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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Are you up for a staycation?

Gas prices are up some 60 cents compared to this time last year and I've read that the average price per gallon is supposed to move back above $3 this summer, even in affordable markets like my hometown of Memphis, where I'm paying $2.60 per gallon now.

Plenty of airfare deals abound, but when low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines advertises "amazing" roundtrip deals in the $250 per person range, you know things are changing when it wasn't that long ago that we expected $99, $150 tops to fly roundtrip with them.

On top of rising gas prices and an uncertain airline industry is the still slow-to-recover economy. While we technically moved out of being in a recession during the last three months of 2009, things are still tight for many.

So for travel lovers who aren't finding the money to book that international flight or even an extended weekend getaway to a major American city, your choices seem limited. You can be satisfied with a weekend trip to grandma's house, or you could sit at home and dreadfully look at pictures online of the places you wish you could be. Sure, you could do that, or you can plan multiple staycations to get you through that travel funk.

It's funny, but you can ask most Memphians if they've ever been to Graceland and the answer would be no. On the other hand, people travel from around the world to Memphis to learn about the city's rich musical heritage and pony up $30 for a tour of Elvis' mansion and grounds.

The same could be said for most American cities. I wonder how many Atlanta residents have ever stepped foot in the highly regarded High Museum of Art.  What about the Arch in St. Louis? And do you think many Dallas residents drive across the Metroplex to tour Fort Worth's amazing zoo?

And it's not just the typical tourist attractions that fill most cities. Here in Memphis, for example, we have the Friday Night Art Trolley Tour the last Friday of every month in the South Main Historic Arts District, one of the best minor league ballparks in AutoZone Park, sunsets on the Mississippi River, concerts at the Levitt Shell, great theater, museums, a great zoo and the nation's largest urban park in Shelby Farms.

Those types of local treasures are always on our list of places to find when we travel. Funny thing is, they're right here in our backyard.

Sure, you know these places exist. You see that cool art exhibit scheduled and think you'll make it there before it closes, only to realize two weeks after it's left town that you never made your way over. 

I encourage you as we enter the heart of spring to consider local attractions in your own place, whether you're able to make that big trip this year or not.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Little Rock: Worth a look for presidential history, culture

Before Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, Little Rock, Ark., wasn't known for much to travelers.

Sure, it's the big city (along with Memphis and Dallas) to Arkansans (I should know, I lived about 30 minutes north of Little Rock until age 14). We shopped there, went to the hospital there, attended minor league baseball games there and even took school field trips to the zoo and museum there.

Unless you're a regional traveler who lives no more than a couple hours from Arkansas' state capital, though, there really wasn't much reason to visit. 

But things began to change, particularly in Little Rock's Downtown, in the early 1990s when work began to create River Market, which opened in 1996. Revitalization efforts have continued with a 2.5-mile trolley (pictured above passing the River Market) that began operation in 2004, the opening of Verizon Arena in 1999 just across the river in Downtown North Little Rock and, the biggest of all, the opening of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum in 2004.

Clinton Library

The five-story main building, which as you can see resembles a mobile home, houses the museum. The center features a number of exhibits on Clinton's time as president and serves as a good overview of world and domestic history from the 1990s.

Today, the heart of Downtown Little Rock along the southern banks of the Arkansas River is centered on Markham Street/President Clinton Avenue and its art galleries, a number of restaurants and the Clinton-related sites. The River Rail connects all the major sites in Little Rock and, via the Main Street Bridge, loops Downtown North Little Rock.

Anchoring Markham Street is the River Market, which features two open-air pavilions, a 10,000-seat amphitheatre, an indoor bazaar, shops and a farmers market.

Little Rock's Rosemont Inn

Little Rock is worth a look, particularly for a weekend getaway. Lodging options abound from upscale hotels to quaint bed-and-breakfast inns. We've stayed in the Rosemont Inn & Cottages, a bed-and-breakfast inn just a couple miles south of the river. 

Arkansas tends to be the punchline of jokes, but is, in fact, a state filled with beauty and a number of great outdoors activities, several of which can be found just outside Little Rock.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Memphis Mondays: A taste of Napa, New York and Europe in the Bluff City

We happened upon a gem of a restaurant in Memphis Saturday night, Flight Restaurant & Wine Bar. Well, we didn't exactly happen upon it. I had a reservation.

But this was our first time at this restaurant, and I must say it's one of the best dining experiences I've had in Memphis. And that's nothing against the dining scene in the Bluff City. Memphis is a foodie city; of course most consider it as such because of the barbecue and traditional Southern fare.

But there are plenty of fine-dining options, and Flight is one of the latest to join the fray.

I don't know that I would call Flight the best food in Memphis, the best wine in Memphis or the best atmosphere in Memphis. But it does a tremendous job of combining the three, in addition to offering a unique option for dining in Memphis: the concept of flight dining.

