Friday, December 29, 2017

Happy New Year!

Hoping that you had a fantastic 2017 - and will have an even better 2018! Thanks for showing up here every week - I'm grateful for all of you! Happy Traveling!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Tying 2017 up with a neat little bow!

Travel, travel, travel. I'm in my 54th year and I still get excited about it. From back roads near where I live to dreaming of - and realizing - trips on a grander scale, it's still what I'm all about. And I'm always grateful for the opportunity. Let's see what 2017 looks like in the rear view mirror -

New Orleans
Mr. UR and I, along with friends, made a return trip to The Crescent City for a weekend in February. It's one of my all-time favorite destinations and I would go back anytime.  We were there for the start of Mardi Gras and I experienced my first ever Mardi Gras parade - the nightime Krewe de Vieux parade with it's politically incorrect and saucy view of the world.We also ate dinner on an ironwork balcony on Bourbon Street where we also saw a wedding parade, took an interesting walking tour of The French Quarter, visited the also interesting Mardi Gras World float making factory, devoured King Cake Beignets - which is one of the best desserts I've had to this day - and saw the early morning street sweepers doing their job on Bourbon - a thankless but necessary job I'm sure. We stayed at an Airbnb and made use of public transportation - buses, ubers and streetcars.

Kids grow up and start experiencing their own adventures. Our youngest daughter moved to Seoul a year ago October to teach English. She had spent 6 months here studying abroad when she was in college.And it was such a good time that she decided to move back. Neither I, nor the mister, had been before. A mere 14 hour flight - and Mr. UR's first time to Asia - and we were there seeing her everyday world. We spent 5 days in Seoul seeing parks, the Korean War Museum, palaces, different neighborhoods and even a dog cafe. Then we moved off the southern coast to Jeju Island where we saw a Mongolian Horse Show, enjoyed the famous black pork barbecue, had beers at the Korean offshoot of Brooklyn Brewery and visited my favorite, the Korean Stone Park. Such an interesting country with warm people. I'm only disappointed that we didn't plan our trip to work around the Olympics - I'll get there someday!

Long Island 
My mother-in-law grew up on Long Island and we'd been before but never really explored in depth.Continuing on with the theme of chasing our kids around the globe, this time we were visiting our oldest daughter.We hit up the wineries of the North Fork - one of my favorite new places - the cute little surfing town of Montauk, some grand old houses and gardens and we took a stroll on a windswept day on Howard Beach - where my mother-in-law beached back in the day.

We took a two week drive through Oregon in an RV in June - and oh my, what an incredibly beautiful state! We started in Portland - where I tried VooDoo doughnuts for the first time - worked our way down the coast, saw lots of snow at Crater Lake National Park, completed the Bend Ale Trail, drove the Columbia River Gorge and visited some delightful Willamette Valley Wineries. Along the way we camped at oceanfront parks, state parks where the Oregon Trail followers crossed the river and boondocked in a marina parking lot. We had ash fall on us from a controlled fire and we stayed at one of the most unique hotels I've ever stayed at - of course, there will be more on that later. What a trip! And there is so much more of scenic Oregon that we didn't see. Next time, my friends, next time!

Colorado and Utah
Now it was time to visit our oldest in Colorado. Each year, since he moved there, we've been able to take a few days together and explore a different area of the state. This time we drove west to Grand Junction where we visited wineries, floated the Colorado River, rented a boat on Lake Dillon, saw the Aspen 4th of July parade,ironically drove through Independence Pass on Independence Day, spent a day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - wow, just wow - and made a day trip to Moab and Arches National Park. That's an incredible amount to pack in for just one long weekend! Colorado -and Utah - has such a bounty of treasure it almost seems unfair to all the other states. Almost.

Pawhuska, Oklahoma
Pawhuska, Oklahoma? Why Pawhuska? Why Oklahoma? I visited Pawhuska on a very quick- and long- road trip to visit the town where the TV personality, Ree Drummond, lives and runs a restaurant. She has a blog, a recipe website, and owns her own restaurant, store and bakery in Pawhusaka called The Merc. Next up she's opening a hotel next to The Merc. She's injected oodles of tourism and economic development to her town. And for the record, we waited in line for 2 hours to eat there - she apparently receives 6000 visitors per day at her establishment so we weren't the only ones to travel to Pawhuska this year.

