Friday, January 30, 2015

Ohio: Welcome to Dayton a Photo Tour

Part of our trip across the center of the United States in the summer of 2013 included a stop in Dayton Ohio. It was a Sunday so we didn't have a lot of options but we chose to visit the Packard Museum and the Dayton Art  Museum. Both of them were well worth our time.

This is just a little taste of what the amazing city of Dayton Ohio has to offer.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Flashback Thursday Allure of the Seas Review

Welcome aboard Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise  ship on the seas. How long it will retain the title of the largest ship remains to be seen. In case you think it is the same size as the Oasis of the Seas, you are wrong. It is actually about two inches larger. When it comes to amenities, they are equal but the extra two inches gives Allure the title.

We sailed on Allure out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. We stayed at the Embassy Suites which provides shuttle service to the cruise port. When we came back from our cruise, we stayed at the Hampton Inn in Plantation and they also offer shuttle service and have a much more reasonable price.

Carrying over 6,000 people, this behemoth is  in a class of its own. Surprisingly, you will not feel as if you are traveling with this many other people. The ship is so large that unless you are at the pool areas, you will never feel as if there are any more people than a normal sized cruise ship.  There are seven different and distinctive neighborhood on the ship and one of them will surely be to your tastes. They are the first ship to have a Starbucks on board which will make avid coffee lovers very happy. They also have a cupcake shop which is something you might not be expecting.

What makes these Allure of the Seas so different and exciting?  First, dining options. It is no longer just the Windjammer and the dining room for things like breakfast. On Allure add the Park Cafe, Johnny Rockets and the Solarium.  If you are a donut person, Broadway Donuts is for you. If you want breakfast in your room, just place the notice outside your room by midnight and breakfast or at least coffee can be delivered. Having a cup of coffee on your balcony is a wonderful treat.

The Solarium Café offers healthy choices. If you love papaya, it is served cut up and fresh at the Solarium which by the way is an adult only area  There are two large hot tubs here where you won’t have to fight the kids for a spot. It is quiet and peaceful, lovely really.

A fantastic selection of specialty restaurants is located on the ship. Italian, steak , Mexican and more are offered. Samba Grill is a Brazilian Steak House where not only will you get to dine on the finest  steaks and lots of other meat choices served in the  churrascaria  style but you will also be entertained by Samba dancers who roam through the restaurant. It is a very interesting evening for a small additional fee. We had the best evening in the restaurant and I would highly recommend booking it if you are sailing on Allure of the Seas.

The Shows

Entertainment is handled a little differently on this ship than on most cruise ships. You need reservations to see the shows. It should be one of the first things that you do as you book your flight. You can book all your shows online before you leave. There is an ice skating show called Ice Games, a water show called Ocean Aria and of course the Broadway show Chicago. All of the shows are offered several different times so you should be able to easily fit everything in.

Allure of the Seas has all the regular entertainment that you expect, a spa, swimming pools, casino, a state of the art gym and great shopping. Additionally, it has miniature golf, basketball , surf on the flow-rider and a zip line You can find as much excitement as you can handle or just find a deck chair and relax between meals. You can stroll and shop in Central Park, ride the carousel  on Boardwalk or visit the library.

I loved walking through Central Park in the evening and listening to the cello player. It was so peaceful and romantic. During the daytime, the Coach Store was a major attraction. 

The ship has a main dining room where you can book early or late dining or you can choose freestyle and dine when you feel like it. The buffet is always available as an option.

Allure is a floating city and even if you are a seasoned cruiser, a trip on this ship is something  not quite like any other. The ship has a high percentage of balcony suites both ones that overlook the exterior of the ship and ones that overlook Central Park or The Boardwalk.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ohio: First Ladies Museum in Canton

Forgotten First Ladies

Jan. 21, 2015 - Sep. 11, 2015
Next occurs on: Jan. 28, 2015 view all dates and times

Event Time: 09:30 AM to 02:30 PM
Forgotten First Ladies is an overview exhibit of the 19thcentury First Ladies who are overlooked by history for the very reasons they were revered during their lifetimes – they were women who remained out of the spotlight but were the backbone behind their husband’s success.  

All tours are guided and include both the changing exhibits at the Education & Research Center & the Saxton McKinley House, the restored Victorian home of First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley.

Tour Hours:
Tuesday – Saturday
9:30 a.m.
10:30 a.m.
12:30 p.m.
1:30 p.m.
2:30 p.m.

