweenaw Peninsula was in its hey day in 1908.  With the copper came wealth and opportunity.  Across the region large mansions sprang up as a testament to copper mine owners' success.  Thomas H. Hoatson, owner of the Calumet & Arizona Mining Co. completed the largest and most opulent of these mantions in the Village of Laurium.  Hoatson spared no expense in building this 13,000 sq. ft. 45 room home for himself, his wife Cornelia, and their 6 children. At a time when miners made 25 cents per hour, the Hoatson family built this house for $50,000."

It was really fun to walk through the house, which is now open to public tours and is also run as an historic hotel.  Some of the bedrooms were not open for viewing because they were occupied by guests.  I wish we had known that before heading out as it would have been fun to stay in one of the rooms and eat in the family dining room.  Next time!

Fireplace in the den
The mansion was wired for electrical lights in 1908 and still retains the original push button switches.  Heat was supplied by a hot water boiler that fed the radiators that are still in use today.  Each room had its own pneumatic thermostat that controlled the mushroom shaped valve on each radiator.  Thermometers were not common in 1908 so there are marks for freezing, temperate, summer heat, and blood heat.  The den is where the men would retire after a formal dinner to discuss business.  The women would go to the music parlor.  The Hoatson's did not reside in the mansion during the summer.  The fireplace is made of hand carved oak and glass tiles and may have been designed and built by Tiffany.  The thistle design in the tile surround is there because Captain Hoatson was of Scottish descent and the thistle is the symbol of Scotland.
Dining Room

The dining room was used for formal dining occasions.  In the middle of the room, there was a push button switch that could be activated with the touch of a foot.  This rang a bell in the kitchen to let the butler know that it was time to serve the next course of the meal.  The wall covering is elephant hide leather embossed and gilded.  The table can extend to seat 12 people and is currently used for guests each morning.

One of the guest bedrooms
The parlor contained a box grand piano, and has a vaulted dome ceiling.  The room is covered with canvas that is hand painted.  The Hoatson's owned the manor until 1949, when Maynard & Jane Hurlbert purchased it.  They owned it until 1979.  From 1979 to 1989 there were six different owners.  during this period some of the owners were antique dealers that stripped the home of its original fixtures and stained glass windows.  In 1989 the mansion was purchased by David and Julie Sprenger.

At the time the mansion was purchased by the Sprengers, it had been vacant for 10 years and was not in livable condition.  The heating and plumbing did not work, and almost all light fixtures and many windows were missing.  All furniture was gone.  Renovations were begun in 1989 and continue as furnishings are located that accurately represent the period.  There are now 10 guest bedrooms used as part of the hotel.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Headed to China!

After a fun 4-day weekend in San Francisco with Jeff and Mike, Debbie and I are at the airport ready to check in for our flight to Beijing. After being on the go for the past 4 days, I believe sleeping during the 12 hour flight shouldn't be a problem!  It appears that we won't be able to access Facebook from China, so posting updates may be tougher on this trip. We'll have to be creative!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Visa application

To visit China, an entrance visa is required from the Chinese government.  I was able to download the application form off the internet but had to wait until I received an official letter of invitation from the Chinese government which must accompany the application.  Plus, the application is 6 pages long.  Plus, it's covered with Chinese writing with English squeezed in.  I had considered driving down to Chicago and visiting the Chinese Consulate myself to apply for the visa, but it takes up to 4 days to process so I figured hiring a third party made more sense.  There is a cost involved (probably around $200 when it's all said and done), but I think it would just about be break-even by the time I drove to Chicago and back -- especially if I had to stay overnight.  Had to send them my passport so I can't go anywhere out of the country now until I get it back.

Then, Debbie asked me today if we should get Hepatitis A and/or B shots before we go.  I hadn't considered it, but now I'm wondering if it would be better to be safe than sorry.  Don't want to eat some dim sum off a cart on the street and then regret it later!

