Diversion, Food, Road Trip, travel

Diversions – Analog Traveling in a Digital World

One of the advantages of getting off the beaten path is that views, togetherness, and even dining choices vastly improve. Such was the case on a bright and cool Monday in central Ohio.

The back story: When a June wedding just north of Cincinnati called us to Ohio, we booked our tickets to Columbus, which offered direct flights from our Phoenix home base, and lower prices for both the flights and our rental car. After celebrating the nuptials, catching up with old friends, and doing research for some other projects over a couple of days, we had a final, entire day to drive back to Columbus for an evening flight.

With plenty of time to kill, we avoided the Interstates. As regular readers of this blog know, it’s our preferred way to travel. We looked at the map (yes, a paper map) and planned our route northeast on U.S. Highways 42 and 40. We drove through farm fields and small towns enjoying the “middle” at its finest. We stopped to watch an old Aeronca Champ airplane take off from a grass runway at Red Stewart Airfield near Waynesville, an “olden days” reminder that Ohio is the birthplace of aviation.

U.S. 40 takes you right through the heart of Columbus. Crossing the Scioto River, we decided to stop and get lunch. We left the smartphones in the car and walked up Broad Street. Fast food and pizza signs touted lunch specials, but we wanted more. Feeling like we were headed in the right direction, we turned left on High Street, then a right turn onto Gay Street, which looked promising. A sign down the block read “Due Amici” (“Two Friends” in Italian) … Jackpot! Italian always works for us.

We were shown to a table — there were about five other parties in the restaurant on that quiet midday — and perused the cocktail and lunch menus. We ordered a fried ravioli appetizer and split a chicken parmigiana over linguine with a rosé sauce. Both were excellent!  Our only mistake was not ordering wine to go with the entree. It mattered little, as the lunch could not have been better and our server, Josh, swapped smiles and stories. We ate, we drank, we laughed. What could be better?

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored, especially when you leave the devices behind and trust your instincts. Go see it!

 


 

Alexandria, Food, Road Trip, travel, Wine/Cocktails

We Double Dog Dare You

Sometimes an adventure or an idea pops into my head and it’s so “out there” that I actually hear a voice in my head daring myself to go for it.

It could be the idea of bungee jumping (not gonna happen) or going on a grand hike somewhere. It could be the idea of a new phase of my life that involves quitting my job. It could be deciding to finish that book I started writing years ago. The list goes on and on.

We are in the midst of a HUGE change … moving to the desert Southwest from Virginia. Both of us have lived in Virginia for more that 15 years. In fact, I’ve been here for more than 20 years. So … this move is a little of a personal dare for me.

The act of moving isn’t all that adventurous for me. I counted the places I’ve lived in my life today and came up with 36. I kept track. Many of the places I lived are due to my military past – both as a “brat” whose Dad was a career Air Force Officer and as an active duty Airman. As for Greg, the desert Southwest isn’t much of an adventure. He grew up in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley so it’s a bit of returning home for him.

But moving across country after so many years is an adventure. We like to think of it as the great American couple on a great American adventure. We will load a few things into our car (the rest is being shipped out) and make the cross-country drive into a road trip. We’re excited to take this step, but a little sad to be saying goodbye to friends we’ve made and places we’ve come to know.

CK SmilesSo we’ve decided to have one final fling in the home we’ve come to love, but that we’re ready to leave. We’ve invited all our East Coast friends to join us at one of our favorite haunts, Fat City Kitchen in Alexandria. It is here, steps from our Alexandria home, where we made dozens of new friends and created a whole new family. It is here where we were inspired, where our ideas were discussed, and decided upon. It is here where we’ll end one adventure and start a new one. Whether you’ve been a fan of our blog, a casual reader or a newcomer, we double dog dare you to come out Saturday, March 30 to say hello and good luck, and wish us well as we head west. We’re not going to stop doing what we do … we’re just starting from a new headquarters … one that will introduce us – and you – to new places.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … we double dog dare you to see it!

Distractions, Diversion, Uncategorized

Same Road, Different Season

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A recent drive across a short stretch of desert in Arizona has me wondering about a classic desert plant, the Saguaro cactus. These tall, prickly plants with their outstretched arms and stand-up-straight trunks, almost human-like, dot the landscape like guardians of the sand. This particular stretch of road west of Phoenix, will soon be a regular drive for us, but for now it’s still rare enough to notice seasonal changes in the landscape.