Tours last 1 ½ hrs

Call for more details or reservations 330-452-0876

National First Ladies' Library
205 Market Avenue South
Canton, Ohio 44702
Get Directions

Event Contact Info
View Website


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hotel Review: Underwhelmed by the Park Plaza Boston

We stayed at the Park Plaza in Boston Saturday night. We needed to stay overnight since we got out of the concert at 1 a.m.

The Park Plaza is a Historic Hotel of America and it looks its age in many ways. There are major renovations going on in the lobby area but our rooms all looked pretty tired. Very generic, think Comfort Inn generic. 

On the plus side, the bed was comfortable and the bathroom updated. Dust was evident in the room, the soundproofing is non-existent and the windows are drafty. 

So, while we slept okay, I would be hard pressed to recommend anything but the location.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Massachusetts: Garth Brooks in Boston

I was at the Garth Brook's World Tour  Concert Saturday night at the TD Garden in Boston. His wife, Trisha Yearwood also performed and there was a surprise visit by Lee Brice. 

The concert was amazing and I would love to see it again, however, never again at TD Garden. They were the worst organized venue I have ever visited. The concert started about 45 minutes late and it was scheduled to begin at 10:30 p.m. We ended up having to walk around a parking lot with hundreds of other people before entering. 

We had hired a limo and could not get closer than 3 blocks to the TD Center and this is the town which has applied to host the Olympics. If a Garth Brooks Concerts shuts down the town, what would the Olympics do?

Got to love Boston but actually, you can skip the Park Plaza Hotel as well, it was pretty pedestrian. 

In spite of all the things that went wrong, we had a great time and I highly recommend seeing Garth and Trisha.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Pennsylvania: Heading to the Lake Photo Tour

This is going to be a bit of change from my usual Photo Friday posts. This is about the lake where were have our vacation home and some of the things we do when we are there. Tannersville is where the antique store, Odd Lots and the Brew Pub are located. It is about a half hour drive south of our home down Route 380.
Lake Spangenberg in the Fall

Antique Mall in Tannersville

We love to shop here

Got to love Buffalo wings

Can you guess it was around Halloween

Fall colors

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Flashback Thursday: Review Explorer of the Seas

Explorer of the Seas is one of Royal Caribbean’s Voyager Class ships. This is not their biggest ship, they have the Freedom Class and the Oasis Class that are larger but in no way can this be considered a small ship. It can hold over 3100 passengers and has been sailing for ten years.

The design of this ship is different from the class of ships we have previously sailed on. It has no Centrum; instead, you have a Royal Promenade which reminded me of a mild version of Bourbon Street. You can stroll shops, restaurants,and entertainment happening on this level. This design allows for a different room type that is not found on the smaller ships, the  Promenade Room.  These rooms are interior rooms but they overlook the promenade.  This is nice when there is a parade going on but seem to have a privacy issue as far as I am concerned. If you want light you would open your drapes but then the people across the promenade from you can look in as can anyone walking on the promenade.

This size of ship, has more balcony rooms than the smaller ships as well. This is the room type we had and they are spacious and well appointed. There is a lot of storage and the couch is full sized making seating easy and relaxing. The balcony is small but has two chairs and a small table.

Service on Explorer was alright but we found it not to be up to the standards that we are used to. This was right after the Oasis was launched and we were told that a lot of experienced staff was pulled from other ships and sent to Oasis. The ethnicity of our staff was a little different than the mix we usually had and was heavy on Central American and Southeast Asian workers. There were very few Eastern Europeans. There also seemed to be fewer workers. This was especially evident in the restaurant. 

The Windjammer Café suffered the most with dishes sitting longer on tables. But it was more than that, it was a general attitude, these workers were not the happy friendly ones we are used to and it was quite obvious. We really wondered if it was a result of the economy or maybe they were just short of help.

The entertainment was quite good; there were some very amusing comedians. There didn’t seem to be as many offering in the Compass as usual. It was a short cruise, only five days, maybe all the shortcomings we witnessed were indicative of that. We had problems with the spa, there was a major error in our booking and it was never resolved to our satisfaction. Overall there were issues in almost every aspect of this cruise except the cabin which was always kept spotless.

This class of ship is great, however. They have a skating rink and they offered two shows that you had to request tickets for and there was also open skating. On the fourteenth level, they have a nice game room which we used to play dominos. It had a lot of space in two rooms. The Internet was screeching slow and kept dropping the connection. The desk staff was great about giving a credit for this.

