Diversion, Uncategorized

Diversion: Key West – a warm winter weekend

KeysPoles (1) A recent trip is proof that good advertising works.   A series of attractive and funny poster-sized ads promoting the Florida Keys splattered throughout one of the Washington Metro system’s busiest stations caught Greg’s eye as the weather turned frigid.  With headlines like “Strong response to the latest poles” while showing fishermen casting their lines in azure seas, the campaign mocked DC in winter. We’re big fans of Key West and try to get down once a year, but when we spotted the posters, we realized it had been 14 months since we were there last – getting married. We took the bait – hook, line, and sinker.

blizzard

To say we were “jones-ing for some down-island time” is something of an understatement. We were still reeling from almost two feet of snow from a recent blizzard; the forecast was calling for single digits over the weekend.  I got home, popped online and checked to see if it was possible to get any deals for the looming three-day weekend. “Deals” is such a subjective word. Two round-trip tickets at the last-minute on a holiday weekend … let’s just say with patience and hard work, it is possible to find “deals” online. A quick e-mail to Susie at the world’s BEST travel agency, Key West Key Inc,  secured us a room for two nights.

two drinks on the bar

One of the best things about Key West is the laid-back vibe. You really don’t NEED to do anything other than eat … and there are plenty of places to do that.
We landed about noon, checked in to our room and checked out of our stress.airplane bar - long shot.jpg First stop – a nice, icy, tropical adult beverage.

After all … this is Jimmy Buffet country and “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” is a state of mind.  We wandered to Kelly’s Caribbean Bar & Grill Brewery where I’d found out the bar was made to resemble an airplane wing.

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I wanted to take in the daily tradition of watching the sunset on Mallory Square.  So we followed the crowds to the edge of the pier where we caught the act of a unicycling, comedian named Juggling Jase just as the day faded.

A hundred-or-so steps away and we bellied up to the bar at the iconic Sloppy Joes for a frosty chilled beer as we toasted the warmth and posted a status update on Facebook to tease our friends back home who were bundled against temps in the low teens while we were wearing shorts and short sleeves.

Carols Art purchase Our only full day included a must-see exhibit at a local art gallery, KEPart,  where a friend (and our wedding photographer) had a showing of some special, layered photographs. We fell in love with one and managed to get the first printing of a limited run.

Next it was time for a little more destination-free wandering before the laziness of the day took hold of us and we plopped onto lounge chairs by the hotel pool to soak up some sun and read books borrowed from a lending library with a view of a perfect blue sky through the trees.  view through the trees

A laugh-filled dinner with friends inspired great conversation to cap off a perfect day.

The next morning the bright, tropical sun blasted through the palm trees outside our room. It was time to slip on the flip flops and see the sights. Despite repeated visits here, we’d never taken the “Conch Train” tour and since everyone seems to recommend it, we figured now was as good a time as any. I grabbed my camera and we snagged the back seats on the open-air “train” for an hour-and-a-half narrated tour of the southernmost city in the US.

We passed gorgeous little houses, funky little sights and a couple of historic attractions before hopping off the train for a slow walk down iconic Duval Street. IMG_5702.JPGTummies rumbling, we came upon a hidden gem of an Italian place we had been before. Wood-fired pizzas are a specialty at Onlywood, but we opted for pasta and savored the flavors as we watched a tiny lizard sunning itself on a nearby leaf.

The day began to wind down as we headed for the airport for our flight home – rested, relaxed, rejuvenated. Visits to the Keys always seem to take away all your stress and leave you wanting more. If you get a chance … you should find a way to go there. After all, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored.

Diversion

Diversion: Take the Upgrade

What do you do with an extra week of vacation? I recently reached a milestone work anniversary and now earn an extra week of vacation every year. Greg is a few years behind me, so that leaves me with a week to use that he doesn’t have. The trouble is, I really prefer traveling with him. In fact, since we’ve been together, I just don’t even want to travel alone anymore like I used to because Greg is so much fun. So when I found out he had to go to New Orleans for a week for a conference, why not spend that extra week in the Big Easy? While he’s listening to keynotes and participating in plenaries, I can spend a week exploring the sights, sounds and flavors of the town.  At night, I can even swing a couple of dinners at a jazz club with my husband instead of staying home alone.

