Monday, February 19, 2018

Blanton Art Museum Austin, TX

Plans for a museum at the University of Texas at Austin began in 1927 when Archer M. Huntington made a donation of some land to fund an art museum. It took 11 years for a College of Fine Arts to be founded. In 1963 a small museum was opened, and noted author James Michener and his wife Mari donated a collection of 20th-century American art that substantially improved the collection. So much so, that they had to move to a larger building in 1972.

In April 2006 the new Blanton Museum of Art opened. Designed by Kallman, McKinnell, and Wood, the New Mari and James A. Michener Gallery houses the museum's permanent collection on the second floor. The building is constructed of Texas limestone, granite, and South American Epp wood with a Spanish tile roof. In 2008 a new building housing a cafe, store, and auditorium opened and made the Blanton the largest university art museum in the country.

The Jack S. Blanton Museum is also the home of the Suida-Manning Collection of European Art. This collection brought this museum to a whole new level. They now have the eighth largest collection of Italian old masters outside of Europe. Their collection of 17th-century French paintings is only surpassed by the Metropolitan Museum. The collection is comprised of 250 paintings, 400 drawings, and 20 sculptures.

It is made up of German, French, and Italian art from the 14th through 18th centuries. They went on display in 1999 and are an amazing collection. Many of the items are by lesser-known artists whose work is seldom seen outside of Italy, but one painting has been identified as being by Parmigianino and is only the third one in this country.

If you like Western American Art, and of course this is the West, the C.R. Smith Collection of Art of the American West offers an amazing glance at the west as it used to be with cowboys, wranglers and Indians.

As you get off the elevator you will fall in love with the beautiful museum. Some wonderful and unexpected English portraits are the first thing you see. The whole feeling is light and airy with high ceilings and amazing arches and angles.

Rooms of the fantastic European collection are followed by rooms of amazing prints. Mixed in there is a few antiquities. On to the modern works and one where you actually can walk into it. This museum is a winner and a must-see for anyone going to Austin. A gift shop is located in the new Edgar A. Smith Building which is a much-expanded version of the previous small one in the Michener Building.

Parking is available at the Brazos Garage and at several other lots in the area. The problem can be that this is a very busy area and they are often filled. Be persistent and don't take no for an answer and eventually you will find a spot and it is so worth it. The Blanton Museum of Art is a very important museum and one that you shouldn't miss if you are in Austin.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Events that are calling you to Boston this Spring

Spring in Boston is filled with the scent of flowers, the grass on The Common is turning green and love is in the air. Love of baseball that is. One of the sure signs that spring is here is when fans start heading to  Fenway Park to see their favorites the Boston Red Sox.

The end of March sees the team returning to their home field and their loyal fans. While the park is open for tours all year, it is much more pleasant to tour in the sunny spring weather.
Another harbinger of spring in Beantown is the Flower and Garden Show. This is a tradition that has been going on for 138 years and ushers in the spring season to this area. 

Generations of Bostonians have participated in this rite of spring. The show includes demonstrations, lectures, the introduction of new products, arrangements and gardens. There are competitions and events to entertain every member of the family. For five days the Seaport World Trade Center bursts into colorful life, out with winter and in with spring.

The Boston Early Music Festival has been going on every two years since 1980. It is recognized as one of the premier early music festivals in the world. For a full week, Boston is filled with the sounds of opera, soloists and a variety of performances.

In response to the people who really can’t skip a year, there are yearly performances offered. The baroque Opera is among the most popular of their many performances.

The Boston Beer Summit takes place at the Park Plaza Castle in downtown Boston. This is an opportunity to taste some wonderful local beers. What happens is for a set price you get a glass and you can taste as many of the brews as you want for over three hours. There is music and if you can’t find the beer of your dreams, well maybe it doesn’t exist. The breweries change so see the website for the listing for this spring's event.

For three days in April, the Boston College Art Festival provides a link between the students at Boston College and the residents of Boston. Over 1000 students participate in the festival and offer music, theater, dance, poetry, painting and a whole lot more. You can try your hands at the arts such as pottery making or you can just enjoy the performances. There will be events to entertain children and adults.

The first Saturday in June, the banks of the Charles come to life with music, dance, and entertainment in a variety of forms at the  Cambridge River Festival. Jazz, Latin music, and art will be offered in abundance. Food, fun and lots of entertainment for the entire family are what attracts 200,000 people to this event annually. 

Boston has a lot going on at any time of the year and spring is no exception. The weather is fine and the city is ready and waiting to welcome visitors and locals alike to all these Spring events and festivals in Boston.

My personal photo of Boston all rights reserved.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Hampton Inn HIckory, NC

If you have an idea in your head about what an average Hampton Inn Hotel looks like, you are in for a surprise from the moment you walk into the Hampton Inn Hickory, NC. The gorgeous lime green chairs are the first indication that something very different and wonderful is going on here.