Puerto Rico
In August - about a month before Hurricane Maria demolished the island - we flew down to Puerto Rico to visit Mr. UR's college roommate. Our oldest daughter, and a friend, met us there. We spent a few days in San Juan sightseeing and beaching it - we brunched in Condado, were tourists in Old San Juan, traveled through the rainforest at El Junque, ate Mofongo in Luquillo and night kayaked the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. Then if was time for some beach relaxation in Rincon - and a little waterfall swimming, mountain view dining and market night walking.

 Unfortunately, the rest of the story is about Hurricane Maria. She wasn't kind to the island, to say the least, and most are still without power and water. I believe schools are up and running in most of the urban areas - but only for half-days as powerless school isn't easy. Our friend has been busy organizing aid for mosquito netting to prevent malaria, battery operated fans and now a toy drive for Christmas as it will be a bit more than bleak this year. He has already received over 2000 toys and is spearheading the effort to distribute them. Please keep the people here in your prayers - and if it fits your pocketbook, please consider donating.

Christmas in New York City
We - Mr. UR, our oldest daughter, our son, his girlfriend and her sister - spent Christmas in a cabin in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania and then we spent the few days after Christmas in New York City. I've been to New York several times but never at Christmas - and I have to say it was pretty magical. And cold. Very cold. But we still managed to visit Top of the Rock, saw the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, fought the incredible crowds at the Saks 5th Avenue Light Extravaganza, ate dinner at an Irish pub, saw the Macy's windows, visited Bryant Park's Christmas Market, visited The Strand Bookstore, enjoyed crazy shakes - Oreo Cookie and Brooklyn Brownstone - at The Black Tap, walked around NYU and had cookie dough at Do. Whew. Then the cherry on top of the whole visit was my son's proposal to his girlfriend in Central Park. And it was 14 degrees. What a memorable Christmas. Loved it. Every minute.

Lake life update We're not full-time travelers so in between all of these trips we have daily lives. Regular jobs - for some of us - and time spent with friends and family, on our little cove of the lake we live on, take up the rest of our time. Some of the springtime was spent getting our house ready for sale. When Hurricane Irma came through this past summer, the powers that be lowered our lake by several feet which left us waterless at our dock. A dock mired in mud isn't so enticing for those who want to live on a lake. So  hopefully the lake level will be back up in the spring and we'll - fingers crossed - be thinking of selling again.

Thank you for all of your support this year! How about you? What were some of your highlights from 2017? 

Linking up with: The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party and The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas Light Extravaganza's in the South

 I think it's safe to say that folks of all ages enjoy seeing Christmas lights. Most cities have at least one popular large light display - and most people find out about neighborhood efforts through word of mouth. There are lights at Botanical Gardens and Zoo's and there is usually a Candy Cane Lane or Christmas Cul-de-Sac neighborhood that displays their own personal lights for all to enjoy. Here are three light extravaganza's that I've enjoyed over the last few years -

Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville
The Opryland Hotel located off of I-40 just outside of Nashville is one of the largest hotels I've ever been to. It's so large that you receive a map when you check in - and still manage to get lost. They put on a humongous light display all through the atriums - yes, there is more than one - of the hotel and outside on the lawn. Crowds are fierce - even on weeknights - and there is a $20 fee to park but no admittance fee. If you would like to do more than look at lights, they usually have some sort of holiday show and also an interactive snow exhibit - think indoor sledding - which will cost you more and possibly include reservations. My youngest and I managed to work our way through the crowds on a quick stop home on our Colorado Christmas Road Trip. 

