This has been an unprecedented year to say the least. Cancelled plans was the theme for this year. Not the theme we were hoping for, but it’s what we got.
The thing about cancelled plans is that you start reminiscing, looking over old photographs and sifting through travel trinkets. It was this reminiscing that brought us to our fun Christmas project! Our vintage travel themed Christmas tree!
It was a lot of fun going through all the items we’ve collected from our travels throughout the years and figuring out how to incorporate them into a Christmas tree. From our Voodoo doll and alligator head (yes, I said alligator) from New Orleans to all our shells from California, Oregon, Florida and Maine; we had a lot of fun things to make ornaments from. For the rest, I was able to find some vintage globes and other colorful balls. I chose my color pallet from the colors found in the vintage travel posters on display in my living room.
Since we went with a slim tree, a standard tree skirt just wouldn’t do. Instead, we found a vintage suitcase at the antique store and covered the tree stand with a cashmere scarf. We bought some vintage travel stickers and covered the suitcase with them. The rest of the stickers were used for gift wrapping. There’s just something about a brown paper wrapped package tied with twine and covered with travel stickers that screams vintage!
And yes, even though our son is 20 years old, I still write ‘From Santa’ on all his gifts! It’s just no fun writing mom & dad over and over again.
This project was so much fun to put together! I hope 2021 will allow us more travel adventures, but until then, we’ll just be enjoy the memories of the adventures we have had the pleasure of experiencing. Happy Holidays from the Adventuring Andersons!
Undoubtedly, if you grew up in the 80’s you spent some time in the Goondocks. I didn’t discover this cult classic until I was in my 20’s, but fell in love with it just the same. So, when we planned our trip to Portland this past summer, we made sure to plan a Goonies road trip along with it.
The first stop on our Goonies tour was about an hour and a half from Portland, to a little coastal town called Canon Beach. Now if you remember from the movie, Canon Beach is the setting for the big car race where the antagonists lose the police. The walk up to the beach is just a beautiful as the beach itself. You ascend a grass covered sand dune and as you reach the top the beach is laid out before you. The 235 foot monolith, Haystack Rock, is there watching you as you make your way down. The beach is extremely wide, which means that even on a busy day, you’ll have plenty of beach to yourself.
Nerd alert! Yes, I did buy a superman t-shirt and the map and skeleton key for this trip.
The town of Canon Beach is very touristy, but it is very clean and well kept. The residents there take a lot of pride in their homes. After walking the beach, we grabbed a bite to eat at Pelican Brewing. Anytime we are near the coast we have to try the fish, and it did not disappoint. Their fish and chips and fish tacos were amazing.
After lunch, we continued our drive up the coast to Astoria. The small town where it all takes place. The evil developers plotting to build a golf course and a group of rag tag kids who take it upon themselves to do what their parents can’t!
The jailhouse in the opening scene of the movie still stands and is now home to the Oregon Film Museum. Half the museum is dedicated to the Goonies while the other half celebrates other movies that have been filmed in the state. It also boasts a small film studio where you can create your own movie!
The museum is pretty great. You can hang yourself in the same stall Jake Fratelli did, take a mugshot and see tons of Goonies movie memorabilia. The famous Goonies house can also be found in Astoria, but is now a private residence and the owner is not fond of visitors taking photos. So, as much as I wanted to do the truffle shuffle in front of the house, we decided to respect their privacy.
After we got our Goonies fix, we headed over to Buoy Beer Co. The brewery is right on the docks and has an amazing view from their bar. They also have a window in the floor where you can sometimes see seals resting. A fitting end to a fun day.
Even with diligent planning and preparing, a trip can look amazing and adventurous on paper but the reality turns out to be a huge disappointment. Such as we learned this past July, when we decided to test our adventurous nature and stay in an 1880’s homestead. No running water, no electricity, out in the middle of nowhere in Interior, SD just south of Badlands National Park. The homestead sits on a family farm, about fifty yards from the White River. The weather forecast for that weekend was topping at around 100 degrees for a high and 80’s for a low.
No electricity? No problem! We have a badass camping lantern. No running water? No problem. We have the river close by and we bought some Dude Wipes, yes that’s right, Dude Wipes for a wet nap shower. We also bought some backpacker meals, firewood, a small pot and about 6 gallons of water. We were ready. We were pumped. This was definitely going to be a unique experience.
But little did we know, that fate had its own plan for us. The drive down to the homestead was absolutely breathtaking. A winding river valley, lush and green and rolling hills. It was very picturesque. Finally, the moment has arrived! We were there! We got out of the car and started walking towards the homestead, when suddenly we were attacked! It initially started off slow, but the more we disturbed the grass the more vicious it became. We were being attacked from every direction, we couldn’t escape! We were surrounded with no way out! I ran back to the car and grabbed the only weapon I had. I couldn’t see them so I blindly aimed………..then pulled the trigger. I doused myself with as much Off repellant as I could stand. Then I courageously ran back to my husband to save him from those blood sucking little demons.
It helped, a little. We stepped inside the homestead hoping for a reprieve from the massacre. There were screens on the homestead windows, but there was no breeze so it was like sitting in a sauna. The screens also were full of holes so, you guessed it, there were mosquitoes in there too.