Why am I telling you this? Well … sometimes a trip like this deserves an upgrade. Looking forward to a whole week of relaxation and fun, why not spend the cost of a nice meal to give yourself a treat? I mean, who among us hasn’t walked onto a flight envying those comfy, beverage-wielding passengers looking all relaxed and polished in their front-of-the-plane seats while we shuffle back to coach to cram into a seat that leaves us shoulder to shoulder with our seat mates? As we checked in online for our flight, the airline offered a First Class upgrade for just $90.  We had to spend $25 each anyway to check a bag, so the upgrade was really only going to cost $65 because it included those checked bags.

I could hear my dad’s voice in my head. When I was young, he always used to joke, “It only costs a nickle more to go first class.” For the cost of a decent pair of shoes, we could enjoy a complimentary breakfast served on china, drinks in glass, loads of leg room, and bags checked with priority delivery when we landed. For a three-hour ride, the leg room alone might be worth it. We got to the airport the next morning, cruised onto the flight with the first boarding group and ordered a pre-flight drink. This vacation (well, a vacation for me anyway) was starting out with a little bit of extravagance.

Sometimes we all deserve a little treat …especially when heading off to check out some new destination.

After all … there’s a whole world world out there just waiting to be explored, why not go see it in style?

Diversion

Diversion – Solomons Island

A beautiful, sun-filled day near the Chesapeake Bay calls you to the water. That’s how we ended up on Solomons Island, Maryland on a Saturday in May instead of touring embassies in downtown Washington, DC or even at the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover, Delaware, both considered top options until the sun and wind called us elsewhere.20150509_142733

Solomons Island is where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake and across the water from a US Navy installation that’s been around since the war of 1812 with an ever-changing mission due to its location at the mouth of the river.  Greg had heard about the Calvert Marine Museum for years while living in nearby Prince George’s County, but had never been. So, with the top down on the car, the wind whipping through our hair and the sun shining pleasantly on us, we headed to the museum.

What a great little treasure tucked away on this Southern Maryland island. The maritime-focused museum is chock full of artifacts and information about the crucial location of the island in the war of 1812 against the British, about its fishing and maritime history and even a peek at the history of speed boat racing and recreation on the river and into the Chesapeake bay.

The friendly lady who sold us our admission tickets, $9 per adult, mentioned an optional tour on the Wm B Tennison. The one hour cruise takes you through the Solomons inner harbor, around the end of the island and under the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge then turns at Point Patience and returns to the museum dock. The $7 per person price seemed reasonable, so we opted in. Brilliant decision!

anglersWe had just enough time to pop next door to the Anglers Seafood Bar and Grill to grab a bite to eat before the cruise. We postulated that if you can’t get good seafood in a fishing town, where can you? We ordered crab cake sliders and bacon-wrapped scallops. Both were magnificent … fresh, cooked to perfection and exactly what we needed for a waterside lunch.

A mad dash back to the Tennison had us make it just in time to shove off and head out. The weather was perfect, the captain and first mate filled the outward cruise with tidbits of information about places of interest on shore, then turned off the microphone and let us enjoy the peace and quiet of a cruise on the water as we returned.20150509_142253

The Drum Point Lighthouse, once a beacon to sailors and other mariners entering these sometimes dangerously shallow waters, is no longer in operation and has been moved to the dock for visitors. A two-bedroom home with a kitchen and living space, an outdoor privy and what looked like all the amenities of a quaint home made us talk about finding a lighthouse bed and breakfast for a weekend getaway at some point.  Entrance to the lighthouse is part of the museum admission.1431192796504

We stopped at the wood carving shop and watched a couple of gentlemen building boats inside for a while, then headed back to the car for a leisurely drive home.

EPILOGUE:  When we arrived home we checked in online to discover a MAJOR accident had closed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in both directions. Our last-minute decision to scrap our plans to head to Dover turned out to be fortuitous, not only for the incredible find we stumbled on, but for our dodging a traffic nightmare at the end of our day.

Diversion

Diversion – Snowed In

I guess I should start by saying telling a snow story as the temps climb into the 80s is a little weird, but we realized we never posted the story of our unplanned vacation diversion from a year ago, so why not share it now?

