Lessons learned from my first (and tenth) trip to Europe, part 1

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My daughter and her boyfriend went to Barcelona this week, and were surprised to find that their AirBnB rental had no air-conditioning. Even though they live in Miami and are used to the heat, they still had a hard time sleeping at night without the comfort of A/C or even a fan. That got me started thinking about surprises I’ve encountered and lessons I’ve learned while traveling. On my first trip to Europe, for example, I was flabbergasted to find that our bed and breakfast in England’s Lake District did not supply washcloths! When we asked for one, we were told that in Europe a washcloth is considered a personal item. Who knew?? I certainly hadn’t seen that information in any of the dozen guidebooks I had combed through before our trip. For me, discovering the differences between cultures and countries is part of the fun of traveling. Some of the lessons I’ve learned, however, have been about myself and what I need to make a trip enjoyable. And while I’m certainly getting better at it, I still learn something new on every trip! So without further ado, here is a random list of lessons I’ve learned during my years of travel; which has become such a long list that I’m going to split it into multiple parts. Check back over the next couple of weeks for the rest of the list…

An adapter and a voltage converter are NOT the same thing – A plug adapter only makes it possible to plug your electronic device into the wall socket; a voltage converter adapts the current from 110 (which the USA uses) to 220 (which Europe uses). Luckily, most phones, tablets and laptops are dual voltage these days, so if you’re only bringing these types of electronic items, chances are you won’t need to bring a voltage converter. If you are traveling with a single voltage electronic item, you will need BOTH a voltage converter and an adapter.

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Don’t bother bringing a single voltage blow dryer or curling wand/straightener – I read this advice online, but didn’t heed it, and learned firsthand how accurate it was when I fried my curling iron in London, even with a voltage converter. **how many of you are out there raising your hands right now in “fry the hair appliances” sisterhood?**  I have since invested in a dual voltage curling wand, one of my best travel-related purchases. I never bring a blow dryer from home, however, as most hotels supply them these days.  When I stay at a place without a blow dryer, I let my hair air dry and then just use the curling wand to fix any funky spots. I know many women just let their hair do whatever it wants while traveling, but my hair has just enough wave to get all frizzy and funky without a little help, and I do like to look pretty in my travel photos!

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Logistics are stressful – This, I think, is one of the major reasons people sign up for guided tours. Navigating your way around a country when you don’t speak the language is harder than I anticipated. I once spent a day on my own in Germany where ALL of my plans went awry due to the difficulties of figuring out logistics in a foreign language.  That day deserves its very own blog post, which is coming soon, but remember to allot extra time and patience when trying to figure out train schedules, subways, airports, ticket machines,etc. I never schedule any fixed activities on a day when I’m transitioning from one location to another anymore, as I’ve missed a few due to transportation delays. When all else fails, it is worth every minute you stand in line to get help from a real person!

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Do whatever it takes to get enough sleep – I am constantly reading statements like “you can sleep when you get home – you’re in Europe so make the most of every moment”.  I learned the hard way that this rule does NOT apply to me! If I don’t get the sleep I need, neither I nor my companions will enjoy the trip; just ask my husband! We once spent our last 24 hours in Germany not speaking to each other because we were so exhausted we had hit the wall and got in a huge fight over 5 euros. I cannot rise at dawn and spend an entire day sightseeing; I need to get a solid eight hours of sleep to be pleasant company and enjoy myself. I may see fewer sights each day, but I thoroughly enjoy the ones I do see. If you know you can’t function well without sleep, do whatever it takes to get the sleep you need, whether that means taking a 20 minute power nap on a metal folding chair in Westminster Abbey or going to an air-conditioned movie midday so you can rest (and nap, if you’re like me)! A well-rested you will enjoy the trip way more than an exhausted, cranky you!

Don’t pre-book too many activities – On my first trip to Europe, I had our entire itinerary planned out ahead of time. I laugh now when I look back, because we actually only saw about half what I had planned. Again, logistics came into play; it took longer to get from place to place on the tube than I had anticipated, and we were tired from navigating the city and being on our feet all day, so often didn’t have the energy for the night time activities on my schedule. On our last night in London, I had booked tickets to see The Gypsy Kings in concert at Hampstead Heath. The tube in London was not air conditioned, and we were tired and hot when we arrived back at our hotel after a full day of sightseeing. With only a 30 minute window to freshen up and change before getting back on the (non-airconditioned) tube for the 90 minute journey out to Hampstead Heath, we ended up staying in and having a picnic dinner on our bed, losing the money we spent on the tickets. Now, I choose carefully when pre-booking activities.  Some attractions, like the Vatican Museum or the Anne Frank House, are absolutely worth booking online ahead of time, as they have super long lines all the time. But I try not to book a night activity unless we’ve got a light day of sightseeing and can plan some rest time during the day

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This is just the beginning…I’ve got enough material for at least two more posts! How about you? What lessons have you learned through travel?  Do you have great stories from a time when something went wrong?? Leave a note in the comments section and I’ll include your tips in my next post!

A day out in the Venetian Lagoon: Burano and Torcello

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My youngest spent his first semester in college studying abroad in Rome; I, of course, leapt at the chance to visit him (I did miss him desperately, but ITALY).  We decided to split our time between Venice and Rome, so that we could experience the Acqua Alta, or “high water”, which causes floods in Venice twice a year.  I’m so glad we went in November; yes, it was on the colder side, but we didn’t have to worry about the heat and crowds that I’ve heard make Venice fairly miserable in the summer, and the floods were quite fun to experience. Venice has an ambience like no other city I’ve ever seen, and one of my absolute favorite things to do was wander the back streets away from the tourist areas. I saw a suggestion online to spend one day exploring the islands of the Venetian lagoon, so we added that into our itinerary, and had a lovely day out!