Now normally, the Badlands and surrounding areas don’t receive much rain. They have a more desert like environment. But this year was a very wet season which creates the perfect environment for mosquitoes to breed.
At that point we weren’t sure what we were going to do. There was no way to cook our food in the homestead, so we’d have to go outside and build a fire at some point. We thought perhaps, a fire would deter the mosquitoes. But we were wrong. We barely got the fire lit. Well, maybe since it was so hot, we’d hang out in the river to cool off. Remember how I said, it had been a really wet season? Yep, the river was flooded and moving pretty fast. So, no swimming on this trip. And unfortunately, when I’m bitten by a mosquito, the site welts up to the size of a silver dollar and I already had three large welts forming on the back of my arm.
We were defeated. We were literally soaked in bug spray. The little bastards must have been some mutant hybrid demon, that our puny mortal bug spray had no effect on. So, we decided to move on.
We looked nearby for different lodging, but what we found was either full or just a little to sketch for our taste. So inevitably I started looking online for lodging in Rapid City. And I found the perfect place. The place that would make up for the whole horrible start to our vacation. Glamping!
So, at this point our trip took a complete 180. We went from roughing it with no running water or electricity to a canvas tent with a king size bed and private bathroom. We had stayed at Under Canvas in Keystone last year and loved it, so we couldn’t wait to experience it again. And guess what? There were no mosquitoes there! Hooray! We still ate our backpacker meals, we just didn’t have to boil our own water. They were actually pretty tasty and very easy to clean up.
The next morning we were up early and headed for Custer State Park to find the buffalo. The last time we’d driven through the park we didn’t get to see them at all. So this time we were determined. The drive is beautiful early in the morning. We only saw 2 other vehicles out for a drive. When we were about halfway through the park we stopped at a visitor center and they gave us an approximate location for the buffalo and the mules that call the park home. And we found them! Although they were not that close to the road, they were still close enough that you could hear them grunting.
Now this can’t be said enough. Buffalo are not the lovable, docile creatures they appear to be. Buffalo and very grumpy and will knock your ass down if you encroach their personal space. Now, as I’m writing this, I’m starting to see a stark similarity between the buffalo and me when it comes to personal space. Hhmmm.So, I guess you could say that buffalo are my spirit animal. Keep your distance!
After leaving the buffalo, we headed in the direction where the mules were said to be hanging out. Just like in Yellowstone, there was a traffic jam where the mules were hanging. There were multiple families with kids feeding the mules apples and granola. A word to the wise, the mules get a little aggressive when there’s food around and will push their way in to grab some. So keep and eye on your surroundings and watch your fingers! If your fingers are in the way when they come in for a bite, they will get you! Not on purpose of course.
Even though I didn’t have food for them and they didn’t want anything to do with me because of it, I still managed to get two of the greatest selfies I have ever taken!
The rest of our trip was spent relaxing and driving the winding mountain roads. We took a drive on needles highway and stopped for a short hike. We eventually ended up in Hill City and stopped by Prairie Berry for lunch and then over to Miner Brewing Company for a couple drinks.
Robert Burns said it best “The best laid schemes of Mice and Men often go awry. And leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy”. We left for the weekend with one adventure planned and ended up having a completely different one. Fortunately, it turned out to be a pretty great experience compared to how it had started.
Teenagers. They’re dirty, moody, starving creatures that arise to see the light of day sometime after noon only to slink back into their cave after raiding the village for food. Fortunately for us, our teen monster is very interested in history. So, when we proposed a trip to Washington, D.C.; he was all for it.
When we started planning this trip, we planned it with Jayden in mind. He doesn’t travel like we do. We go, go, go all day. He doesn’t. So, to ensure that he didn’t lose interest in what we were doing right away we made sure to plan time each day for him to do whatever he wanted. Whatever that might be. Taking a nap. Watching youtube, what have you. Washington, D.C. has so much to see, that there’s no way you could get to everything in a week. So we allowed Jayden to make a list of things he absolutely had to see and another list of places we would see if we had time.
We booked our trip the week following Jaydens last day of school, which brought us to D.C. on Memorial Day. The city was buzzing.Streets were closed, parades were marching by and food trucks lined the national mall.
Where We Went and What We Learned:
The White House: The White House has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams in 1800. The building was burned down by the British during the War of 1812. It takes 570 gallons of white paint to paint the entire exterior of the building. Tours of the White House need to be requested through your member of congress.
Vietnam War Memorial: The main part of the memorial, the wall, was completed in 1982. It was fully funded by private donations. Celebrities such as Bob Hope helped with the fund raising. A 21 year old Yale University student won the memorial design contest. The wall was the subject of much criticism and so two statues were added as part of the memorial: the three servicemen and the Vietnam Nurses statue. Tributes and memorials are left at the wall daily. These items are collected and taken to a storage facility in Maryland. They are used in traveling exhibits.