Friday, March 22, 2013


I finally got my travel confirmation from smarTours for the trip to China in July.  I'm now struggling with how to book my flight to San Francisco.  Going out won't be a problem, obviously, since I'm planning to go out on Friday, spend the weekend, and then leave for China on Tuesday.  However, we're supposed to get back to San Francisco around 12:30 on the 25th and I'm not sure how to book my trip home from there.  I'm guessing that I'll have to go through customs and collect my luggage at SFO and I have no idea how long that will take.  I'm leaning toward booking a hotel near SFO for that night and flying home the next morning.

The flights are in the $500 range right now (flying from Appleton or Green Bay) and I'd like to see it come down a bit.  The mileage is around 3100 miles roundtrip, plus the 1000 miles earned from GB to MSP so the trade-off isn't quite right.  To even out, a $500 ticket should be earning more than 5000 miles to make it worthwhile.  So, I'll keep an eye on it for a while.  Jeff's ticket will be paid by Boldt because he's going to stay in California for business for a couple more days after we leave.

Then, there's the whole travel visa thing that needs to be accomplished.  This travel agent is recommending working through CIBT if I don't want to just drive down to Chicago and visit the Chinese Consulate myself.  There is a certain allure to the whole idea of trying to get the visa myself but I understand that it takes 4 days so I'd either have to stay in the city the whole time or go back a second time.  If I could link it to a festival or something in Chicago this summer.......

After doing some reading, it looks like I'll receive the information I need for the visa 50 days prior to leaving (around Memorial Day), so there's no rush I guess.  In the meantime, though, I'll need to have new passport photos taken and I can get those free through AAA.

************************* (time lapse)

So, I decided to check flight prices today as I hadn't looked in a few days.  Turns out that I could get a morning flight out of Appleton to SFO RT for $450 -- so I booked it.  I remember coming back from England and how tired I was so the idea of flying into Milwaukee and driving home just didn't appeal to me.  I'll stay in San Francisco Thursday night and fly home on Friday -- getting back around 5.  Seat assignments were ok and it prompted me to look at the trip information that I got from the tour company.  Turns out that Air China does not do advance seat assignments -- those are taken care of when you check in at the airport.  I'll probably end up with a middle seat for the entire 12 hour flight to China.

Friday, March 8, 2013

总有一天我会去中国。 Translation: I'd like to visit China one day.

So, this has already been a pretty big year for vacations for me.  In January, Jeff and I went on a week-long Caribbean cruise with friends - then 4 days home -- followed by a trip to Vegas for a week -- then 4 days home -- followed by 2 weeks of driving and visiting my Mom in Florida.

Hadn't been home a week (and already moaning that I had no travel planned), and my sister-in-law Debbie Schilleman sends me a message about a trip coming up in July to China!  She needed an answer right away as the deadline for signing up was approaching and there weren't very many spots left.  Took me no time at all to say "yes", so we'll be off to China in July.

Year of the Snake (Bellagio Conservatory)
China would not have been on my short list of places to visit, although there are an amazing number of beautiful and historical places to visit.  Because I generally travel alone, or maybe with my Mom, going to a country without English as its first language becomes a bit daunting.  However, not only is this a guided tour (where someone else is handling all of the arrangements and there is an English-speaking guide), one of Debbie's friends is Chinese.  She and her sister are going along so that will make all of the difference in being able to read menus, signs, etc.

Not that I have OCD or anything, but I immediately started doing a ton of research.  I realize that the tour company has already put the trip together, but I like to check things out.  There aren't a ton of details available yet but I did find out many things.  [Note:  I know that no one is interested in these details, but it's a good journal for me to keep track of my research.]
  • flying in and out of San Francisco via Air China
  • 2 more flights in-country (Beijing to Xi'an, Xi'an to Shanghai)
  • 3 nights in Beijing at the Pentahotel Beijing
  • 2 nights in Xi'an at the Grand Metropark Hotel
  • 3 nights in Shanghai at the Crowne Plaza Shanghai Fudan
Breakfast is included every morning, plus 2 lunches and 2 dinners during the time we're there.  (Bet we'll eat a lot of Chinese food -- which I love!)