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Hotel Campiello, our lodging, was in the Castello sestiere (neighborhood) on Calle del Vin, a quiet back street opening onto a tiny square (or campiello) with an ancient well in the center.  Despite being only a five minute walk from Piazza San Marco, it was supremely quiet and included a yummy breakfast (if you arrive on the weekend, ask for the cappuccinos at breakfast – we were not offered one until Monday, so apparently the weekend server didn’t know/want to make them). I booked the Deluxe Double so we’d have room for our son, and as a bonus we got a private rooftop terrace and an amazing spa shower! Located just a hundred yards from the San Zaccaria vaporetto stop, we could have easily taken the vaporetto around the city to catch the ferry out into the lagoon, but decided to walk so that we could explore back streets and pop in to the Libreria Acqua Alta along the way.

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We set out after breakfast, and a few wrong turns later found ourselves at the bookstore, where we spent a happy hour rummaging through the treasure trove of old and new books, old maps, post cards, magazines, etc., piled not just in gondolas but also on chairs, the back patio, and the street in front of the store.

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We found the world’s tiniest math book (about 1 inch by 1 inch), which of course had to come home with us as a stocking stuffer for our oldest, who loves math.

** Does anyone else give weird and quirky things in Christmas stockings? Or is it just me?? I once gave my son a tiny little buddha statue because when he was a baby and always smiling, we called him “the Happy Buddha”**

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With our purchases in hand, we continued on to the Fondamenta Nove vaporetto stop, where we jumped on Line 12 to Burano. From there, we transferred to Line 9, which runs back and forth between Burano and Torcello.

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The island of Murano, with its glass factories, is closest to Venice, but I was intrigued by the island of Torcello, where the original Venetians first settled back in the 5th century as they fled from the Germanic invasion of Altino after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta was built in the 7th century and is the oldest church in Venice. An intricate Byzantine mosaic covers the entire back wall of the cathedral; as I studied the astounding artistry I felt a yearning to attend “mosaic school”and learn this ancient craft. We did not climb the campanile (bell tower) but for a small fee you can get beautiful views out over the lagoon

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Right next door is the small, round Chiesa di Santa Fosca, a lovely, simple, unadorned Byzantine-style church from the 11th century. If you go, take a few minutes and soak in the peaceful atmosphere of Santa Fosca, the tranquility is calming and the church is beautiful in its simplicity.

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There is only one path from the ferry landing to the Basilica di Santa Assunta, so it’s impossible to get lost. There are a limited number of restaurants on the island (I’ve read there are only 10 permanent residents); the restaurant that looked most promising had a sign out front with a cardboard stork and what we assumed was an announcement that the family was enjoying a new baby boy, so we ended up grabbing a coffee and a sandwich at an outdoor cafe before heading back to the ferry for Burano.

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Pictures of Burano are all over Instagram these days due to the colorful houses, brightly painted so that returning fishermen could distinguish the houses in the fog that often blankets the lagoon.

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Most famous for its lace, we also enjoyed hearing the history of Venetian masks made on the island. I had often wondered about the long nose of the doctor’s mask, and the mask artist we met explained the long nose was designed to keep the doctor’s face from getting too close to the plague victims he examined.

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**Doctor’s mask photo courtesy of maxpixel.com**

We did a little shopping but didn’t have a lot of time on Burano, so mostly enjoyed wandering this beautiful island before taking the last ferry back to Venice.

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I love spending relaxed days just exploring and getting lost in a new place…where are your favorite places to wander? As always, thanks for reading!

 

Best Summer Activities in Winston Salem

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Happy June!  School is out in Winston Salem, which means it’s officially summer! We don’t have any big plans for a summer vacation yet, so I’m going to make sure I take full advantage of everything on offer right here at home this summer. If you’re looking for ideas,  here is a short list of some of my favorite summertime activities in Winston Salem…

bailey parkSpending time at Bailey ParkBailey Park holds myriad summer activities in the Innovation Quarter. Whether it’s the Innovation and Cinema outdoor movie series, Sunset Salutations yoga in the park, Food Trucks at lunchtime or Ice Cream Tuesdays, there is always something fun happening in Bailey Park!

salem bikingRiding a Zagster Bike along the Greenways – I’m currently training for my next bike trip (through the Czech Republic in September) so I can often be found riding on one of the greenways around town. My two favorite locations to rent a Zagster bike are Bailey Park (jump on the Long Branch Trail from here – it connects up to the Salem Creek Greenway) or the Gateway YWCA (access the Salem Creek Greenway directly here). Both trails connect up to the Salem Lake Trail for a 20 mile roundtrip ride. 

IMG_8554Minor League baseball with the Winston Salem Dash – Minor League baseball is awesome… it’s family-friendly, you can get up close and personal with the players (some of whom may be the stars of tomorrow), fireworks happen on Friday nights, and kids can run the bases after the games. But the Dash takes it a step further with additional activities such as Pups in the Park, when your pooch can join you for the game, and Yoga in the Outfield, where a special ticket buys you a yoga class in the outfield before the game, a soda or a beer, and a lawn ticket for the game. Yoga, beer and baseball all for one low price – how can you go wrong???

Summer Music Series – Winston Salem has some awesome musicians, partly due to the fact that the UNC School of the Arts is located here (the ONLY publicly funded arts conservatory in the nation – think Juilliard but at in-state tuition levels – it’s part of the UNC system). During the summer, we have lots of opportunities to hear great music. Whether it’s Downtown Jazz at Corpening Plaza, Summer on Liberty with the entire intersection shut down for live music and dancing, or the Summer Parks series with concerts in local parks, there are tons of options for free outdoor concerts!

