Sunday, August 27, 2006
Visiting Maui, Hawaii - a sneak peak
Two of our staff just got back from a fun-filled trip to Maui. The highlight of the trip was a tour with ATV Tours on the island, which is our Feature Attraction. The guided tour provides panoramic views of the island as you drive, with stops along the way to enjoy the scenery. Here are few island photos.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Our staff writers are in Maui for a short trip this week putting together a special Hawaii segment, which will include a new feature highlighting a unique ATV island touring experience on Maui.
Maui consists of an east and west side, which is joined together by a wide valley, and is the second-largest Hawaiian island. The average daytime temp in this paradise is a balmy 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some of the top sites to see on the island include Haleakala Crater (pronounced Ha-lay-ah-ja-lah), is the world's largest nonactive volcano.
Look for our new segment coming soon!
Friday, August 18, 2006
More London Travel Notes
Read more features coming soon in our Destination UK Guide.
Our plane touched down at Gatwick airport on a early foggy morning. It was 6:45 a.m. local time, with the flight from Austin via Houston going 4,848 miles in 8 ½ hours. Noted that the plane got up to 39,000 feet and temperature outside the plane was -81 degrees Fahrenheit. On a long plane flight, you make a note of lots of trivia..
After getting through customs and security, we caught a Gatwick Express train for a 30 minute ride to Victoria subway station in London. Saw townhouses, RV trailers, and mobile homes along the way. After arriving at the Melita House, we slept for four hours, then went to a local corner grocery to get a few items to munch on, which consisted of bread chip crisps, cream cheese and chives spread, cider and chocolate sandwich cookies. Later, we got some "digestive biscuits" (finding out they were what we call Graham crackers). Found an open air market where seafood, fruit, and clothes were being sold.
Our first restaurant, we ate at Biguns Ribs and had fried cod and vegetable quiche. Was fun to listen to British conversation from a couple of businessmen at the next table. Was a cozy atmosphere, but a bit noisy due to an Italian family, visiting London for the first time with their kids. Be prepared for spending more for the necessities in London. The average meal on a budget is rather pricey £8 (over $16).
It must have been from the jetlag as we walked late into the wee hours along the Thames River, seeing Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, hearing Big Ben chime for the first time. In Parliament Square there were Iraq war protest signs and two protesters camped out and sleeping along the street.
Some of the side trips we made which we are not making features on but
will be included in our overall London guides...
Here is a sneak peak with photos:
Cabinet War Rooms - The chalkboard in the war situation room gives a status of the situation on September 15, 1940 just before the tide started to turn in WWII as Hitler diverted his attention to Russia.
The rooms remain virtually unchanged from the end of WWII. Went to Saint
Mary’s Gardens (Lambeth Road on the south side, across from Lambeth
Bridge by the Thames River). Ate at a pub across the street from the
Imperial War Museum, trying some vegetable soup and Strongbow cider.
The Imperial War Museum contains a rich display of WWII history, including the stark Holocaust exhibit.
Madame Trousards - Our favorites for most realistic manequins were Julie Roberts, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and Nicholas Cage.
Café in the Crypt (below St. Martins in the Fields church) - Had creamed corn soup and handroll, plus lemonade with ginger and bread pudding and ginger beer. While there we bought a print of Big Ben from a local artist who signed and dated it for us.
Changing of the Horse Guard - Watched the Horse Guard as they had the
dismounting ceremony (yawn).
Walked by Downing Street. Strolled through St. James Park, watched the ducks and people feeding the pigeons.
After eating at the Oxo Tower Restaurant (feature coming soon), we strolled along the Thames River, viewing the frescos under Blackfriar Bridge, by the Tate Modern, Shakespeare Globe Theatre, and London Eye after crossing the bridge. Walked by St. James Cathedral and found St. Clement Danes Church where an ancestor was married back in 1668 in the original church (which was bombed during WWII).
Visited Sotheran’s, the oldest bookstore in the world, located near Piccadilly Circus. Read my article on Sotheran's written for AmericanaExchange.