We had the honor of finding the name of a serviceman that had served with my Uncle. This memorial is both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. No one really speaks when they stand in front of it. There’s a lot of pain and feeling of betrayal here. Admission:Free
Lincoln Memorial: The memorial was dedicated in 1922 after having taken more than 50 years to get it built. The design is based on the Parthenon of Greece. Bacon, the memorial architect was quoted as saying “a memorial to the man who defended democracy should be modeled after a structure from the birthplace of democracy.” Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, lived to see the dedication of the memorial. He was 78 years old at the time. The steps of the Lincoln Memorial is the site of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. There is a plaque indicating where he stood. Admission:Free
Washington Monument: The Washington Monument stands 555′ tall and was built to commemorate the first President of the United States. The trowel used to lay the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was the same trowel used by President Washington to lay the cornerstone of the Capitol building in 1793.
Korean War Memorial: The memorial was dedicated in 1995 by President Bill Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young Sam. The memorial is made up of 4 parts: the statues, the mural wall, the pool of reflection and the united nations wall. The mural wall depicts images from photographs taken during the war. Jayden’s great-grandfather served during the Korean War. Admission:Free
World War II Memorial: This memorial didn’t exist when I visited D.C. back in high school, although its plans were in the works. President Clinton signed a public law in 1993 authorizing the establishment of a WWII memorial. Construction didn’t start until 2001 and it finally opened in 2004. The memorial is dedicated to all those who served and all those who supported the war effort at home. Admission:Free
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial: The FDR Memorial is probably my favorite. The red granite that makes up the walls of this memorial were brought in from my home state of South Dakota. The memorial is divided into rooms, each representing a different part of his presidency. FDR’s words engraved throughout the walls ring just as true today as they did then. Admission:Free
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial: The Martin Luther King Memorial is not too far from FDR. It is a 30 foot high relief of MLK made of white granite. From the memorial, you can look out over the tidal basin and see the Jefferson Memorial. The memorials address is 1964 Independence Avenue referencing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. More than 900 applicants from 52 countries entered the design contest for the memorial. Admission:Free
Jefferson Memorial: The memorial was dedicated in 1943 by FDR. Originally, it was supposed to be a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt. The start of construction inspired ‘The Cherry Tree Rebellion’ in which 50 women marched on the White House to protest the removal of cherry trees. Some women even chained themselves to trees at the construction site. Admission:Free
US Marine Corps War Memorial: aka the Iwo Jima Memorial was dedicated in 1954 by president Dwight D Eisenhower. The sculpture is based off the 1945 Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the second flag raising on Iwo Jima by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal. The faces on the sculpture are the actual faces of the men in the photograph. Admission:Free
Arlington National Cemetery: The cemetery was established in 1864 and hosts more than 400,000 graves. In 1868, May 30th was proclaimed to be Decoration Day for the sole purpose of decorating the graves of fellow soldiers. The day was later renamed Memorial Day. Arlington is the only National Cemetery to hold service members from every war in US history. There may no longer be any additions to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier due to DNA testing. Admission:Free
Museums We Visited and What We Saw:
Holocaust Museum: It’s difficult to find the right words to describe the contents of this museum or the way it makes you feel. It’s something you need to experience in person. You need to read the words for yourself. See the images. Experience the smells. Any description I provide would do it an injustice. You just need to go. Admission: Free, but will need a timed ticket from March-August.
Ford’s Theater: The theater houses a small museum in the downstairs of the theater showcasing articles of clothing, John Wilkes Booth’s torn boot and the flag torn by his spur as he made his escape. After viewing the museum, you’re able to head into the theater where you can see the balcony where Lincoln was shot. Ford’s Theater also includes the house across the street where Lincoln took his last breath. The house was under renovation while we were there, so we could only view it from the street. Admission: $3.00 pp.
International Spy Museum: The Spy Museum is not part of the National Mall, so it does cost money to get into, but believe me it is worth it! Upon arrival you’re taken downstairs into a small room with columns filled with different aliases. You’re allowed to pick whichever one you want. After making your choice, you commit all the information to memory. After all, a good spy should never be caught with info on his person! All throughout the museum they have kiosks where you can answer questions about your mission. If you answer them correctly, you keep your spy status. However, if you do not, your cover will be blown. The museum showcases spy equipment used during WWII and the Cold War. It even discusses the use of spies as far back as Queen Elizabeth I. Admission: $21.95 pp.
