DESTINATIONS, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

The What Next of Arizona

Arizona, Sc
Getting Away to the Desert


The first time you visit an area there are just things you must see and thanks to a great trip early in our marriage, as well as several times passing through AZ, we’d knocked out the musts.  From Monument Valley in the northeast corner to the Grand Canyon in the west, to BioSphere down south and seriously, everything in between, I’d taken care of the must-sees.  So why were we going back?

A Desert State of Mind

We like the desert.  There is a peacefulness that comes from the landscape.  Some people like beaches and others prefer mountains, but I’ll take a desert every time.

Bill made it very clear that he wanted to take it easy, very easy on this trip.  He wanted to play golf.  I wanted to have tea at the Phoenician.  The rest was supposed to be relaxation.  Message received.

Those Free Guides from the Internet

For most trips, the first thing I do is go out and buy a travel guide, but I already owned an AZ guide and it had served me well.  I just needed the latest information, including festivals and events.  The internet is great for that and so are those free travel guides the cities and states will send you.

In the world of free travel guides, Scottsdale has won the prize.  I pored over their guide the moment it arrived and continue salivating over it to day.  It was full of information without being overwhelming and hip without being shallow.  It had great maps and references to online resources that I really cared about.

Phoenix did not fare so well.  It was virtually anonymous, merely a template someone sold advertising in.  I yawned over it and it’s greatest contribution to the trip was some headlines I used in my scrapbook of the trip.  

Sedona’s guide was somewhere in the middle – not as snazzy as Scottsdale, but not as boring as Phoenix.  A map in the center served us during the stay and made it to the scrapbook. 

Wonderful Websites

From various websites I was able to glean a lot of useful information about some art festivals and events that proved to be very helpful in planning the trip.  There were Artwalks, Art Festivals and other Arty things just begging for us to take part.  The trick is not to merely google the city, but google “visit wherever.”

I used the local New Times sites to find the best places to have breakfast.  The internet is also where I found the amazing inn where we overnighted in Sedona.  Thank you, Expedia!  

Playing It By Ear

For those of you who say phooey on all that planning, I’m just going to play it by ear, I say good luck.  I find it is a lot harder to be ready to play it by ear, than it is to plan things out in detail in advance.  This only happens on the first Friday, that is only open one evening of the week, something else needs reservations at least two days in advance.

If you just show up somewhere, without doing your homework, and then try to play it by ear, well, you might have a great vacation, but the chance of you actually getting to see and do the things you were most interested in are slim to none in most cases.

The trick in this household it to be sure I know what’s most important to me and work it in early in the trip, then as the time plays out and the options get smaller, I haven’t missed my priorities.  I work out a list of daily options, focusing on the one time or limited access events.  I don’t get to see everything I want when Bill is playing it by ear, but I don’t miss everything either.

Next week, we’ll start out on our Arizona Adventure.  Please come join me.


ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Libraries, Music, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books

Back on the Bus


It had been a very long day and there was still some left as the bus headed back to Cancun.

The Joy of a Good Book

I had read it before, but even so, I had chosen James Michener’s book Mexico, as my reading material for the trip.  Unlike many of his novels, which begin even before the appearance of man in a locale, this novel focused on a modern day journalist covering a bullfight festival, who was at the same time Mexican, American, Mayan and Spanish.  The book does look back at the ancient residents of the country, but instead of choosing an actual tribe, such as the Mayans, Toltecs, Aztecs or Olmecs to showcase, Michener made up a sort of conglomerate tribe called the Altomecs, allowing him to comment on them all.

So many years had passed since my last reading of the book that it seemed fresh.  Occasional scenes gave me a sense of deja vu, but I was still following the plot with interest, unsure how it would end.  (I still haven’t finished it as I write this post, but the more I read the more I remember, and I have recalled the end.)  On the bus ride back to the Seadust, I was only a third of the way through and the Altomecs had not even entered the narrative, except a brief mention from time to time of the pyramid which was near the primary locale of the story.

It had been a long day and several times I caught myself dozing off.  At one point, I woke from a dream to discover it was pitch black outside.  I had been asleep for quite a while.  In my dream I was back at Chichen Itza.  I was among the crowds watching the sacrifices, but somehow I was doing so as a character from Michener’s book and at the same time, I was privy to all the knowledge I had accumulated in my actual lifetime.  I stood on the plaza remembering scholarly data about the Mayan civilization, our own lifestyle in America and the many other civilizations I have studied and observed.