Arranged tours:
Great Wall of China
  • Great Wall of China (incl lunch)
  • Ming Tombs
  • Terra Cotta Army in Xi'an (incl lunch)
  • Orientation tour of Shanghai
  • Yu Yuan Garden
Optional side tours:
  • Excursion to the Forbidden City plus Summer Palace (incl lunch)
  • 'Legend of Kung Fu' Show dinner banquet
  • Beijing's back alleys (Hutong) by rickshaw (incl lunch)
  • Tang Dynasty folklore show dinner banquet
  • Shanghai Museum / Jade Buddha Temple (incl lunch)
  • Acrobatic show dinner banquet
  • Suzhou / Grand Canal / Gardens
This is as far as I've gotten with my research.  I sent my deposit and a copy of my passport to the travel agent (smarTours, 501 Fifth Avenue #1402, NYC  10017), with the balance due May 1.  I'll need a tourist visa to enter China and the travel agent doesn't provide that.  I've found some online sites that (for a fee) will take care of it for you.  Turns out you have to apply for visas in person at the Chinese Consulate.  Having just watched 'Argo', I have a greater appreciation for this process.  I did do some checking at found that the visa isn't all that expensive, but hiring someone to do it for you plus mailing it to you brings the total up to the $250 range.  I found that there is a Chinese Consulate in Chicago and I'm toying with the idea of going to Chicago some day and trying to do it myself.  It wouldn't save any money by the time I drive down there (and maybe stay overnight to see a show or something), but it might be an interesting experience.

There is a website for the State Department where you can register as a U.S. Citizen and give them all of your information so they know you're leaving the country, where you're going, and where you're staying.  That way, if there are any problems on the trip, or someone needs to desperately locate you while you're gone, the government already has your data and, supposedly, will be there to help.  [Note:  in my handy little journal that I started this week, I've already put in some pretty important addresses:  the travel agent, the hotels, and the U.S. Embassies/Consulates in the cities in China that we'll be visiting.]

So much to do yet!  The date we leave is a Tuesday (in the afternoon), so I thought it would be fun to go to San Francisco for the weekend.  Mike & Debbie will come in from Utah and we'll fly out (Jeff will finagle some kind of 'work-related' trip so his flight will be covered).  We'll probably visit Napa and maybe do a Meir Woods/Sausalito day.  Looking forward to the whole thing!

Sticker Shock!

The price for this tour is $1,899 for the flights to and from China, the inter-country flights (2 of them), the tours including transportation, hotels for 8 nights, 12 meals, and whatever little miscellaneous other things are included.

I just went on the Air China website to see if I could find the times of our flights, etc.  The price for a round-trip ticket (for the dates we're going) is over $3,000.  This tour group either buys a ton of tickets in bulk or the prices have certainly gone up!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sightseeing in Florida

Really having a good time.  It was pretty chilly for a few days when we first arrived so we were in jeans and long-sleeves.  Enjoyed a really fun day just driving around Lakeland and seeing how big the town is and how beautiful the downtown area is.  There is a lake in the middle of downtown populated with swans and other waterfowl.  The swan must have been adopted as the city's mascot because large cement swans are all over town.  They're painted and remind me of the lions that decorated Appleton for a while, the cows in Chicago, and the pigs in Seattle.  Had to be careful where you walked!  I wasn't sure if they'd be mean, but they're obviously used to people being around and pretty much ignored us.  As a matter of fact, it must be mating season as we saw a lot of strutting going on with the males!