National Museum of American History: Here we saw the first Da Vinci Robotic arm that’s used in our operating rooms today. There’s a fragment of Plymouth Rock and examples of the government issued clothing options for women during WWII. We saw many examples of popular culture artifacts including the first computer and the same Little People farmhouse that I played with as a child (kind of makes me feel old). Admission:Free
National Museum of Natural History: The Hope Diamond is a big attraction here. Get here early to avoid the crowd. You’ll also find fragments of an asteroid that landed in Arizona and if you happen to be standing at one of the balconies you’ll see the lobby where one of the Night at the Museum movies was filmed. The museum was in the process of completing a large dinosaur exhibit while we were there. It looks like it’s going to be amazing. Admission:Free
National Air and Space Museum: I’m a big Apollo 13 fan, so I was pretty excited to see Gene Kranz’s Apollo 13 vest that his wife had made for him. Also because we’re huge nerds, we were excited to read about the USS Enterprise. No not the ship made to boldly go where no one has gone before. It was actually the most decorated aircraft carrier in WWII, earning 20 battle stars. Admission:Free
National Archives: The National Archives was founded in 1934 by FDR. It is home to The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights and The Constitution. In order to maintain the preservation of the documents, the room is kept fairly dark and cool. The documents are pretty faded and hard to read, and it’s a very busy place so you’ll want to get there as early as possible. Amazing to be so close to these documents. It’s well worth a visit. Admission:Free
Mount Vernon: Mount Vernon is the home and final resting place for George and Martha Washington. The estate was nearly in ruins before the Mount Vernon Ladies Association was founded and raised $200,000 to purchase the home and 200 acres and start renovations. The exterior of the home looks like it’s made of stone, but Washington actually made a faux finish by putting sand in the paint to give the appearance of stone. The property hosts a stable, distillery and a gristmill and you can place your hands on trees that were planted by George Washington in 1785. If you’re a fan of the National Treasure movies, you already know that a scene in the second movie was filmed at Mount Vernon. They even offer a National Treasure tour where they take you to see the filming locations and talk about that secret passageway! Mount Vernon is privately run and does not receive government funding so there is a fee to get in. Admission: $20 pp, 11 and under $12 pp, National Treasure Tour $10 pp
Where We Ate!
Food Trucks: There were plenty of food trucks along the national mall. We found some Andalusia Style tacos to try.
Founding Farmers: Amazing farm to table cuisine. A favorite, I’ve read, of Michelle Obama’s. The restaurant is owned by more than 47,000 family farms. We had handmade butternut squash mascarpone ravioli, shrimp and grits with andouille, and skillet cornbread with honey.
Shake Shack: Our son isn’t an adventurous eater. So anytime we can get a burger, fries and a shake that doesn’t taste like fast food debauchery we’re all for it. We were pleasantly surprised with Shake Shack and there is one right next door to the International Spy Museum, so right after our tour we stopped by for a quick lunch.
Good Stuff Eatery: Another great spot for a really good burger, fries and a shake. We found this one in Georgetown, which we came to love!
Luke’s Lobster: All I have to say is BEST lobster roll ever! Plus their location in Georgetown is really cozy and cute!
Pi Pizzeria: A convenient location close to the White House. Perfect for hungry teens!
Wicked Waffle: As the name implies, all their menu items have a waffle component. Everything we had was delicious and the perfect meal after a morning of walking to all the monuments.
Georgetown: Georgetown was a short 10 minute walk from our hotel. We loved the area immediately. The area is filled with little shops, pubs and restaurants. A few of our favorite places include: Georgetown Cupcake, Olivia Macaron, Dean & Deluca, Luke’s Lobster and Good Stuff Eatery. There’s a small park at the end of the main area that contains a memorial for Francis Scott Key. And if you take the path by the river, you’ll walk by the Watergate Hotel, where we all know that Forest Gump got President Nixon in trouble! 😉
Where We Stayed: The River Inn on 25th street is located on a quiet street in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. It’s only a 10 minute walk from Georgetown, which we loved! Also it’s close to the metro. We opted to walk as much as we could while in D.C. The National Mall was only about a 25 minute walk from the hotel.
Our room was very cozy and had a small kitchen where we could cook our own meals if we wanted. The hotel gave you the option of having them stock the fridge for you. We used it mainly to store leftovers from wherever we had eaten or whatever treats we had found in Dean & Deluca! The hotel had a few tables and chairs outside for its guests to sit and relax. We made good use of them. At the end of a long day, it was the perfect spot to wind down.
Since all the monuments and most of the museums are free, our biggest expenses came from our flight, hotel and food. We used Uber a couple of times, but mostly we walked everywhere we needed to go. It is a very affordable family vacation. I’ll share our itinerary for D.C. in my next post.
When we’re traveling to a new place, we shun eating anywhere that we can find back home. We avoid the chain restaurants like they’re the plague. Why in god’s name would you visit somewhere like New Orleans and eat at Burger King or Arby’s? If you’re the type of person who would visit one of the most culinary diverse cities in the world and eat at McDonald’s, you are automatically dead to me. That was harsh. No you’re not dead to me, but I will give you a very intense WTF stare.
Many talk about the different Cajun and creole foods you can find in New Orleans, now while those two names are used interchangeably they are by no means the same. The names creole and Cajun were derived by the people who created them and the food they had access to. Cajun is considered “country food” while creole is considered “city food”. Tomatoes used to be a major determining factor for whether you were eating creole or Cajun food. Since the city people had access to tomatoes from ships coming into port, their dishes tended to have them whereas the Cajun’s didn’t have access. The two cuisines have since been integrated and now both make use of tomatoes in their recipes. Another misconception is that the food is spicy. I can honestly say, the food is not spicy, but it is very well spiced lending to the bold flavors we experienced.
Another thing we found incredibly interesting is the lack of bread plates in New Orleans fine dining restaurants. After our second meal with no bread plates, I asked our waiter about it. He said that people in New Orleans do not use bread plates because they love to party and have a good time. They love to eat and don’t need to bother with putting bread on a plate. Just break off a chunk and enjoy it. Now these are my kind of people!
