All posts by Donna Long

Helping travelers discover adventurous, authentic experiences in cuisine, cocktails, and countries ~ from beach bars to five-stars

Virgin America raises the bar

      
Most check-in kiosks at the airports are pretty much the same – no frills, functional, and utilitarian. Not much to write about, until I passed the Virgin America desk.  Wow! I was so surprised by what I saw! They had white tables with simple, clean lines – no boring grey plastic ATM style kiosks – with modern looking computer monitors to check-in on. The tables were also adorned with beautiful flower arrangements of  white calla lilies, babies-breath sprigs, and leafy twigs. There was was also this soft purple light that glowed from underneath the tables edge and reflected off the table legs. 

Those few changes made such a difference in the whole atmosphere around their counter check-in area. It imparted the feeling of a calm and soothing welcome. What a nice way to start a trip! 

Virgin America, you have set the bar a little higher for other airlines. I hope they stand up and take notice. 

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WITS – women in travel summit 

I am on my way to my first travel writer and blogger conference. This one is located in Irvine, California. I am so excited to network with other writers, learn from industry professionals, connect with brands and just meet some all around great women! 

Flew out of Denver. What a busy airport! The TSA lines were the longest I have everseen, but thankfully it was moving fast. 

  

Natural Bridge Caverns

 

We had the chance to explore the Natural Bridge Caverns just north of San Antonio, Texas – and we were delighted! They were beautiful! The caverns had towering ceilings covered in stalactites, bacon ribbons, and other amazing formations! The Natural Bridge Caverns are different from many other caverns in that the farther we walked into the cavern, the warmer it got! If you have any experience with caves and caverns, you are aware that they usually get cooler as you walk further into the cave. Our tour guide explained to us that Natural Bridge Caverns was considered a ‘living’ cavern because they installed doors to maintain the temperature and humidity. Whereas most other caverns, have a vent hole that allowed an air current to pass through it thereby cooling the overall temperature.

Caves are so cool to explore! It is amazing to think that one drop of water over hundreds and thousands of years can create such magnificent sculptures of art that look so strong but are in reality so fragile.          

 

What’s in your bag?

 

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Everyone has rituals or particular ways they do things to stay organized and keep the chaos of life at bay. One thing I like to keep organized and ready to use – whenever I can – is my travel carry-on. True, this is not something that I use every day or even every week, but when I do need it, I want the little things done so I only have to think about the big things, like, which shoes should I wear with this outfit?
So, how do I keep my travel carry-on organized and what are the little things, you ask? I am so glad you did!
WHAT’S IN THE LITTLE BAG?
To start with – I always keep my toiletry bag in my carry-on full of TSA-approved bottles and accessories. There are the basics, such as toothbrush; toothpaste; floss picks (because when you have killer BBQ ribs that are just to die for, it is inevitable that some will get stuck in your teeth!); razor; hairbrush; deodorant; Q-tips; lotion; simple inexpensive costume jewelry for dress (see below) and Shine eye makeup remover cloths from Younique which also doubles as a face cleanser with sunflower, olive, vitamin E, and just a hint of rosemary. You can purchase them here from Haley Ragsdale.  Don’t leave home without it!

 

Additionaly, I also have a fragrance lotion; hair gel or mousse; a duplicate set of my makeup; shampoo and conditioner – because you never know if there will be some waiting for you at your destination, also, if you get bumped and have to hang-out in the airport for more than 10 hours, it is nice to freshen up in the bathroom… just sayin’. Speaking of having to freshen up in the airport, I also keep a pack of non-fragranced baby wipes in a sandwich Ziploc bag. ‘Yeah, we all do that, duh’, you say? Well, do you also add some of your favorite perfume or cologne to the wipes? Give it a try!
WHAT’S IN THE BIG BAG?
First off, let’s cover the carry-on luggage its self. My favorite carry-on has lots of pockets – little ones, big ones – you really can’t have to many. Also, must haves for a carry-on is a strong telescoping-handle and 360-degree turning wheels. I just hate it when I am running to catch a flight and my bag does not make the turn when I do and then tips on its side and slides outta control and wipes out the person next to me. That is so annoying and embarrassing!
Ok, so now onto what I keep in there. First off, I will put a few unused dryer sheets in the bottom of the carry-on so my clothes will not get that stale smell. Then I will keep a pair of very comfy flats; a ‘waddable, wrinkle-free’ dress that I can dress up or down; a tank top and pair of shorts that are multi-use (PJ’s, work-out clothes, or wearing out on a warm day – I love multi-use items!); swimsuit; a cover-up (yup, multi-use – one that I can use as a cover-up, layer with the tank top and pants, casual dress, you get the idea.); and a light-weight jacket. Speaking of my love for multi-use items, I came across an amazing item of clothing that will have a permanent home in my carry-on! It is called a Cameleon – like the lizard that changes colors to adapt. This one article of clothing can be a sundress; jumpsuit; cape; poncho; pants; laundry bag; or a light sleeping bag and it folds into its own pocket to take minimal space in your bag! It is mind boggling!


