When you think of Napa, you probably think of wineries. Not us! After learning that the Jelly Belly Factory is in near Napa, we will never think of Napa the same again!
We've never been huge fans of Jelly Beans, but Jelly Belly isn't an ordinary jelly bean, is it? The 100+ flavors, most made from juices and purees makes Jelly Belly the gourmet king of beans.
We started our day in Napa by visiting the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, California, just minutes from Napa. The factory offers a wine and chocolate pairing that we highly recommend. For $20 you get to try 6 wines from 6 local wineries as well as 6 different chocolates paired perfectly with these wines. You also get a Jelly Belly souvenir wine glass.
If that isn't enough value, they also have cards for free or buy one get one wine tastings at the wineries that you tried as well as to the olive oil and vinegar company next door. That is a huge value considering most wineries in Napa charge $20-$35 for tastings. Now you have six more wineries you go explore at a fraction of the cost!
Before you head out to explore those wineries, don't forget to take your free tour of the factory to see how Jelly Bellies are made. Do you know that it takes 7-14 days to make a Jelly Belly There is some fun Jelly Belly artwork throughout the factory and at the end you get a free bag of Jelly Bellies plus you can sample other flavors including the nasty Bamboozle flavors that have become an Internet sensation. Don't miss the Jelly Belly Gallery filled with sculptures and wall art made of Jelly Bellies!
After we completed our tour we decided to head to the V Sattui winery for lunch at their Italian Deli. This winery is very scenic and romantic, and has a beautiful outdoor space with picnic tables for you to eat your lunch and drink your wine from their Deli.
There are many wineries to tour here in Napa as well as in neighboring Sonoma and Suisun valleys. If you cannot decide and have the extra money, hop on the wine train and let them decide and drive for you!
If you intend on drinking, please make sure you have a dedicated driver so you can relax and enjoy the beauty of wine and jelly bean country!
Moab, an amazing wonderland on most Traveler's Bucket Lists, and for good reason. Moab is home to both Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. A mecca for those that love the outdoors, Moab has so much to offer. Two of the "must see" places that should be on your Travel Bucket List is Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park.
Canyonlands has three sections of the park. The Needles, Island in the Sky, and the Maze. The Maze is backcountry and only accessible via hiking and/or four wheel drive. The Needles entrance is about an hour South of Moab and Island in the Sky entrance is just about 30 north of downtown Moab. Many people skip the Needles and only visit the Island in the Sky because it is closer to Moab. We actually preferred the more dramatic scenery of Needles section over the Island in the Sky. Both parks have twenty minute drives in, but the Needles greets you with large red rock formations where Island has more of a prairie feel to it.
In the Needles, we hiked 3 of the shorter trails in the park. The Roadside Ruins, the Pothole Communities, and Cave Spring, The Roadside Ruins trail was a bit of a bust. There were no fifty cent interpretive maps at the beginning of the trail, so short of a couple of small formations, we had no idea what we were supposed to be looking for at each stop. The Pothole Communities is a trail mostly on slackrock that has potholes that contain entire ecosystems. Regardless of the signs at the beginning explaining this, many people still walk and allow their children to play in the sand in the potholes, which was quite sad and frustrating for us. Actions like this have been a common occurrence on this trip, but that's for another Blog. There are some great views of the mountains, mesas, and the Needles formations from this hike. Cave Spring has similar views, but features a large rock overhang and cave that was used by cowboys and even has cowboy hand prints embedded in the rock. This trail has a couple of ladders and a slight climb on slickrock to get to the views, but is fairly easy and a must do.
There are several more trails here ranging from 2 miles to 22 miles if you are looking to explore some more. There are developed campgrounds as well as BLM campgrounds. We are lucky enough to find a perfect site in the BLM “Superbowl” campground. It had a nice fire ring with grill, picnic table, and a pit toilet, and an amazing view of the two twin mountains with spires atop. For $5/night or $2.50 with an access card, it's a terrific deal. The sunset from here will take your breath away. The trees and the mountains had an amazing golden glow to them.
The next day we headed to Moab. There are many campgrounds and BLM options in Moab, but be prepared to spend more. Also, many of the campgrounds are walk up, first-come first-serve so arrive early for the best chance to get a site. En route to Island in the Sky is Dead Horse State Park, which now has two campgrounds available. We stopped here first and they had a few sites left so we grabbed a site and then headed out to explore.
Dead Horse Point is where cowboys wrangled mustang to because it had a bottle neck where they could easily corral the horses. Unfortunately, one time they decided to take the healthy strong horses into town and left the others behind, but forgot to leave the corral open for the other horses to leave, which led to their demise. A sad story, but the views from this park are spectacular. A rigid canyon with a bright blue evaporation pond and a view of the Colorado river make this a great stop while visiting Moab. There are several mountain biking trails here and whitewater rafting as well.