IMG_4014Movies under the Stars – This is probably my all time favorite summer activity…I love seeing a movie outdoors on a breezy summer evening, and am so grateful that Winston Salem offers lots of options! Bailey Park has an Innovation and Cinema series, Reynolda House has Movies on the Lawn, and Winston Square Park (pictured at top) is the setting for Sunset Flicks (I haven’t seen a schedule yet for this year, so am keeping my fingers crossed that it reappears). The neighboring town of Lewisville also has a series at Shallowford Square.

scooby sup salem lakeStand Up Paddleboarding at Salem lakeSalem Lake has just undergone a massive improvement…the city built a new boat house, playground, restrooms and a Zagster bikeshare station. A seven mile trail circles the lake for walkers, runners, bikers and equestrians. Pier and boat fishing is allowed and they also offer canoe rentals. Small boats, canoes, kayaks and SUP boards can be used on the lake as well. I love getting out on the lake for an hour or so on a nice summer evening. I’m even training my dog to SUP with me! He doesn’t try to chase the ducks and geese, but keeps falling in as he tries to eat the bubbles in the water from my paddle 🙂 The Salem Lake website is woefully out of date, so I highly recommend you call the marina for up to date info!

Taking a tour or SUP class with Triad ECO Adventures – Full disclosure here…I am a Segway Glide Guide for this company (although this post is not sponsored and I am in no way being compensated for this post).  However, I truly believe that our Segway tours, Electric bike tours and Stand Up Paddleboard lessons add fun options to Winston Salem.  You can even book a Glide and Dine event for a group – we’ll do the first half of the Segway tour on the way to lunch or dinner, let your group eat, then do the second half of the tour after your meal. If it’s your first time on a Segway, read this post for some tips!

western NC mountainsHiking in the Western NC Mountains – Okay, so this isn’t actually in Winston Salem. But when the summer heat starts getting to me (any of you who know me can attest to the fact that I am NOT a fan of hot weather!) it’s an easy hop skip and a jump to the mountains, where it is usually about ten degrees cooler. There are hundreds of hikes and I love to take my dog and explore!

Tips from a Seasoned Segway Tour Guide

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Summer, to me, means Segway season!  As a Segway tour guide in Winston Salem (I’ve been a Glide Guide at Triad ECO Adventures for almost four years now), Memorial Day marks the start of our busy season; kids are out of school, families are on vacation, and we have lots of visitors coming through our doors looking for a fun way to experience the city.  I’ve probably trained over five hundred people to ride a Segway through the years, and today, I thought I’d share some tips for those of you who may be taking a Segway tour somewhere soon!

I first rode a Segway at Epcot, in Disney World, many many moons ago. It was a tour around the World Showcase on a girls’ weekend with my family. We had a blast, and I remember my mom behind me, yelling out “excuse me” and “my bad” as she tried to navigate around (or bumped into) people, lamp posts, etc. ** Yes, she did yell “my bad” to a lamp post!**  My second tour was in Munich, Germany, where I was lucky enough to get a solo tour on a cold, rainy November day. Segways are a great way to explore a new place; you can cover more ground than a walking tour, and it’s actually easy to ride one – but the key is to relax! Here are my best tips, gleaned from hundreds of tours.

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Remember how you felt when you were learning to ride a bike? How the first time your dad (or whoever taught you to ride a bike) let go, you wobbled for a second, and then all of a sudden you were smoothly riding away? That’s how you’re going to feel the first time you ride a Segway…you’ll feel a little wobbly for the first few minutes, but don’t let that deter you…it becomes intuitive after just a bit!

Flat, supportive sneakers are the best shoes to wear when riding a Segway. Your feet will get tired; you’re standing for the entire tour plus your feet will be gripping the platform for balance, both of which cause foot fatigue. Supportive shoes help prevent foot fatigue. Flat shoes are key to your weight being correctly balanced on the Segway platform. Heels, even an inch high, can throw off your balance and make it harder to ride. Closed toe shoes also protect your feet and toes from getting bumped as you step on and off the Segway. Every summer we have gliders show up in flip flops and sandals, not realizing they won’t be able to ride with that footwear; both Segway manufacturer guidelines and our insurance require gliders to wear flat, closed toe shoes. We actually keep a bucket of extra shoes and socks for just this situation, but if you’re traveling and think there’s a chance you might want to book a Segway tour, go ahead and throw a pair of sneakers in your bag!

Posture is everything! You are the brakes and the gas on a Segway; to speed up, you simply lean forward toward your toes. To slow yourself down, you lean back on your heels (think “toes to go, heels to slow”). But the key here is to keep your body straight and LEAN FROM YOUR ANKLES. When you bend from the waist, your weight doesn’t evenly shift forward or backward on the platform. You want to keep your body straight, like those ski jumpers you see in the Olympics, and think about leaning forward from the ankles. Another visual is to imagine a string coming out of the top of your head, pulling your body into a straight line, and then hinge at the ankles. If you imagine pushing your hips toward the steer stick, that helps to keep your posture upright when you are leaning forward.

Keep your movements smooth and steady. A Segway reacts to our body movements a thousand times a second; it’s reacting to the tiniest of movements, most of which we are not even aware of making. If your movements are jerky, so will be the Segway’s; if you are smooth and steady, you’ll have a smoother ride. It’s our instinctive reaction to jerk our body when we bobble on a Segway, so trying to fight against that is hard, especially for a new glider, but if you can relax while gliding, it makes it way easier!

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**Above: NOT an ideal place to Segway for the first time – cobblestones, traffic and road construction!**

It helps to glide the first time in a private group with friends who are experienced, and to do your tour in a less crowded city (and somewhere relatively flat – I wouldn’t recommend, for example, taking your first Segway tour in San Francisco). When I biked across Austria in 2016 with two girlfriends, we took a day trip to Bratislava from Vienna, and decided to do a Segway tour on the spur of the moment. I actually love to take Segway tours when I’m traveling – it’s always fun to see how other tour companies operate, and as I previously mentioned, it’s a GREAT way to see a new place. Our friend was gliding for the very first time, and she was a little nervous, so we tucked her between the two of us who are Glide Guides. She felt more secure and was able to relax a bit. She crushed it, even up the VERY steep, cobblestoned hill to the castle!