It isn't just the chairs, the carpets are unique and there is a lot of wood laminate flooring. It has a much higher-end feel than any Hampton Inn I have ever stayed at. We had two rooms, both were identical in design.

Among the amenities at the hotel is a guest laundry. It is free of charge but you need to bring your own soap and dryer sheets. They sell them in the small store near the desk but I must warn you, they are twice as expensive as they were at the Marriott Residence Inn. In all fairness, it is $2 instead of $1 but every little bit counts.

The breakfast is served every morning. It is an extensive buffet that includes fresh fruit, cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, make your own waffles, juice and coffee, pastries, bread to toast and some hot entrees. Sausage gravy and biscuits was a fixture every morning along with sausage and scrambled eggs.

It certainly was enough to get you going and keep you going through the day. In the afternoon cookies were available along with coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.

The rooms were quite lovely. We were on the fourth floor and we discovered that not all rooms were created equal. Our room 418 was larger than our friend's room 420. We counted the ceramic tiles in the entrance and ours had more, interesting.

The bed was very comfortable and had plenty of pillows. We had our own hear adjustment in the room so we set just the temperature that we prefer. There is an easy chair to relax in with an ottoman, a second straighter upholstered chair and a desk with chair. WiFi was free, fast and easy to access. Even the lamps in the room were stylish. The décor was certainly top notch.

The bathroom was smallish but well appointed with a granite vanity and all the amenities you expect including a hairdryer. They offer accessible rooms as well.

The hotel is located adjacent to the highway and the convention center. It is off of a very busy street. There is a Carrabba's Italian Grill right next door and several other chain restaurants on the same strip so you really don't need to go far to enjoy dinner.

The hotel has a fitness center and an indoor pool but no hot tub. The water in the pool, however, was at a temperature that would make a swim very enjoyable.

We liked the Hampton Inn Hickory very much and would not hesitate to come here again ourselves or to recommend it to anyone going to Hickory. It is a very short drive away from the Hickory Furniture Mart if like many others you are coming to Hickory to shop for furniture.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Spending the day in New Castle, Delaware

New Castle was the first capital of the state of Delaware. It is a beautiful city that has a historic area that is fun to walk. Some of the streets are cobblestone. Almost anything you might want to visit will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Plan your visit for later in the week to enjoy going into some of the historic buildings. 

If you happen to arrive early in the week, don’t worry, a walk down to the waterfront is worth doing. Enjoy the stellar views of the Delaware River Bridge. The ticket office for the New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad is located on the edge of the Battery Park. It is cute little white building that dates from 1832 and is a reminder of the first railroad in the state of Delaware. You can’t get too close to the building because it is surrounded by a white picket fence but it is worth the effort.

The downtown historic area has several other buildings that are worth visiting. Among the best are the Read House and Gardens.  The house is built in the Federal style and was constructed for the son of George Reed who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and also the Constitution. Twelve of the twenty-two rooms in the house are open to the public. Three rooms are decorated in the Colonial Revival style that reflects the age of the house. The other nine rooms are decorated in the style of the 1920s when the Laird family lived in the home. The gardens at the house are a tribute to the second owner William Cooper and are done in the style typical of the mid-19th century.

If you park along the green, you will be able to take a stroll over to Immanuel Episcopal Church. It dates from the early 18th century but due to a fire was largely rebuilt. The churchyard also has stones dating back to 1707 and is an interesting place to take a walk.

The New Castle Historical Society oversees three historic buildings, The Amstel House, The Dutch House and The Old Library Museum. The first two can be visited separately or on a combination ticket, they have guided tours. The Old Library is a self-guided tour.

Additional historic buildings worthy of notice are the courthouse and the Presbyterian Church. When you have had your fill of touring historic buildings, consider including one more as the destination for your lunch or dinner. Jessop’s Tavern offers a historic menu that reflects the many groups who are a part of the history of New Castle. Everything is made in-house and whether you want a starter, a sandwich or a full meal, you will find it here and it will be delivered by a server in period garb.

If you love books, especially used and antique book,  Oak Knoll Books will offer you a great place to satisfy your desire to browse the stacks. The collection they have in stock is eclectic and you can order from them online as well. It is even open on Mondays.

If you are looking for a way to spend an interesting day, New Castle has a lot to offer. We made our base in Newark, DE and came here as a day trip. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Foodie Events in Charlottesville, VA

The Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau (CACVB) invites everyone to consider the Charlottesville, Virginia area for several foodie-themed events set to take place during the winter months. Recently named the “locavore capital of the world” by Forbes and home to Thomas Jefferson, our nation’s “Founding Foodie,” the destination has a wide array of culinary assets and festivals for visitors and locals alike to enjoy throughout the winter season. 