We drove it in February when the winter was full of cool breezes and the desert landscape was in a seasonal resting mode. Everything looked a little sleepy somehow. The Saguaro were green and healthy then but didn’t seem to reach for the sky.

We drove it again in May. It was unseasonably hot for spring and had been very dry for a long time. Those same Saguaro were looking almost gaunt. The trunks showed signs of drought – a little shriveled. The branches were short, thin and often falling off.

We were back last week in the heat of the summer. The monsoon season is a little more robust than normal. It’s clear the Saguaro love the bright summer sun and the recent thirst-quenching rains. The trunks are fat and green. The branches reach proudly for the blue sky.

I’m excited to see what fall brings to the Saguaro. Will they retain their fat, water-filled bellies? Will the stubby, new branches grow into thick upstretched arms like concert-goers cheering on the band?

Sometimes, going back to the same place can really change your outlook. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go see it in different seasons.

Diversion, Road Trip, Route 66, Trains, Uncategorized

Diversions – The Lonesome Road*

“In the desert, you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain”
—  A Horse With No Name by America

 

The road before us stretches for miles, this oft-traveled section of Route 66 in California, near the Arizona border. Top down, the air cool in the February sun, we smile and sing along to the Eagles “Hotel California.”

The road is ours and ours alone. Most have foregone what was once America’s highway for the Interstates. Today, hurried minivan moms and dads choose to keep their kids entertained with DVDs and tablets, instead of joining in the Alphabet Game and looking outside the window to see the desert for what it is … vast expanses of nothingness … an  American West tamed by cowboys, miners and early settlers, yet teeming with life that can be seen by those who slow down and take a look.IMG_0222

A freight train looms in the distance on the tracks paralleling the road, its single headlight growing larger on the horizon. As the big diesel nears, we wave at the engineer. He signals back with a long blast of his harmonious horn. He rumbles by, tank cars filled with oil or some other chemicals; containers filled with consumable products destined for long, low warehouses built on cheap desert land, only to be transferred to trucks bound for your house and mine, ready to be used and thrown away, feeding our lifestyles.

I think about the engineer, and what he sees and thinks as he crosses this great land, day after day. Do others in passing cars wave hello? Or do they whiz by, oblivious to the train’s massive presence. Does he see the beauty of the desert? Or is it just another route on his way home?

For him and us, it is a lonesome road, but in its starkness, there is beauty and serenity that can only be found when you avoid the beaten path.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it.

 

(*Inspired, as they say, by true events.)

Food, The World A to Z, Wine/Cocktails

Diversion – Of Whiskey, Wood and Warm Welcomes

Rick HouseDriving down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you’ll discover many things beyond tasting good whiskey. First, that it’s not really a trail, but a smattering of distilleries located in and around Louisville and Lexington, and second, that every distillery making “bourbon” follows the same basic recipe required by U.S. law. Woodford ReserveUnexpectantly, you’ll find a wide variety of flavors both in the drinks and the distilleries themselves.

Maker's Mark TastingWoodford TastingWhen it comes to the whiskey, I’ll let you be the judge of what you like and don’t like. Try as many of the distilleries as you can, follow your guides’ tasting advice, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Judy was our Designated Driver – she generally doesn’t like Bourbon – but she was a trooper and tried some of them, even finding one or two she liked. I reveled in the new and different flavors, all derived from the grains used in the mash and the wood of the charred oak barrels. I became a bourbon drinker several years ago, when a former boss – a retired Air Force two-star general – pretty much insisted I join him at the bar when we were on business travel and introduced me to Maker’s Mark and a few others. Greg sips Bourbon.jpgI became hooked. Judy and I now keep a small collection of fine bourbons, scotches, and Irish whiskeys in our library’s globe bar. There’s something uniquely relaxing about reading a good book with a dram of amber, 90-proof liquid rolling around your tongue and palate.

