Category Archives: featured

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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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.          

 

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 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/

Pleistocene Epoch in Waco, Texas

visitor center
Waco Mammoth Monument Visitor Center

On the outskirts of the bustling city of Waco, Texas is a partially hidden piece of paleontological history of mammoth proportion. Waco is a comfortably sized city, conveniently situated between Dallas and Austin just south of Ft. Worth. Waco is home to many sights and attractions that thrill both the young and the young-at-heart alike.
One such attraction is the Waco Mammoth Monument. Situated on 107 acres the Monument became one of the newest additions to the National Park System on July 10, 2015 by Presidential proclamation from President Barack Obama.
A BIT OF HISTORY
On a balmy spring day in 1978, two young men set off on an afternoon adventure in search of arrowheads, fossils and other interesting finds near the Bosque River. As the men were walking down a ravine looking under shrubs and digging in the dirt examining small pointed rocks for the deliberate chipping pattern on the edges in hopes they had found an arrowhead when they discovered a bone.

ravine where the leg bone was found
ravine where the leg bone was found

When they first came across the bone they may have thought, “Cool, an old bone, but it probably came from a cow.” The land that they were walking on was, at one time, an old dairy farm. As they started uncovering the bone, it became rather obvious that what they had found… was no cow bone! This bone, which they rightly assumed, was part of a leg, a very big leg because that bone by its self was 3′ tall, nearly half of their height!
human vs mammoth femer
human femur vs. mammoth femur
The young men took the bone to Strecker Museum at Baylor University. There, staff member David Lintz came to the realization that the bone was part of a leg bone from a mammoth, a Columbian Mammoth to be precise.

 

waco mammoth
Mammoths were much larger than us!

Mammoths were quite large animals. They stood 14′ tall at the shoulders, weighed an impressive 20,000-24,000 lbs.! The daily diet of a mammoth consisted much of the same as what modern day elephants eat today, but in much greater quantities. A single Columbian mammoth ate as much as 300-700 lbs. of grass, leaves, and other plant matter and drank as much as 50 gallons of water a day, and in turn, produced about 400 lbs. of dung daily! The tusks of a mammoth could reach lengths of 12-14′ from end to end.

Waco Mammoth
The concrete base is about the size of an adult mammoth foot

MORE PRESENT DAY
For the next 23 years museum staff members and volunteers explored the ravine, uncovering 23 unique Columbian mammoths. Columbian mammoths have been discovered throughout North America, what made the Waco mammoths unique was that eighteen of those remains were from a nursery herd, a herd that contained only adult females and juveniles, the first and only recorded evidence of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths.

Mammoth remains
Mammoth remains

As the paleontologists and volunteers began uncovering the remains of the mammoths, they discovered three separate natural disasters that caused the demise of the mammoths. The first event drowned the entire nursery herd between 65,000 and 72,000 years ago. During the second and third flooding events the remains of a bull mammoth, juvenile, a female mammoth, a camel, a tooth from a saber cat, and at this time, an unknown animal were also discovered.

The Monument is a unique destination to view paleontological finds such as the mammoths because the bones have been left “in situ”. Meaning, that the original bones were kept in their original position found within the bone bed.

dig site for students
dig site for students

Although the Waco Mammoth Monument is comprised of 107 acres with a visitor center, preservation hall, gift shop and facilities to host amazing school tours and special dig sites for students (learn about them here!), only 2 acres have been explored at this time. Because of the amount of specimens found in that 2 acres, it is thought to contain a substantial amount of hidden knowledge and information below the layers of dirt that will help us understand in greater detail what life was like, what lived and an how interactions were made in the Pleistocene Epoch.
The City of Waco, The Waco Mammoth Foundation, Baylor University, and the National Park System have collaborated in an effort to preserve the mammoth remains and to expand the Monument.