National Gallery – Viewed many rare original paintings by Monet, Van Eek, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michaelangelo, Dirher, Picasso, Gauguin, Gainsbourogh, Cezanne, and many others. Did I mention original! This is not to be missed when visiting London.
Trafalgar Square – Listened to a musician play Amazing Grace on bagpipes. Quite touching given the locale. In the subways are guitar players, saxophone players, singers, even watched someone play a harp one day.
Victoria and Albert Museum, lots of interesting artifacts and treasures
here. Photos are not allowed we found...
Photo above is a Formal Man’s Doublet, England, circa 1650 – 65, very rare, made of very fine silk, with silver gilt silk tissue thread, bobbin face.
Tippoo’s Tiger – from Hindu India, circa 1790s – wooden life sized carved musical with metal workings instrumentation.
There is also not to be missed, the Raphael Cartoons, dating from 1515 -1516 by Raphael, wall sized paintings based on Bible verses, on load from the Queen. Many sculptures are here, including Valor and Cowardice, circa 1857. Admire the ceramic staircase, ceramic, circa 1869. Or browse the many rare musical instruments, including a Spinet from Italy, circa 1550.
Retable of Saint George, Spain, dating from 1410, measuring over 20 feet tall, Spanish tempera and gilt on pine.
Christie auction house in South Kensington - Viewed paintings, books, and antiques that were up for auction. It should be no surprise that the highest rated auctions in a lot while we were there was all Beatles memorabilia. One item was a signed letter sent by John Lennon to his cousin, which detailed his "lost weekend" period back in 1974. The pre-auction estimate was £10,000-15,000 ($18,716 - 28,074). Another auction in the same estimate range included "A Hard Day's Night" album which was signed by all four of the Beatles. Another was a rare album, the Beatles "White Album", marked as #5 on the front, with the estimate of £8,000-12,000 ($14,970 - 22,454).
We ventured to the historic town of Bath, with the ancient Roman baths that are being restored. Prepare to spend a day or more here to soak in the rich history of the churches and buildings.
Not to be missed is historic Leeds Castle (feature coming soon), which was built around 1066 and added onto over the years. Took 9:48 train from Victoria Station to Maidstone East (£26 roundtrip for 2) to the local station. From there we took the train to Bearsted, which we found out we should have just went straight there. The weather was cool and rainy. Could see fields of bright yellow canola and rapeseed, wheat and barley, with occasional sightings of deer, ducks, and a peach orchard. From Bearsted, we took a coach bus to Leeds Castle (£4 roundtrip).
Once back in London, we hopped into the Tom Cribb Pub just down a side street from the Strand and near the Benjamin Franklin House (feature coming soon) to try some ale. Ordered some Timothy Taylor championship warm beer (which Brits much prefer over our cold beer) and listened to the locals talk up football. The Brits love football, which is different from our football. Besides the unusual car names like Vauxhall and Citrogen, and Vespas, we noticed several animal hospitals, with some having animal ambulances. Internet cafes are all around, which average just £1 ($2) per hour. The problem we found was finding enough of them around where we were, so do some checking before you go. Avoid the small Internet terminals located at the airport and at subway stations. They are frustrating to use and too expensive.
From all of our planning, there was still much more to see than time available. London is a true experience of the senses. More to come.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Exploring Inner Space Cavern in central Texas
We toured these mysterious limestone caverns recently just outside of
Georgetown (just 20 miles north of Austin), which were discovered in
1963 when bore holes were being made prior to Interstate 35 being built,
and had been hidden for 10,000 years. Within these well preserved
caverns in the Discovery Room you can see where bore holes came through
the ceiling of the cavern and the hole where a worker was first lowered
into the cavern on a large drill bit.
A rich array of well preserved prehistoric animal bones have been discovered in the caverns, including sabertooth tigers, huge armadillos (which were the size of a car), and tiny horses. Watch an interesting video on the fossils here.