Island in the Sky does not have the dramatic entrance that Needles has, but offers a different view of the canyon. The Needles has more views from the bottom of the canyons, whereas Island is atop a mesa and looks down into the canyons. Two of the main hikes we did the was Upheaval Dome and Mesa Arch. The arch is very scenic, and this time of the year it had a cool fire and ice look through it with Red Rock and snow- capped mountains seen through it. Upheaval Dome is just a large rock that is believed to be the remnants of an impact crater. The rock itself isn't too exciting, but it is cool to stand next to a large impact site. We almost went to the impact site near Winslow, AZ, but after seeing the $18 admission charge by the corporation running it, we felt it was more of a tourist trap than an experience. We also didn't like that they had misleading signs making it seem like they are a part of the National Park Service. Upheaval Dome is more than just a large hole in the ground. The multi-colored rock and the beautiful views surrounding it make it much more worthwhile in our own opinions. The hike was fairly short and easy with just a small amount of climbing required.
Both sections of Canyonlands is worth exploring. Island in the Sky gets all of the attention because of it's proximity to Moab, however, we definitely recommend making the drive to the Needles, which is one of the most underrated parks we have visited.
Just a couple hours north of the Grand Canyon lies the city of Page, Arizona which encompasses the Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation areas. The drive to page had many remarkable views along the way. As you arrive in page you begin to see large power lines along the road. This area is also home to the Glen Canyon Dam which is a major hydroelectric power source for this region of Arizona and Utah.
Coming into page we didn’t have lodging set up yet. While we ate lunch, I found one Campground that had a reservation available for the next few days so we booked that. Many of the campgrounds here are first come first serve so we had a list of places to check for openings. The first place we stopped was at Lone Rock Campground which is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This area is maintained by BLM and dispersed camping is available right on the beach of Lake Powell. The camping here is $7 per night for seniors or people with access passes, and $14 regular price. As we drove down, the dirt road gets a little rough, but even with our low clearance we were able to make it with no issues at all. We found our spot on the beach right across from the huge Rock known as Lone Rock. The campsite does have restrooms available, but no showers or electric. The sunset was one of the most beautiful we’ve seen so far on this trip. Keep in mind, this campground is about a mile into Utah so the time zone changes. Most activities you will do here will be in Arizona, so make sure you plan accordingly. Phones often get confused in this are so we suggest keeping your vehicle clock on Arizona time. Fortunately, the Navajo tour companies seem to use Arizona time to avoid confusion even though their reservation is on a whole other time zone!
The next morning, after a gorgeous sunrise on the beach, we headed to lower Antelope Canyon for our guided tour with Ken's Tours. Antelope Canyon is one of the most toured slot canyons in the world. While some people prefer the lighting of the upper Canyon, the Lower Canyon offers smaller crowds, more affordable tours, a longer tour, and if you can catch the 10am tour, the lighting was also very good. We saw several sunbeams pierce through the canyon for some beautiful photo opportunities.
Our tour guide was Sylvan and he was friendly, professional, knowledgeable, and he made sure we had plenty of time to get the photos we all wanted. Sylvan not only pointed out great places for photos, but also took the time to take pictures each of us in a few key spots and even gave us photo tips. Our group of 15 was able to get through the canyon in about 45 minutes. Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon and floods quickly in heavy rains, sometimes all the way to the top. Many people have died hiking these canyons which is why the Navajo now require a guided tour. These tours book up fast so book it early, especially if you want the key times when sunlight is t it’s best. We cannot say enough about this Bucket List stop other than we think everyone should see the beauty of this canyon. Every turn was just jaw dropping beautiful. Nature is constantly amazing us.
After the canyon, we headed to Horseshoe Bend. This scenic spot is a National Monument and is only a few minutes from Antelope Canyon. Parking and entry are free and there is about a 15 minute hike to the canyon to see the bend. The hike is not paved and there is a hill to climb, but is fairly easy. The bend is where the Colorado River bend around the canyon en route to the Grand Canyon. Boat tours are available to go around the bend, but once again, they book up fast so you need to plan in advance. The last stop for the day was at the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook. This area has a great view of the dam and the river, and the rocks here have thin layers and had interesting patterns.