If you’re going on a cruise and planning a Segway shore excursion, it’s helpful to book a lesson from a local tour operator before you go, as I’ve heard reports that many shore excursions provide minimal training. (Europe as well – in Bratislava, our “training” consisted of a demonstration of how to step on and then being told to push our hips toward the steer stick – we asked for a few minutes to let our friend practice before we set out, but most groups didn’t get that!) Some tour operators will have a shorter “mini-glide” or “learn to ride” option, which is not a narrated tour, just a lesson and a little glide time – we had two sisters come in and do a mini-glide with us before they went on a cruise, and they sent us a lovely photo with a thank you note. They enjoyed their shore excursion more because they already knew how to ride!

Who should NOT ride a Segway? For safety reasons, people who suffer from vertigo or any other condition (or take medication) that affects their balance should stay off, as should women who are pregnant. Anyone who cannot stand for the duration of the tour should not glide; although when purchasing a Segway for personal use, you can buy an adaptive seat. Segway manufacturer guidelines say gliders must be 14 or older; some tour operators have smaller Segways for kids between 10-13, but call ahead to ask if you want to bring anyone younger than 14! Finally, we get calls every St Patrick’s Day asking if we do Segway Pub Crawls, but believe it or not, in the USA you can get a DUI on a Segway. So anyone who has been drinking or is under the influence of any drug should avoid gliding.

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**I have heard reports, however, that some islands in the Caribbean provide cup holders and a mid-tour stop at a bar – if any of you want to Segway in the Caribbean with me, I’m totally down for that!**

Where are your favorite places to glide? I’d love to hear about your experiences! And as always, thanks so much for reading!

P.S. This post is not sponsored in any way…I just mention Triad ECO Adventures because that is where I’m a Glide Guide 🙂

48 Hours in Austin, Texas

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As they say in Texas, “Howdy”! This edition of Wednesday Wanderings is all about Austin, Texas! My nephew got married there recently, and my mother-in-law asked me to fly in a few days early and play “Tour Guide Barbie” for her and a friend.  They wanted to visit some tourist sights in Austin, and left it completely up to me to plan the itinerary.

Austin has so many amazing activities, it was really hard to narrow down my list, but I tried to think of what my mother-in-law and Sister Fran would enjoy the most. I also threw in a few things I wasn’t sure they would like, but which to me are quintessential Austin experiences (food trucks, tacos and street art). Luckily for me, they enjoyed every adventure I threw their way!

Here’s what we ended up doing…

Austin Ducks – I wanted to start with a Duck tour to give Mom and Sister Fran a good overview of the city, and see if they were intrigued by anything special that I could then add into the itinerary. We got distracted by Shipley Donuts on our drive down from Dallas, so missed the tour time I had targeted for Thursday afternoon. Rearranging on the fly, we decided to tour the Texas State Capitol instead, and made a reservation for the Duck tour on Friday morning. Duck tours use amphibious vehicles left over from World War II; we drove through historic old Austin, down Sixth Street, past the Texas State Capitol building, then splashed down into Lake Austin for a different view of the city. Our driver was hilarious, told tons of cheesy jokes, and even played some 50’s music during the tour (Mom was jamming to “Splish Splash” as we splashed down into the lake) and we had a great time. Some of those waterfront houses along Lake Austin are SPIFFY!!!

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Texas State Capitol – We did a couple of laps around the Capitol before finding the parking garage, so we saw it from several different angles as we approached (it used to be the tallest building in Austin, but is now surrounded by skyscrapers). Once we parked, we walked a block over to the Capitol and waited about ten minutes to join the free 30-minute guided tour (they do have a self-guided tour pamphlet if you don’t want to do a Guided Tour, but our guide pointed out a few things I missed on my own, so I recommend the guided version).

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I particularly enjoyed the chandeliers in the Senate and House chambers (the lightbulbs spell out TEXAS) and the 130 year old elaborate door hinges. In the floor of the Rotunda, there is a huge mosaic depicting the seals of the six flags under which Texas has flown, which is beautiful. Portraits of every Texas governor hang in the Rotunda (each time a new governor is elected, they shuffle EVERY PORTRAIT to keep them in chronological order with the newly elected Governor’s portrait in the right spot!

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After the tour, we walked over to the Capitol Visitors Center, which has a gift shop and exhibits about the history of the Capitol, the XIT Ranch (Texas ingenuity at work…instead of paying for the Capitol building themselves, the Texas state government sold thousands of acres in West Texas to a group of businessmen from Chicago and used that money to build the Capitol), and a little bit of Texas history. Sister Fran was excited to see a small exhibit about O. Henry, as she is a big fan of his writing. We wandered the Capitol grounds, which are open to the public as a free city park, and enjoyed watching some big black birds put on a mating show for the females hanging about.

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For dinner that night, I took Sister Fran and Mom to a food truck area on Burnet Road, where several food trucks are parked, so they’d have lots of choices. It was their first time experiencing food trucks, and I wasn’t sure they’d enjoy the food truck scene, but they both LOVED the adventure! We ordered from three different food trucks and shared everything so we could taste a variety of foods. For dessert, we ate doughnuts from Gourdough’s -they were HUGE and so good! We tried the Dirty Berry and the Son of a Peach – both were delicious and we rolled back to our car when finished.

