kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Asheville, N.C. -- Hip Meets Hippy

Of the three cities we visited on our vacation this summer, Asheville was my favorite. We arrived on a drizzly Thursday afternoon, stopping first at the visitors' center, where we discovered there is WAY more to see and do in Asheville than we had time for. But just being there was a dream come true for me -- a place that had been on my to-visit list for a couple decades or more.

Asheville has a laid back, easy-going, retro, casual hippy kinda vibe. In fact, on more than one occasion, we saw folks smoking pot in public, quite openly with no reason to hide it, despite the fact that, from what I read online, that's not exactly legal. The town feels very diverse, open and welcoming. The shops and restaurants express that sense of diversity, so much so that it's really hard to decide where to dine -- there are so many fascinating choices -- especially when we only had two days in the area.

Asheville thrives in a quirky awesome way. A college town full of coffee shops, ethnic eateries, street performers, candy and ice cream shops, vintage clothing stores, bookstores, CBD oil and head shops galore. Bob and I loved the Asheville Pinball Museum, where for a reasonable fee, you can play pinball all day. We didn't have time to play all day, so we briefly walked around basking in vintage arcade nostalgia. And I was thrilled to stumble across a Ten Thousand Villages shop (I'm a Ten Thousand Villages distributor through my church, First Presbyterian Church Lake Charles.) I was told this Asheville store is the largest brick and mortar Ten Thousand Villages in the country.

We stayed in a delightful inn called A Bed of Roses Bed and Breakfast.

Hosts Bill and Emily McIntosh ensure their guests have a wonderful stay, and their breakfasts are amazing. Marmalade-stuffed french toast, anyone?

Once settled in our room, we began exploring, with dinner the ultimate goal. Asheville is known for its many breweries (many is an understatement; there are literally dozens, if not a hundred in the region), and we found Wicked Weed Brewery. We shared a large flight and a soft pretzel. In this photo, you see what's left of the mustard, apple butter, and cheese dips.

Besides the vibe and diversity, another reason I love Asheville is because it is in the mountains. The Blue Ridge Parkway hugs the town's eastern and southern borders. And as much as I wanted to further explore Asheville proper, I couldn't wait to get into the woods -- my happy place. No where else is my soul at such a degree of peace than surrounded by trees in a vast green forest. We hiked and drove several miles along this 469-mile national treasure.

The rhododendron . . .

and mountain laurel were in bloom -- two woodland plants that I love from my home state, Pennsylvania, and do not grow in the south (that I'm aware of) and I miss them.

As we descended back into Asheville, we spotted this black bear foraging roadside. Pretty exciting for me, as it was the first time I'd ever seen a bear in the wild.

We were told by more than one local that Asheville has become gentrified over the past several years. Which is another way of saying it is not as reasonably priced -- be it housing, dining, or shopping -- as it once was. But I'd go back in a heartbeat. And indeed, I plan to. There are so many places I have yet to explore, ie River Arts District and Montreat. And, more breweries.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Charleston, S.C. -- Historic Meets Hip

Continuing on our summer vacation, we drove from Savannah, GA to Charleston, SC. This second city on our tri-town trip surprised me. I expected lots of history, old buildings, statues in tribute to old war heroes, much like Savannah. What I didn't expect was the progressive nature of the city. While holding on to their historic legacy, they also have a firm grasp on urban revitalization, restoration, and re-purposing. The stellar Visitors Center resides in an old train station. There's free bus transportation, numerous bike share companies, sunscreen dispensers and in-ground doggy do-do receptacles in city parks, and an obvious commitment to recycling. There's a hip vibe, with trendy rooftop bars and coffee shops, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and breweries housed in once-abandoned buildings.

Because we only had a couple days in each city, we basically stayed in Charleston's historic Downtown Peninsula. The riverfront is a popular shady place to play and pass the time. Nearby is the delightful seafood restaurant, Fleet Landing, located in what was once a navy supply depot. Crab is a popular menu item in these parts. We had She Crab Bisque and Crab Cakes.

Little has changed in the post office, except maybe the Wanted posters and the price of a stamp. Such attention to detail! It's an excellent example of historic preservation. And the Postal Museum is aptly located within the post office.

As we strolled through the old city blocks, we happened upon an enchanting section of Church St. Ambling along, we caught glimpses of backyard gardens and southern charm through decorative wrought iron gates.

One of our favorite things to do in Charleston was to discover the "secret" alleyways between buildings and spontaneously duck in and explore, just to see where they lead. We found such unexpected beauty and whimsy. In other cities, these hidden spaces might be relegated to parking or garbage cans. But in Charleston, residents landscape them with lush shade-loving plants and quirky curiosities.