This ship goes to Bermuda, Canada, and the Caribbean out of Port Liberty New Jersey. All in all, I really liked the ship itself and the room in particular. The shortcomings that we experienced are not what I am used to from Royal Caribbean and I would need to take this particular ship, Explorer of the Seas at least one more time before I formed a firm opinion that they have staffing issues.

One thing worth noting, April is a very rough time to sail to Bermuda and the pool had to be drained and closed twice. The Solarium does not have a retractable roof and in April it was a bit chilly to use the adult only hot tub. The one time we did use it, the water was so hot everyone was turning red.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Illinois: Spend President's Day Weekend with a President

A Presidential Weekend in Springfield, Illinois

SPRINGFIELD, IL - Springfield is a true original, offering visitors access to world-renowned historic sites and museums devoted to the life and legacy of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. The long President’s Day weekend in February is an opportunity to soak up some presidential history and beat the winter blues by enjoying a getaway to “Mr. Lincoln’s Hometown.”

Get to know Lincoln the man, the father, the husband and the politician as you can only do it walking the same streets he walked over 150 years ago. Visit the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Old State Capitol and the Lincoln Tomb, among others, and be transported to an era of gas lamps and hoop skirts, top hats and tin ceilings.

Then continue your journey by experiencing a different kind of authentic Springfield. Sip a classic cocktail or enjoy a locally-sourced meal from the heartland of America.  Browse shops and galleries in the charming downtown and relax at a choice of accommodations from intimate inns to full-service hotels.

Entertain your curiosity with a trip that combines the best of our shared history with a spark of the unexpected over President’s Day weekend. 

To book your stay in Springfield, Illinois over President’s Day weekend visit  For more information about everything there is to see and do in Springfield call 800-545-7300.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Belgium: Quick Tips for Traveling in Belgium

Nothing in the world is as good as Belgian chocolate and Belgian lace. They make perfect gifts to bring home. Every town will have several choices and frankly, we tried most of them with delightful results. The prices vary greatly, so don’t be afraid to look somewhere else if they seem too high.

We made our base in Laarne. Van Hercke Bed and Breakfast is the ideal location, close to the highway, within an easy drive of all the cities of Flanders, and a delightful host and excellent bargain are hard to beat.

Getting around

You will need a car to reach most of the cities I mention in my previous post. If, however, you want to make your home base in Brussels or Antwerp, it is possible to take the train, the bus, or a tour to most of these cities.

Traveling in Flanders is both fast and confusing. Most of the town names are both in Flemish and French, so keep a sharp eye out. Parking is problematic in almost every city and town. Again, it will be pay and display. Always look for a machine, even if you are parked along the road; there will be one not far away. 

In parking garages, you should bring your ticket with you when you leave your car. You will pay in a machine. You insert your card, and the machine will tell you how much you owe. You can pay in cash or use a credit card. The credit card is inserted into the same slot as the card. Look for the parking signs as you enter a city. The larger cities will tell you which garages have space available and how many spaces are empty.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Virginia: Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg

Old City Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Virginia which is still in use. It is a not to be missed destination if you happen to be in Lynchburg and of course we were. Usually, what attracts me to a cemetery is who is buried there. Not so Old City Cemetery. It is what is here that attracted me, the Mourning Museum. 
Entrance to Old City Cemetery
Monument in City Cemetery
Gazebo at City Cemetery

Hearse at the Cemetery Center

Of course we pressed the button

Connecting to the Civil War

Inside the Mourning Museum

There was a pest house here.

For more information check out their website.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Flashback Thursday: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line Review

In 1968, three Norwegian companies joined together to create what is now known as Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. The first ship hit the seas in 1970 and they have never looked  back. From one ship to 22 in six different classes,  it has been a story of growth and expansion and even acquisition, in the case of Celebrity Cruises. RC offers cruisers a wide selection when it comes to ship size, from the more intimate to the huge mega-ships. No matter what your cruising style, there is a ship that will provide exactly what you are looking for.

Royal Caribbean is one of the most popular of the mid-price cruise lines. It is no wonder. They have an excellent loyalty program that rewards repeat cruisers with perks from the second cruise on. They offer great customer service on all aspects of your cruise from booking through debarkation.  Your level of service from Royal Caribbean will not be diminished even if you book through a discount site. Their aim is to make you happy and they go above and beyond to accomplish just that.

If you have ever hesitated to cruise because you believed one of the many myths that are circulating about cruising, you really need to give it a try for yourself.  You will be happily surprised , especially if you choose Royal Caribbean.

