Distractions, Diversion, Road Trip, travel

London Bridge is NOT Falling Down

We all probably sang this little ditty as a child: “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.”

London Bridge is in Havasu City, Arizona.

Well … guess what … no it is not! I’ve seen it. London Bridge is strong and beautiful and well-traveled in the warm Arizona sunshine. Yep … Arizona! We visited the bridge on a beautiful, blue-sky day recently. The bridge connects the mainland with a small island in Lake Havasu.

British and US flags fly from the bridge.

To be fair, a lot of people didn’t know that the famous London span was sold to a developer back in 1968. Robert McCullough took the bridge apart brick-by-brick and shipped it across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal and then by train to Lake Havasu, Arizona. It was reassembled in the hopes of attracting people to the area and it worked.

Along the sides of the bridge, the Star Spangled Banner blows in the breeze along with the Union Jack. A few fellow sightseers snapped pictures (like me). We popped into a restaurant with a view of the bridge and I ate fish and chips. It was the most British-sounding meal option on the menu.

Fish and chips are a classic British lunch.

Lake Havasu is a great destination for boaters and those seeking a little water fun, otherwise the only reason to go there is to see the bridge from the song of our youth. It is about an hour south of Interstate 40 and 90 minutes-or-so north of Interstate 10 — not exactly on the beaten track. Was it worth it? I think so. We enjoyed the warm sunshine and the diversion off the highway. We marveled at the story of how the bridge came to Arizona and appreciate that it is a little piece of London here in the desert

The US is loaded with little oddities to see and London Bridge is one of them. Why not check it out? After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, find something quirky to see once in a while.

Uncategorized

The Topanga Vintage Market

Ever watch those flea market makeover shows on HGTV and wonder, “Where are these flea markets with all this cool stuff?” I think I found one!

We are spending a few days in the San Fernando Valley northwest of Los Angeles. As we drive past Pierce College, I see a sign for the Topanga Vintage Market. YAY! Finally, we’re here on the fourth Sunday of the month! I turned to Greg and said, “Guess what we’re doing?”

Bargain shoppers head to the Topanga Vintage Market.

The market officially opens at 8am with more than 100 vendors. It’s a reasonable $4 per person to get in (free for Veterans and their families) and it’s well worth the price. 

If you’re in the market for vintage clothing – this is the place. Several of the vendors are even sporting their wares.

Tsotchkes? This place has tsotchkes galore. I love the collection of vintage ash trays. I spot a selection of mirrors in amazing condition. Looking for a dial telephone? There are many options throughout the market.

Furniture is a little limited, but what is here is a really fun combination of like-new condition and ready-to-be-refurbished, mostly mid-century stuff. A smattering of vendors offer what I think of as flea market items – comic books, used-but-not-classic kids items, lamps and whatnot that you’d find in a resale store – you get the point.

Coffee to the stars?

While you stroll the aisles under the gorgeous, Southern California sunshine, you can also grab a coffee or snack from one of the several food trucks on site. Parking is plentiful  and even interspersed with classic cars — it is LA after all. 

Giant tiki statues sit among planters and glassware.

We grab a business card from a guy selling big tiki statues for a future purchase. He says he’s at this market most of the time and if he’s not there, we can call him. Hey … you never know when you might need a giant tiki statue, right?

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … take a break from landmarks and check out a local open-air market wherever you travel.

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.

IMG_5596.JPG

 

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.