We checked into our new camp at Wahweap, which is in Glen Canyon National Rec Center, just up the street from Lone Rock. This is now run by Aramark, a private company and approved vendor in the park. Entrance into the park is $25 if you don't have an access pass, and they do not honor the half of price for camping to access pass holders, even though it's a campground in the National Park system. They gave us a AAA discount, which brought our camping down to $27 per night. The site did not have electric, showers were pay showers, and the 4G here was not very good (4G at Lone Rock was excellent). There really was nothing about this campground that justified paying $20 more per night so we canceled the other two nights and decided we would stay in Lone Rock those nights. Tip: If you do have an access pass, or you pay for a pass at Lone Rock, you can enter Wahweap for free and use the showers there since Lone Rock has none.
Our last day in Lake Powell we rented a kayak from Lake Powell Paddleboards. They were friendly, affordable, and gave us great advice on kayaks and bikes. Brock even put the kayak up and strapped it down for us. They recommend the Antelope Canyon paddle, which is a flooded part of the canyon, but it was more than we were looking to do that day, so we opted for the Lone Rock Canyon tour our camping neighbors told us about. It’s about a 60-90 minute paddle and then we explored the lake some more. The canyon is also a slot canyon and was very narrow in spots. The white rock can be seen beneath the clear green river and makes some cool formations underneath. The water slowly pulls you through the canyon for a fairly easy paddle. The return paddle was just as easy. It's a perfect paddle if you are just looking for an easy or short paddle, but if you want to be out for the day, definitely take the Antelope Canyon paddle with the recommended hike. When we return, and we will, we will be renting from them again for the Antelope paddle.
As awesome as the Grand Canyon is, we would recommend driving to Lake Powell and spending more time exploring this area. There are so many things to see and to do here. You could easily spend an entire week here and not run out of things to do. It's definitely a destination worth checking out.
The Grand Canyon, the only one of the seven natural wonders of the world that can be found in the United States. After seeing so many amazing Canyons and red rock formations these last few months, we were a little worried that we would be underwhelmed when we got to see the Grand Canyon. Upon entering the park, the lines are very long. Once you enter, the first stop is usually the visitor center which has limited parking considering the number of people that are there to visit. Visiting in March, the park was definitely not as busy as we heard it could be, but also the temperatures were fairly mild. At night, temperatures were in the 20s so if you intend on camping, make sure you pack enough to stay warm and bring your patience to deal with the crowds. Once you find parking, you can relax and enjoy the park. Like most parks, we would recommend going in early to avoid the lines.
The south rim of the canyon is the most visited section of the canyon. You are able to rent bikes to ride the road along the rim, there is a walkway you can walk, or you can shuttle from one point to another. We opted to walk to The Village, which is where the lodge and restaurant are located. It’s about a 7 mile walk from The Visitor Center and fairly easy and accessible. Near the visitor center, we saw several elk, and they we’ll come up pretty close to the walkway where people are. As you turn the corner and get your first glimpse of the canyon , it is anything but underwhelming. Though the formations were quite similar to what we had been seeing, the sheer size of the canyon is remarkable. There are several points along the way that you can stop and take in different views of the canyon. It's a nice walk so take your time and stop off for pictures and to take in the views at each point. Once in the village, definitely stop at the El Tolvar Restaurant. There may be a long wait since it’s the only restaurant and a train stops there for lunch as well, but it was worth the wait. The lunch menu has a small variety of options including some vegetarian options. We tried the Navajo Fry Bread Taco and the Prime Rib Sandwich and both were excellent. Make sure you save room for dessert as well because they have several options to satisfy your sweet tooth!
There are several elk, rock squirrels, and mule deer in this area too. The shuttles actually had to stop a few times for herds of animals crossing the road. From The Village area, hop the bus towards Herman’s rest. You are able to walk this section, but it’s about another three miles. Bikes are not allowed in this section at all, but if you decided to rent bikes, you are able to put the bike on the shuttle. There are approximately 7 stops along the way but Hopi he is one of the most popular for watching the sunset.
Depending on the time, the bus drivers May recommend getting off at one of the first couple of stops to ensure you will be able to catch a shuttle back to the visitors center, unless you want to walk the nine miles back. We explored around the Hopi stop and then walked to the Powell stop. From there, we were able to catch a shuttle back to the Village and then a transfer shuttle back to the visitor center where we watched the sun go down from. We enjoyed a beautiful but chilly sunset from one of the points behind the visitor center, and we didn’t have to worry about competing with hundreds of people for the few shuttles that come back after sunset.
There are a few campgrounds within the National Park, but the only one open during the season was Mather Campground. We were fortunate enough to find one night to stay. The campgrounds are only a few minutes from the canyon and the sites are small, but nice. If you are unable to find camping in the park, or don't want to camp, there are BLM sites available in the Coconino National Forest and on the way in there were some lodges in the town of Tusayan. There are also a few restaurants in this town as well, which is about 15 minutes from the campground.