Dining on Royal Caribbean has many choices. For the evening meal, you do pick the early or the later seating, but you always have the option of dining in one of the other restaurants. On the largest ships, The Oasis and the Allure freestyle dining is also available. The more formal dining room has very good food. The benefit of the set seating is that you have an assigned table, and you can choose the number of people at your table from 2 to 10. You have the same wait staff at every dinner. Your wait staff knows your preferences after the first night and will provide your tea or coffee the way you like it etc, they are quite amazing.

If you just don’t ever want to dress up you can eat at the casual buffet every meal and wear shorts and flip-flops 24/7, you have the choice. Specialty restaurants are available as well at an additional charge.

There are always lots of entertainment options. The shows are great; you won’t want to miss any. There are activities going on just about every minute of every day. You can make new friends if you want to or you can be a hermit, you are in charge.  There are trivia games, ping pong, shuffleboard, exercise classes and tons of other things to  do. You can just veg by the pool if you prefer, you are the boss. 

They have very nice spas and health clubs so you never have to give up your normal exercise routine. From early morning to late at night you can find things to do, you just need to check your Compass” every evening to see what the next day has to offer.

The staff is wonderful, your rooms will be kept immaculate. If you came in and use towels when you return later they will have been replaced. You will fell so pampered even in the cheapest rooms. You will love your daily animals left on your bed made from the towels and even using your sunglasses and sandals, it is  hilarious. You never knew what you will find when you get back from dinner.

You don’t need to pre-book your excursions, you can book them after you arrived on the ship and they had a vast selection from which to choose. You will be very happy with every one that you take, they were exactly as described.

You will find like many others before you that Royal Caribbean knows how to pamper its guests and you will want to make cruising with them part of your yearly vacation routine.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Africa to Virginia Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Theme for February

'Africa to Virginia' Theme in February at Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Museums

‘African-American Musical Imprint Weekend’ February 14-15 at Jamestown Settlement

WILLIAMSBURG, Va., January 12, 2015 – February is “From Africa to Virginia” month at Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center history museums.  Gallery exhibits and daily interpretive programs highlight the culture of the first recorded Africans in Virginia and the experience of people of African descent in colonial and Revolutionary America.  “African-American Musical Imprint Weekend” at Jamestown Settlement on February 14 and 15 will feature performances by “The Storyteller” Dylan Pritchett, the Northern Neck Chantey Singers and Legacy of Weyanoke.

Jamestown Settlement Galleries

The “From Africa to Virginia” theme is reflected in a printed family guide of Jamestown Settlement’s expansive gallery exhibits, which chronicle the nation’s 17th-century beginnings in Virginia in the context of its Powhatan Indian, English and African cultures.  The parent culture of Africans brought to Virginia in 1619 is portrayed in a diorama that includes a full-scale dwelling and artifacts from the Ambundu culture of Angola.  A dramatic multimedia presentation describes African encounters with Europeans, the impact on African culture, and the development of the transatlantic slave trade.

Other exhibits tell about Virginia’s tobacco-cultivation economy and its relationship to the evolution of slavery in the colony.  A structure re-created from an archaeological site depicts a late-17th-century slave quarter alongside a planter’s house and Indian cabin, also based on Virginia archaeological sites.  Decorative objects of ivory and metal made by west-central-African craftspeople, and archaeologically found objects made or used by enslaved people in Virginia can be seen in the gallery exhibits.

Jamestown Settlement gallery African exhibit themes are reflected in two special tours available to groups with advance reservations.  “African Red Gold,” a premium-theme private tour for parties of 14 or less, highlights the museum’s African collection and features a behind-the-scenes visit with a curator to see objects of copper, known as “red gold,” not currently on display.  “From Africa to Virginia,” a one-hour gallery tour for groups of 15 or more, focuses on the story of the 1619 arrival of the first recorded Africans in Virginia.

Daily Interpretive Programs

At Jamestown Settlement, “Life on the Waterways” at 10:30 a.m. daily in the re-created Powhatan Indian village invites visitors to help fashion a dugout canoe and compare and contrast Powhatan and Angolan cultures while learning about canoes and fishing.  “African Arrival,” a role-play experience at 1 p.m. daily at the replica 1607 English ships, illuminates the circumstances of the 1619 arrival in Virginia of 20-some Africans who had been captured by English privateers from a Portuguese ship en route from Angola to Mexico.  “Weapons and Warfare” at 2:30 p.m. at the re-created fort compares African and English warfare techniques and culminates with the firing of matchlock musket.