The Ruby Slipper: The morning before our swamp tour we enjoyed breakfast at the famous Ruby Slipper. The Ruby Slipper is a post-Katrina success story and an amazing place for a unique New Orleans breakfast. The eggs cochon is a Ruby Slipper specialty. They’ve taken apple-braised pork debris and piled that onto a buttermilk biscuit, then topped that with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. Delicious and very filling. I highly recommend trying it if you have the chance. Another Ruby Slipper specialty is the BBQ shrimp and grits. Please note that ‘bbq’ in New Orleans does not mean smothered in BBQ sauce like it does in the Midwest. BBQ there, just means grilled. Pair either of these meals with a mimosa or bloody mary and you’ll turn non-morning people into morning people with just one bite.
Café Du Monde: Of course, no trip to New Orleans would be complete without a stop at Café Du Monde. Beignets and chicory coffee are a great way to start the morning. A few words of advice for visiting Café Du Monde: 1.) Don’t wear dark clothes, 2.) Bring cash and have it ready, 3.) Don’t wait for a table, if you see one open take it, even if it’s not been cleaned yet. They’ll clean it when they come to take your order, 4.) Have your order decided before your server arrives, 5.) Don’t inhale right when you’re taking a bite, that powdered sugar with get you!
Croissant d’Or Patisserie: If you’re looking for a lighter breakfast, this adorable French bakery is a must. Nothing like a meringue and vanilla latte to start your morning. If you prefer savory instead of sweet, they have plenty of options for you as well. Everything is made fresh daily.
Lunch Muriel’s: If you’re in or around Jackson Square during lunch time, Muriel’s is an excellent place for some local fare. We started with some squash soup with crème fraiche, which was delightfully sweet. For our meals, we chose the blackened Mississippi catfish with buffalo sauce and the stuffed mirliton. Mirliton is a type of squash that is common in Louisiana and very popular around Thanksgiving. The mirliton was filled with Andouille stuffing and a creole shrimp resting in a roasted tomato sauce. The catfish was melt-in-your-mouth perfect, especially with the butter sauce. If you’re just looking to have a couple of drinks, Muriel’s has a beautiful balcony that overlooks Jackson Square.
Acme Oyster House: Another New Orleans institution is the Acme Oyster house, which was established in 1910. We arrived for Sunday lunch around 11:30 and the restaurant was full and had about 20+ people standing in line outside. This for me, makes the anticipation of food so much greater. If there’s that many people waiting to get in, you know you’re in for a special treat. They did not disappoint. After slurping down a dozen raw oysters on the half shell, Reed and I devoured fried oyster and fried shrimp Po’Boys respectively. Amazing!
Supper Antoine’s: The first meal we had in New Orleans was at the famous Antoine’s. This restaurant has been operated by the same family since 1840, and is the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller. We enjoyed three different types of baked oyster on the half shell for our first course. We absolutely had to try the oysters Rockefeller which boasts the original Rockefeller sauce that was created in 1889. In addition, we also tried Huitres Thermidor which is an oyster baked on the half shell with bacon and tomato sauce and the Huitres Bienville, which is an oyster baked on the half shell with a white wine sauce, onions, pimento and fresh peppers. For my first time having fresh Gulf oysters, it was an amazing experience. For our entrées we both chose a filet of flakey, buttery gulf fish, one with lump crab meat sautéed in butter and the other topped with shrimp, mushrooms, oysters and cheese sauce.
Arnaud’s: Arnaud’s has a very long and colorful history, which you can read about here. Arnaud’s has an amazing menu which allowed us to try a number of different local dishes. We started our meal out with Alligator sausage and turtle soup. The alligator sausage tastes a lot like most sausage, which means it was delicious. The turtle soup on the other hand, has a very distinct flavor. It’s a very hearty dish and was very enjoyable. For our main courses, we chose veal wohl and Fish Grenobloise. All of our food was absolutely amazing, since I forgot to take pictures of it. Believe me, even without seeing it, it was GOOD! Website: https://www.arnaudsrestaurant.com
Paladar 511: It’s not your typical New Orleans restaurant. Paladar 511 does Italian food their way. The house made ravioli is my absolute favorite item on the menu. I love ravioli, I love mushrooms, the sauce is amazing! I really have no words for it. It’s that good. The wagyu hangar steak is a must. You really can’t beat wagyu beef. Their menu is always changing, but everything we ate there was incredible. It’s unique and very well executed. It’s no wonder it was named one of New Orleans Top 10 Restaurants for 2019!
Believe me when I say, all the food we ate in New Orleans was absolutely amazing! You can’t find food like this anywhere else. Make sure you visit hungry. Most of the places we ate at were on the expensive side, but there’s plenty of restaurants down there to fit any budget. Bon Appetite!
New Orleans…….there’s a peculiar vibe that echoes along the streets as you walk through. A three hundred year old energy that draws you in and makes you feel like you’re not alone on this plane sustained by the smell of jasmine that comes and goes like a transient daydream.