When I woke up it took a few moments to figure out exactly where I was.  I soon noticed the guides were fiddling around with the technology.  TV screens folded up and down as if on their own and the guides huddled over a remote control.  I suspected something was up, but they still managed to surprise me with their tequila service.

The interior lights of the bus flashed on as a rather loud rendition of the song “Tequila” played on the loudspeaker.  A man in a strange costume, his face covered with a stocking mask was standing in the aisle.  Though I was pretty sure it was supposed to be entertainment, a part of me was still under the influence of my strange dream.  It wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience, but I understand they intended it to be.

Bill had a little tequila, but I had no interest.  My stomach was ready for its next meal and had no interest in alcohol.  We were soon back to Cancun and we were fortunate enough to be the second stop.  Unfortunately, the first stop was the Iberostar which had refused Bill entrance the previous day.  Before the night was over, I was also wishing we could visit the Iberostar!  Come back next week and find out why!

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Libraries, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books

A Sampling of Alexandrian Museums


Our second day in Alex began with the usual buffet breakfast and a quick cab ride to the Alexandria National Museum.  (No adventures this time!)

Ancient Artifacts

If you somehow landed in Alex and hadn’t yet figured out that Egypt is a country with very ancient roots, you should visit this museum.  It’s not as extensive as the famed Cairo Museum, but it is arranged in such a way that you can get a quick overview of Egypt’s history organized by deities.  If you’re just somebody like me that geeks out on history, well then you have even more reasons to spend and hour or so here.

Down in the basement is the Pharaonic section when Egyptians worshiped a pantheon of gods led by Ra, the sun god, and Isis, goddess of marriage, fertility, motherhood, magic, medicine and probably a few other things.  The main floor is devoted to the Greek and Roman eras of Egypt, when the Egyptian gods mixed and mingled with other religious traditions.  Many of the artifacts have, in fact, been fished out of the sea right there in Alexandria.  Our favorite floor was the top floor.  There Christianity faced off against Islam in a sort of duel by artifacts.  

Like many things in Egypt, if you visit this museum you’ll be on a constant seesaw.  One moment you are wowed out of your socks by an item you can’t even believe still exists.  Then you won’t be able to see into the next case at all, because the light has burned out.  It’s exhilarating, frustrating and totally unique.  Gorgeous white marble edifices with spectacular polished black granite floors and dust collecting in the corners.  It made me want to shake someone!

At this museum you can take all the pictures you want outside, but you are supposed to pay to take pictures inside.  Bill didn’t think he wanted to part with the coin, but once he got inside he couldn’t help taking a few pictures of the beautiful Christian artifacts.  They didn’t say anything right away, but when he left, they hit him up for the photography fee.  Since we had to pay to take them, I’ll share them with you.

The Royal Jewelry Museum

This trip to Egypt was so marvelous from so many standpoints I would be hard-pressed to pick out my favorite thing.  However, I can easily tell you the Royal Jewelry Museum is a strong contender for the position.  In fact, it is on my short list of favorite museums ever!

We took a taxi from the history museum to this gem of a palace. (Forgive me the pun, I couldn’t resist.)  It was immediately apparent this was something completely different from the previous museum.  Both buildings were magnificent, but the history museum was past its prime and showing its age.  It didn’t look like anyone loved it anymore.  The edifice holding the jewelry museum is pristine.  It’s well-loved and it shows.

The jewelry museum is in a lovely part of the city, obviously still home to the well-to-do.  An impressive rod iron fence guards the one-time palace.  The security procedure into the grounds is more than cursory, but it was very polite.  This is the museum-less-visited, competing with the well-known Bibliotheca and the official history museum, but I would like to see that change.  This is a rare and wonderful experience and if you go to Alexandria you should not miss it!  They were glad to have such obvious American tourists entering their facility.  So glad in fact they gifted me with a beautiful souvenir guidebook.

If this museum did not hold a single piece of jewelry, I would still say it is one of the best attractions I had ever visited.  The palace is just awesome – and I use the word in the traditional sense, not in the way it’s used to describe a hamburger.  I walked from room to room wishing I could live there or at least I would have had the opportunity to visit when Fatma Heidar herself called it home.  She was a several-times-great granddaughter of Mohammed Ali Pasha the Great.  I think she and I could have been great friends.