Mural showing an artists depiction of a flood
Mural showing an artists depiction of a flood, notice the stairs that had to be relocated

The preservation hall at the Mammoth Monument is climate and humidity controlled. The walls of the structure extend 25-40′ into the ground to the bedrock below the water table. In addition, the windows are situated so as there is no direct sunlight into the building to degrade the mammoth bones. There are at least two additional mammoth remains located within the walls of the preservation hall that are waiting to be re-uncovered. At the time that the hall was being built, one set was discovered where a staircase was being built causing a slight relocation of the staircase. The other set was discovered were one of the exterior walls was being built causing that wall being pushed back an additional 17′. In order to protect the bones they were reburied in soil.
The future of the Waco Mammoth Monument is full of excitement and anticipation. Due in part to the combined partnerships and donations from individuals and businesses, efforts to build an on-site lab are being developed. Once the lab is built, excavations can begin again to discover what life was like in Texas in the Pleistocene Epoch, most likely, and hopefully, starting with the two mammoths that had to be reburied.

For more information about scheduling your own tour, please visit their website, here or call (254) 750-7946.
Operating Hours:
• Tuesdays –Fridays: Open 11:00 a.m. –5:00 p.m.
• Saturdays: Open 9:00 a.m. –5:00 p.m.
• Sundays and Mondays: Closed
• (Also closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day)
Guided Tour Fees
• Adults: $5
• Seniors (over 60): $4
• Military (with ID): $4
• Educators (with ID): $4
• Students (7th grade through college): $4
• Children (preK through 6th Grade): $3
• Infants (ages 3 and under): Free
National Park passes do not apply to guided tour fees. Please support our preservation mission, access to the Dig Shelter is by guided tour only.

How to have an Unforgettable, Adventure-packed weekend in New Orleans

New Orleans

New Orleans is a truly amazing city! It is incredibly diverse and eclectic offering a wide range of activities for every interest from historical landmarks to new age vape shops and haunted tours to shopping for antiques or listening to live music in any one of the many bars or on the street corners and dancing in the street to getting married and parading down Bourbon St.

street dancing wedding procession

10 ACTIVITIES THAT SHOULD BE ON YOUR LIST

  • GO ON A TOUR!

There is such a variety of tours available you may not be able to decide between going on one or multiple tours! To give you an idea of the variety available, there are ghost tours, grave yard tours, historic haunted tours, plantation tours, whiskey tours, haunted bar tours, swamp tours, trolley tours, bicycle tours, foodie tours just to name a few!

Three tours that we went on that are definitely worth mentioning are Dark Crescent Tours Plunder & Booty Tour, Haunted History Tours and Jean LaFitte Swamp and Airboat Tours.

dark crescent tours dark crescent tours tour guide

Dark Crescent Tours offers a plunder & booty tour which is a drinking tour that is both very informative and fun. On this tour we walked (yes, this is a walking tour) to an assortment of bars and historic buildings and heard engaging and mysterious tales about the pirates, scallywags, thugs and call girls that lived in New Orleans, some of which are rumored to haunt their old hang-outs. Our tour guide for this 2 1/2 hour tour was a very animated and entertaining woman by the name of Angel who whole-heartedly embraced her role as a pirate, dressed in pirate garb complete with the 3-point hat, cape and fingerless gloves and, of course, plenty of arghs and aye’s mixed into the stories of piracy, plunder and even love. This tour includes 1 drink from each of the 5 bars that are visited during the evening.

Haunted History Tour     historic tour

Haunted History Tours is a locally owned and operated tour company that offers a wide range of tours from garden district, to voodoo, vampire, and ghost tours. They also offer a special tour, 5 in 1 ghost and mystery tour, for those who only have time for one tour but want to get a taste of several tours. Our tour guide for the 5 in 1 was the very knowledgeable, friendly and captivating Natalie who delighted us with tales of mystery, intrigue and murder in the French Quarter from the reins of both the French and the Spanish rulers. Natalie regaled us with many stories, one of the most mysterious was of the Sultans Palace where there was a massive massacre of all the inhabitants of the house, every man, woman and child had been hacked up and their body parts strewn through every room of the house. It was a very bloody and gory scene, but who did it and why has never been discovered and remains a mystery to this very day.