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Friday morning, we started with the Duck tour, then stood in a long line at Torchy’s Tacos for lunch. Torchy’s is a local chain which started as a food truck, and they have TONS of different kinds of tacos. The owner experimented a lot when he first opened, and whenever he heard a customer say “Those are da** good tacos”, he would add that experiment to the menu! Torchy’s now has locations in Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma, so if you get the chance, do go enjoy!

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After lunch, we headed to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. There is an IMAX theater, an interactive film about the early days of Texas and tons of exhibits. My favorites were “The Texas Cowboy in Hollywood”, the clips of musicians who have played at Austin City Limits (from the beginning all the way to current times), and the replica of the facade of the Alamo after the famous 1836 battle. A particularly evocative touch were the artifacts embedded into the floor in front of the facade in the exact spots in which the originals were found after the battle in March 1836. They also have the original statue from the Capitol Dome.

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After the museum closed, we made a beeline to the HOPE Outdoor Art Gallery. It’s the only paint park of its kind in the entire USA, which over the last seven years has become a popular space for Street Artists and Muralists to showcase their large scale art. Unbeknownst to me, Sister Fran is a big fan of street art, so she took loads of photos! We were lucky to see several artists at work while we were there and had fun picking out our favorites from the layers of art.

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**If you want to see the HOPE Outdoor Gallery in it’s original location at 11th and Baylor Streets, visit before June 2018, when it will be demolished. The gallery moves at the end of 2018 to a new location at Carson Creek Ranch, 30 minutes east of the city, where it will occupy a six acre site and offer art classes.**

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Once we‘d had our fill of street art, we ran by the airport to grab some other family members, then headed to Hopdoddy Burger Bar for dinner, where we had amazing burgers and were impressed by the servers’ ability to layer multiple plates upon their arms and wind through the crowd without spilling! (If you’re getting the impression that we mostly ate our way through Austin, you’d be absolutely correct – the food there is SO GOOD!)

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That’s how we spent our 48 hours in Austin – we had a blast! Mom and Sister Fran kept saying they felt like they were on vacation…I reminded them that they WERE on vacation. Personally, I am still waiting to see the world’s largest urban bat colony at Congress Avenue Bridge. It wasn’t the right time of year for the bats, so I’ll just have to go back – my brother and my godson both live in Austin so I have plenty of reasons to visit!

What are your favorite things to do in Austin?? I’ll add them to my list for my next visit!

  

24 hours in Macon, Georgia

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Spring has sprung in the South! April is one of my favorite months in the South; the spring-flowering trees are blooming and gorgeous flowers are everywhere, plus it’s generally sunny and warm while not yet hot. Last week I was feeling antsy and wanted to explore somewhere new. I read online that Macon has over 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees (more than Washington DC, the article said), so I took a spur of the moment trip and went chasing cherry blossoms!

I only had two days free, so chose to do a quick one nighter. It was a six hour drive each way, so I ended up with a little less than 24 hours in Macon. Driving on the back roads in Georgia led me through some quaint small towns, and it was peak azalea season, so it was a gorgeous drive.

**lesson learned: in the future, if I just go for one night, I’m going to keep my destination to somewhere within a four hour drive or less…I am not someone who loves getting up super early up, so I like a full day for sightseeing rather than having to leave by mid-afternoon to get home at a decent hour.**

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Beautiful cherry trees in historic downtown Macon!

Despite not having enough time (I’ll just have to go back with my husband for a weekend at some point), I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this charming southern city. I arrived in the early evening, and after checking in at my hotel, asked the front desk staff to recommend a local restaurant for dinner. They suggested either The Rookery or H&H Restaurant, depending on whether I wanted a burger or soul food. A burger and milkshake sounded delicious, so I chose The Rookery and requested an outside table so I could absorb the late evening sun and warm weather (it’s been an exceptionally late spring this year and we haven’t had many days warm enough to eat outside yet). Downtown Macon is a delight; it’s a compact, walkable area with pedestrian-friendly streets, some of which have small urban parks (with cherry trees!) stretching down the middle between the traffic lanes. Street musicians were playing, which added to the ambiance as I sat enjoying my “Georgia Peach” milkshake.  I ordered the Walden Greenback Burger, which was marked as one of their specialties, and it did not disappoint; the fried green tomato, bacon and goat cheese were superbly yummy. The fries were delicious and my server  kindly brought me a side of ranch for dipping (one thing I learned while living in Texas – in the South EVERYTHING can be dipped in ranch dressing)!!

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The water in this fountain was pink for the Cherry Blossom festival!

After dinner, I walked around downtown for a few minutes, then headed back to the hotel, where the front desk staff had a copy of the Macon Visitor’s Guide waiting for me. They also suggested Amerson River Park for a morning run. I spent a little time organizing my itinerary for the next day then went to bed, with my alarm set for 8 AM, fully intending to get up and run.

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 The Ocmulgee River at Amerson River Park

Part of the fun of going away by myself is that I can choose how to spend my time and whether to keep to whatever schedule I have put together. Upon waking, I realized that my body did not need a run, rather it needed some yoga to work out the kinks from being in the car the day before. So I did a yoga video in the room then headed to Amerson River Park to look around, hoping I’d find some cherry trees. While there were no cherry trees, I did find a peaceful, stunning area with lots of walking paths, stone pavilions, and the Ocmulgee river. I played around with the timer on my iPhone camera (my first time using it…my photography skills definitely need work), and then just walked for a bit.

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First time using the timer on my iPhone camera!

My next stop was the Ingleside area – the hotel staff had recommended this area for some shopping and the beautiful homes and gardens, so I headed there on my way back towards downtown (my hotel was a few miles outside of town along I-75). Ingleside is an area with smaller shops, which makes for a pleasant ramble, and there are indeed some beautiful gardens…I saw cherry trees, redbuds, and LOTS of azaleas! I drove around aimlessly for a bit, just enjoying the spring blooms, stopping in at one store to buy a cherry blossom wreath for my front door.