I am never too far from food. So last but not least, I keep a few protein bars in one of the pockets. Something that will have a shelf life of at least a year, will not squish, melt, or need to be refrigerated. When you land at an airport at 2 am and your internal clock is so outta whack that it thinks you should be eating lunch and everything is shut down, you will be glad you tucked them in a pocket! They won’t be as fabulous as a juicy burger from Humpy’s (Alaska reference) or a grande plate of nachos from La Mex that you washed down with a blue margarita (another Alaska reference) but it will keep you from eyeing the leather on your shoes.
Well, that is about what I keep in my carry-on. I keep the pre-packed clothes light because I will have to mix it up once in a while depending where I am going.
What do you keep in your bag?

Tata for now! Donna

Kayaking Laguna Madre in Port Mansfield

Recently we (my husband and I) were able to Kayak the Laguna  Madre in Port Mansfield, Texas. It was – what I would consider – a very easy kayaking trip. It was easy to put in right from the shore. The waves were very calm and gentle with an occasional splash over the tip of the kayak. The water was also very shallow, perhaps 2-feet deep about 500-feet from the shore. You could stand up and walk back to shore. I would recommend this trip for a beginner kayaker because of its simplicity and the shallow water.

streatching our legs compressed pelicans on pier compressed remnants of boarwalk compressed nilgai antalope-compressed launch area compressed my man compressed donna compressed beach compressed heron compressed antalope tracks compressed

The Travel and Adventure Show in Dalllas

 

After 12 years and 61 shows, the Travel & Adventure Show Series has established itself as the premier consumer marketing platform in the travel industry. Since 2004, the Travel & Adventure Shows have helped over 1.1 million travelers find, plan and book their dream vacation.

 nicaragua- buen viaje

This past weekend I was thrilled to attend the Travel and Adventure show in Dallas, Texas at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. There were over 100 amazing travel related booths showcasing the most amazing destinations that spanned the globe. There were travel specialists and tour operators from cruise lines, photo safaris in Africa, Yoga tours in Nicaragua, and trekking in Nepal. There were large, well-known companies as well as small private owner/operator tour companies such as Buen Viaje Tours in Nicaragua which offers small, personable tours for families as well as individuals, ranging from cultural tours, birding tours and photography and art workshops.

rick steves

The show hosted several guest speakers that gave talks aimed at helping you in your travels with advice on planning your next trip – what is new for 2016, and suggestions on where to go. The guest speakers included; Rick Steves – traveling through Europe through the back door, Pauline Frommer – What you need to know before you plan your next vacation, Peter Greenberg – The brave new world of travel in 2016, and Patricia Schultz the author of 1,000 places to see before you die.

The savvy traveler is always looking for new tips and techniques to enrich their travel experience. The Travel and Adventure Show did not disappoint! There were presentations on the challenges and rewards of traveling solo around the world on a motorcycle, how to travel smart and pack light, and how to take better travel photography.

camel 1

Not only could you plan your next dream vacation get-away at amazing show only prices, there were also activities that you could participate in and shows that you could watch to give you a feel of the exotic destination that you would soon be headed to. Some of the fun, and even unusual, activities were camel rides, ride a segway, climb a rock tower, or practice your diving in a 18,000 gallon heated dive pool.

diving

Throughout the weekend you could watch colorful dancers from Mexico, Hawaii, Bulgaria, Bahamas and the Middle East performing elaborate traditional dances on the Cultural Stage.