Let me explain. Food items are listed on the menu in threes. Feathered, seafood and fresh fish, for example, are presented as flight trios. The feathered flight features small plates of chicken, quail and duck. Of course you can order individual small plates, mix and match from different flights or just order a larger entree of one item.

Wines are also served in flights of three: Chardonnays, zins and sparklers, for example. The wine flights reminded me of the great eateries in Napa and the numerous wineries there with tastings available. At Flight, the wine flights come out with tasting cards describing the wines one has ordered.

The setting inside the restaurant, in addition to the superb food, reminded me of great eateries in New York and Europe we've dined in. We sat upstairs where we could look out through the large windows in this corner spot, with Monroe Avenue to the left and the trolleys speeding by on Main Street.

Details: Flight is at the corner of Main and Monroe. I never find parking to be a problem Downtown, but for those who do, Flight offers complimentary valet service.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Web Weekend: Thoughts on Travelocity's new 'name your price' service

I was intrigued by the news this past week that Travelocity is now offering a “name your price” concept for hotels like the service found on Priceline.

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s pretty simple. Staying in Atlanta for two nights and want to book a 3 Star hotel, but don’t want to pay the full price of $150 a night? On you pick your neighborhood, star rating and then name your own price. If they don’t accept it you can change one or more of your criteria or wait 24 hours and try again with a higher bid.

I use Atlanta as an example because I’ve had success using Priceline in Atlanta multiple times. I’ve had success finding 3 and 4 star properties, usually for around $50 or $60 a night.

The difference, it appears, between Priceline and Travelocity’s new service is that Travelocity eliminates bidding. You simply plug in the city, date and how many people are staying in the room and it returns a list of hotels by star rating, price and general location, such as downtown. The catch is that you don’t know the name or exact location of the hotel until you book – and make a nonrefundable reservation.

One drawback I’m finding so far with Travelocity is its location listing is not as complete as Priceline. You can find all the major cities on Travelocity, but the second- and third-tier locales are not there. I’ve used Priceline for smaller cities such as Springfield, Ill., and Birmingham, Ala. But those cities are nowhere to be found on Travelocity.

I will consider Travelocity in the future, maybe for one of our many trips to Atlanta. I'll report back then. In the meantime, has a good review of the service. Read it here.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Photo: A crooked, beautiful village in England

Today's Friday Photo is more of a Friday Photos. It's the Suffolk village of Lavenham, a couple hours northeast of London in East Anglia.

We visited Lavenham nearly five years ago while on an extended stay in Norwich, a city about an hour and a half northeast of Lavenham. We only spent a couple hours there, but it was one of our more memorable experiences in England on that trip.

While there, we stumbled upon a showing at an art gallery, had a leisurely stroll along the beautiful streets and enjoyed a couple of pints at a local pub.

Travel & Leisure listed Lavenham as its fourth of 25 undiscovered villages in Europe. The funny thing about the listing is it doesn't mention a single word about what struck me as the best thing about the village, the half-timbered cottages, many of which have a crooked slant.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bookstore Travel List Take 2

I realized last night there were a couple of stores I left off my original list that there is no way I would want to omit. Sure, there are several stores at outlet malls and random little storefronts that I'm not even sure they still exist or not. I won't bore you with those.

But these two should be on any bookstore lover's list.

I discovered The Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle nearly seven years ago. Located in the heart of the historic Pioneer Square District, I hear the store is about to close and relocate to a new location at 1521 10th Ave. sometime between March 31 and April 14. I'm not sure the exact reason Elliot Bay is moving, but I hope it can continue its status as an independent bookstore gem.

I won't pretend to have many fresh ideas on Elliot Bay considering my only visit came in July 2003. And who knows what will change at the new location. But when I did visit, I recall loving the wealth of books on the Pacific Northwest I found. As a history buff, I love finding local history subjects in these stores. I recall finding a good book on the exploration of Oregon there. I also bought my copy of the Lewis and Clark journals at Elliot Bay.

One of our new favorites was discovered last summer in New York's West Village. Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books is not only the winner for coolest and strangest name, but it also just might be the winner for smallest store that produced the most purchases we've found on our travels. My backpack was jam-packed with books from this place.

This store is on Carmine Street near Bleecker. In addition to some really cool children's and art books, we also left with Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" and some random selections on the music industry. And books are cheap here.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Some independent bookstore faves for the literary traveler

I was reading a story in the April issue of Travel & Leisure last night that looks at bookstores in London. I'm pretty sure that on past visits to London I have not visited the stores that were featured, or at least I don't recall them.

That story had me thinking this morning while driving into the office about some of my favorite bookstores from my travels. I always try to find at least one bookstore while traveling, partially because I'm a reader and partially because when shopping with my wife I need somewhere to spend some time.