If you are planning a trip to the canyon, one day is plenty of time to see the South Rim within the park. There are a few hikes that you can take, and you can hire a company to take you down into the canyon with mules, as well as several other outdoor activities in the area that could keep you busy for a few days, but if you are short on time or just want to experience the canyon, one day is all you need.
As we left the next morning, headed towards Lake Powell, our GPS took us East on a road that was marked Scenic Drive when we had entered. The Drive East out of the park had spectacular views of the canyon and as we exited we saw the side gate, which only had two Lane’s to enter as opposed to six or seven, but there was almost no line to get in over there. If you are able to enter from the east side of the park, we would recommend it. Either way, make sure that you take the scenic drive while you are there for more awe inspiring views of the canyon.
Sedona has branded itself as the “most beautiful place in the world”. Well, I don’t know about that, but the Red Rocks that are the backdrop of Sedona certainly make your mouth wide open in awe. It is springtime in Sedona and we found a nice campsite in Cottonwood, called Thousand Trails, just about 30 minutes from Sedona. Hotel prices can get quite expensive, but we did manage to find a place to camp for $19/night, with electric. There was also a pool, hot tub, and a lodge here with several activities you can participate in. We have not come across any rattlesnakes, tarantulas, or scorpions here in the desert, but you can hear the coyotes all night and the birds first thing every morning. If any of these things worry you, then camping in the desert might not be a good option for you. Of course, we had some concerns, but with so many other campers here, and learning more about the bugs and snakes here from Scott and Pat at the Albuquerque Bio Park, many of those concerns were put to rest and we slept quite well in the frigid desert nights. If you are going to camp, bring a good sleeping bag and an air mattress to get off the ground. It does hit the high 30s and low 40s here…..brrrr!
This area has so much to offer. There are several State Parks, the Coconino National Forest, the Red Rocks, a Ghost Town, Pueblo Ruins, and of course Downtown Sedona.
Downtown Sedona is a great place if you like to shop in expensive stores, have a nice meal out at a higher end restaurant, or like to be harassed as you walk down the street. It appears that most of the downtown area was bought out by Diamond International. If you have ever been on a cruise just about anywhere, you know what this means…..sell, sell, sell. Lots of high-end shops including jewelry shops, and people on every corner trying to offer you deals on activities if you listen to their timeshare spiel. It’s a shame because as you enter Sedona from the south, the amazing mountains are the first thing you see, and then there are cute local shops revolved around crystals, yoga, metaphysical wellness, etc. It was a really fun and quirky vibe until we got to the newer area. We did walk around downtown to see the various statues based on Western movies, and we stopped off for lunch, but other than that, we spent most of our time hiking among the beautiful red rocks.
One of the most popular hikes is Cathedral Rock. This formation sets itself apart because it is one of the five main vortices in the area. Unfortunately, parking is very limited at many of the trailheads, so after several attempts, we finally found parking elsewhere and decided to hike Bell Rock, which is also known for its strong vortex. The hike was only a couple of miles with a mild to moderate incline, depending on how far you go up. We opted to climb about half way up. The climb to the top gets more strenuous and involves rock scaling. Unfortunately, neither of us felt the vortex energy, however, how could anyone be in a bad mood with such amazing views??? When we finished Bell Rock, we did climb to the top of Baby Bell, which was a moderate hike involving some climbing. From here you can see almost all of the major formations in the area.
Sedona has so much to offer people who love the outdoors. The scenery is breathtaking, and the vibe still has that new age feeling to it, outside of the new downtown. I don’t know how much power the vortices have on people, but the nature there is truly healing. This was bucket list stop for us, and I hope we inspire you to add it to your list as well.
Living in Florida for over a decade, visiting the Panhandle has been something we have been meaning to do. The Santa Rosa beach area has plenty of parks and campgrounds to chose from. We camped at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. There are plenty of trails to get some exercise, including paved portions open for biking. We hiked the trail to Campbell and Morris Lakes, which are Coastal Dune Lakes, a rare type of lake formed by sand dunes. They can only be found in Madagascar, New Zealand, Australia, and here in the Panhandle. The hike out only took about 30 minutes to Campbell, and then another 30 to Morris on both a paved trail, and then a sandy trail. Be aware that the trails are nature trails, which means you may see some wildlife like the Pygmy Rattlesnake I almost stepped on, and the alligator we saw swimming in Morris Lake. I definitely recommend bringing or finding a walking stick to hit on the ground in front of you as you walk.
Of course we headed out and about to check out the surrounding areas. We explored the areas around Destin, Seaside, Panama City, and Pensacola. Each of these stops had things that set them apart from the others.