Charleston is known for its history, but it is also an artsy town. Quite coincidentally, we were there during their annual arts festival, Piccolo Spoleto, a two-week long multi-faceted arts extravaganza with hundreds of performances of music, dance, theater, and visual arts. (Which could explain why we had such a hard time finding accommodations!) We browsed a fine arts exhibit in a city park and boarded the Carolina Queen for a blues concert/sunset cruise.

And it's science-oriented -- there's the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History (the first natural history museum in the country, I read) and the South Carolina Aquarium. We didn't have time for either of these.

But we did check out the City Market. Handmade baskets such as these, made in the Gula tradition, surely define the Charleston craft culture. Basket weavers hawk their wares throughout the city, especially in the City Market. These works of art are exquisite, unique, and the artists are engaging.

Image result for charleston basket weavers photos
Photo from this website.

Other memorable sights . . . historic cemeteries and colorful architecture.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Tybee Island, Georgia

On our way from Savannah to Charleston, S.C., we detoured east and spent a few hours on Tybee Island. I had heard of Tybee Island before, primarily as a destination wedding hot spot. And true, we did see a few pop-up chapels. The beach area was crowded and smaller than I expected, But it was a Sunday in June, after all. We saw the usual businesses you'd expect to see in a coastal town that thrives on tourism -- sundries and souvenirs, pizza shops, and ice cream parlors.

Image result for ice cream parlor photos

The main attraction for Bob and me was the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum. Originally built in 1773, this site is one of the best preserved Light Stations in the country.

Prior to the installation of electricity in 1933, the light required three light keepers to maintain the flame. The museum is comprised of the light house grounds and the well-restored buildings -- the Head Keeper's Cottage and two Assistant Keepers' cottages, and a summer kitchen. The gift shop is housed in what was once a three-car garage. Besides the light itself, my favorite building was the Head Keeper's Cottage. The Keeper and his entire family lived on the grounds. For a "cottage" it was quite spacious and comfortable. It was easy to imagine a family living there in the shadow of the lighthouse.

Bob and I climbed the 178 steps to the top.

The view was worth it.

Of course, we couldn't go to Tybee Island without a stroll along the beach. We found a fun swing overlooking the ocean.

Next stop, Charleston, South Carolina.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Savannah -- Historic Meets Haute

Bob and I went on a vacation earlier this month. We jam-packed a three city tour into one week. A bit of a whirlwind, and not the least bit relaxing, but we saw and did a lot, waked miles and miles, and had a lot of fun. We flew from Houston into Atlanta, rented a car, and drove to Savannah, GA.; Charleston, SC, (after an afternoon on Tybee Island); Asheville, NC; then back to Atlanta, making a giant circle. We had never been to any of these cities prior, so it was a much-anticipated adventure. All three of these cities were completely different, and we loved each one.

Savannah exudes southern charm and hospitality. We checked into the Savannah B&B, a delightful inn on a quiet street in the Historic District, got the grand tour of the inn, and settled into a cozy, comfortable room all the way at the top of two long circa 1853 staircases.

Savannah B&B Inn

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived in Savannah, and we were eager to explore. First stop, Forsyth Park, right around the corner from the inn. Oak trees and spanish moss, shade from the heat, park benches for resting and enjoying the natural beauty . . . it was prettier than we could have imagined.

This fountain is the focal point of Forsyth Park and an icon of Savannah culture.

Savannah has a free bus system that took us to the waterfront. We strolled River Street, perused the craft vendors, marveled at the centuries-old, onyx-colored cobblestones, and found fantastic gelato at River Street Sweets.

Savannah B&B says good morning to guests with a fabulous breakfast buffet. We dined on the patio overlooking lovely courtyards, then returned to Forsyth Park because we'd read about a Saturday morning farmers' market there. We found a surprisingly wide variety of vendors. Loved it! Unfortunately, because we were traveling, we couldn't buy much. I DID buy a glass of fresh-pressed watermelon juice!

Bags and bags of Georgia peaches

One of our favorite things about Savannah was the 22 squares of green space dotting the neighborhoods at every other turn. Parks add so much to the quality of life in a city.

It was hard to know what to do and see when we only had two days in this delightful city. We toured the Owen-Thomas House, and the awe-inspiring Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

We went to City Market, where I ate grilled grouper and drank peach sangria. We explored the shops along Bull St., sampled chocolates at tony Chocolat by Adan Turoni. A highlight of the day was a carriage ride through the town -- history, humor, and horses.