I don't just go into any bookstore. Sure, I might occasionally find myself in one of the mega-chains, but for the most part I seek out local gems, particularly ones that have a good selection of used or marked-down books.

One of my favorites is The Book Loft of German Village in the -- you guessed it -- German Village of Columbus, Ohio. This place is huge; it claims to be a city-block long store and I believe it. I like this store because it's jam-packed with books. It's almost like an old house with tiny hallways that lead into random rooms filled to the brim with books. Plus, the prices are fair, with many bargain-priced selections.

New York City's Strand, which claims to have 18 miles of books, is another fave. This place can be a bit overwhelming with its choices. The store is at the corner of 12th Street and Broadway, just down from Union Square. I recommend picking up a book, followed by a visit to the Union Square Greenmarket for some grub to enjoy in the park while reading a few pages.

Staying in New York, our next bookstore is Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, a smaller used bookstore at 126 Crosby St. on the Lower East Side. This is one of those smaller stores I love for its randomness; you're not going to visit with a specific title in mind because chances are they won't have it. But they might have a Frank Lloyd Wright biography, fantastic book on football hooliganism you didn't know existed and a random Winnie the Pooh book, all of which I bought on my first visit there a couple of years ago.

This store is also a nonprofit organization; Housing Works is devoted to ending AIDS and homelessness. The organization since 1990 has been devoted to providing services for homeless men, women and children living with HIV and AIDS in New York City. Housing Works also has some great thrift shops throughout the city. My wife and I can attest to the great selection at two of the shops we found last summer.

Finally we have Square Books, the Oxford, Miss., institution that is the epicenter of books in this Southern literary center. Square Books and its sister stores Off Square Books and Square Books, Jr. are all found on the Courthouse Square. If you ever find yourself in Oxford I highly recommend stopping in one of these stores.

Square Books is a typical independent bookstore with a lot of general titles. But it also stays true to its location with a heavy dose of William Faulkner, Southern studies and regional artists. Off Square Books is probably my favorite, though, because of its bounty of random titles found at a cheap price. We've bought our share of Dr. Seuss books at Square Books, Jr. too.

This is such a small list, I know, but these are some of my favorites.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reinventing Panama City Beach's tackiness

With the warming temperatures thoughts are beginning to turn toward outdoor activities and maybe even summer travel plans. For many, that includes a trip of some sort to the beach. And here in the South, that means the Gulf Coast, particularly the stretch from Gulf Shores, Ala., eastward through the Florida beach communities of Pensacola, Ft. Walton Beach, Destin, Seaside and Panama City Beach.

That last one can be a tricky beach destination for some to consider. Many think of Panama City Beach as the epicenter of college spring break and the epitome of tackiness. But while it remains a spring break destination, Panama City Beach has been reinventing itself over the past 10 years.

It started with a complete beach restoration after hurricanes in the 1990s eroded the beach. Then, many of the small mom-and-pop motels began coming down, replaced by towering condominium towers. (I'm not going to argue for the existence of condo high-rise towers, by the way, but I will say they look better than the truly seedy motels that dotted PCB before.)

In the past couple of years, PCB has joined the national retail craze with the establishment of an outdoor mall -- the industry calls them lifestyle centers. For the most part, Pier Park offers retail options that can be found at home in every suburb, which goes against my philosophy of local travel. But in the context of reinventing PCB, I won't argue with its existence.

The latest reinvention of PCB is the opening this May of a new airport that will feature a runway capable of landing transatlantic flights. Southwest Airlines will offer direct flights from four cities: Nashville, Tenn., Orlando, Fla., Baltimore and Houston. That will really open up not only PCB, but the Florida Gulf Coast in general to the U.S.

I will say there are two beach communities in Florida I prefer over Panama City Beach: Apalachicola Bay and St. George's Island to the east and Seaside to the west. But that's one of several reasons Panama City Beach is the perfect spot for us.

Random street view in Apalachicola near the river

We can be to Apalachicola Bay within a couple of hours along a scenic beachfront highway, where we can sample the world's greatest oysters and spend a day of walking the very quiet and quaint streets, as seen above.

Sunset in Seaside

We can drive 20 minutes west and enjoy the entertainment, atmosphere and shopping of Seaside without paying the high prices of staying there. And another 20 minutes west is Destin and its Silver Sands Factory Stores.

This is not my most ideal trip, although I believe everyone needs a trip to a beach, a mountain, a lakeside cabin; somewhere quiet to unwind and enjoy life instead of discovering new cultures and cities.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Memphis Mondays: South Main Historic Arts District Friday Night Art Trolley Tour

I can’t think of a better time to write about an outdoor event in Memphis than on this cold and rainy Monday. It’s hard to say what the weather will be like this Friday in Memphis, but here’s hoping it cooperates for the first Friday Night Art Trolley Tour of the spring.