Seaside is about 15 mins East of the Santa Rosa area on 30A. It has a cute Central Square that was all decked out for the holidays. There were lovely shops and restaurants and a row of Airstream Food Trucks serving up a variety of tasty treats. We split a platter at Barefoot BBQ, which was delicious, and then spent the rest of the day at the beach. The sunsets here are simply breathtaking. Later in the week we enjoyed Paella and some wonderful wine with new friends at 45 Central. They only make it a couple of times a week so make sure you check ahead of time! This new planned community really became our favorite place in the Panhandle.
Destin is a newer city with a great waterfront area filled with shops and restaurants. If you are looking for a more high end destination on the Panhandle, Destin is a great location for you. If you continue towards Pensacola, you will come across miles and miles of beautiful sand dunes. This entire area is very picturesque.
Panama City seems to be geared more towards the Spring Break crowd, though there is a newer section that was filled with chain restaurants, bars, and shops. The rest of the area is filled with novelty stores and the tourist trap area similar to International Drive in Orlando with wax museums and mini golf courses.
Pensacola is a military town that has a great historic area to stroll around. Many of the buildings are similar to those in the French Quarter, built with bricks and iron works. There are a few small, but nice parks, and public art pieces throughout the area. The Veterans Memorial Park has some magnificent statues and memorials, including a replica of D.C.'s Vietnam Wall. Of course there are tributes to the Blue Angels all throughout the city.
One thing that all of these places have in common is miles and miles of gorgeous beaches, with sugar sand and sparkling clear water, all a part of the National Gulf Seashore. It is some of the coolest, softest, and whitest sand we have ever seen and the water explains why they call this the Emerald Coast.
We often hear how lucky we are to not have to work and to just travel full-time, but the truth is, travel is a lot of work. We started our journey around the world 6 months ago, and we have quickly learned that this isn't going to be all play, no work.
Currently, we are traveling around the United States in a small van that we built to live out of, not in. Most of our nights are spent camping, staying with friends, or in hotels. We usually spend an average of 2-3 nights in most places, with some of our bucket list stops averaging 5-6 nights. This means, that we usually spend a few hours driving to our new location, then we have to set up camp or pack our bags to bring up to the hotel room. We then have time to catch up on our Journals, eat dinner, check in on things back home, and then plan the next couple of days in that location. This means researching our "To Do/To See" lists and coordinating how long each activity takes along with drive time and proximity to other activities. We generally like to be out exploring about 6 hours each day, though many are much longer than that. We also research our followers suggestions and any suggestions we've received from locals, and see if they are a good fit for us. Sometimes we get so many great suggestions that we end up extending our stay. Toni is in charge of looking up the festivals in the area to see if there is anything fun and unusual going on that we may want to add to our agenda. Sometimes the planning can take hours. We also have to consider hours and days places are open, traffic concerns, weather, and other things that may impact our time there. You would be surprised how often major attractions will be closed on Mondays, throwing a wrench into the entire plan! Now that the schedule is complete, we can get some sleep!
The next morning starts with breakfast, and hopefully a workout. With all of the delicious local eats we find, we have to find a good balance, which is a challenge in itself (which is a BLOG for another time)! We then get on the road to go explore for the day. While we are exploring, we are taking hundreds of pictures throughout the day, both for our memories, and to share with our followers. During lunch we usually take a few minutes to post about our day to keep our followers engaged. After dinner, it's back to camp or our room to journal about our day. We both keep separate journals so we can keep our separate perspectives of each stop. I spend about an hour reviewing all of the pictures of the day, making sure they made it to the cloud, and then choosing ones to share with our followers. After that, I respond to our followers comments, and then spend some time supporting some of their pages with likes and comments. I then check my emails, log our financials, and address any concerns with our business back home. Some nights we get to relax a bit before hitting the sack.
Each day is pretty much the same, until we get to our last day at a location. That evening is spent scouring the Internet for our next "home", and the best deal we can find on it. This means searching camping options, Air B&B, hotels, and our latest option, house/pet sitting options. We have to take into location the cost and the location, along with things like parking. When we stay in cities, parking, if not included,can be quite expensive and also can be difficult to find. Many garages don't have the clearance that we need, even for our small van! There are so many little details involved in the logistics of traveling full-time, so much more that we could have imagined. Thankfully we started in the U.S. so we can work out our schedule and figure out all of these little details. Once we start the International part of our trip, I'm sure it will bring many other logistical headaches that we will have to learn to deal with. In the meantime, we are happy with how smooth the trip has been, and how much we have learned about travel.