As I headed downtown, I drove through a neighborhood with some historic mansions, and pulled over to take some photos. As I turned back toward my car, I chanced upon a life-size Tardis! I went to get a closer look and realized that the Tardis was a Little Free Library – my kids and husband are huge Dr. Who fans, and we all love to read, so I snapped a pic and immediately sent it off to my family!

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I want one!

My plan for the rest of the day was to visit Hay House, stop in at St Joseph’s Catholic church, and take a bike ride on the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail along the Ocmulgee river. Alas, it was not to be…my timing was off just enough that I missed the 1 PM tour at Hay House, and I had to choose between doing the 2 PM tour or my planned bike ride along the river. So I headed to St Joseph’s, which was supposed to be open to visitors daily between 8:30-4, but all the doors were locked up tight (I’m guessing that the church was being prepped for Holy Thursday services that evening). I took some photos of the outside and then stopped for a quick bite at Spud Dog’s, a hot dog and baked potato place in the downtown historic district of Macon. Spud Dog’s is the quintessential small town kind of place where everyone who comes in is greeted by name with a warm smile and a brief chat before any ordering is done. After eating, I meandered over to Spring Street Landing, where my research indicated a Zagster bike share station was located. However, when I arrived, not a single bike was at the station! I’m not quite sure why they were all gone; only three other cars were in the parking lot, so it didn’t seem like they would all be out, but there certainly weren’t any bikes available! This was strike three for the day, so I decided to cut my losses and head home, with a quick stop at Ocmulgee National Monument on my way out.The mounds were built hundreds of years ago by the Mississippian Native Americans, and were built by hand, one bucket of dirt at a time. Erected on top of the mounds were temples and other important buildings, as well as the homes of the highest-ranking individuals in the village (chieftains and shamans, usually).

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The empty bike sharing station – strike three!

Did I enjoy my trip? Absolutely! Will I go back again? Absolutely! However, I was a bit disappointed in the cherry trees. From the article I read stating there were more cherry trees than DC, I was expecting some sort of park or riverside esplanade with a large number of trees all in one place (similar to the Tidal Basin). I never found that kind of grouping, but still enjoyed the blooms I saw around the city!

**which, in all honesty, I could have done in Winston Salem without the six hour drive – we have tons of beautiful cherry trees as well! I was really looking for the Washington DC type of experience, which it was not**

Macon does have a big Cherry Blossom Festival every March, so it’d be fun to go back sometime during the Festival and see what I missed. I’m definitely going to go back with my husband at some point…there’s so much I didn’t get to see (the Allman Brothers Museum, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the Tubman Museum, not to mention Hay House and St. Joseph’s).

Well that’s it for today’s Wednesday Wanderings! Have you ever been to Macon? What else did I miss? I hope you’re enjoying some pretty spring weather wherever you are, and as always, thank you for reading!!

My Travel Bucket List

Rome Pantheon

Pantheon in Rome – Photo by Evan Qu on Unsplash

Hello! I don’t know if everyone has a travel bucket list, but I definitely do. It seems the more I travel, the longer my list gets…does this happen to anyone else?  I meet other travelers, and they tell me about cool places they’ve visited, and wham, another place goes on my list! 

I thought I’d share mine today…I’d love to hear about yours as well!

Watch snow fall through the oculus in the Pantheon in Rome – This one comes straight from the book Four Seasons in Rome, a travel memoir written by Anthony Doerr. As it only snows in Rome about once every four years, this one will be tricky to accomplish – I’d have to basically watch the weather forecast and then grab a last minute flight! Starting to save my pennies now…as it snowed in Rome last month, I should have a few years to save up. **Alas, I was woefully unprepared last month to take a last minute trip – you can bet I won’t miss that chance next time!**

Ride bikes along the Danube in Austria with my daughter – I did this trip two years ago, with two girlfriends, and I’m super excited to return and share the adventure with my daughter!  I took lots of notes about the towns I liked and didn’t like, so the second ride should be even better logistically, and I love spending one on one time with my girl.

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Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

Drive Iceland’s Ring Road with my husband and two sons – My daughter and I went to Iceland a few years ago, and I kept thinking how much my husband and sons would like it! I would love to go back with my men and explore even more of Iceland by driving the Ring Road all the way around the country.

Rent an apartment in Paris by myself for two weeks – I love Paris, I’ve been to Paris a few times, and want to go by myself next year. I want to explore at my own pace, on my own schedule, and sit in a cafe and read for six hours without worrying that my companion is bored. 

Take a summer road trip entirely planned around library book sales – my family and I are total book lovers.  We can spend days in used book stores. Last summer we were visiting our oldest son in Upstate New York and found a library used book sale. We happily spent a couple of hours browsing and went home with two boxes full of books. At some point on the drive home, we said “Wouldn’t it be fun to plan an entire road trip and just go from one library sale to another?” So one of these years, the Debrecht Family Library Book Sale Road Trip will happen – though I’m afraid we would have to rent a moving truck to haul our purchases home!

Explore Slovenia – It’s been on my list for years, but I haven’t made it yet! I keep seeing photos which make me long to go explore – I don’t think 2018 will be the year, but who knows!

Visit a Southern Living Idea House – every year, Southern Living magazine features their idea house. These houses always look so beautiful, and I’d love to actually visit one at some point. Maybe this year, since I live in the South right now?

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See all those people? That’s what I want to avoid! Photo by Melissa on Unsplash

Hike an uncrowded section of the Great Wall of China – I’ve never been to Asia, but would love at some point to hike the wall where there are not ten million tourists all walking at the same time…surely, with thousands of miles of wall, I should be able to accomplish this, right?? There’s even one section lit up at night for a night hike!