For dinner that night, we ate at Crystal Beer Parlor, recommended by our front desk hostess. She was spot on. It's a neighborhood joint but the line was out the door. We were seated sooner rather than later by opting to sit at the bar, where we chatted with the barmaid and watched a Tom Cruise movie on the TV over the bar. The beer selection was good and the food even better, but the standout was a freshly-baked soft pretzel the size of a platter.

Sunday morning, we had only a few hours to sight see before moving on. So we zigzagged through the Victorian District and toured the Sorrel Weed House. It is supposedly haunted, but I didn't see or sense any spirits.

In my title, I referred to Savannah as haute because that was the vibe I got. It was fun and a bit frivolous, but folks seemed to dress up a bit more than in other tourist towns. I saw so many women walking around in high heels. I, of course, wore my tennis shoes.

Next stop, Tybee Island, on the way to Charleston.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Germanfest, Robert's Cove, Louisiana

All my life, from the time I was a child, I knew I was German. 100%, through and through. My ancestors on both my mother's and father's side immigrated from Germany to the U.S. So naturally, I assumed I was German. Until a year or so ago, when I took an Ancestry.com DNA test and discovered I'm actually 47% English/Wales, 22% Swedish, 20% Scottish/Irish, and a whopping 11% Germanic Europe. Hmm.

But that new knowledge has not lessened my fascination with all things German. And when I learned there is an annual Germanfest in the small rural farming community of Roberts Cove, La., just an hour east of Lake Charles, I knew I had to go!

Roberts Cove is home to a mere 175 families, yet each year, they host this festival and welcome thousands over the two-day event. Eric and I were among the throng today and we had a fun time.

Under the Main Tent, we heard German bands with their lively oom-pah-pahs and yodeling . . .

Reminds you of an authentic German Biergarten, no?

and watched German dancing . . .

We ate German sausages, beef stew, potatoes, sauerkraut, fresh soft pretzels, and apple cobbler. And while Eric and I abstained due to driving, beer was definitely one of the main attractions.

There was also a display of antique tractors, a blacksmith demo, and a fun children's area.

The festival site is a cultural center that is home to the beautiful St. Leo IV Catholic Church . . .

 . . . a small chapel, a gift shop, and the community's German Heritage Museum.

Thank you, Roberts Cove. We had an enjoyable afternoon!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Scotland, Part 2b, Glencoe to Inverness

Just pretend it wasn't two months ago that I posted Scotland, Part 1. I'm a procrastinator, I know. This blog post documents the second half of my family's trip to Scotland in June earlier this year.

We left Glencoe and continued north. There aren't many highways in Scotland, but we would have taken the back roads anyway. The scenery was spectacularly beautiful.

We drove through small towns like Fort William. And unexpectedly found the Glenfinnan Viaduct, also known as the unforgettable railroad bridge that Harry Potter crossed on his way to Hogwarts.

A slight detour took us to Malliag, a sleepy little seaside village on the Atlantic ocean.

A common sight in the Scottish Highlands.

Boats in Mallaig harbor.

The Jacobite steam train in Mallaig.

Next day, destination Inverness. But we naturally made stops along the way. The highlight of the day was a hike through Glen Nevis Gorge. We followed this trail . . .

to the spectacular Steall Falls.

And then our final day of sightseeing in Scotland. We all agreed, Inverness was our favorite part of the vacation. It has a fabulous old world vibe.

Inverness Cathedral

Inverness is situated on either side of tranquil River Ness. Several footbridges cross the water.

Inverness Castle, which is still used today as a municipal building.

The seagulls are rather tame. Apparently, tourists provide a food source.

The unicorn is the official animal of Scotland.

We planned our entire day around a trip to Chanonry Point on Moray Firth. Supposedly, this location is one of the best places to see dolphins in the world (according to tripadvisor.com). As the tide comes in, so do the dolphins, and usually, quite a lot of them. They come in very close to shore and are known to leap and play and put on quite a show. Better than Sea World, right! That was the plan, anyway. We arrived early, so as not to miss the spectacle. A throng of people were already there, waiting, cameras ready. We sat on that beach -- and it was very windy and surprisingly cold -- for two hours, waiting to spot even one dolphin. Eventually, two or three dolphins moseyed up. No show. Most days they come, and some days they don't, it seems. It was the only disappointment of the week.

I suppose because it rains a lot and it is not scorching hot in the summer, the flower gardens in Scotland are stunning.

Urquhart Castle, on the lovely Loch Ness, was the best preserved and most interesting castle we visited in Scotland.

The following day, we took four trains all the way back to Manchester, dropping Eric off in Glasgow. Playing cards helped pass the time. Until next time, Scotland!