But there was jewelry, magnificent jewelry, in attractive cases spread throughout the elegant rooms.  The house looked as if they had only removed the furniture the day before.  It was easy to imagine dignitaries in gorgeous caftans and morning suits wandering around.  Among the treasures in the cases were items which once belonged to King Farouk I and his wife, the lovely Queen Farida.  Here’s a shot of my very favorite piece stolen from the gifted souvenir guidebook.  We saw it, but couldn’t get a good shot.

After a morning and early afternoon of touring, we were hungry.  Come back next week and find out what we did about it.

DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

Getting Ready for Summer 1969

My Mom's Travel Bible
My Mom’s Travel Bible


Hard copy travel information is still very important to me.  I print out all my reservations and tickets, not trusting my phone to deliver on demand.  I read and mark up several travel guides before every vacation and tote them along on my trips.  I will not head anywhere without a printed map, because you never know when your GPS is going to get confused.  However, I do most of my actual research online.  My mom didn’t have that luxury.

The Mobil Guide

The hardest thing for me to throw away when I cleaned out my parents’ house was my mom’s collection of old Mobil Guides.  Though the information in them was totally outdated, the memories of our travels with them are ever fresh.  I was trying to be practical, because I knew I couldn’t save everything.  Now I wish I would have kept at least one.

These guides were her Bible for travel.  She discovered them while we were still making those wild dashes between Georgia and Texas.  My dad had a penchant for getting hungry or sleepy at places that scared my mom and her Mobil Guides were her defense against his whims.

Dad would say, “I’m taking the next exit to find a motel/restaurant/service station.”  She’d say, “No you’re not.  It’s not even listed in the guide.  We’re about X miles from ______.  You can exit there.”  Then she would go on extol the virtues of the town she deemed appropriate.  Occasionally she’d even beat him to the punch.  “George, I think you should stop in _______ for lunch.  After that we hit a stretch of road where there won’t be anything for at least  a hundred miles.  You can fill up the tank there, too.”

When we moved to Texas and didn’t need the Southeastern States edition anymore, Mom started her collection of other editions.  Though I don’t specifically remember her using it on the way to Carlsbad NM or Houston TX, I am quite sure she did.  Our next summer vacation was to Washington D.C. and I do remember her poring through the appropriate Mobil guides for months in preparation for the trip.  Her elegant handwriting filled the margins and listings in the guide had circles, underlining, check marks, question marks and stars.

To Begin at the Beginning

By the time Mom purchased a Mobil Guide, she’d already decided where she was headed.  When it came to choosing a travel destination Mom and I were a little bit alike.  She wanted to go everywhere, so the only real problem was choosing where to go next.  I’m fully convinced that, like me, Mom had 10-12 potential itineraries floating around in her head at any given time.

As to her sources of inspiration, forget the Travel Channel.  All we had were ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and in Dallas, one local independent channel.  None of those channels had travel shows such as we think of them.  There was Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, which sometimes featured a possible destination, and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, which might mention a National Park, but that was pretty much it.

Print media was her travel source.  The Dallas Morning News arrived daily on our front lawn and on Sundays it included a Travel Section.  Whenever Mom saw something that interested her, she’d cut it out of the newspaper and file it away.  By the time I was an adult, that collection of articles took up a four drawer file cabinet.  The articles from the Dallas Morning News weren’t the only thing in there, because Mom and her scissors found a lot to snip.

For years the only magazine my mom took was Better Homes & Gardens, but once we moved back to Texas and she went to work, our selection of magazines grew.  The first addition to the list was National Geographic, so Susan and I could “use the magazines for school reports.” (Uh huh, sure!)  Then there was Texas Highways and eventually Southern Living.  They rounded out their magazine collection with The Smithsonian Magazine.

I’ll tell you more about Mom and her travel plans for our trip to Washington D.C. in the coming weeks.  Grab your Mobil Guides and join me!


Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning

European Travel Rick Steves’ Style

Rick Steves at Dallas Travel & Adventure Show
Rick Steves at Dallas Travel & Adventure Show


Samantha Brown is my travel celebrity of choice, but I think her fans may be outnumbered by Rick Steves‘ fans – if the turnout at their travel show seminars can be trusted.  A couple of weeks ago I attended the Dallas Travel & Adventure Show and a standing-room-only crowd paid breathless attention to everything Rick had to say.