Angel's EnvyMaker's Mark CopperI also reveled in the wide variety of architectural styles. From the classic “down in the holler” buildings of Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace (not on the tour but worth a stop) built in the 1800s with their worn and aging cypress fermenters, to the modern and spotless glass and stainless-steel Town Branch facility, to the gleaming polished copper, brick and wood Angel’s Envy distillery built inside a former manufacturing plant in downtown Louisville…architectural personalities young and old were featured. Even the retail “experiences” of Evan Williams and Jim Beam featured architectural styles that put their products and personalities in best light.

Nicholas at Town Branch.jpgEach of our guides also brought their own unique personalities to the tours and tastings. Nicholas at Town Branch was, by far, the funniest and most entertaining, but the booming voice of classically trained actor Jimmy James Hamblin at Angel’s Envy earned him a nomination for Louisville’s Recognition of Service Excellence (ROSE) Awards this year…and our utmost respect and admiration. done-that-got-the-tshirt.jpgBut unvarying among all our guides and the people we met along the way were the warm Kentucky welcomes we received and felt, making our Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience one of our favorite diversions so far.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it!

 

Road Trip, Route 66, The World A to Z

Hotels, Motels and a Wigwam

Anyone who has ever gone on any kind of trip away from home can tell you there is a little twinge of trepidation about where you will lay your head at night. Going home to see Mom and Dad? Will the bed of your youth be as comfortable as you remember? Headed off on a camping trip? Will the ground be as hard as a rock? Reservations at a swank, spa hotel? Will the bed be as comfortable as you expect?

No matter where you sleep, the goal is a good night’s rest. In every case, it’s the little things that make the difference.

When you’re on a road trip, spending the night in a different bed every night for two weeks, you are sure to face a night or two of questionable conditions.

One our Route 66 trip, we stayed in several classic motels along the Mother Road. We made reservations at three different chain hotels along the way, using points for one of the stays. We opted for a bed and breakfast at one stop and treated ourselves to a couple of upscale hotels, too. It was our way of mitigating the risk of having a bad night’s sleep every night.

It was a good thing to do. As expected, the upscale options were certainly the nicest accommodations. When it comes to comfy beds and soft sheets, you really do get what you pay for.

20170401_084202At Kimpton hotels in Beverly Hills and Chicago, the beds were just right, the pillows nestled our heads and the surroundings were clean, new and stylish. The mini bars were not just stocked, but offered incredible choices. The concierge from the Kimpton Palomar sent a note a week before our stay. The note said, “We want you to feel as comfortable as possible, so we invite you to send us one photo and we will have it framed and waiting in your room…“ It was a really nice, personal touch.

20170413_184208At the Kimpton Grey in Chicago, we were greeted by name by nearly every member of the staff we encountered. At one point, we even commented to each other that it everyone seemed incredibly friendly and helpful. The only problem with the Kimpton properties is there was no coffee in the room. Sure, you could go down in the lobby for free coffee in the morning, but in-room coffee options have become pretty standard across the hotel industry (and no one wants to see our just-out-of-bed hair-dos). Of course, the free mini-massages in the lobby during the free wine happy hour was a really nice perk.

From the LaFonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe, we received an actual package…in the mail!

IMG_7821 It included a welcome letter and a book about Santa Fe so we could plan our visit. When we arrived the parking and check-in were a breeze. Our room was incredible … it even had a working fireplace! The balcony afforded us a stunning view of the nearby cathedral. We watched the sunset colors reflected off the cathedral dome in a light breeze.

The chain hotels were, for the most part, just what you would expect. The rooms were clean. The amenities were simple. The beds were comfortable. It was a safe bet we would get what we expected and we did – three good nights’ sleep, three free breakfasts.

The real wild card was the classic motels. Frankly, I was excited about the adventure of it more than I was worried about what I would find.

20170402_182338First was the Route 66 Motel in Barstow, California. The room was small, the pillows were flat, but the place was clean. The coffee maker provided a steaming cup of Joe in the morning that offset the fact that the shower ran out of hot water before I was rinsed. Greg had showered first, so at least one of us got a hot shower. The owner was a great, fun, chatty guy full of stories and information.

On night three, we checked into the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. It is, by far, one of the most famous of the Route 66 motels simply because of its unique architecture. These teepee-shaped cabins were spacious and funky. The furnishings were highly-polished log furniture. It was fun even though Greg did have to get up in the middle of the night to fiddle with the heater to get it to turn on. The chair in the room was a bit saggy, but the bed wasn’t and the shower was surprisingly great. Hot coffee was available in the office.