It’s an amazingly refreshing smell; that is until you reach Bourbon Street. Synonymous with street drinking, flashing girls, beads and public intoxication; Bourbon Street definitely lives up to its reputation. If I may be so blunt… it’s gross. There are puddles of murky, putrid foulness everywhere. Now, I know I don’t paint a pretty picture of Bourbon Street, but it’s kind of a rite of passage when you visit New Orleans for the first time. You still should try it. Buy a drink in an obnoxiously large cup and walk down the street. Even if you only walk a block, you should do it at least once.
Mark Twain said it best when he called New Orleans food “as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin”. New Orleans has flavors you can’t find anywhere else. Everything we ate was a grand experience for our taste buds. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t in a food coma throughout the entire trip. I’ll go into greater detail about what and where we ate in my next post.
Ghosts, Alligators and Vampires
We headed out to the Bayou early Sunday morning for an up close and personal with the local gators. The Bayou is beautiful. The trees are covered with Spanish moss, there are magnificent looking birds and of course alligators. Funny thing about Spanish moss, it’s not Spanish and neither is it a moss. It actually is from the same family as pineapples and is native to the Bahamas, Mexico and Southern United States.
Seeing the gators in the wild and interacting as opposed to the ones in the zoo that just lay in one sad spot all day was incredible. It was incredible to see them laying in ambush mode, waiting for a raccoon or bird to get too close to the edge of the water. Our swamp tour included some wild boar and raccoons and we even got to see the tree that Disney used for inspiration for “The Princess and the Frog”.
Sunday night we took one of the New Orleans Ghost/Vampire tours. It was a lot of fun touring the city at night and hearing all the local ghost stories. We got to see one of the houses used to film “Interview with the Vampire” and the haunted home that had been purchased by Nicholas Cage and supposedly bankrupt him. Although we didn’t see any ghosts, our tour guide was an amazing story-teller.
The French Quarter
The French Quarter is so beautiful. The architecture is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The intricate iron work, the big beautiful balconies with all the hanging ferns. And the colors! Everything is so colorful!
We started Monday morning in the French Quarter with beignets and chicory coffee at Café Du Monde. After our delicious breakfast, we headed over to Jackson Square. Jackson Square was the site of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. A statue of the hero of the Battle of New Orleans (1815), Andrew Jackson adorns the heart of Jackson Square. The beautiful St. Louis Cathedral overlooks the Square and is open for visitors to take a peek inside unless mass is in session. Muriel’s restaurant also overlooks Jackson Square and is a great place for lunch. If you’re looking for some delicious adult beverages they have those too and allow you to enjoy them on their balcony overlooking the square where you can watch the artists performing and selling their beautiful works of art on the sidewalks surrounding.
After exploring the square, we headed over to the French Market. I have to admit, the French market was a little disappointing. The market is full of souvenirs to fulfill your every whim, but the vendors are all selling the same things and very little of it was actually hand-made. So needless to say, we walked through the market pretty quickly and then headed over for a relaxing walk along the levees. New Orleans turned 300 this year and the city has a small lit anniversary sculpture to commemorate the event.
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Everything in the French Quarter is a lot closer together than you think, so we were able to see and do everything we wanted in a lot less time than we initially planned. So with our extra time, we headed over to tour the WWII Museum. It came highly recommended by some of my co-workers, so we decided to check it out. Let me tell you, we were not disappointed. The museum is amazing and is very well-organized. It’s very interactive including a simulated train ride and submarine ride. Those are not included in a regular ticket but can be added on for a little extra. With a regular ticket you get a key card that you register on a kiosk before you enter the museum. From the kiosk, you get to pick someone either military or civilian who served during WWII and you can follow their stories throughout the exhibits with the kiosks located all throughout the building.
Better than Bourbon?
During our visit, a lot of the local residents told us we needed to check out Frenchmen Street. So we did and it did not disappoint. If you’re looking for a Bourbon Street-like experience, but without the obnoxious smell or inebriated people; well then Frenchmen Street is definitely for you. The average age of the people who hang around Frenchmen Street is about 10 years older than Bourbon Street, there are better options for Jazz Clubs and they have a great open air market called Palace Market where local artists sell their work. I love art and getting to meet the artist is an incredible bonus. We came home with some really great pieces.
The Garden District
In the Garden District you will find some of the most beautiful architecture we’ve ever seen. The mansions are spectacular and home to quite a few celebrities. We managed to find one of writer Anne Rice’s homes. It was pretty spectacular. The Garden District is also home to a beautiful historic cemetery, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. You do not need a tour guide for this particular cemetery, but people are available at the entrance if you do want one. Since most of New Orleans is below sea level, above ground tombs are a necessity. The design and architecture of these crypts is beautiful. So much history can be seen here, a lot of the graves show many generations of a family in the same tomb. The Garden District is accessible via the Saint Charles Street Car if you’re not crunched for time. If you do take the street car, make sure you have exact change for the ride. Some locations allow you to purchase a day pass if you plan on riding the street cars around the city.
“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” ― Louis Armstrong
My husband and I were a couple of band geeks throughout our middle and high school careers, but neither of us could have ever dreamed of being as amazing as the musicians at Preservation Hall. It’s the jazz music your band teacher has wet dreams about.