Spend Christmas in Europe – I’d love to travel with my family to Europe for Christmas one year – wander the Christmas markets, enjoy ice skating and holiday decorations, and experience how other countries celebrate the holiday. I don’t have a particular destination in mind and would be happy to let my family choose! **Hubby, if you’re reading this, I think Christmas of 2019 would be perfect!**

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Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah – Photo by Ganapathy Kumar on Unsplash

Visit the six states I haven’t seen – Courtesy of my 20 moves and love of travel, I’ve visited 44 of the 50 United States. I’m only missing Alaska, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Vermont (I know, Vermont’s the outlier here – somehow, despite the fact we lived in Connecticut for five years, we never made it to Vermont). At some point, I’ll make it to these six and will be able to say I’ve seen all 50 of our beautiful states! I still remember the huge argument I had with a Texan when I was in college…he said that Texas had the most interesting history of any state, and I argued that each state had its own unique story and that they were all fascinating. Can’t wait to explore the last six and learn their stories!

What places and experiences are on your travel bucket list??? Maybe I’ll add a few more to mine….

As always, thanks so much for reading and have a great weekend!

 

A Day out in Raleigh

NC Museum of History

Happy Thursday all – here’s another post in my Wednesday Wanderings series (it’s a day late…we can pretend it’s Wednesday today, right)? Despite the fact that I’ve lived in NC for five years now, I’ve never visited any of the museums in Raleigh. So yesterday my husband and I decided to take a day trip and explore the North Carolina Museum of History.

We dropped our dog at doggie day care for the day and headed to a new Panera that was opening nearby. The first 500 guests received a travel mug and free coffee for two weeks, so we grabbed a bagel and our mugs, caught up with a friend for a bit, then got on the road with our mugs full of coffee for the drive.

Of course, we needed lunch as soon as we got to Raleigh (does anyone else set out for a day trip and get to your destination just in time for lunch?), so we stopped at the Flying Biscuit Cafe to fuel up for an afternoon of history. Every review mentioned the biscuits, which are brought out to your table before the food, and they were indeed delicious! I had the California Dreamer (avocado toast) and my husband had the Shrimp and Grits. We also tried the pimiento cheese fritters. Deep fried pimiento cheese – only in the South!

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Everything was scrumptious, including the fresh berries that came with my meal, and after rolling back to our car, we headed to the museum.

To the Western Front

Entering the exhibit…it was sobering to realize that men lived for months in these trenches

I don’t know what kind of museum people you all are, but we are the kind that like to read almost everything, so we can spend hours in museums! We started out in the permanent exhibit “The Story of North Carolina” but soon realized we wouldn’t have enough time to cover the entire museum (we arrived about 2:30 and they closed at 5 PM) so decided to leave that for our next visit and moved on to the time-sensitive exhibits. I enjoyed a look at fashions from the 1700’s to the 1960’s, then wandered upstairs for the immersive “North Carolina and World War I” exhibit – a fascinating look at trench warfare and the role of American soldiers in WWI. This exhibit is at the museum through January 6, 2019, so if you’re in Raleigh this year, I highly recommend it!

To go along with this exhibit, they have an entire hallway hung with WWI posters covering everything from enlistment ads to home front efforts. 

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I am so in love with public libraries….this poster made my heart sing!

There were so many good exhibits at the museum!  I loved the exhibit “Picturing Nam: US Military Photography of the Vietnam War” as well – the photos from military photographers stationed in Vietnam are incredible and elicited so many emotions. One of my favorites was a photo of a military chaplain holding mass on a scrubby hillside for a few soldiers while another soldier stood guard.  This exhibit is only at the museum through March 18, 2018, so you’ll have to hurry if you want to catch it! I may make another trip back to Raleigh before it leaves, it was that good.

**Admission to the North Carolina Museum of History is completely free…they do have donation boxes scattered throughout in case you want to donate**

It was a great day out – good food, good company, and great history! Can you recommend any other museums in North Carolina that I should explore??

A Day Trip to Appomattox Court House

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The Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road that runs through the village of Appomattox Court House

Hello all! I’m sitting in my cozy little office on the third floor of my house (i.e. a nook in the attic) watching the rain come pouring down…I hope it’s sunny where you are. I’m beginning a new series today called “Wednesday Wanderings”, which will include posts about day trips and fun outings! I’m in central North Carolina, so let me know if there are any destinations in this area about which you’d like to read.

My son went back to college for spring semester later than most of his friends, so we had him to ourselves for a couple of weeks at the end of January. One of my goals this year is to support our National Parks by visiting as many as I can, so we decided to take a day trip to Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, where General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865.

On the way, we stopped for lunch at El Jefe Taqueria Garaje (a Dia de los Muertos-themed taqueria and tequila bar) in historic downtown Lynchburg, VA. The tacos were delicious and we fueled up for our excursion (we did not try any of their 85 varieties of tequila, but if you like tequila, I’d imagine that this is your kind of place)!El jefe 1

After lunch, we drove 25 minutes east on Rt. 24 towards Appomattox Court House. You know when you have an image in your head of a place, and sometimes it matches perfectly when you see it, and others time it doesn’t? I don’t know why I was expecting a bigger, more urban place, but I was surprised by the small size of the village (there were only about 100 residents in 1865) and it’s out of the way location. The village sits on the old Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road, and it really is a tiny little place. Standing in the center of the village, it’s easy to picture the village deserted (most residents had fled before the Battle of Appomattox) and then teeming with soldiers stacking their weapons along this stretch of road after the surrender.

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Almost 25, 000 soldiers from the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered their weapons along this stretch of the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road on April 12, 1865.

Despite the small size, there are several other historic sites nearby, so you could easily fill most of a day if you are excited about Civil War history. We only had about 90 minutes before the park closed, so we had to prioritize and began at the Visitor’s Center.