IMG_7787The Sands Motel in Grants, New Mexico was a block off Route 66, but clearly still offered clean rooms at good prices judging by all the construction trucks in the parking lot. That’s a good sign, by the way. Workers who have to travel routinely often know the best options for a good night’s sleep on a budget. It was quiet, cozy and clean and the friendly dog in the office offered her belly for a scratch along with a welcoming tail wag as I checked in.

In Tucumcari, New Mexico. The Blue Swallow Motel is among Route 66’s most famous.  It’s neon lights brags of 100% refrigerated air for weary travelers who stop for the night. The original free-standing cabins were connected early-on in the motor court’s life with the addition of garages. Comfy chairs in front of each room offered the chance to enjoy the sunny late afternoon weather and chat with other motorists making their way along Route 66. Our two-room suite featured a clawfoot tub behind a screen, a very comfortable bed and a blissfully hot shower. The in-room fridge was a nice touch, but the working rotary dial phone was a stunning novelty. I called home just like I had done as a young girl.

IMG_8037The Route 66 Inn in Shamrock, Texas, wasn’t in any of the guidebooks we had read, but it got good marks on TripAdvisor and justifiably so. It offered clean rooms and hot showers, but the air conditioner was oddly placed high above the sink and required a chair to reach the controls.

The next stop was our B&B, The Rose Cottage in Baxter Springs, Kansas. We reserved a room in this historic midwestern, three-bedroom Victorian home in town. We were the only guests, so we had the whole house to ourselves. That was probably a good thing since every time we rolled over in bed, the old frame creaked and groaned. It was comfy, though, and our hostess, Jane, had left fresh, homemade cookies for a late-night snack and delicious apple-cinnamon muffins for breakfast.

In IMG_8141Lebanon, Missouri, we arrived at the Munger Moss Motel before dusk. The desk clerk was friendly, but clearly a heavy smoker as the office air was heavy with the odor of stale cigarettes. The room, however, was fresh and bright and lightly floral scented.
The furnishings were perfectly suited for a room in a Route 66 motel – mid-century modern. I remarked that they were either really good reproductions or must’ve been discovered tucked away in an unknown warehouse as they appeared new. IMG_8132

 

 

The bed was covered with a classic quilt and offered a delightfully restful night’s sleep. The only thing missing was the “Magic Fingers” box on the nightstand.

If you’re going to take a classic road trip, don’t cheat yourself out of the chance to stay in some of the historic motels that dot the roadways along your route. They are fun! The owners are usually in the office and always know the best places in town for dinner or breakfast. These little gems of Americana are a great way to remind yourself to slow down and enjoy the journey.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … but don’t forget, you have to sleep sometime, too.

Food, Road Trip, Route 66, The World A to Z

Of Diners, Drive-Ins, and….Road Food*

I’m a car guy … have been since my youth. In my early 20s, I was obsessed with autocrossing … racing my car around a parking lot on a course defined by orange cones, racing against the clock. I rebuilt the engine of my ’73 Opel Manta from the ground up. There was grease underneath my fingernails nearly all the time; no weekend was complete without at least one skinned knuckle accompanied by a few choice swear words because of a slipped wrench.

Today, I let the mechanics do the dirty work and I’m quite a bit more laid back about my driving, but it should come as no surprise that road trips have a certain appeal to me as a “car guy.” If Route 66 is the Mother Road, then driving Route 66 today is the mother of all road trips.

To me, a big draw of road trips is food. Sure, Judy and I talked about staying close to our diets, eating lots of veggies and other healthy stuff, but let me ask you, did Ron Howard and Harrison Ford’s characters in “American Graffiti” go to Whole Foods in their souped-up Hot Rods? No, they went to Mel’s Drive-In for Burgers and Fries. In “Pulp Fiction,” when Uma Thurman and John Travolta went out to eat, the diner in which they danced was completely car-themed. Name one movie featuring Steve McQueen and a car that also had him eating sushi and hummus and I’ll become a Vegan … for a day.