In case you’re not familiar with it, the Friday Night Art Trolley Tour is a monthly event on the last Friday of every month in Downtown’s South Main Historic Arts District. Technically, the event encompasses all of the district – Main Street south from the Beale Street area to just south of Central Station at the intersection with G.E. Patterson Avenue. But the heart of the shops, galleries and boutiques begins at Huling and heads south to Central Station (and including the galleries along Huling).

The district itself seems to constantly be changing. Seven years ago when I began attending the Art Trolley Tour, the businesses in the district were pretty much all art galleries and a couple of restaurants. Today, it’s a mix of galleries, designer boutiques, shops and eateries. And what was once what I would describe as a hole in the area between Huling and Beale Street, has been filling in with several restaurants and a smattering of galleries.

So why go? Well, if you like art, particularly local and regional art, the galleries usually debut new works at these events. It's a great time to expose yourself to the local arts scene in Memphis.

Maybe you like the Downtown designer boutique feel found in New York’s SoHo. It’s not SoHo, but there is a nice mix.

And when the weather is good, the sidewalks are actually pretty full of Downtown residents, visitors, tourists, the after-work crowd, the Friday pregamers, the wine-and-cheese crowd and more walking from gallery to boutique with a glass of wine in hand.

The details: The night begins at 6 p.m. and while many shops close around 9, the bars and restaurants stay open later. The Main Street trolley from Beale Street south is free.

Also, the South Main Association will be grilling hamburgers and hot dogs and offering complimentary Boscos beer to its members ($5 for nonmembers) in the lot next to Bluff City Coffee beginning at 6 p.m.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wineries in Florida

This information comes from @roritravel, otherwise known as Rori Paul, a travel writer based in Orlando who writes about all things Florida.

She tweeted a link of Florida wineries earlier this week. This map features 13 wineries, one of which -- San Sebastian Winery in St. Augustine -- I've been to. It's been five years since I've been there and I've learned a lot about wine since then. So I won't even pretend to judge its wine at this point.

But I do recall enjoying a tasting with about 20 others around a U-shaped bar. We enjoyed several of their local bottles, even bringing home a few.

Every state in the U.S. has a winery. The French might argue no one other than their country makes wine. And while you might prefer your vino from Bordeaux, Piedmont, Tuscany, Napa or even New York, there is plenty of good wine out there not from these wine capitals.

And the best thing about these 13 wineries listed on the Florida Grape Growers Association's Web site is that they all are local products. And enjoying local experiences and products is at the heart of Local Traveler.

So if you find yourself in Florida this summer, if at all possible plan a stop at one of these wineries to pick up a local bottle to enjoy with those oysters.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Photo Friday: A curious New York pigeon high in the sky

Seeing pigeons in New York City is a common occurrence, but it's still a little odd when you find one staring you in the eyes up close 86 stories above the street. But that's what I found when on the observation deck at the Empire State Building in Midtown Manhattan. There were pigeons everywhere, but this guy allowed me to get extra close. Central Park and the Upper East Side are in the background.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Enjoying March Madness with the locals

If you're reading this right now, chances are you're sitting at your computer acting like you're working while secretly watching NCAA Tournament games online. Well, at least that's what I'm doing.

The first Thursday of March Madness is one of my favorite days of the year. Four tournament games going at once, upsets, last-second shots; it's a beautiful day. It really should be a holiday in the United States.

I don't have any statistics to back this up, but I am confident to say that you could go by any bar or restaurant with TVs in this country that happens to be open right now and there would be crowds gathered.

The only trips I've been on during the tournament (other than to actually attend tournament games) was college spring breaks. So I haven't been faced with the decision of whether to find a place to watch games or go about the business of the reason for my trip.

But I'd like to think that if I were traveling for vacation/leisure purposes, I'd have to cut away from a day of museums and sightseeing to spend a few hours at a local bar, especially if I happened to be in a city that has a local rooting interest in the tournament.

For example, I imagine it would be a fun experience to be in a bar in Philadelphia's City Center with TVs tuned to the Villanova/Robert Morris game, which as I type this, is tied 58-58 at the end of regulation. To experience the joy, pain and nervousness of these fans while not having a rooting interest would be great.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Memphis' Beale Street gets name change

It appears since our beloved Memphis Tigers are not in the NCAA Tournament this year, Beale Street is converting itself to Beal Street in honor of Vanderbilt's Jermaine Beal.

Performa (manager of the Beale Street Entertainment District) CEO and Vanderbilt grad John Elkington will post symbolic sign alterations Thursday at 10 a.m. at the corner of Rufus Thomas Boulevard and Beale.

They're encouraging Vanderbilt fans who live in town to watch the Commodores' tourney games in the clubs along Beale.

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Walking the Brooklyn Bridge: A true New York experience

Obvious statement of the day: New York is a walking city. Even when taking the subway, a bus or hailing a cab, you will find yourself walking. And we're not talking a block or two. Many times, it's blocks upon blocks.