You can see lots of examples of giant formations, including stalactites, helectites, and flowstones (see above), formed over thousands of years into unique patterns as water has dripped over them, and are still slowly growing. Estimates put the cavern to be 100 million years old. Our young guide kept us entertained with corny stories, and the 72 degrees temperature was a welcome change from the 104 degrees above ground. We plan to take a Wild Cave tour soon, where you can explore some of the hidden nooks and crannies of the caverns, and get all muddy in the process.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Reminiscing about our Alaska travels
Have been watching the show Taste of America with Mark DeCarlo. Yes, I admit I watch the Travel Channel.
The episode on Alaska reminds me of our rustic Alaska Adventures a few
years ago where we drove to Alaska via RV along the Alaskan Highway
(everyone should do this at least once in their life to see the state up
close in all of its wonders and talk to the locals).
We took a flying tour from Talkeetna for views of Mt. McKinley and landed on Ruth Glacier. If you are ever near Tok, be sure to stop in at the Gateway Salmon Bake and RV Park to feast on King salmon, halibut, ribs, reindeer sausage, and buffalo burgers. We stayed several days in Tok at the RV park while we waited for our mail to finally catch up with us. The hottest thing in town is watching the sled dog demonstrations.
We were sad to hear that Susan Butcher, 4 time winner of the
1,100 mile Iditarod dog-sled race died recently. We had a chance to see
her as she talked to us at her house while training her dogs as we
cruised with the
Riverboat Discovery tour on the Chena and Tanana Rivers in Fairbanks. She
will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers go to her family and friends.
She was quite an Alaskan pioneer.
Watching glaciers crack and fall into the icy waters, viewing killer whales, sea lions, harbor seals, seeing up close (but not too close) as wild bears feast on salmon, touring Denali National Park, there is so much to do and see in the grand and mysterious state. Read more about our Alaska features in our state guides.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Coming Soon - Hawaii
We are planning a quick trip to the island of Maui, and will be featuring some of the best attractions to see from our tour of the island later this month. Stay tuned...
Friday, August 11, 2006
The Little League and Gulf Coast Character
Tonight, I happened to catch the Little League regional baseball championship game being played at Waco, Texas on ESPN between Lake Charles, La. and D'Iberville, Ms. I'm not the biggest baseball fan, but had to root for the Ms. kids (being a native of the area).
What is amazing is that with all the devastation to the area from the hurricanes, that the communities came together so quickly. The fields in Lake Charles and D'Iberville were cleared to give kids the chance to play. Both states should be extremely proud of their young players, the families, and the coaches, for the accomplishment of making it to the regionals, especially coming from such adversity. Families make the trips at their own expense, taking time away from work and home to help their kids pursue their dreams
A tribute to the character of our young and a region to bounce back. Congrats. go to the Lake Charles team, winning 1-0. Best of luck going forward.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Terrorism and Travel
As all are mostly aware of by now with the terrorist plot in London to blow up 10 planes over the Atlantic, it underlies the essentials of the terrorist threat. Our freedoms, our way of life are precious, and have to be defended at all costs. We are thankful for our intelligence operations, our military, who stand in the way of harm to protect those freedoms. They deserve our highest praise. We need to be supportive of all efforts to improve their operations, to make them more efficient in their jobs. From our experience with airport security, there are loopholes that need to be addressed, which this plot has helped to uncover. There are more measures that need to be taken, especially with background checks and the checking of airport personnel daily.
As was learned from 9/11, we must not let terrorists effect how we conduct our daily lives. To do so would let them further their cause. Sure, there will be more hassles at the airport, but what better way to frustrate terrorism than to be aware and go on with life as usual.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
New progress along Mississippi's coastline
In positive progress after Hurricane Katrina, I read recently in Meetings South magazine that five of the twelve casinos are back in operation along the Mississippi coast, with more opening their doors again this fall. These casinos will bring much needed jobs to the area as the coast slowly recovers back to it's former grandeur. We wish it a speedy recover. Many of my summers were spent enjoying the Ms. coast. Be sure to read our archives on the Ms Coast, which we plan to update in the future.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Space, the Final Frontier...
Have you been the remote regions of Africa? Treked through the sands of
the Australian outback? The jungles of New Zealand? Scaled the highest
mountains? For those wanting a trip really different, a travel agency is
now offering space flight for a mere $15 million...
Read the full story here.