The plan was to fly to Los Angeles for a long weekend over Valentine’s Day.  That weekend has become a serious “get out of town” weekend for us since it’s almost always Washington’s Birthday weekend and cold and snowy in Washington. In 2014, both of those things were true. Greg’s family is in the LA area so it’s a built-in warm, sunny getaway destination. We bought the tickets early and started making plans.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature did NOT check with us to see if we had plans and as the weekend approached the forecast started looking gloomier and gloomier. First there was a possibility of snow, then a snow STORM was coming in. With our Thursday flight less than a week away, forecasters began predicting not just a snow STORM, but a serious, over-a-foot, wind-blowing, WHOPPER of a storm – ON THURSDAY night! Washington is not really capable of handling BIG storms very well and we knew that kind of snow would certainly shut down the airports.

On Monday I called the airline to switch to a Wednesday flight. We figured we’d just get out ahead of it. No such luck! The airline wasn’t offering weather changes yet so it was going to almost double the cost of the ticket to move to an earlier date. We decided to wait and see. The forecasted arrival time of the storm kept shifting … Thursday night, Thursday evening, Thursday during the day … oh no, NOT during the day! I called the airline back. The Wednesday flight was now sold out. We took a chance and snagged the early Friday morning flight. I hoped the airport would get the runway cleared overnight and the morning flights would be OK.

Knowing the roads would be a total mess, we decided to get a room at an airport hotel so we would be able to get to the airport Friday morning. Our thinking was the RUNWAYS might be clear, but the road crews have way more surface to plow and the roads may not be clear. And, our little roadster hates snow. We checked in Wednesday after work.

Then the storm hit. It was even earlier than predicted. It started snowing Wednesday evening as we were eating dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. It was packed! I mean, it was CRAZY packed! Not only had other people realized and done the same thing we had, but the storm was coming from the south and airlines had diverted flights to Charlotte, NC, to Washington and all the hotels were filling up fast. During dinner, the snow fell quickly enough to cover the pavement. It was that early time in a storm when everything is pretty and people are dashing around to get last-minute provisions.

We took advantage of a deserted parking lot to wander in the gently falling snow and enjoy the scenery without having to be a part of the hubbub. We discussed how the snow starting on Wednesday night was a good sign that our plan would be successful. If the snow storm arrived early, it should wrap up early, too. The airport would have plenty of time to clear the runways for our rescheduled Friday morning flight. Again, Mother Nature forgot to check with us.

The snow kept falling overnight. It fell hard and fast and deep. Cars in the parking lot were covered. The Burger King across from our hotel didn’t open that morning. The gas station was full of tow trucks refueling all morning. By noon we realized we had no lunch options – well, other than that gas station. We ended up navigating the snow piles across the parking lot to pick up a couple of hot dogs, a can of chili and a bag of Fritos for lunch. We also thought to grab some drinks. Looking ahead to dinner was a little disconcerting. The snow was still falling. This is NOT GOOD. The airline called about midday. It cancelled the Friday morning flight. I tried to reason with them … how could they know it would still be bad in 18 hours? What were our options for rescheduling? Could we just move our vacation to next weekend? All the answers were bad: The runways may be clear in the morning, but they weren’t taking any chances; we could reschedule for any flight in the next 72 hours; no, next weekend is outside the 72 hour window.

I hung up and got cranky … really cranky. I called to reschedule and was put on hold … for almost TWO HOURS. While I was on hold I tweeted about the awful situation. I whined to the world … and to the airline on Twitter.  That worked! The airline not only moved us to the next weekend but upgraded us. I was feeling a little better. OK, our beautiful, sunny, long weekend in LA would be pushed back. We had a bright white, snowy scene outside our window. It was midday and the snow had stopped. Over a foot had fallen. We knew we were stuck in the hotel, but at least we were warm and had wifi. Forecasters predicted a second blast of snow … it would start soon.  We called the restaurant where we had eaten on Wednesday. It was closed. We called for a pizza. Luckily Dominos was open for business. We could save some for breakfast. The hotel had run out of coffee and we were pretty sure breakfast on Friday was not going to be served.