Rick vs Samantha

Were I given a choice between these two travel celebrities as a personal travel companion, I would choose Samantha every time.  Her love of travel is less pedagogic than Rick’s, which means I think we’d have a lot more fun, but when it comes to providing information for the European traveler, Rick has her all beat to heck.

Let’s face it.  I like glamorous things.  From time to time I watch an episode of Rick’s travel shows and he’s always wandering around backstreets, visiting factories and hanging about in somebody’s home – and for the record, the somebody is usually a nobody.  Meanwhile, Samantha sleeps in five star hotels, eats in swanky restaurants and watches the beautiful people sunbathe on a gorgeous beach.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m interested in those authentic travel experiences Rick urges us to experience, but I want them to be sprinkled among a liberal dose of dazzle.  He started his talk by outlining the limit on luggage his travelers must abide by and I knew I’d never go on one of his tours.  Still, I hung on to my seat and kept taking notes, because he is a fountain of travel wisdom.  He just doesn’t understand the value of the right accessory in ones’ vacation pictures.

Full of Good Advice

The most pertinent thing Rick Steves said was that when it comes to travel, we should learn from the mistakes of others instead of experiencing them ourselves.  He spends four months out of the year in Europe to make all the mistakes for us.  Only a third of his time is spent shooting his episodes.  The rest he devotes to checking out all the research he’s done in the months he’s not in Europe.  Here’s a few of his golden nuggets:

  • Meeting real people on your travels carbonizes your experience, so get out of your car and sit at the bar.
  • Find places with no promotional budget.  Many are just as wonderful and others more wonderful, but you’re mingling with a few natives instead of hordes of tourists:
    • For instance, to see the “real” Germany, cruise the Mosel instead of the Rhine.  The Mosel has the real quaint villages, instead of the faux quaint villages fixed up for tourists.
  • See  the front door attractions, but don’t complain about it when you get there.  Instead stay the night.  The tour buses go back to the fancy hotels and you get to enjoy the real destination.
    • Examples:  Toledo, Rothenburg, Venice
  • Spend extra money to be in the middle of the action.  It’s a better way to spend – see more of less, rather than barely any of a lot.
  • Spend at least half a day in the big city, just to get the feel of how the average person of that country lives – and if you’re already in a touristy city like Vienna, just go over to the modern part of the city.
  • Learn enough before you go to understand the basics.  Such as:
    •  Germany used to be 200 independent states, not a unified country.
    • Understand feudalism before you see castles.
    • Know the difference in architecture from the Middle Ages and the Romantic Age.  The buildings will seem to look the same unless you understand what you’re looking at.
  • Tourist Information Centers have been transformed into profit centers by selling you tickets to tourist traps.  They can still be a valuable source of information, just don’t fall for the gimmicks.
  • Whatever your thing is, pursue it on vacation:
    • Go to church, if you go to church at home.
    • Sports fanatics should go to sporting events.
    • If you nerd out on bones at home, go to a Capuchin Brothers monastery and see what they do with bones.
    • If you sky dive, collect stamps or whatever – bring your passions with you.
  • The package tour industry is feeling a pinch, so expect to spend more time on your tour at shopping opportunities than at attractions.  It’s how the guide makes a living. Don’t be a jerk about it – if you don’t want shopping opportunities, don’t go on the tours.  (Hiring a private guide and paying him NOT to take you shopping is an option.)
    • Also, most land travel companies will put you up in a very American hotel out in the middle of nowhere, so they can sell you an excursion to the actual attraction.  Consumer beware.
  • A good guidebook is a $20 investment on a $3000 trip, so get a guidebook – but be careful, because most guidebooks are lame.  (You can imagine which guidebook he doesn’t think is lame.)
  • Don’t let hysterical news short circuit your brain.  In the last 50 years, 200 tourists have been killed.  There are 1000 people killed every month in the US.  Do the math.  Where are you safer?
  • Don’t stand in bank lines.  Use ATM’s.
  • Yes there are pickpockets, so don’t be a target, and yes, that beggar is a pickpocket.   Carry a disposable wallet with your immediate cash needs in an accessible spot.  Leave the valuables in a safe or wear them in a money belt UNDER your clothes.  Do not access your money belt all the time, then you’re just helping the thieves by demonstrating where your valuables are.
  • When you DO stay overnight at a destination, ask about the paseo.  Most cities have some form of a public evening stroll within their community.  Many of the stroll locales are surrounded by cute cafes offering apertifs that are delicious and affordable – just right for paseo watching.