 

In addition to cultural dance and music demonstrations, there were also cooking demonstrations from local chefs and chefs from Maui who created mouth-watering recipes such as Ahi Tuna Cruda with grilled pineapple; pan roasted brussel sprouts with sweet chili vinaigrette and goat cheese; seafood tostadas and more.

MY 2 CENTS – All in all, it was an exciting show with a fabulous turn out! Travel excitement abounded and dreams to explore new places were fostered and born. This was a great local event to learn about activities and cultures in distant foreign lands, learn about available adventures in your own backyard, and even meet your tour operators before you go on the tour! I highly recommend you attend one in a city near you! The Travel and Adventure Show currently has venues in Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Diego and Dallas.

 

Till we talk again!

Donna

The Botanist – where steampunk meets botanical magic

Delicious treats
Delicious treats

Do you ever read those advertising magazines that are spread across the desk in your hotel room? I have to confess – Sometimes, maybe, but usually I just brush them aside to make room for all of the travel books, casual books, magazines, and electronics that I brought with me. It is not like I just push it all onto the floor – I neatly clean off the paraphernalia that is “littering” the top of the desk so I can organize what I brought with me and see where all the outlets (or lack thereof) are located. At some point during the trip I may eventually take a quick flip through one of their magazines. I know, probably not the best habit for a travel writer, but I am working on changing that.

On a recent excursion to Chester, England I actually took a moment to stop and flip through that colorful magazine before I swept it off to the side – scanning headlines, reading the occasional recipe, reviews of the seasonal spirits, or the most noteworthy up-and-coming restaurants.

One brief headline caught my eye, The Botanist – an eclectic dining experience steeped in charm and style. There are so many ‘wine bars’ and ‘brewers’ that this caught my eye. The name was just enough to give a little intrigue and interest without giving away what it was all about. It was so steampunkish!

The lobby at The Botanist
The lobby at The Botanist

I was not disappointed! The atmosphere was so amazing and unique! It gave the feeling that you had stepped back in time to a garden sanctuary. The exterior of the restaurant was decorated in wrought iron panels with vines growing over them. The interior was decorated with wood accents that had a weathered-gray finish to them.

steampunk decor
steampunk decor

The bar area was quite impressive with an expansive front bar that had ample room for the botanical mix-masters to work their magic with herbal infused liquor and spirits. The back bar consisted of a massive shelving system that contained a sizeable assortment of liqueurs infused with berries, herbs, and fruits in addition to a fabulous selection of craft beers and ales.

Our mix-masters
Our mix-masters
The bar at The Botanist
The bar at The Botanist

Their menu is a beautiful and tasty selection of dishes inspired from delis and rotisseries of the UK and the comfort food from grandma’s English kitchen. Note worthy menu items that had a unique table presentation were the Hanging Kebabs (a very savory dish available in chicken, lamb kofta, prawn or beef and slathered with sweet chili, ginger, and garlic butter), Chicken Liver and Rum Pate that is brought to your table in a mini terracotta flower pot on a wooden plank with Turkish flat bread and a plumb and apple chutney that is served in a mini wheelbarrow.

Chicken liver and rum pate
Chicken liver and rum pate
Hanging lamb kabab
Hanging lamb kabab
carrot cocktail - it was actually good
carrot cocktail – it was actually good

Other favorites include the homemade Scotch Egg (fried to perfection so that the breading is crispy on the outside but the egg still has a soft center) and the Salt and Pepper Onion Petals served with a herbed sour cream sauce.

Scotch egg
Scotch egg

 

Craft ale and cocktail flight
Craft ale and cocktail flight
watermelon cocktail - great for hot summer days!
watermelon cocktail – great for hot summer days!

The food was delicious, flavorful, and wholesome! What a great find tucked in a narrow little side street off Eastgate St. and Northgate St. The Botanist is a great place for lunch, dinner, or a place to meet friends in the evening for cocktails and to listen to live music.

 

For more information on locations, hours and menu items check out their website at http://thebotanist.uk.com/