So when visiting, why would you go out of your way to experience an attraction that requires walking an easy mile? And this is a mile that once you start, there's no turning back.

But for me, one of my favorite experiences in New York City is walking the Brooklyn Bridge, particularly if you can do it on a beautiful, sunny day.

You can drive across the bridge and see the architectural gem that it is. But if you want to really experience the beauty of the bridge, it's got to be on a walk.

And don't worry about safety. The bridge has a wide walking/biking path elevated above the roadway. Just make sure you stay in the walking lane and don't get in the way of bikers.

I would like to suggest David McCullough's fabulous book "The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge" written about the construction of the bridge. I read the book after walking the bridge, so it's certainly no prerequisite to walk the bridge.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blogging Take 2

I've gotten a little hit or miss over the past week or so with my blog, and I think it's partially because I've lost a little of the focus of what I originally had in mind.

On one hand, I find myself wanting to write about Memphis, the place I live, work, play and socialize. While I call myself a traveler, I'm not like many of the travelers I follow in cyberspace who are constantly traveling, whether in a permanent sense, or just find themselves on the road three weeks out of every four.

Unfortunately because of finances, I can't up and take a three-day trip or one-week getaway on a whim. Memphis, on the other hand, is my hometown, an American city that people from around the world travel to for our food, music and culture.

But not everyone out there lives in Memphis, travels to Memphis or even cares about Memphis.

I also want to write about all the great places I've traveled to, discuss the latest travel trends and the places I hope to one day experience.

So with this wide variety of travel topics I find myself wanting to write about, I figure a little organization is in order. So starting today, I'm going to start a weekly rotation of topics.

Memphis Mondays: This is where I will write about the latest goings on in my hometown.

Travel Tuesdays: This is an opportunity to write about other cities, countries and locales I have been to or hope to one day see.

Wild Card Wednesdays: This gives me the opportunity to write about a variety of topics. Could be a continuation of a Travel Tuesdays topic, or some other travel topic such as the latest in the airline industry, for example.

Thursday Thoughts on Travel: This is where I will write about a range of topics, mostly items that I've been labeling as Travel Essays.

Photo Fridays: A weekly photo or photos from my travels and the latest hot spots.

Week in Review/Web Weekends: Weekend posts will cover the gamut of the latest in online travel and social media, as well as a review of travel topics from the week and a preview of things to come in travel.

This isn't really anything crazy, it's just a way for my OCD self to be more organized with the blog in an effort to make it more useful for my readers.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Reliving past March travels

Unless you're a spring break traveler, March doesn't tend to be one of the busiest times of the year for travel. I've been on a few trips in March, none of which were the most memorable I've ever experienced, but they were all enjoyable in their own right.

I've spent a few days as a child in a cabin in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas; an extended weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a college basketball tournament; a week in icy cold Boston, the Massachusetts seaside and Kennebunkport, Maine; a few college spring breaks in Panama City Beach, Fla.; an overnight stay in Little Rock, Ark., for more college basketball; and a weekend in Springfield, Ill., for a family gathering.

I think that just about covers it.

So why do I bother writing about these random trips? Well, as schools are heading out for spring break and the weather turns warmer, at least here in Memphis, it makes me think of travels. The past week has seen amazing temps here in Memphis, and I've had the opportunity to get out and experience our world-class zoo and enjoy some dining out more than usual.

March is a unique time of year to travel. The weather is warming, but in some regions it's still quite cold, possibly even snowy/icy. Of course if you have children in school, March provides an easy way to get away in the offseason without feeling guilty for taking the kids out of school.

My child is only 3, so I haven't experienced the need for spring break yet.

Like many college students, I spent a few spring breaks at the beach. For me, it was Panama City Beach, Fla. These trips actually helped cement my love for the beach, despite the fact that the water was too cold to enjoy. But the smell and sounds of the ocean, it doesn't matter if it's raining, snowing, cold or hot, a beach is a beautiful thing.

So what are my favorites from these March trips?

Legal Seafood; Harpoon Brewery; seeing a random lighthouse on the snowy, rocky Maine shore; eating lobster soup in Kennebunkport; experiencing the quaint and quiet fishing community of Marblehead, Mass.; walking out on a frozen Walden's Pond; seeing the House of Seven Gables (no, I've never read the book and don't know who wrote it, now that I think about it); walking the battlefield where the American Revolution began; eating a cannoli in Boston's North End; walking the campus of Harvard; and ice skating outdoors at Boston Common.

And that's just the Boston trip. One of the great things about this blog is that it helps me relive many of my favorite trips. That's also why I keep a journal while traveling, not to mention an abundance of photos.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Anyone up for a weekend in Tulsa?