Seminar?  Advertisement?  Same Difference!

Mr. Steves was pretty transparent about the fact that he’s in the travel business as a profit-making venture.  At the same time, he realizes that most of the people within the sound of his voice are not actually potential customers for his tours.  He said the tours offer “vivid hands-on experiences”, but while they are just right for the right person, they would be awful for everyone else.  I am everyone else.

However, I plan to take full advantage of the resources he makes available to everyone for free.  His website is an encyclopedic resource of information.  I just booked a cruise for April (something he doesn’t strongly endorse), but I’ve already been researching the ports of call on his website.  Plenty there to keep me busy for a while.  I will also buy some guidebooks and will probably include his among my purchases.

His lecture did take a political detour that I could have done without.  He strongly endorses Turkey as a destination, which I can agree with, but not for the same reasons and certainly not because I have a political axe to grind, which it seems he does.  For more information read his book, “Travel as a Political Act.”

So, today I’ve bent your ear longer than usual.  I hope you find some of Rick’s travel tips helpful.  Let me know if you’ve used some of his guidebooks and have found them helpful.  Next week I’ll tell you about Pauline Frommer’s seminar.

Cruising, International, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning

So Many Cruises. So Little Time (and Money).


Last Saturday I went to a regional travel show which focused on cruising. I had to squeeze it in between a haircut and a funeral, so I didn’t get to sit in on many of the seminars, but even though the show was small in comparison to a show I’d attended several months before, I found plenty of travel ideas and various bits of travel knowledge.

MSC Cruises

My favorite tidbit?  Sophia Loren is “godmother” to MSC Cruises.  One of their ships even has a red suite she uses when she visits.  I like “godmother” so much more than celebrity spokesperson.  That Sophia’s got class.  MSC Cruises didn’t look half bad either.


I’m sure somewhere along the way I’d heard Celebrity Cruises were a part of the same corporate entity as Royal Caribbean, but I didn’t know about Azamara and I immediately added it to my bucket list.  Azamara only has two cruise ships and instead of telling you how busy you’re going to be, they focus on the opportunity of doing nothing at all.  The destinations are marvelous and they’re proud of the fact that they stay in port more than just a day, so that you can enjoy nightlife  ashore.

A phrase I heard several times at the show was “truly all-inclusive,” but I heard it first from the Azamara rep.  One of the  reasons we all love cruising is that it’s a great on the budget – at least theoretically.  I’ve noticed over the years (my first cruise was in 1994), the big cruise lines have been nibbling away at the idea of all-inclusive.  On the trip I have coming up, I’m buying a soda card, pre-purchasing my wines to get a 20% discount and we’ll be paying premiums to eat in the specialty restaurants.  Folks, it didn’t used to be that way.

Before the Azamara rep would let go of the gorgeous 2013 Destination Guide, she wanted me to be aware that unlike other cruise lines, Azamara was “truly all-inclusive.”  Page 96 of the guide lists a few of the things they include that other ships will charge you for: gratuities, bottled water, soft drinks, specialty coffees and teas, house wines, self-service laundry, shuttle service  and concierge services.  OK, where do I sign up.


Another cruise line which got my attention was Uniworld, “The World’s Only Authentic Boutique Cruise Line.”  Right off the bat I’d award them the Nicest Rep Award.  It’s not that the other reps weren’t nice.  They smiled and answered all my questions, but I got the sense that they were there under duress. I mean is there really anyone in the world that wants to spend their Saturday behind a folding table handing out brochures and answering the same questions over and over again?  I gave them a pass for tasting like canned chicken noodle soup, instead of granny’s homemade chicken and dumplings.

The Uniworld lady, however, was more like my new BFF who was sharing the best cruising secret in the world with me.  She went even further in her description of all-inclusive.  She said EVERYTHING was included – wines, shore excursions – everything.  She also wanted me to understand what “boutique” meant, so she showed me page two of their “2013 Boutique River Cruises Preview.”  It’s a photo of the chandelier that once graced the iconic Tavern on the Green.  I’m ready to go, just to see the chandelier!