If you want to hear traditional New Orleans jazz in an intimate setting, Preservation Hall is the place. The venue is however very small, so intimate is an accurate description. We opted to purchase tickets for the “Big Shot” seats. These tickets allow you to skip the line and have an actual seat in the two front rows. If you don’t have tickets, you will have to get in line early to get in and you will be standing for the performance as well. Now, even if you’re not able to get into Preservation Hall, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to hear jazz music. There are jazz clubs all over the city or you may come across an impromptu performance on a street corner.
Although short, our trip to New Orleans was amazing. She’s an amazing hostess, and there’s no place quite like her. Until we meet again New Orleans, we bid you adieu.
Don’t have the budget for a big family vacation? No problem! What if I told you that you could have a fun family vacation right at home? Not possible you say? Well, I beg to differ. Ever heard of a staycation?
A staycation is a vacation you take at home or with minimal travel from your home. And it has many benefits such as financial savings, much needed R&R and quality family time. As impossible as it sounds, it can be done as long as you make preparations and set some ground rules beforehand.
If you’re kids are older, involve them in the planning process. Let them choose what activities they want to do and when they want to do them. If your family likes structure, create an itinerary together. If your family loves spontaneity, place all your activities in a hat and draw one out each day. Try new restaurants on staycation, or gather take out menus from all your favorite restaurants and have food delivered. If eating out every day is not an option, plan a freezer meal day and put together some easy meals that everyone will love. You should also plan to prep your home ahead of time as well. Have a marathon laundry day and get the whole family to help clean.
Set Ground Rules
It’s important to also set some ground rules for your staycation and the entire family should be involved in its creation as well. Ground rules could include all or some of the following:
No screens (phones, tablets, tv)
No working from home
No outside plans with friends
No independent activities
Just like any vacation, you’ll need to plan a budget. Set money aside for your activities, eating out or splurge for a housekeeper to clean for you while you’re vacationing. You can set aside money ahead of time and plan your activities based on that amount or you can plan all your activities, then decide if you’ll be able to do them all or if you’ll have to remove some.
Fashion some Fun!
See a movie: Rent a movie to watch at home or go to the theater. Many theaters offer matinee prices if you go earlier in the day. Better yet, hit up the drive-in! Living on the Eastern side of South Dakota, we’re just a short drive into Minnesota to hit up the Verne Drive in.
Have a Movie Marathon: Let each family member select a movie. After each movie, talk about what they liked or didn’t like about it. Who was their favorite character and why? Get some fun popcorn boxes and the boxes of movie theater candy to make it feel like you’re really at the theater.
Go camping: Find a state park close to your area or just go camping in your own backyard. If you don’t own a tent, no worries! Build a blanket fort and sleep in that!
Take A Class: Many communities provide community education classes covering a variety of subjects. Some are free but most cost a minimal fee.
Explore your city: Research your city like a tourist. Look on Pinterest or visit your local chamber of commerce and pick up a free city guide.
20 Things to do in and around Sioux Falls:
Go to a movie
Visit the Science Museum
Go to the Farmers Market
Go to a sporting event ( baseball, arena football, basketball or hockey)
Check out nearby State Parks
Go brewery hopping
Attend sangria Sunday or Thursday Night Porch Series at Strawbale Winery
Nestled into the woods just outside of Keystone, SD, lies a haven. A haven that brings camping in the woods up to an entirely different level. A level high above sleeping on the ground in a pile of pine needles and pooping into a hole in the ground. Now, I know some people think that this isn’t real camping unless you’re hauling your own gear through the woods and pitching your own tent, sleeping in the dirt and building your own fires. Well, let me just stop you right there so that I can inform you that after you’ve surpassed that milestone age of thirty you tend to wake up with stiff necks, achy backs and extreme exhaustion from sleeping on the ground. At least, if you’re me you do, which makes the thought of camping in a tent sound absolutely awful. So don’t discount this new era of ‘glamping’ until you’ve at least given it a try.
We kept driving up and up, following these tiny little signs and cairns, not sure how long it was going to take us to get there. Finally, we came around a bend in the road and starting seeing these canvas structures of all different sizes peppered throughout the landscape. We really had no idea what to expect when we got out of our car. But everything from the check in to check out was pretty amazing. A very friendly hipster from the east coast gave us a very warm welcome and tour of the property. He hauled us and our bags to the tent in a golf cart and was able to provide a power source for Reed’s bi-pap machine since there’s no electricity in the tents.
The night we got there was chilly and rainy, but there was no shortage of warmth around us. There’s a small restaurant in the visitor tent. They have a very limited menu, but everything on it is executed very well. After we dropped off our bags, we headed over to the restaurant for supper. I ordered the grilled trout with vegetables and Reed had the flank steak with fries. Both were amazing. Even more amazing, we ate our supper just outside the visitor tent and were able to watch the sun set over Mt. Rushmore while we dined. Breathtaking.
There are a number of tent options available through Under Canvas Mt. Rushmore. Some come with a private bathroom and some don’t. The option we chose was called the Stargazer. It was given this name, because you can literally lie in bed and watch the stars through the Plexiglas area above your head. It was cloudy and rainy during our stay, but the clouds did clear enough that we were able to see the big dipper, which was still pretty awesome.