More snow … quite a bit. By the time the second blast ended the cars in the parking lot were big lumps of snow. Overnight we heard plows clearing the Washington beltway and roads near the hotel. Apparently the gas station across the street was a major refueling point for plows, which meant the road in and out of the hotel parking lot was cleared.

By Friday midday (the hotel let us check out late), the roads were clear enough to get home. We had rescheduled flights for the next weekend, lit our gas fireplace and snuggled in for the weekend. Sure, our sunny, Southern California Valentine’s Day weekend was a bust, but we could still get out to the warmth a week late. In the end, it’s just a story to share, but proof that sometimes all your careful planning doesn’t mean a thing and you have to be ready to get through a diversion you may not have wanted with a smile on your face anyway. We had a great time a week later in LA, by the way.  We even got some sailing in and for the first time, saw a pod of dolphins lazily swimming in the surf.  Meanwile, it snowed again in Washington.  Life is good.

Diversion

Diversion – Nostalgia

Anyone who thinks billboards don’t work must not travel the roads we do. Whether it’s across the country or north to south, we, like most people, tend to hop on the Interstates when we want to get somewhere quickly. Unlike most, however, we get off regularly onto local roads. What determines when and where we get off is usually some sort of sign – actual signs!  We’ve diverted to small museums because of brown recreational direction signs posted by departments of transportation. We’ve diverted to small towns because of small signs (ok, posters) posted on restaurant bulletin boards or truck stops. We’ve diverted to stores and tourist “traps” because of billboards.

To set this story up, I should let you know that Greg and I keep talking about buying a house that has a room we can use or convert to a bar or lounge … a place for entertaining. We’ve considered a lot of decorating options including mid-Century “atomic” looks (think Mad Men!), but our home has a real travel theme to it and we’ll probably end up with something that leans towards travel.

Back to the road … and billboards.  We were headed out to Paris, Tennessee, crossing the state from Bristol through Knoxville and Nashville. Just west of Bristol, as we approached Knoxville, a great billboard caught our eye for an “antique” store called “Nostalgia: Knoxville’s Vintage Market.”  Even the sign had a fun mid-century vibe to it. We were intrigued. We googled it from our phones to see what time they were open. The timing was right! We needed a little break from the road and what better break than a stroll through a cool vintage market, right?

IMG_3914We agreed – DIVERSION!

What fun! I should take a moment to mention we don’t tell anyplace we mention in our blogs that we are bloggers. We don’t usually even decide we’ll blog about something until it’s already happened! The cheery staff of Nostalgia has no idea I’m writing this, which I hope adds to the authenticity of our blog.

We wandered the aisles of the smaller of the two Nostalgia stores. The lady at the counter said the other store has more furniture and “larger pieces.” This one was chock full of really fun-looking mid-century décor. There were lamps, mirrors, coffee tables covered with ashtrays (yeah, ASHTRAYS!), funky kitchen appliances (I wonder how many still work?), and loads of other pieces. We kept pointing out certain things to each other, “Hey, we had one of those growing up.”

IMG_3906Then we saw it … a set of eight glasses in a rack. It screamed travel and 60s and all the things we are drawn to. I hesitated. Have you ever noticed in these stores when you see something you love how the price always seems to be way too high? I reached for the tag tied on the carrying handle of the rack … WOW! $30! Should we?

IMG_3907We strolled another aisle before going back for the glasses. How could we pass up something like that? Even if we didn’t ever have a bar in our future home, we always need glasses, right? It even came with the original box…with a shipping label dated 1959.

Our fun find put us in a great mood to finish the drive to Paris. We will stop at the other store at some point. Maybe by then we will have the bar we wish for. If not, at least it will be another fun diversion.

Diversion

Diversion — Expect the Unexpected

Traveling off the beaten path sometimes means that you’ll end up staying somewhere unexpected. In the last 12 months, Judy and I have spent about four or five unplanned nights in hotels. In one case, it was because we encountered ice covered roadways. It didn’t make sense to put our lives in danger just to get home. In others, we’ve just decided to stay overnight and enjoy added time with family and friends, or simply to stay up late and get up early to experience new and different sites and tastes. If life is an adventure, then you need to be ready to expect the unexpected!