I left the show with a stack of brochures almost six inches high and I’d only heard of about an inch of the cruise lines. I’m going to enjoy reading up on the rest.  I also picked up several DVD’s and can’t wait to watch them.  Who needs to go on a vacation when there’s so much great information to browse?  (Well, me for instance.  A month from now I’ll be in the Western Caribbean.)

Oh, but I told you last week that I went to the show to research freestyle cruising, didn’t I?  Well, that and the seminar information will just have to wait.  In the meantime, what’s been your favorite cruise?

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

Travel Wisdom from Pauline Frommer

Pauline Frommer considers a traveler’s inquiry


Earlier this month I visited the Dallas Adventure and Travel Show.  I hope you followed my advice and did the same.   The first seminar speaker I heard was Pauline Frommer of the famous Frommer Guides.  Her talk was chockful of fabulous advice.  I was so busy writing down the websites she recommended I nearly got writer’s cramp.

Travel Wisdom

The biggest ah ha moment?  Well, I’m planning a cruise for next year and I’d always heard you were supposed to book your shore excursions with the cruise lines or you could find yourself on shore watching your cruise boat float away.  If the independent operators made you late returning to the boat, you were just out of luck.

Seems there’s been a change in recent years.  Now there are operators that guarantee to get you back to the boat in time and if they don’t, they will get you to your next destination on their own dime.  Ms. Frommer recommended, and  I’m going to do a little more research on it, because I wonder what would they do if your next few days were actually at sea, but since they recommended the same thing in a cruise seminar later in the day, I’m guessing they’ve worked out the kinks.

Though Ms. Frommer had me nodding my head in agreement with most of her scrimp vs splurge suggestions, on one item I differed with her.  She panned “hop on/hop off tour buses.”  She doesn’t think their guides are any good and feels the time could be better spent.  She also pointed out the temptation to mark an attraction off your list, when you’d only driven by.

I agree that some of the  hop on/hop off trolley drivers are not among the most knowledgeable guides available.  That being said, they usually know more about their route than the average tourist.  Many a time I’ve stumped a trolley driver with one of my questions, but I’m not average.  Few people put as much time into researching their destinations as I do.  For most folks, I think the canned speech is plenty.

These hop on/hop off tours are particularly good if you only have a few hours in a town with a lot of things to see.   The first time I was in London, I was only there for the day.  I planned to come back through later in the trip, but I only had a few hours before heading off to Dover.  I took a bus tour and eagerly listened to the canned schpiel.  Sure, I was coming back and would spend hours wandering through the museums, but using the bus to drive past many of the monuments and buildings was a great introduction to an overwhelming city.  I’ve done the same thing in many other cities very satisfactorily.  It’s better to have driven past the Tower and Buckingham Palace than never see them at all.

Even though a goodly number of these trolley drivers do well to get their canned speeches out, it doesn’t mean that’s the case with all of them.  More times than I have fingers to count, I’ve had the privilege to meet a trolley driver who has deeply enhanced my visit to their city.  Sometimes they have a personal connection to a particular attraction or historical event.  Other times their family has been in the area for generations and they can share local color better than any guide, on or off the trolley.

I also find hop on/hop off tours to be an invaluable tool for another reason.  When I’m in a strange city, finding places to park near the attractions I want to see and fighting the traffic can really take the fun out of a trip.  For instance, when I was in Chicago for a week, I used Gray Line Trolleys and Chicago’s Free Trolley System every day.  My husband was in a training seminar on the north side of town.  I’d drive into the city by myself, park my rental car and then use the trolleys all day long.  The driver’s were very helpful.  I became a regular fixture on a few of the routes and they were anxious to see that I visited everything I wanted to.  They helped me make decisions about what to miss when I was running out of time, warned me about rip-offs and suggested great places to eat.

Overall, I think Ms. Frommer suggested great ways to save money on trips.  However, I also think she’s a seasoned traveler with a lot of miles under her belt.  When you listen to suggestions from someone like her, you have to weigh the information you receive and compare it to what works for you as a casual traveler.  Is it OK to merely drive by the Lincoln Memorial?  Well, of course it would be better to spend some time there, meditating on the life of Lincoln, his presidency and the artistry put into the memorial.  Not to mention, reading everything you could get your hands on and seeing the new movie that’s out.  But it’s also better to say you’ve actually seen it, rather than be in the city and miss it completely.  At least that’s my opinion.  What do you think?