Night of a Thousand Candles in Myrtle Beach
Night of a Thousand Candles is held at Brookgreen Gardens just south of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. Held the three weekends before Christmas, lights are displayed at this sculpture and botanical garden and it draws a crowd. There is usually a back up of cars on US 17 Bypass waiting to get in. Once in, you park your car and walk the grounds enjoying the 1 million lights - some floating in the ponds and fountains and some hanging on the spanish moss so it looks like they are dripping. It's seriously impressive. There are snacks and drinks sold plus some indoor exhibits but the star of the show is definitely the outdoor lights. I could come back to this light extravaganza every year. It's one of my favorites.

Christmas Town USA in McAdenville, North Carolina
In 1956, the McAdenville Mens Club decorated a few trees in town for Christmas. With the support of the local mill owner, each year the display became larger. And now McAdenville is known as Christmas Town USA and has been named one of the Top 10 Places to Visit in December in the South along with a spot in the Top 50 Places to Visit at Christmas in the USA. The lights are turned on each night at 5:30 pm through the month of December and visitors line up for miles to drive through this free Christmas light extravaganza. More than 375 live trees are lit including 33 circling the town lake. The bell tower chimes Christmas carols as you drive through and almost every home is decorated. And if you choose, you may walk through to savor all the lights. It's quite the magical experience - and costs you only gas money.

How about you? Where is your favorite Christmas light display?

Linking up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox and The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog Party!

Friday, December 8, 2017

3 Must-Do's in Seoul

Like many cities, Seoul is a city of juxtaposition. It's old - ancient, even - and new. It's palaces and Dongdaemun Plaza. Designer label shopping and traditional hanbok. High rises and 500 year old homes. I really enjoyed my visit to Seoul - and here are three must-do's when you visit.

Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok Village is a traditional Korean village of traditional homes from the Joseon Dynasty - so about 600 years old. The word Bukchon means "northern village" and "Hanok" is the word for traditional houses. We stopped here on our all day tour of Seoul and followed our guide up - and down - the steep streets of the village. The streets were crowded with pedestrians - and some in traditional Hanbok dress for photo shoots.( There was also a man carrying a sign asking the visitors for Quiet: People live here which we saw a few times in Seoul) Some of the homes are now tea houses, gifts shops, cultural centers and guesthouses but some are still residences. It's a very popular spot and for good reason - it's one of the rare examples one can see of where someone lived so long ago and is still a thriving community. 

Insadong is a shopping street, or neighborhood if you will, known for artworks and antiques. It supposedly contains 40% of Korea's art and antique stores plus many of it's stationary and art supply stores. It's also known as a place for foreigners and tourists to buy souvenirs. The main street is pedestrian only so our tour bus brought us as far as we could go and then our guide led us down a twisty-turvy, out of the way alley where we had our lunch.I couldn't begin to tell you where it was or the name of it! Our fellow diners, and tourmates, were a food travel writer from New York and a State Department employee who was visiting a friend in Seoul. Our lunch was good - a bit rushed as our whole day was - and then we were given a set time to meet back so we could go shopping.(We had rice, kimchi and vegetables) I'm trying to purge my life of "stuff" so shopping didn't interest me much - we walked the street and did some window shopping.( And I enjoyed a doughnut for dessert) It was a pleasant experience and I"m glad we were able to enjoy it but I think my interests lie more in the history of Seoul than the shopping. Still I'm glad we were able to see this traditional area of the city.

On the other side of the coin from Insadong, is Myeongdong. A modern and young shopping area, with luxury brands and every Korean cosmetic brand represented, Myeondong is also a street food heaven. Lined with street carts selling everything from meat-on-a-stick to fresh squeezed juice, Myeondong is where you go if you're hungry. Unfortunately, this was our last stop of the day and we were limited to under 30 minutes (we were running behind from the start of the day due to some tour mates who arrived late) but we managed to do a swipe of the main street and peruse all the goodies. I grabbed a red bean fish toast and a mochi covered strawberry - which I enjoyed later - and Mr. UR purchased meat-on-a-stick. We could've tried a potato tornado, hot dogs, squid or octopus in a cup, fresh squeezed juice or a massive ice cream cone. As with so many things with travel, we'll just have to say Next Time!

The Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary or Myeondong Cathedral

How about you? What are your must-do's in Seoul?

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Linking up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox , Our World Tuesday and The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party!