In honor of today's start of the Conference USA men's basketball tournament in Tulsa, Okla., I thought I'd post a few thoughts I have of that city.

I've been to Tulsa a few times, starting some 22 years ago when my family almost moved there. What I remember of that trip is looking at houses and schools. And I know I attended the zoo, although I don't remember much about it. And a mall. It seems like we went to a shopping mall. But come on, I was in the fifth grade and not looking forward to moving there. You can't expect me to base intelligent thoughts about Tulsa on that trip.

My most recent visit provides some better perspective, even if it did occur four years ago. I spent a couple of nights in Tulsa to attend the University of Memphis football game at Tulsa University. The game was a loss for the Tigers, so not much to talk about there.

But back to my thoughts on Tulsa. My impression then was that it's a clean city and easy to navigate thanks to the grid system for its roads. I didn't think there was a lot to do in its downtown, although there is a really cool park that stretches alongside the Arkansas River that was filled with joggers.

Tulsa has its share of Native American-owned casinos, even a couple in or near Downtown, which I really thought was odd.

So what did we do while in Tulsa? Well, considering it was a guys trip to see a football game, there were a few bars with football watching on TV. One establishment that really stood out is Kilkenny's Irish Pub. Cool local place, classy feel and quiet atmosphere.

Lunch at Hideway Pizza, a local business of sorts (it has locations in Oklahoma City and a couple of other communities and college towns in Oklahoma). We spent a couple hours at the Oklahoma Aquarium in nearby Jenks.

On the way home we did do something that has some meaning for me. I'm part Cherokee and we drove through Cherokee Nation, making a stop at the Cherokee Heritage Center near Tahlequah. Of course if you're interested in Native American history, Oklahoma is full of it.

Would I recommend a weekend in Tulsa? I think so, but for me it would be more than a visit to Tulsa. I'm sure the city has much more to offer than what I've mentioned. But I would like to make an extended visit to the Cherokee Nation.

And less than an hour north of Tulsa is the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Price Tower in Bartlesville. The tower, considered to be Wright's only skyscraper, has an inn with 19 guest rooms. It's one of three structures in Oklahoma designed by Wright.

I've toured one Wright-designed home in Springfield, Ill., and saw an interior he designed on display in New York's Met Museum. I'm not an architecture buff by any means, but I must say seeing Wright's designs is a really cool experience.

I don't know if I've really done Tulsa justice, but I can only write about my experiences. Like I've written before, you could put me anywhere on this earth and I believe I could find wonderful things to see and experience. I'm sure Tulsa is no different.

Photo credit: Tulsa Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Sleep deprived on travels

Amy Chen wrote a post on on Monday giving sleeping tips from a sleep concierge at a New York hotel, the Benjamin in Midtown. 

At this hotel, Anya Orlanska, the sleep concierge, recommends using the appropriate pillow, getting a massage before going to bed if fighting jet lag and avoiding too much alcohol or caffeine before bedtime.

The Benjamin also offers "The Art of Sleep" package, Chen writes, starting at $578 for two nights. It includes a consultation with the sleep concierge, a nightly snack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spa treatment, a sleep kit that includes an eye mask and a CD and even a late checkout.

But what about those of us who want to stay in lodging that doesn't offer a special "sleep" package?

I don't have problems sleeping. It amazes me to know that so many people do. The only time I can ever recall struggling to sleep on a trip was the first night of a nearly three-week trip to England and Italy five years ago.

After a sleepless night flying to London, we then had to hit the sack early that night in anticipation of an early wake up the next morning for a flight to Rome. So we found ourselves trying to go to sleep at 10 p.m., just as the England sun was setting. Problem was, my American body thought it was just 4 p.m.

OK, so how can I, as someone who doesn't struggle to sleep, even pretend to offer advice to those who struggle with sleeping on the road? Well, I don't guess I can.

I can only say to do what I've read many marathoners do the night before a race when struggling to fall asleep. Lie still in a dark and quiet room and just relax as best as possible. No, the rest you'll get won't be the same as if you had slept seven hours. But the relaxation will be better than sitting up reading or watching TV.

My wife sometimes struggles to get to sleep. She now uses a white-noise machine we bought in Carmel, Calif., on a trip in 2008 after she struggled to sleep the night before in an eerily quiet bed and breakfast. Sometimes Advil helps, although I'm not a proponent of heavily medicating just to fall asleep.

If you don't have a sound sleeping aid, I have come across a Web site that plays background sounds. So if you have a laptop with you and feel like running it overnight, go to

Keeping track of e-mail travel offers

My personal e-mail inbox is full of e-mails from inns, convention and visitors bureaus, newspaper travel sections, attractions and the like. Many of these messages remain unread for weeks, if not months, at a time.