Sylvia, Tom, Mom, Carol, & Dean - great Italian place
This one is at the library.
 It's just so lovely to be outside in beautiful weather (although my cold or whatever it is is being reactivated by all of the blooming going on).  We've already hit Golden Corral and decided to go to Dean's favorite Italian place for lunch.  It's just a little hole-in-the-wall kind of place with really fabulous food!  The building used to house an old movie theatre and there are photographs on the wall showing what the place used to look like.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Florida Break from the Winter

I just can't believe the amount of traveling that I've been doing since the first of the year.  This is another driving trip.  Mom went to Florida in December for the winter months and I had mentioned that, when I came down for a visit, maybe Tom & Sylvia would like to go along.  We've spent the past several weeks getting everything planned as we also wanted to coordinate so we overlap the time that Susie and Doug will be down there.  Got it all planned out and I headed over to Rice Lake on Tuesday to stay overnight with the plan to pick up Tom & Sylvia on Wednesday morning.

Mom had been hoping that I could grab a tote full of photographs from the storage unit as she would work on getting them organized over the next couple of months.  So I guess that was on my mind when I went to bed on Tuesday night because I ended up dreaming that I was in the storage unit when someone closed the door and locked me in and stole my car.  I actually work up so I guess it was a nightmare!  Then, I couldn't get back to sleep so I got up really early so I could get everything done and be over to Tom's by 8 a.m.  When I went to the storage unit, I backed my car up under the open door so it couldn't be closed and kept my car keys in my pocket.  It seemed a little ridiculous in the light of day, but better safe than sorry.

So I got over to Tom's and, having told Sylvia to pack light since we'd be able to do laundry in Florida, we had a pretty good laugh over her huge suitcase!  Got on the road, though, and made it to the Dells for lunch at Buffalo Phil's and stopped somewhere later at a Cracker Barrel for dinner.  As a result of the stopping, we didn't get as far as I had planned (Elizabethtown, KY) when we stopped for the night.  I was pretty tired after not sleeping the night before.  Good hotel, good night's sleep and we were off again.

Today was really a long day as we really wanted to get to Florida rather than staying in another hotel.  We only stopped for gas, food, and bathroom breaks doing all of our eating in the car.  The drive between Nashville and Chattanooga was beautiful, as always, and we had no weather or traffic trouble anywhere around Chicago or Nashville or Atlanta or, really, anywhere along the route.  Finally got to Florida, though, in the evening and just want to sleep for a month!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Famous Faces & Places in Vegas

Didn't see any of the guys there
While doing our running around in Vegas, we decided to finally check out the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop downtown and see if the Pawn Stars were around.  They weren't.  It's amazing how much smaller it is than it looks on TV.  There were a fair number of people there but we were lucky with our timing.  We had both been told that there could be lines out the door and down the street but we got right in.  However, there were lines forming when we left.  We didn't buy anything but it was fun to see some of the things for sale that we had seen on TV.  Not only that, we spotted some things for sale that we have tucked away in our basement and shed.  Probably need to pull some of those things out and get out to Vegas to sell them!  For instance, Jeff has 2 or 3 copper fire extinguishers that are in far better condition than the one we saw for sale in the pawn shop.

Took a while to find Rick's
Couldn't believe he was actually there!
After leaving the pawn shop, we set out to find Rick's Restoration -- another show that we enjoy watching.  This was even better because there was a free tour involved.  We went back through the building and saw the rooms where various work is performed, and saw restorations in different stages.  Once again, we spotted a copper fire extinguisher that they had restored for someone.  This one was in a lot better shape than the one at the pawn shop -- more like the ones we have.  So, again, we're thinking maybe we should be thinking about digging them out and selling them.  The question is whether they're worth more shined up or left as is.

Before the tour, we were asked if we'd like to get our picture taken with Rick.  Of course, everyone said 'yes' and we assumed it would be a cut-out or a back drop.  Pretty astonished when Rick came out and took the time to get his picture taken with everyone there.

The only thing we forgot was the Count.  Jeff also likes to watch that show and we forgot to go find his garage.  Oh well, something for next time.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Incredible Trip to Sin City

Hoover Dam from the bridge
Walkway to get up to the bridge
So Jeff had another conference in Las Vegas and we headed out right after our cruise.  I was still sick (although far better than I had been on the ship) and figured the dry desert air would help.  Prior to Jeff having to get stuck in class all day, we decided to get some sightseeing in and, as neither of us had been down to Hoover Dam since construction of the new highway, thought we'd spend a day checking on that.  The highway goes over the gorge created by the river so, when you're standing on the highway viewing platform, you're actually above the dam.  This photo doesn't really capture how far up you are above the river.