But I digress … road trips are about eating road food, and Route 66 has plenty to offer. Our daily journals featured lots of paragraphs about food we ate along the way:

IMG_7409The Donut Man in Glendora, CA, had donuts made with FRESH strawberries. Yes, you read that right … fresh strawberries.

The Outpost Cafe at the north end of Cajon Pass had a pretty decent burger and a salad drenched in too much dressing, but it was a classic diner in every way.IMG_7443

 

Dinner was at Jenny’s Place in Barstow, reputed to have “something for everyone” by the owner of the Route 66 Motel. It turned out “something for everyone as long as it’s Mexican” but I had some delicious carnitas tacos and too many chips, rice and beans, completely sating my SoCal appetite for spicy south-of-the-border fare.

This was all on Day 1.

The rest of the trip would be remembered for similar culinary adventures.

In Kingman, Arizona, Floyd’s BBQ came highly recommended, but since it was Monday, it was closed. We went to the Diana’s Cellar Door, a combo brewery and wine bar next door instead and enjoyed a couple of glasses of red while chatting amiably with the patrons. But hunger prevailed and we dropped in to another recommended place, The Kingman Chophouse, where we shared a great Delmonico in a classic western setting.IMG_7583

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In Seligman, Arizona, we stopped at Delgadillo’s Sno-Cap Drive-in for lunch. The staff, reputed to be pranksters, didn’t disappoint. Rita was behind the counter and when I asked what a Choink Burger was, she gave me that look that only stupid tourists get (it’s a Bacon Cheese Burger, by the way. Duh.). I ordered the Choink and a Malt.

20170404_165452After “standing on a corner” in Winslow, Arizona (such a fine sight to see), we followed some local’s advice and made a reservation (reservation?!) at the Turquoise Room at the La Posada Hotel. Built in 1930 as a Harvey House, the hotel has been restored to much of its early glory and its restaurant draws raves worldwide.

Our window seat gave us magnificent views of the passing trains while the wide portico outside shaded us from the setting sun. We enjoyed Bison Taquitos, Elk in a Black Currant Sauce, Crispy Quail with Oaxaca Sauce, and a Braised Bison Tamale. Not exactly road food to be sure, but well worth the stop.

The Southwestern flavors of the road were a big highlight for me. At La Fonda on The Plaza in Santa Fe, we dove into local specialties offered with your choice of red sauce, green sauce or “Christmas.” Just thinking back on all that beef, cilantro, sauce, beans … makes me hungry.

In Shamrock, Texas, we ate at Big Vern’s Steakhouse – apparently, the only place in town worth eating at. Our waitress, Gail, was straight out of the Texas panhandle; pretty in a sun-beaten/leather-skinned sort of way, and most pleasant. She treated locals and tourists alike, but I am sure that if we had wanted steak sauce for our delicious ribeye, she would have chased us out the door with a hot branding iron.IMG_8051

And it continued…

In Arcadia, Oklahoma, Pop’s with it’s 50-foot Soda Pop neon sculpture out front, beckoned us in for burgers and fries, and a six-pack of sodas with the grossest names imaginable, culled from their 144 varieties; in Baxter Springs, Kansas, we were the only customers at The Smokehouse, which served some of the best barbecue we’ve ever had…the sauce was so good we bought a quart to bring home.

The next morning, we stopped at the Riverton Market for some of the best deli sandwiches you’ll ever eat before crossing the border into Missouri. In Springfield, Missouri, we ate those sandwiches in the parking lot of the original Steak and Shake, where we bought chocolate shakes, just because. IMG_8125We bought fudge packed in Uranus, Mo., where we couldn’t stop laughing over all the innuendos. Shelly’s Diner in Cuba, Missouri, is one of those places where everyone knows your name, but also treats tourists like regulars. We ordered a BLT and their special for the day – a Chicken Melt – and talked about the trip so far. It was blissful. Nearing Chicago, we longed for deep dish pizza; after check-in, the hotel clerk pointed us toward Gino’s East where we dined and laughed our butts off with the waitress (another Rita…I’m sensing a pattern here)…an evening worthy of a blog entry on its own.

The Road is like that…stopping along the way, trying new things, and meeting new people. That’s why we travel, and we hope you will too. There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored…go out and see it. And order me a malt while you’re there!

*Don’t want that “guy” to sue me!