Foodies far and wide will be impressed by the Charlottesville area’s vast array of farm-totable restaurants and eateries during Charlottesville Restaurant Week. This week-long event is a celebration of the region’s obsession with all things food and runs from January 19 – January 28, 2018. Eager eaters can take their pick from nearly 40 participating restaurants which will be offering fixed-price menus consisting of three delicious courses. Restaurants fill up quickly during this popular week, so reservations are recommended. This is a great opportunity to sample cuisine from restaurants located on the historic pedestrian Downtown Mall, the up-and-coming Midtown area, plus multiple options located throughout Albemarle County. One thing is for certain – you will not leave hungry! 

Craft beer lovers are sure to enjoy the Know Good Beer SiBEERian Express, taking place at the IX Art Park on January 27, 2018. Throw on your coat and get ready to sample from a selection of dozens of craft beers served from a variety of breweries. Bourbon samples will also be available for tasting at this fun winter festival. In addition to great craft beer and bourbon, participants will enjoy live music and a variety of culinary options from local mobile food vendors. Designated driver tickets are available and children are allowed at this festival.

Barbeque lovers will have found their paradise at this year’s upcoming Porkapolooza event, set to take place at the Barbeque Exchange on February 17-18, 2018. Located a short and scenic drive to the northeast of downtown Charlottesville, this event is self-described as the “greatest porkfest on Earth.” In addition to all the pork you can eat, prepared by the expert pit masters, there will also be live music, face painting, magic tricks, balloon art, and even some yummy treats from local donut legend Carpe Donut. Pork served up at Porkapolooza comes from locally-sourced farms, staying in line with the destination’s commitment to serving up only the freshest ingredients possible. 

When visiting Charlottesville & Albemarle County for your foodie getaway, be sure to check out the tremendous assortment of specialty food shops like Feast, located in the Main Street Market, or one of the area’s award-winning bakeries like MarieBette Café & Bakery, which has received accolades for its “Brioche Feuilletee” also known as a “Bronut.” This cross between brioche, a croissant, and a donut has gotten recognition from Thrillist, Foodbeast, and Business Insider. Continue satisfying your sweet tooth with a trip to Gearhearts Fine Chocolates for truffles and chocolate creations that you will remember for a lifetime. Additionally, the Charlottesville area is home to a plethora of wineries, craft breweries, artisanal cideries, and even a few distilleries.

 The region has received several prestigious distinctions for its wines, including being named one of the “top wine destinations in the world” by Wine Enthusiast. Several local transportation companies offer tour options so visitors can safely sample a selection of the destination’s leisure beverages. The winter season tends to have a slower pace, which means you can enjoy your tour without all of the crowds often found at busier times of the year. You may even be able to strike up a conversation with the winemaker! For more information about all the destination’s culinary and leisure beverage assets, head to 

About the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau (CACVB): In addition to serving as the global resource for marketing the tourism assets of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia, through, the CACVB assists tour operators, meeting planners, reunions and other groups in planning visits to the destination. CACVB’s mission is “to enhance the economic prosperity of City and County by promoting, selling and marketing the City of Charlottesville and County of Albemarle, as a destination, in pursuit of the meetings and tourism markets.” CACVB operates the Downtown Visitor Center (610 E Main St) which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and a second visitor center, the Albemarle Tourism and Adventure Center in downtown Crozet (5791 Three Notch’d Rd) at the historic train depot; it is open Wednesday - Saturday 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. and Sunday Noon - 5:00 p.m. The CACVB also provides a touchscreen kiosk at Monticello’s Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center. The official website of the CACVB is In addition, the organization manages powerful social media channels; ExperienceCharlottesville on Facebook, @VisitCVille on Twitter, CVilleVA on Pinterest, and @CharlottesvilleVA on Instagram and Vimeo. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Staying at the Strand Palace Hotel, London

Everyone agrees that London is expensive but that doesn’t stop people from visiting. Finding an affordable hotel can be a challenge especially if you don’t want to stay at a tourist class hotel. We travel to London frequently and have finally found a hotel that has all the amenities that we require while still offering a price that doesn’t give us sticker shock, The Strand Palace.

What makes us love this hotel is primarily the location. It just doesn’t get much better than this. You can walk out the front door and within two blocks you are at Covent Garden.

Simpsons in the Strand, that iconic restaurant for roast beef is across the street and five theatres are within an easy walk so that you can see as many shows as you have nights.

As a hub, the location is excellent. Buses stop in both directly very close by and cabs are always available. Yes, it is a walk to the nearest tube stop but that is a non-issue.