Attractions, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

Oregan’s White River Falls

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
The Beautiful White River Falls


Welcome to Oregon! Well, sort of. This past summer my husband and I spent twelve days traveling the state and now I’m sharing the experience with you. I’ll tell you about the attractions we visited, the meals we ate and where we stayed. Maybe you’ll decide you want to visit Oregon, too. Today we’re going to one of my absolute favorite places in Oregon, White River Falls.

How I Found White River Falls

Some of the things I enjoyed most about our Oregon vacation were the ones I found on my own, without a guidebook pointing me towards them.  Places like Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens which is almost ignored by all the sources I used, Starvation Creek which I happened upon as I drove along and Maryhill Museum of Art which was actually in Washington, but certainly deserved to be part of my Columbia River experience. White River Falls is the same sort of thing.

As I plotted my route through Oregon, I knew the furthest point east I wanted to visit

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
The ‘This Is It’ Vibe

was The Dalles and my next destination would be Timberline Lodge.  Had I depended solely on the usual resources, I would have missed Maryhill Museum altogether (which would have been a great loss) and I would have never found White River Falls.

With one finger on The Dalles and another on Mount Hood, I scanned the map in my National Geographic/ The American Road Atlas to figure out if there was anything worth seeing along the way.  I saw lots of icons for ski areas, but that wouldn’t do me much good in June.  The travel magazines pointed me towards The Fruit Loop, south of Hood River and I’m sure that’s an interesting tour, but I didn’t  get those vibes that said, “This is it!”

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
Soaking Up the Falls

Squinting my eyes and holding my nose close to the map I saw “White River Falls” and decided to google it.  “One of Oregon’s secret hideaways is located just east of Tygh Valley along Highway 216,” said  That                                                         sounded pretty good, so I clicked back to images and fell in love.  I had that This Is It Vibe.  (Since my visit there’s been a tragic drowning there at the falls, so the google experience has been dampened.  Don’t let that discourage you from visiting.)

My Visit to White River Falls

So on the day I visited the falls we woke up in The Dalles and spent the greater part of the day

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
Don’t stop your visit here. You’ve just gotten started!

enjoying Maryhill Museum.  Then we headed south on US 197.  The day  turned warm and we commented on how Texas-ish the  80 degree weather was.  At OR216 we turned left, obeying a sign  promising to lead us to the falls.  The only other place I’ve been that felt so completely out in the middle of nowhere was on my way to Monument Valley in Arizona.  As promised we found the very modest entrance to White River Falls State Park.

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
On the way down

There were a few picnic tables sprinkled around the edge of a small parking lot and a pathway led to an overlook of the falls.  I can imagine anyone saying, “Ooooh aaaah,” at this point and heading back to the car, but I’d seen the pictures on the internet.  I was anxious to find the right vantage point and that meant climbing down the hill.

Today, this stretch of White River is just a pretty place to visit, but

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
Antique machinery

until the 1960’s (according to a visitor I met) it was an hydroelectric plant. You could see the dammed-up spillway on your way down and at the bottom  of the hill was an abandoned building full of equipment.  The roof has fallen away and the doors and windows have long since quit trying to keeping anyone out.  We found the old water works to be almost as interesting as the falls were beautiful.

As we reached the bottom of the hill we heard sounds of laughter and splashing water.  Following the sound we discovered a family having a picnic down by the river.  I admired them for carrying their stuff all the way down the hill and they said they did it frequently throughout the summer.  But they were impressed a Texas girl found her way to the park, much less climbed all the way down to the bottom of the falls.  That’s where I learned the history of the location.

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
This is the bottom of the rocky waterside slope which goes about 10-15 feet in the air.

When you get to the bottom of the hill, you still haven’t gotten to the best vantage point.  You have to squeeze in between the side of a rocky waterside slope and the abandoned building, use a large pipe as a balance beam and then start climbing again.  From the bottom it looks like you’ll have to climb one of the rocky towers to get the best view, but once you get over the pipe, you find fairly level ground.  A well-worn path will take you to the best  vantage point. That’s where I planted myself for as long as I could get away with it.

If you get anywhere near White River Falls you’ve got to visit.  I’ve been a lot of places in my life and I still think this is one of the prettiest I found.  If they’d move it to Texas, I’d buy it from the state and build a house where I could sit on the front porch and stare at the falls.