Our last day at a location means it's time to pack up, break down camp, load the van, and hit the road, starting the whole process over again! We try to schedule "down days" to catch up on our website, write some reviews, BLOG, and business projects, but just like at home, when you take one thing off of the "To Do" list, 3 more things are added. This is one of the reasons that keeping up with our BLOG has been so difficult...we are still working, a lot! Travel is a wonderful experience and we are truly lucky to be in a position to take this adventure, but make no mistake, if you are planning to travel full-time, be prepared to work!
New Orleans has always been on our bucket list for a long weekend, but not for Mardi Gras. We arrived in New Orleans the first week of December, and the city is decked out in red bows, garland, Christmas Trees and lights. The decorations along with the iron works throughout the city, make you feel like you've stepped into a Dicken's Christmas Story, without the snow (UPDATE: It's snowing in New Orleans today!). Walking around this historic city just seems magical this time of the year.
Yeah, I know, Mardi Gras looks like an amazing party, but if a huge mass of very drunk people behaving badly isn't your scene, then consider New Orleans around Christmastime (Note: There are family friendly parades all through Carnivale, including on Mardi Gras). If that is your scene, the good news is that there is always a party going on down Bourbon Street. There are plenty of opportunities to partake in the festivities and if you enjoy people watching, there are plenty of partying people to watch every single night! Worried that you are missing out on the parade? Plan your trip around the annual Christmas Parade that runs down Canal Street. No, it's not as large as the Mardi Gras parade, but there were a lot of floats and people throwing beads, stuffed animals, cups, candy, and all of the traditional Mardi Gras swag! If it's not enough floats for you, head to Mardi Gras World and check out where the floats, as well as other sculptures for Disney and other parks and casinos are made. The tour shows you how these floats are made and not only will you see some old props, but you will get a preview of the floats and props they are working on for the next Mardi Gras! Did you know that they start celebrating the first week in January and there is at least one parade every single day until Mardi Gras!
Parades are a common occurrence in New Orleans. Bands seem to come out of now where and suddenly you find yourself marching behind them, forming your own parade. The streets are constantly lined with musicians of all ages playing a variety of musical instruments. Like many cities, you have your bucket drummers, but here, may of them are young children, and quite talented. There are musicians that played instruments in ways I have never heard before. I remember saying "I never knew that a clarinet could sound like that", with Toni returning the sentiment. Make sure that when you travel to New Orleans, that you carry plenty of dollars with you so you can support these amazing artists.
A trip to New Orleans isn't complete without visiting their unique cemeteries. I know it seems morbid, but learning about how people in different areas celebrate and honor their dead is a part of understanding the culture of an area. New Orleans is below sea level so they bury their dead above ground and it's quite a site to see. Many of these cemeteries are very old, and I would consider them a "must see". St Louis is the most famous, but it now requires a tour guide, which is $20 each. Instead, head to the Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District. It is not as large, but has the same style markers. While you are there, do a self-guided tour the two blocks around the cemetery and you will see Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Archie Manning (where Peyton & Eli grew up), and Ann Rice's homes! The area is a lovely place to walk, filled with beautiful homes.
You can't talk about New Orleans without talking about the food. Like many of the places we have visited on the coast, seafood is a huge part of the cuisine. Craw fish seems to be a staple here along with shrimp. Gumbo and Jambalaya dishes are often made with shrimp, chicken, and andouille sausage, but each place has their own take on these dishes which include rabbit, craw fish, and alligator. Fried chicken is everywhere you look and was delicious! We did meet some new travel friends that suggested trying Boudin as well, but we just couldn't do it. For those of you more adventurous with your food, it was recommended by a person that eats a plant-based diet, but makes Boudin her exception! Anyone who knows us will not be surprised to learn that our favorite local dish was the Beignets and Cafe Au Lait from Cafe Du Monde. A french-style fried dough with, what seems like, and entire bag of powdered sugar on top. Toni says they are perfect for coffee dipping! You cannot go to New Orleans without a stop here!
So, if Mardi Gras isn't your type of scene, don't write off a visit to New Orleans, just visit around the holidays! The sites and sounds of this city are truly unique to anyplace we have seen in the United States so far. The culture here is so different, in fact, that the United States originally rejected Louisiana's request to be a part of the States! This is another Bucket List stop that did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, we will be back!
Continuing our trek south for the winter, our next stop after Cleveland was Cincinnati. En route, we stopped by the Ohio Reformatory, which is the famous prison from the movie Shawshank Redemption, and has been featured in other films as well. Usually you are able to tour this architecturally beautiful prison, however, they are currently decorated to the max for Halloween and are only open at night for their Blood Prison event...a haunting experience. Since horror isn't really our thing, we decide to just admire the prison from the road. If you are a big Shawshank fan, there is a local tour you can do to see several of the scenes from the movie.