To get up to the viewing area at the highway, you have to climb a pretty steep trail with switchbacks.  The trail itself is paved but it's really a long way.  You can either take the trail back and forth, or climb stairs that are put in occasionally.  Either way, it's quite a hike! Then, you're up at the highway and you walk along what would really be the shoulder of the road.  There are concrete barriers between you and the traffic but that traffic moves pretty fast! It's a one-way walk, too.  You walk out onto the bridge to get your photo and you turn around and come back the same way to get back to the parking lot.
Welcome sign on the way to Hoover Dam
Huge Rosemary bush near visitor's center
I thought maybe there might be something interesting in the Visitor's Center so we parked in the parking structure and, while coming out, spotted this enormous rosemary bush.  It had little purple flowers all over it and smelled heavenly. There not only was nothing interesting in the Visitor's Center, we decided to grab a sandwich which we were there and it was absolutely the worst food either of us had had in a very long time!  We made a brief stop in Boulder City to do a little gambling but we both lost so that wasn't great.  Found a great Packers bar on the way back into Vegas and learned from the bartender that her brother still runs a bar in Wisconsin.  Also spotted a Welcome to Las Vegas sign on that end of town, which I had never seen before.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

January vacation

Only 1 week until we head off to New Orleans for our January cruise.  It's funny how everything is coming together.  Initially, we had planned to leave on Wednesday, January 17 after work and drive as far as we could that evening, finishing the trip on Thursday so we'd have Friday in New Orleans.  The more we talked about it, though, the more excited everyone got and now, instead of a 6 p.m. departure, it's going to be a 6 a.m. departure.  We're going to drive all the way to Memphis on Wednesday so we can hit some good BBQ and blues on Beale Street that night.  A little sightseeing on Thursday morning and then we'll get back on the road and finish the drive to New Orleans.

This past week has been quite the hassle trying to finalize paperwork with the cruise line and booking excursions.  The only real excursion that we wanted to get was Amazing Race Cozumel which is run like the TV version where you run around town gathering clues for the next destination, etc.  I'm guessing that I'll probably die somewhere fairly early on (being in the worst shape I've ever been in my life), but you get to move around the town and end up in a cantina for lunch and drinks at the end.  Sounded like a lot of fun.  I was able to book it for us on Monday with no problem, but the website went down right after that so George & Lynn couldn't get in to book it.  There's a toll-free phone number but I'm guessing that everyone going on any cruise anywhere was using that number due to the website being down.  Anyway, it wasn't possible to get through on the phone.  We finally got it all straightened out on Wednesday night, though, with excursion booked, beverages ordered, paperwork and luggage tags printed, and hotel reservations for New Orleans in place.

The hotel thing has been something I've been putting off, but I really lucked into a great deal through Marriott.  There's a new Courtyard in the French Quarter (used to be Iberville Suites) on the corner of Iberville and Dauphine Streets.  That's one block in from Canal and one block over from Bourbon:  perfect location.  They have suites (the one I wanted would have been 2 king-size beds but that wasn't available) and we ended up with a King Suite, which has a king-size bed and a sofa bed.  At least they're separated into different rooms so we'll have a little room to move around.  The first night (Thursday) had a rate of $150+ plus fees and taxes, but the rate went up $100 for the second night.  That would have been $200 for Thursday and $300 for Friday.  We're sharing the room so splitting $500 for two nights would have still been ok BUT I was able to use some of my Marriott points for the second night so it will only be the $200 charge for 2 nights.  What a steal!

Now we'll need to figure out where to eat and what else to do and where to stay in Memphis, but the big things are out of the way now so we can now focus on packing!