The staff is another plus of this hotel. They are ready and willing to help out in any way that they can. After a trans-Atlantic flight, they were able to get us our rooms at 10 a.m. so that we could sleep a little and they even arranged for us to have breakfast that morning in the restaurant. After a long night, it was wonderful to feel special.

Be sure to get a rate with the breakfast included it is a very extensive buffet and well worth eating. It kept us going for most of the day, every day. Our rate also included the carvery dinner on Sunday night and that was outstanding. We have come here previously just to have the carvery dinner. The hotel always has a variety of special rates so take your time when booking.

From an American perspective, the rooms are tight. We are used to European room sizes so we knew that getting twin beds actually gets us more room. We just had a standard room and it had a spacious bathroom. In addition to the two beds, we had a desk with a tea tray, a TV, a chair for the desk and a club chair. The room is simple but clean and comfortable. The closet was roomy and we had a luggage rack and a safe as well.

The windows in the room had shutters that blocked out all the light and since it was the dead of winter, any cold drafts as well. Wifi was also included and it was strong and I never had a problem using it.

I ordered room service one night and it was delivered in a timely manner and was delicious. The Strand Palace has two restaurants and afternoon tea is served in the lounge bar.

While this hotel is listed as 4 stars, it is a business hotel not really a luxury hotel but it has very affordable rates and an excellent location. I can’t imagine why I would want to stay anywhere else but the Strand Palace Hotel in London when I go again.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Visiting Chicago with a teenager

Traveling with teenagers can be a challenge. At this age, the last place most of them want to be is with their parents or their family. They enjoy sleeping, a lot, so getting the day started may take a lot longer than you would like. It requires something very exciting to get their attention and  Chicago has an amazing number of things to do that will fit the bill. Play it up before you leave home, make it seem exciting. Let them have some say in what you will be doing but refuse to let them dictate the entire trip.

Depending on where your home is your teen may never have traveled by subway or taxi. This may be enough to get their attention. Chicago has a great subway system and you will be using it to get in from either Midway or O'Hare airport. Traveling by cab is a bit of a luxury but the ability to get from one place to another quickly will keep your teen from totally losing interest.

You will have to use your knowledge of your particular teen to determine which of these suggestions will fit their personality best. The Willis Tower (former Sears Tower) is an experience that can get the heart of even the most blase teen pumping. It is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time, and the elevator alone is guaranteed to get their attention. Once you reach the top, 110 floors above the ground, you will be treated to views over 1300 feet below that will take anyone's breath away.

Rent a bike and hit the bike trails. Yes, they will complain but be firm and you will have a great time riding along the Lake Shore and enjoying Chicago from a different perspective. There are even guided bike tours if you prefer a little help. If you don't have any children under the age of twelve with you, head to Millennium Park and rent a Segway. This is a fun way to see some of the sights; can you imagine your teen saying no to taking a Segway Tour?

Chicago has some really beautiful beaches and this may just be a great way to spend an afternoon if you are visiting in the summer. Then head over to the Navy Pier and enjoy some of the activities there. You can grab a bite to eat, take a Ferris wheel ride or just look at all the great things that they have pulled out of Lake Michigan.

What teen doesn't love to shop? Take a walk down Michigan Ave and let them pick a few stores to poke around in. All the major retailers have outlets here and you can even do a little dream window shopping at some of the really high-end designers.

Try to find some kind of a show to take the teens to. Depending on what is available this is usually some sort of Broadway entertainment. You will need to check before you arrive what is being offered.  Try to find something that might be of interest.

The Field Museum is one of the premier museums of Natural History and Science in this country. I was surprised at what will entertain a teen but certainly Bushman the stuffed gorilla will get their attention. When we visited, the Tut exhibit was being shown and of course, that is gone but there are always temporary exhibits that will keep the whole family happy.

One place we take our teens no matter which city we visit is the Hard Rock Cafe. Chicago, of course, has one and there is always plenty of food to appeal to the picky teen appetite and lots of noise to drown out any whining that is going on.

If your teen likes a challenge, take them to Chinatown and introduce them to dim sum. Learning to use chopsticks and eating ethnic food will broaden their horizons and appreciation of other cultures.

You will want to make sure that you try Chicago deep dish pizza at least once. There are great places to do this all over town.

Chicago has plenty of sports teams and if your teen is a sports fan you can make the attempt to get tickets before you leave home. These teams are very popular with their local fans so get your tickets as much in advance as possible.

When it comes to hotels one of the suite hotels is a good option, something like Embassy Suites or Residence Inn are good choices. Not only do they include breakfast but they allow your teen to have privacy and as a result, you get a little privacy yourself. Privacy, it's a good thing!

Visiting Chicago with teenagers can be a lot of fun, these are just a few suggestions of things to do, and there are literally hundreds more.