We continue south and change our route to take us through Dayton. Dayton is famous for aviation and there are several points of interests dedicated to the Wright Brothers, who were from Dayton. We only stopped by one park, which ended up being named after them, but was really a poorly maintained Veteran's Memorial Park. There was a good view of the river and the city from that point, but the park was quite disappointing.
A hidden Gem near Cincinnati, in Loveland, is the Castle La Roche. Upon arriving, we meet some of "Knights of the Golden Trail". They are working on the castle and cannot seem to get the aerial lift they rented started. Nicole, having a lot of experience working with lifts in our window cleaning business, decides to take a look. After only a few minutes, it's up and running. It will go up and down, but it still won't move forward and back. She spent an hour troubleshooting it with the Knights, but was unable to get it to move and suggests they call the rental company because it needs repair. We begin our self-guided tour of the castle. The castle isn't massive in size or fancy, but the story behind it is awesome. To summarize, Harry D. Andrews built the castle over the course of 51 years, by himself! He used stones that he collected from river that runs through the property. He worked on it until he died at the age of 91. He had no heirs, so when he was younger, he knighted several boys from the Sunday School that he taught. He called them them the Knights of the Golden Trail because they had to agree to live by the 10 commandments, and they had to agree to help maintain the castle and share it with others. He created a 501C and left the property to them, and they continue to run it today. People can be knighted by volunteering their time. Nicole was almost knighted for her help with the lift, and though she wasn't, they all said that we were, by far, the most helpful visitors they have EVER had! The full story of Harry and this castle is pretty impressive and you can read it HERE if you want to learn more.
Another hidden gem we stopped at was the Lucky Cat Museum. If you've ever seen those fat cats waving their paw up, that is a Chinese Lucky Cat. This museum is located in the Essex Art Studio and is a personal collection of Lucky Cats figurines as well as a variety of other Lucky Cat items. The studio is free, though a small donation to look around is always a great gesture. We spoke to the owner of the collection and learned about how she came to own so many and where she gets them from. One rare slot machine that she had always wanted was found in the basement of someone's house and went up for sale, right in Cincinnati! Talk about lucky!!! The museum only takes about 15-30 minutes to walk through, but it's unique and some of the items are interactive, like the coin boxes and slot machines. Toni loves the lucky cat so this museum was a great find for us.
We did swing by the famous Findlay Market, which is listed on the National Registry for Historic Places, and is Ohio's oldest continuous market. It was later in the day, but many of the vendors must have closed up early so we did strike out there, but we made up for it by trying some local favorites. We went to Skyline Chili, which has a unique flavor that has made it a staple in Cincinnati for decades. There is much debate about whether theirs is the best or Gold Star Chili, which we didn't get to try. You will have to try them both and decide for yourself! There is no debating that Graeter's Ice Cream is another great staple here. They are known for their Raspberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, which Nicole tried, but they offer several flavors, including seasonal flavors like the Stout & Chocolate Pretzel that Toni tried. Both were outstanding, and the chocolate chips are really small chunks of their dark chocolate, which were absolutely divine!
We had heard some great things about the Cincinnati zoo, and we had some extra time, so we decided to check it out. We love animals and enjoy spending time at zoos. (Money Saving Travel Tip: Most zoos offer affordable memberships that give you reciprocity at other zoos. Often it's 50% or 100% off at other zoos!) The zoo is pretty large and has a wide variety of animals. It was a Trick or Treat day there so we saw lots of kids and even some parents dressed up, and many of the animals were given pumpkins. We saw several animals, mostly small mammals, that we haven't seen before, so it was fun to learn about them. We saw an Andean Bear with his head in his pumpkin, getting every last seed out of it. They also have Sigfried and Roy's White Tigers there and 3 Bengal cubs as well...all were beautiful! Fiona, the baby hippo, has taken the Internet by storm. We were able to get a glimpse of her while she out as well. Overall, we feel that the Cincinnati Zoo is worth visiting. Make sure you plan on at least 4 hours so you can see it all!
Cincinnati sits along the Ohio River and has a beautiful green area near the river. The Bengal's and Red's stadiums are right by the river as well, making that area a great place to explore. There are 3 bridges near the river front park, and all bridges lead to Kentucky. The John A Roebling Suspension Bridge is a stunning blue bridge that connects with Covington, KY. We were able to walk across the bridge to Kentucky in about 15 minutes. There are wonderful views of Cincinnati from the bridge and it is definitely worth the walk. The park has porch swings all along it, as well as fun activities for kids and adults alike. Play a giant pipe piano by walking on keys, hop aboard a flying pig, play on the playground or in the fountains, or just walk along the river and enjoy the views. There is an indoor carousel, and thanks to Marcy, who we met on the bridge, you can take the street car and/or trolley around and get a good feel of the city, which we did. Of course there are plenty of places to eat and shop in the area as well. We walked to Fountain Square where they are currently building a skating rink for more winter entertainment in the city.