The tents themselves are pretty spectacular. After pulling back the canvas flaps, you walk into an element of luxury you don’t usually equate with the great outdoors. The tents have wall to wall wood floors, a kind sized bed, comfy leather chairs, a wood burning stove and a beautiful cow skin rug to finish it off.
This place is the epitome of relaxation and comfort. The beds are amazingly comfortable and with 2 comforters and an extra blanket you’ll never get cold. The 24-hour coffee, tea and hot chocolate bar is an added bonus as well. You can even arrange to have coffee delivered to your tent in the morning! A community fire pit is set just down the hill from the visitor center. It’s fully stocked with everything needed to make your own s’mores. Bottom line is, we had an amazing stay. The only downside was that it was only for one night. We will definitely be back for a longer stay.
Driving down desolate highways, surrounded on both side by rolling hills carpeted with yellow from the wild sunflowers that grow there. Northwest Nebraska has a sort of surreal loneliness about it. You have simultaneous feelings of being nowhere and being somewhere at the same time. It’s beautiful.
The first night of our trip found us in Valentine, Nebraska. We expected it would be a great starting point for our Western Nebraska road trip due to its geographical location to what we had planned to see. What we didn’t expect, was that we’d find an oasis in the Sand hills. In most towns with a population less than 3,000 people, you wouldn’t find a thriving craft brewery. Mostly because the bars and restaurants found there get their beer from those big named, super bowl commercial spending, manufacturers of piss in a can or bottle if you prefer. And that’s all they offer, since that is what their demographic likes. Bolo Beer Company, beer born and brewed on the American frontier, is a refreshing sight for sore eyes looking for good beer in desolate places. It’s a great place to hang out. The building itself looks like a giant shed meant for fixing farm equipment, but upon entering find a large open space with comfortable chairs and nice people. Their astro-turf covered backyard was an added bonus. The area is surrounded by a high fence and has multiple yard games, a fire pit and picnic tables.
Our first official stop on our Nebraska road trip felt like we stumbled upon a hidden treasure. Smith Falls, the tallest waterfall in the State of Nebraska at 63 feet, is a hidden gem found not far from the Niobrara River. Smith Falls State Park is located about 12 miles outside of Valentine, Nebraska. Getting to the falls requires a minimal amount of hiking that most of the general public should have no problem with. A quick climb down some stairs, a walk across an open field, take the bridge over the Niobrara River, walk across another open area and up onto a wooden pathway and you’re there! The walk was actually very beautiful, especially at 8:00 in the morning. The campers were all still in their tents, so we had the place to ourselves. Walking across the bridge over the Niobrara was magical. On one side, the sun was rising over the river and on the other a deer was crossing the river. Breathtaking. Smith Falls is spring fed and the water is cool, crystal clear and very beautiful. We ended up spending more time there than we had originally planned.
Our next stop on our trip across the prairie was a kooky little place called Carhenge. An exact replica of that stone circle across the pond, Carhenge is made of, you guessed it, cars. Jim Reinders and a number of family members built Carhenge in 1987 as a memorial to his late father. The structure is not something you would expect to see driving through this part of Nebraska, but it is a fun and crazy little pit stop. There are picnic tables and a small visitor center/gift shop as well. Although we were unable to summon the alien architects from the center of the circle, we were still grateful for the experience.
After leaving Carhenge, we traveled even further south and down into the sand hills where we found Chimney Rock. “You have died of Dysentery,” unless you were born in the 1980’s, you’ve probably never played the original Oregon Trail computer game. In the game, you play the part of a settler in charge of a wagon full of people that are trying to make it to Oregon in the 1800’s. Chimney Rock was one of the most recognizable landmarks on the early pioneer’s journey west on the Oregon Trail as it is in the computer game. In fact, it is because of this computer game that I learned about Chimney Rock in the first place. Does anyone remember when computer games were educational?
From Chimney Rock we decided to start heading north and found ourselves in Scott’s Bluff at an authentic Mexican taco shop called Antonio’s Taco Shop. It’s a small family owned restaurant and the food is amazing. We decided to sample a few items and so chose to do the mini tacos. We ordered marinated pork, beef and lengua, which is Spanish for tongue. Yep, we ate tongue tacos. They actually weren’t bad. They were tender and still tasted like beef, although there was that organ after taste to it. Now, I know what you’re thinking.’ I could never eat anything like that!’ Well, yes you can and yes you should. If you’re taking time out of your life to travel someplace you’ve never been to see things you’ve never seen, then you should also try foods you’ve never even dreamed of trying. It’s that simple.
Driving even further north, we eventually found ourselves in the Nebraska Badlands in a little area called the Toadstool Geological Park. The toadstool structures exist because the layers of clay and ash have been warped over time by wind and rain. These formations are amazing and there’s nothing like them anywhere. There are a few campsites available in the park and a couple primitive toilets. A couple was just leaving when we arrived, so we had the entire park to ourselves. The formations are amazing. It’s like looking into our geological past. The park also contains numerous fossils and animal tracks. Because of the fossilized animal tracks, scientists have been able to study animal migration patterns in this area.
The last leg of our trip brought up back into South Dakota at the all new glamping site near Keystone. But that will have to be a post all on its own.