At the Yorktown Victory Center’s re-created Continental Army encampment, at noon daily, historical interpreters will discuss the roles of African Americans in the Revolutionary War and the 1775 proclamation by Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s royal governor, promising freedom to people enslaved by rebellious colonists, if they came to the British side.  Representations of a coat worn by formerly enslaved people who joined the British 33rd Regiment of Foot and a hat from the American army’s 1st Rhode Island Regiment, which for a time during the Revolution included several companies of African-American soldiers, will be displayed.  At 2 p.m. daily, the re-created Revolution-era farm will offer a glimpse of the lives and roles of enslaved people on a small farm and African influence on American foodways.

African-American Musical Imprint Weekend

Storytelling and musical performances will take place Saturday and Sunday, February 14 and 15, inside Jamestown Settlement’s Robert V. Hatcher, Jr., Rotunda.

“The Storyteller” Dylan Pritchett will present tales of Africa and African-American heritage at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. both days.

The Northern Neck Chantey Singers will perform, at noon and 2 p.m. both days, examples of work songs that coordinated the efforts of African-American watermen of eastern Virginia as they hauled in nets filled with their catch.

At 3 p.m. on both days, the a cappella vocal ensemble Legacy of Weyanoke will take the audience on a musical journey that pays tribute to African ancestors and their history.

Visiting the Museums

Combined admission to Jamestown Settlement, located at Route 31 and the Colonial Parkway near Williamsburg, and the Yorktown Victory Center, located at Route 1020 and the Colonial Parkway in Yorktown, is $21.00 for adults, $10.50 for ages 6 through 12.  Individual Jamestown Settlement admission is $16.75 for adults, $7.75 for ages 6-12.  Yorktown Victory Center admission is $9.75 for adults, $5.50 for ages 6-12.  Children under 6 are free, and parking is free at both museums.

The “From Africa to Virginia” guided tour of the Jamestown Settlement galleries for groups of 15 or more with advance reservations is $16.40 for adults, $6.25 for students K-college, and includes admission to the entire museum.  The “African Red Gold” premium-theme private tour at Jamestown Settlement for parties of 14 or less is $145 per party plus individual museum admission.  Reservations for either tour can be made at (888) 868-7593 toll-free or (757) 253-4939.
Jamestown Settlement and the Yorktown Victory Center are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.  For more information, call (888) 593-4682 toll-free or (757) 253-4838, or visit

Monday, January 12, 2015

Belgium: In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row"

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae-  "In Flanders' Fields"

To understand Flanders, you need to understand a little about its history. History here began in the 9th century when the First Count of Flanders Baldwin Iron Arm built a castle at the junction of the Leie and Lieve Rivers as a defense against the marauding Norsemen. Flanders became an independent fief owing fealty to the King of France. France was much too busy with its own internal problems to pay much attention to Flanders. It thrived on its independence in the north. The cloth that was produced in Flanders was highly valued all over Europe. This very wealth brought it back to the attention of the French.

A strategic marriage between Phillipa of Hainault and Edward III of England turned the loyalty of Flanders toward the English and against the French. The Hundred Years War saw the power move back and forth between the English and the French. When the Count of Flanders died without a male heir, his daughter was forced to marry the brother of the King of France, the Duke of Burgundy and thus began the rule of Burgundy. A marriage between Burgundy and the Hapsburgs swung the rule into the Empire. Napoleon forced French rule back on the Flemish and finally after his defeat they became a part of the newly formed Belgium. Today there are two distinct parts of Belgium. Flanders where Flemish is spoken and Wallonia where French is spoken.
Basilica of the Holy Blood in Brugge
All of Belgium is roughly the size of Maryland so visiting a variety of cities in Flanders is both easy and enjoyable.

Kortrijk:/Courtrai Home to the Battle of the Golden Spurs this is a place of particular pride to all of Flanders.
Church in Leuven where St Damian the leper is buried

Bruges/Brugge: This UNESCO city is as perfect a medieval city as you will ever see. It is as beautiful as it is war and historic.

Ghent/Gent/Gant; Often overlooked because of it’s flashier sister Bruges, this is a vital and beautiful city that has some of the finest art in all Flanders.

Mechelen/Malines: Beautiful Churches and a not to be missed museum make this a must stop.

Louvain/Leuven; This is the quintessential university city with a fair dose of history, art, and a very famous saint.

Tournai/Doornik: Though technically in Wallonia it is close enough to be included. 

Where to stay: Van Hercke bed and breakfast