**When in doubt at a U.S. National Park, ALWAYS begin at the Visitor Center – the Park Rangers are a font of knowledge and you can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet if you have kids!**

We saw a short film and viewed the exhibits, then joined a brief guided tour of the McLean house (the Park Rangers at the Visitor’s Center kindly announce when one is about to start so visitors can join the fun).

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The McLean House; photo courtesy of  James DeMers/Pixabay

Some fun facts I learned that day:

  • Appomattox Court House is the name of the town; Appomattox courthouse (one word, lowercase) denotes the actual courthouse building.
  • Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant never stepped foot inside the actual courthouse; the surrender took place in the parlor of the McLean House.
  • Lee’s aide, Lt. Col. Charles Marshall, was sent to town to find a location for the meeting. He chose the McLean House at random because Wilmer McLean was the first man he saw upon entering the town. The McLeans had no nearby family with whom to stay, so hunkered down in their home during the Battle of Appomattox.
  • Grant wrote the surrender terms to be merciful, in accordance with President Lincoln’s wishes; Confederate soldiers were given parole, protected from prosecution for treason, allowed safe passage back to their homes, and allowed to keep their horses.
  • Grant also provided 25,000 rations for the Army of Northern Virginia, as the men were famished due to lack of food during their march from Richmond.
  • 30,000 parole certificates were printed in two days at Clover Hill Tavern and 28,231 were given to the soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia.
  • Robert E. Lee was under orders NOT to surrender; he was supposed to fight to the death or let his troops scatter and become guerrilla soldiers, but he knew that would drag the conflict out indefinitely so he disobeyed orders and surrendered.
  • Lee only surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia; he believed that each General had the right to personally decide whether to surrender his own army.
  • There were about 15-20 soldiers in the room when the surrender took place; after it was over, the soldiers were looking for souvenirs and one of them took the doll that McLean’s daughter had left on the sofa!
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The table where Ulysses S. Grant wrote the terms of surrender – Lee’s table is long gone.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park. If you’re in the area, or passing close by on your way to somewhere else, I highly recommend stopping in! They have several special events throughout the year; most are during the anniversary week (April 6-12 in 2018) but they also host community and Ranger-led events from spring through early fall.

**The Junior Ranger Program is at most U. S. National Parks – kids can explore, learn, and earn a Junior Ranger badge for participating. Designed for ages 5-13 but anyone can participate – my kids LOVED these programs when they were younger! You can view the details for the Junior Ranger program at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park here**

Have you been to Appomattox Court House? Do you have any tips to add or nearby places that I should explore? What are your favorite National Park sites in the Southeast U. S.?

Dang it, Where’s Deanna??

Me on trail

Recently, I set out to have an adventure (my first as a new blogger), and I succeeded spectacularly! I left my house at “O-dark thirty,” as my dad would say (Navy-speak for “way too early for sane people”), to drive three hours to hike with women I had never met. There were about ten of us in a wide range of ages and ability levels but the women were a friendly bunch and it was a gorgeous fall day in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so I had a grand time.

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We finished the hike, I returned to my car, changed out of my hiking boots, and set off for Grandad’s Apples for some apple picking. This is when the REAL adventure began!

For those of you with keyless cars, did you know that your keys don’t have to be inside the car for your car to start? They just have to be near the car, say on top of the car where you might set them while changing out of your hiking boots. Did you know that the car will start, and it will keep running even after the keys fall off the top of your car? And that your car won’t give any indication that the keys have left the car until you stop for gas an hour away and try to restart the car?

**Would it be too much to ask for manufacturers to add some kind of alert, maybe a loud beeping and a lighted key symbol on the dashboard, to indicate that the keys have left the car?**

So Elvis had left the building, and Charlotte (my Mini Cooper) was stuck blocking Pump Number 5 at the Exxon station in Hendersonville, NC, a good three hours from home. I called my husband, who was THRILLED to hear my request that he drive six hours round trip to bring me the spare key. My next call was to the AAA roadside assistance specialist, who was confused to hear my request to tow Charlotte from Pump Number 5 to the Starbucks at the opposite corner of the intersection, where I could comfortably wait three hours for my husband.

“Is that more than 3 miles?” she asked me.

“No Ma’am, it’s about 300 feet.”

Tow truck

An hour later, the tow truck driver deposited Charlotte into a parking space at Starbucks and after grabbing a latte, I texted my adult children about my adventures.

“Oh, Mother,” my oldest replied.

“That’s what your dad said, only a bit more colorfully,” I texted back.

My husband finally arrived with the key at 6 PM, and we decided (since there was a little bit of daylight left) to return to the scene of the crime and try to find my keys. Truthfully, I was almost more upset at losing my Ampelmann key chain (a souvenir from Berlin) than my $250 remote key fob, but I also had my house key, office key, and multiple tags (my library card, YMCA membership, etc) on that key ring.  Although we searched and searched, we had no luck, and finally got home at 11:30 PM, keyless and tired.

But all was not lost….the next morning I received a call from my library, saying that a woman from Ohio found my keys! She and her husband found them in the middle of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and tracked me down through my library card on the key ring.  Four days later, due to the kindness of strangers, Ampelmann was back in the house. Whoop!

P.S. No, I never made it to Grandad’s Apples, and yes, the kind couple from Ohio have affirmed my faith in humanity.

P.P.S. It pays to have some kind of store card or tag on your key ring; this is how my heroes were able to track me down.

P.P.P.S The next time I took Charlotte in for an oil change, I mentioned my adventures to the service rep, and he told me there was a software update available that would fix the issue. He personally tested it out by starting the car and then placing the keys on the ground…lo and behold, Charlotte started loudly beeping and a light on the dashboard started blinking! SOOOO…if you own a Mini Cooper, test it out, then call your Mini dealer for a software update.

Do you have any funny travel stories to share? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below…