Jeanlefitte tour  Jean Lafitte tour  Jean lafitte tour Jean Lafitte Tour

Jean LaFitte Swamp & Airboat Tours will take you on an almost 2 hour adventure in Louisiana’s murky bayou’s meandering through floating islands of marsh grass and flowers in yellows and blues. As the trained guides expertly maneuver the boats smoothly through the ever-moving and changing channels of the bayou they will tell you about the wildlife that lives in the swampy bayou. They will point out the alligators as they sun themselves on the grass or as they glide through the water looking for a morsel to snack on. They will point out the egrets as they are gingerly walking over the floating islands and shallows looking for fish. The airboat ride was surprisingly smooth and gentle as it glided over the water.

  • DRINK ABSINTHE

Have a glass of absinthe at the Pirate’s Alley Cafe at 622 Pirate’s Alley and learn how this anise and fennel or black liquorish flavored distilled spirit drink is made by dripping ice-cold water over a sugar cube to create the swirled creamed look while you hear about the history of this illustrious drink that was favored by many famous artists and dates back to the 1800’s. Surprisingly, this drink really did help settle our queasy stomach from too much imbibing the night before!

Old Absinthe Old absinthe Old Absinthe Old AbsintheTHE old absinthe

  • GO TO FALULKNER BOOKSTORE

After you have your drink and lesson in absinthe, meander next door to the Faulkner Bookstore and check out their selection of poetry, unusual books and newly published books.

Faulkner book store

  • EAT OYSTERS!

New Orleans has some of the best tasting oysters that I have ever tasted! You can get them on the half-shell, fresh and clean with a bit of lemon juice or tobacco sauce, stuffed with fresh crab, breading and a buttery garlic topping, or Rockefeller with parmesan and garlic baked to perfection. My favorite was a slightly smoky, mouth-watering grilled oyster from The Royal House Oyster Bar. Just talking about it makes my mouth water!

Oysters

  • HAVE A BONE SHOOTER

Only in New Orleans have I seen or even heard of a bone shooter!  Of course, if most people cringe, I am going to try it! Go to Meauxbar on Rampart St. First of all, this is Not listed on their menu, you have to request it. Order the savory escargot that is served in the bone as an appetizer, this is not the shooter but part of the shooter, you have to tell the waiter that you want to do the shooter when you order the appetizer.. Don’t let the server get your bone (slight pun) because the waiter will bring a shot of absinthe that be poured through the bone to your mouth.

bone bone shot

  • HAVE A DRINK AT THE REVOLVING CAROUSEL BAR

The Hotel Monteleone has a fun and entertaining feature in it called the Carousel Bar. The bar revolves in a circle, no, it is not like a carnival ride, it is very slow so you barely feel the movement, unless of course you are already toasted then you will feel the room move if you are sitting in a stationary chair!

carousel2

  • EAT AT TROUP’S MEATERY

For all the foodies out there you have got to order the meatery board and the covey rise vegetables at Troup’s Meatery! They offer a delicious selection of patés, cracklins, sausage, boudin balls, cured sliced meats, seasonal vegetables and heirloom tomatoes grilled in a bacon vinaigrette. Truly unique and flavorful!

troups meatery       troupsvegies

  • HAVE A DRINK AT LAFITTE’S BLACKSMITH SHOP

LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop is reputed to be the hang out of the pirate Jean Lafitte in the late 1700’s, yes, some think he may still be there from time to time, the building its self is thought to be the oldest structure that is used as a bar in the United States! This is a hopping place to be in the evenings for a drink and the patrons spill into the street as is common for nearly every establishment in New Orleans!

lafitte blacksmith lafitte blacksmith

There is so much to see and do in New Orleans that no matter what is on your list to do, there will always be more to see and do! There is no way to do even half of the activities available in one weekend. So, my advise to you…. just plan right now to make a return trip or two! You will be glad you did!