Why do I have all these, you might wonder. I sometimes wonder the same thing. I was just looking at a message that's only a week old from a bed-and-breakfast in Eureka Springs, Ark., that I've never stayed at. I'm on its mailing list because I bought gift certificates from this inn a couple years ago to give as a Christmas present.

I could get rid of messages like this by clicking "unsubscribe." I choose to continue receiving these, however, on the off chance I might one day revisit these places.

Through e-mails, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and newsletters many hotels and attractions offer promotions to subscribers. They also announce unique events and opportunities that I would never know about otherwise if I just kept a list of inns to consider for future visits.

Is this efficient? I doubt it, really, especially considering I receive so many of these newsletters and the items they're writing about are never applicable to me at the moment. But, if one of these days I decide to plan a trip to Eureka Springs, I will at least know what this one inn has going on.

Maybe you have a better idea of how to keep track of e-mail offers. I'd love to hear them.

You should follow me on twitter here

Friday, March 5, 2010

Random musings on festivals in Memphis

Just read a story in my paper (The Memphis Daily News) discussing the economic impact of the Indie Memphis film festival.

I don't know if this is good to admit as I write about the positives of this film festival. But I've never attended Indie Memphis. I don't really consider myself a film buff. Actually, I have not been to a movie in a theater in two years (the last was "Juno").

Having a toddler son tends to keep me from attending events such as this. I end up being very selective with what local arts events I support because of my time.

But I don't need to attend the festival, or read a story telling me that it attracted 7,000 attendees last year to know it's a good thing for Memphis. Utah's Sundance draws six times the amount of visitors as does Indie Memphis. But one of the beauties of the Memphis arts scene is the variety.

You want a music festival? We have several, from the large Beale Street Music Festival, to the smaller benefit concerts such as the two-day Rock for Love held in August. We have great visual arts shows, pottery events, theaters; Memphis is a great arts city.

Back to the economic impact from these festivals. The Daily News story cites a study by Utah’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research that showed "the 2008 Sundance Film Festival injected $92 million into the local economy. That figure was based on attendance of more than 40,000 people.

"The festival created nearly 2,000 jobs and netted nearly $4 million in state tax revenues. For the year ending February 2009, Sundance generated media attention valued at more than $8 million."

Indie Memphis is no Sundance, but garnering just a fraction of that economic impact isn't a bad thing. There are so many jobs that exist in Memphis, and many cities for that matter, that are thanks to the dollars generated from visitors and locals alike enjoying events such as music and film festivals.

That brings me to my next thought. Memphis long has been regarded as a festival town, largely centered on Memphis in May. Many people, including myself, were not impressed when the lineup for the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival was announced Thursday. Bonnaroo it is not.

But the attendance numbers usually don't argue with the festival's success. Even in down years, it usually draws 80,000 or so attendees over the three days. I haven't decided if the acts I do enjoy who have been announced for the festival are worth purchasing a ticket to see. But I know many Memphians and visitors enjoy those bands. And I'm very happy we have events such as Beale Street Music Fest to enjoy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Anywhere is worth traveling to

"You can get as much out of a trip to Western Kansas as Laos. If you try."

This statement came from a list of "44 little things about travel" from Robert Reid, the New York-based U.S. travel editor of Lonely Planet. (It's posted on his blog

I did not expect to come across this when I was just now perusing this post, but I am glad I did. I had a lot of topics in mind that I wanted to write about today, but when I read this statement, I immediately knew this was for me.

This statement defines my travels probably more than any I've seen. I've never been to Western Kansas or Laos. But I'd like to think that if/when I visit either place that I could get a great deal of enjoyment out of the two locales. The research that can be done online before and during a trip certainly makes traveling to obscure locales more enjoyable. But just stumbling upon something can be just as fun.

I sometimes hear friends who travel for work complain about having to travel to a city not as glamorous as Los Angeles or New York. But I can think of many worse things in this world than to have to travel to Tampa, Fla., or even Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Small towns have unique restaurants, shops and their own history to view. I recall an overnight visit a few years back to Corinth, Miss., about an hour and a half southeast of Memphis. Corinth isn't known for much other than its Civil War-related sites.

But my wife and I had a great time walking the quaint downtown with its local shops and eateries. The next morning as we checked out of our bed and breakfast, it was snowing. We enjoyed a driving tour of Corinth's many historic homes as they were covered in white.

I certainly understand the trepidation in driving through a town and not wanting to stop in at just any random spot for lunch. But that can be one of the true great joys of travel. I can count many more great random dining experiences on travels than I can bad ones.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

DRAFT 150 Best Bars: Mississippi

DRAFT 150 Best Bars: Mississippi

The Keg and Barrel in Hattiesburg is the only bar listed and I wholeheartedly agree. I've only been there once, but it is one of my favorite beer bars in the world. The cozy, old house charm of the bar is great, especially on a cold winter evening.