These pictures are just a small sample of what Bill took, but eventually he ran out of angles and aperture

White River Falls State Park, Maupin, OR
Built in 1910

settings, so he was ready to go.  I really didn’t want to, but I had paid-for reservations at Timberline Lodge, so I knew we had to.  I reluctantly dusted off my jeans and headed up.  Beach-side the family offered us liquid refreshment for which we were grateful.

As we went back up the hill I wished I’d asked the visiting historian when the dam was built.  Serendipitously I glanced down the slope and there before me was the answer.  At the top of the hill we explored the upper reaches of the falls, but not for long.  There was road we needed to get behind us.

So go!  Please go!  You’ve GOT to go to White River Falls.  You’ll feel as if you’ve found a magical place.  And if you are fortunate enough to go, please let me know what you think.

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

Dallas Travel & Adventure Show 2012

Travel Show Hula Dancers getting ready for their performance


OK! If you love travel and live in Dallas (or anywhere nearby) take out your calendar NOW and clear this weekend. It’s time for the Travel & Adventure Show.  You heard me.  Do it!

Why You Should Go to the Show

Yeah, I know.  You can sit there at your computer and find out anything you want to know on the internet, right?  Besides, you’ve got the Travel Channel, right?  You don’t need to drive downtown, pay for parking and buy a ticket.

Are you kidding?

Travel isn’t about the information; it’s about the experience.  Experiences don’t happen when your derriere is glued to your desk chair or ensconced on your sofa.  You have to get out there.  Your next travel experience could be waiting for you and you’ll miss it if you stay home.

I inherited my travel bug from my mom.  She grew up as poor as everyone else in McKinney, Texas during the Depression. Vacations weren’t an option.  For her honeymoon she went to Arkansas.  Arkansas?  Really?

For the first eleven years of my life, Mom’s vacation planning skills only required that she get us to Texas from wherever my Dad’s job happened to be at any given time, but after he got transferred to back to the DFW Metorplex, she introduced us to VACATIONS.  At first, she was limited to research in the library and letters to Chambers of Commerce.  Then she discovered Mobil Guides and AAA Trip Tiks.  Then, after my initial stab at college,  I was a poor working girl who couldn’t afford a road trip to Galveston, but my Mom had finally earned her empty nest  and she was ready to fly.  Instead of her paycheck going to new shoes and tuition for the girls, she was going, going and gone.

That’s when she introduced me to travel shows.  Her real goal was to get there herself without having to drive.  She’s pretty timid behind the wheel, has no sense of direction and in those days consumers had no access to GPS’s, yet.  Lunch was usually included, so I figured I couldn’t lose.  The travel shows stirred up the travel bug she’d infected me with back on all those family vacations facilitated with Mobil Guide, Trip Tiks and Chamber of Commerce brochures.  I was hooked.

For me a travel show is like Virtual Search.  I type “what’s out there” into my virtual search engine and instead of avoiding pop-ups or having to wait for sites to download, I’m there.  No online chat, but real human beings without a script.  No need to enlarge the image.  It’s already life sized!

Last year, I saw Samantha Brown, in person.  This year I plan to get over my giddy bashfulness and actually meet her.  Either way, I still plan to become her when I grow up – well, if I ever grow up.

But my own giddy bashfulness was not the only problem I encountered last year at the travel show.  I love my husband and he’s my favorite companion, but he has not been infected by the travel bug.  When he’s traveling, he thinks it’s actually acceptable to waste calories eating fast food or waste time shopping at stores with locations in the strip centers closest to our house, going to movies and taking naps.  He barely even qualifies as a tourist, much less a traveler.  To make matters worse, we had some house guests with us.  I should have known better.  Their favorite attractions in any town are WalMart and the Dollar Store.

But I learned my lesson.  This year I’m taking my best friend who, like me, thinks a perpetual cruise might be a reasonable retirement option.   We’ll try all the Hands On Adventure Activities, deliver our palates to the Culinary Stage, tap our toe to the Global Beats and soak in lectures from Pauline Frommer, Richard Wiese and of course, Samantha Brown.

So will I see you there or not?  Either way, I need to go now.  I’ve got to clear out the box where I was storing all the brochures I got last year, so I’ll have room for those I pick up this year, and I haven’t finished reading about The Best Beds in Botswana yet.