A few things make this easier. First, and perhaps most importantly, we don’t have kids or pets at home (often they are one and the same). As much as we both love dogs, we’ve consciously made a decision to not have a pet in the house so that we don’t have to worry about its care. If you do have pets (we’re assuming you’re not going to leave your kids at home alone!), then consider finding a reliable person who can walk and feed your animals on short notice.

ToplessSecond, keep a small “go bag” in our car with essential toiletries and medications. This past Friday, we left town quickly to visit an ailing relative who lives about three hours south. Leaving directly from my office, stopping at home to pick up clothes and the Dopp kit wasn’t really an option. I was still in my work clothes, so we stopped to pick up some more casual shirts and jeans. Since we drive a convertible, we keep a couple of fleece jackets in the trunk.  These helped ward off the unseasonal chill. The usual go bag wasn’t in the car, so we also raided the “samples” aisle to pick up a tooth brush and toothpaste, deodorant, shaving essentials and a few other items to make sure that we didn’t look ghastly in the morning. Those who have read the blog from the beginning know that we have no problem buying things on the fly, but having a few needed items in the car can make unexpected overnights that much easier.

Third, come up with one or two “go to” hotel chains you like that have the amenities you need at a cost you can regularly afford (and for which you can collect points for free or discounted visits). A quick check of the internet on your smartphone (or even using the chain’s app) can quickly result in a reservation confirmation. Don’t forget to ask for discounts…just because you’re calling last minute doesn’t mean you have to live with rack rates. In the aforementioned “ice” incident, we saw that one of our preferred chains was at the next exit, so we simply pulled in and asked the clerk what she could do for us. Perhaps because we were regular guests of this particular chain, she quoted a rate that was more than half of the rack rate and well in line of what we expected to pay. Most of us have some sort of discount available — AAA, AARP, government, etc. — use what works for you.

Don’t forget to use these unexpected visits to check out local restaurants, taverns, and other sites. Also, don’t forget to take a peek at the rack of local attraction brochures usually located just off the lobby in nearly every hotel. You’ll never know what you’ll find and you might even decide to visit again!

Diversion

Diversion – Scenic Overlook: Worth the Stop

One of the things we have discovered (as you have read in previous posts), is staying off the beaten track and taking the road less traveled leads to unexpected delights. We recently hopped in the car and headed for a visit with family in the tiny town of Hillsville, Virginia. While much of the trip was spent relaxing around the house and enjoying my young grandsons, there was a diversion as we headed into Radford. Since we were visiting locals, we were able to take the back roads and ended up on a winding, narrow section of US 11 up and over a mountain.

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At the top, a pair of scenic overlooks called out to us to stop and check out the view. On one side, a dazzling view of the New River Valley (or so we think since it was not marked or labeled).

 

IMG_3811On the other side, there was an expansive vista overlooking the Draper Valley.

A roadside marker tells the story of a 1755 Shawnee Indian raid. According to the marker, the Shawnee traveled from the Ohio River Valley to raid the Western Virginia Frontier along the New River.

The result of one of those raids, Bettie Draper and her sister-in-law Mary Draper Ingalls were taken captive and taken back to the Shawnee Camp in the Ohio River Valley. Mary Draper Ingalls soon escaped and traveled more than 850 miles back to the New River Valley. Bettie Draper lived with the family of an Indian Chief for the next six years before her husband John Draper found her and bartered for her return. They returned to the New River Valley and settled in 1765 in what is known today as Draper Valley in Pulaski County.

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The fascinating tale on the marker doesn’t mention the ruins of a small home up a flight of stone steps from the overlook, but we imagined it had been the home of an earlier settler to the valley as we made our way up to the ruins.  Whoever lived here certainly had an amazing view … in BOTH directions.

It was a short stop, but worth it for the views, the diversion, and the insight into one of the many tales of American history that are so local they are rarely published in textbooks, instead taught just in the areas where they happened.

 

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From there we passed through Pulaski with its interesting blend of old Victorian homes, small Cape Cod style cottages and newer construction. It’s pretty off-the-beaten-track, but that’s the sort of fun you can have when you choose to get off the interstate, slow down and enjoy whatever happens.