I sat at the S-shaped bar in a room that seems like it once was a dining room or living room in this old house. A fireplace is in the corner, and across the hallway is an open room filled with tables. A couple of TVs are discreetly mounted.

The winner here, though, is the beer. Mississippi's own Lazy Magnolia Brewing from nearby Kiln is plentiful here. There are also plenty of other choices, including other regional selections, including some brews I had never heard of from Covington, La. 

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Tips on Tipping in Europe

Tips on Tipping in Europe

I've been to Europe a couple of times and always find myself confused about tipping. This blog post from is great.

Andy Warhol travel regret

I try not to have regrets for past actions or remorse for lost opportunities, especially when it comes to my travels.

There is one minor regret I have, though, and it could have been avoided if I would have just had $5 on me.

See, I have this thing about not carrying enough cash with me. I like to use a rewards credit card for every purchase. I don't carry much cash and it usually isn't a problem.

But on a baseball trip through Cleveland and Pittsburgh a few years back, my wife and I decided to make a side trip to the Andy Warhol Museum while everyone else had breakfast. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to let my artist wife enjoy her passion while on this trip to make another step in fulfilling a goal of mine to visit every major league ballpark (I've hit 10 teams, 12 parks).

The museum is in a bustling riverfront neighborhood adjacent to PNC Park, home of the Pirates. So I dropped her off to get a head start while I searched for either free street parking or a garage that would take my credit card. That's because by this point, the last day of our two-day trip from our base of Columbus, Ohio, I was broke. But after circling both sides of the river and getting an actually great tour of a very beautiful downtown, I had no luck.

So while she enjoyed Warhol, I saw Pittsburgh through a windshield. I crossed a couple of bridges. I drove through the empty streets of a Sunday morning. Even found the original Primanti Brothers, where we would later have a postgame meal. But I did not see the works of America's modern art genius.

The game was good, the ballpark was beautiful and the weather was perfect. It made for a nice Sunday afternoon in May. But it certainly would have been nice to enjoy Warhol.

Lesson: It's OK to be cheap (that's who I am), but have enough cash to enjoy the trip. And maybe more importantly, parking garages charge when you exit, not upon entrance. I could have borrowed cash from my other travel companions to pay for parking, which is what I ended up doing.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Memphis mayor squashes 'miserable city' reputation

Forbes recently named Memphis one of the most miserable cities in the U.S. Some might agree while I think many others, especially Memphians who enjoy this great city, would disagree. It was very nice to see the letter Mayor A C Wharton Jr. sent to Forbes. Here's the link.

Consider this St. Jude story, donation

This is not my usual travel-related post, but it is related to Memphis' own St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. I came in contact with the Atwell family about a year ago through a potential freelance story I was considering that ultimately fell through. I recently received an e-mail from them and thought I would share it here in its entirety.

You can read Katelyn's story at this link, but a quick summary is that in 1999, after being diagnosed with cancer at age 12, she developed an infection in her brain that no one had ever survived for more than 48 hours. She would ultimately spend a year and a half in a coma before recovering.

Dear Family and Friends,
I have some great news to share with you. This April 19 will be the 10th Anniversary of the Katelyn Atwell/ St. Jude Golf Classic. The big news is that I will be playing for the very first time in my own tournament. This is a goal that I set 5 years ago and now it will become a reality.

This year we really wanted to make it a big year being the 10th and we had passed
around some ideas. Since the passing of my Uncle Duane I have really made it a mission to honor his memory and try to make this the biggest and best year yet. I have some surprises up my sleeve but there is one that is just too big not to share, check out the web page listed
I also had another idea. I was looking at our local Kroger ad and they have this big 10 for 10 sale going on. I wondered if maybe some of my family and friends would be willing to donate $10 for 10 years. The kids at St. Jude depend on every dollar and I know that it would be the best $10 you may spend all year.

So with that in mind if anyone reading this would like to help me please make a check out to St. Jude Children's Hospital and send it to Katelyn Atwell/St Jude Golf Classic 923 Arkenstone Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32225.

Please feel free to send this out to everyone you know. Can you imagine how much we could raise if everyone just sent in $10. I know money is tight and that makes it even harder to raise money, but the kids are still being diagnosed and still need to be cured.

I was reminded yesterday that God spared my life and told me that it would not be easy. I have to put in the hard work in order to continue to heal and get stronger. I have to keep up the fight for the other kids that are in the
middle of their battle. You can make such a huge difference.
If anyone knows of a company that might be willing to donate please let me know. I have set a goal to get 10 $1,000 donors. So far I have two with a possible 2 more. I will be willing to contact and send a letter.

Also if there are any of you who would like to golf just let me know I can send a
registration form to you. I would love to have the golf course full. We are already getting some great door prizes. You have been so faithful in supporting all of my efforts to raise money and following me on this journey. I hope you will consider doing it again.
Thank you and God Bless