Overall, we were very impressed with Cincinnati, and to be honest, quite surprised. Most people probably don't think of Cincinnati when they think of cities to explore, and we honestly thought we would have a hard time finding enough to do. There is plenty to do there to fill a long weekend getaway, and the River Front area is nice place for a romantic walk. You can even hop a cruise down the river on a paddle boat! The Queen City has plenty to offer travel enthusiasts!
This week we continued to make our way back south with stops in Cleveland and Cincinnati. In Cleveland, we had to head straight to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame first, a bucket list stop for us! With thousands of artifacts from musical artists from Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson, this museum offers an entire day of fun and entertainment. There are jukeboxes touch-screen TVs that will play videos for just about any song you want to hear. Nicole chose "Rock Me Amadeus", which brought back memories of her youth. Someone chose "We are the World", which we just had to stop and watch too. There are interactive displays that let you learn about and listen to categories like one hit wonders. We found this quite addictive and spent about 45 minutes listening to them all, alphabetically. We also came to the conclusion that one hit wonders tend to be used more in commercials, because we were able to tie so many of them to several different brands, which was a fun side game for us. There are great displays that show all the influences of blues, country, and other genres on Rock & Roll.
Just south of Cleveland is the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, another Bucket List stop! This is a must see for any football fan. Currently, they have a football card collection on display on the 1st floor, which was quite impressive. One floor has Madden games set up on big screen TVs where people can sit on a couch and play for a while. We were able to sit in on a presentation about helmets and how they have changed through the decades, and how they are addressing the current safety concerns with concussions. It was interesting to see the new helmets players are using and how much they have improved just from the time that we've hung up our cleats (2006). A volunteer there, Bill, started talking with us and ended up giving us a personal tour of a few things he wanted to be sure we didn't miss. He was excited to tell us that they were about to get a briefing on a new helmet that day from a company called Zenith that is supposed to be the safest helmet to date and may take the market by storm. He then showed us the plans they have for a huge expansion to the property. They are adding a retirement home for NFL players where they will be able to get proper medical care. They are also adding a resort that will have all types of restaurants, shopping, a watermark, and football related activities. We also learned that there is one house still on the property that is owned by a 90 year old woman. When they bought the property they told her that she can stay there until she dies, which is unheard of. We continue our tour and spend about 4-5 hours looking at the Hall of Fame Busts, the artifacts, and learning about the history of football. There are some interactive displays here as well. One of our favorites was a real Instant Replay experience, which give you insight of how the referees use this tool, using real-life scenarios from games. Though the museum doesn't have a section that represents the Women's Pro Football Leagues yet, there were a few displays to honor the women of late that have broken into some coaching, refereeing , and broadcasting roles in the NFL. Actually, just the day before, Jennifer Welter, a previous Women's League player and currently an NFL coach, was at the Hall of Fame. Maybe someday there will be a section to represent women who have been playing for decades, like Cooperstown has done.
We found a few other stops interesting in Cleveland. We went to 'The Christmas Story' House and it's exactly as it looks in the movie. There are tours available, though we opted to skip the tour. You are able to walk up to the porch and you can see the Leg Lamp in the front window. Across the street is a garage that has the "Old Man's Oldsmobile" and the Fire Truck that was on the scene to help the kid with his tongue frozen to the pole. There is also a museum and a gift shop. The gift shop has gift items from several favorite Christmas movies like Elf and National Lampoon's Christmas for sale. They do have an online shop if you are looking for some unique Christmas gifts!
A hidden gem that we found is the International Women's Air & Space Museum. Right next to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in the terminal of the Burke Lakefront Airport, this small museum has some artifacts and shares some great stories about women who have led the way in aviation. The museum and parking are free and is a great way to spend about an hour learning about these amazing women.
The West Side Market is worth checking out. The fruit and vegetable displays are beautiful, and there are a lot of vendors selling a variety of mostly unprepared fresh foods, though there are some beautiful looking
baked goods that you could certainly snack on as you stroll. If it's nature you are looking for, head to the Cayuhoga National Park and take a short hike to the Brandywine Falls. The National Park has several trails you can hike, and the drive out there is also very pretty.
Cleveland is definitely a great city to get out and explore. There is plenty of things to do to fill a long weekend in this city and its surrounding areas. We enjoyed our stay here and would recommend adding it to your weekend getaway lists!