Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Christmas in DC

With our kids really being adults Christmas is not the same. So this year Jack came up with the idea that we should take a trip for Christmas. After looking at Disney World and deciding that we wanted some place we hadn't been to as a family, a cruise - for which we were too late to book a nice cabin, and Puerto Rico - which Jack wasn't that sold on - we decided to go to DC. I think that ended up being the perfect choice. It had been years since Jack or I had been and Justin had only been once on a band trip. It was Bekah's first time there.

Everything was wonderful. We were able to book a direct flight. That is always a big plus to me. Then we booked a great hotel - The Willard. The Willard is just a few blocks from the White House so it was not only a great accommodation, with a great room and turn down service to boot, but it was so convenient. I love being able to walk out of the hotel and walk to just about anywhere we wanted to go.

We got there Saturday late afternoon and so we just walked around the White House. The west side of the White House was a little messed up because of the viewing stages being built for the inauguration parade. On the east side is where the ellipse is and the National Christmas Tree was there. It was a nice evening and we enjoyed just taking in some of the sights.

The next morning we got up and walked over to the Smithsonians at the National Mall. We spent a lot of time in the American History Museum and also hit the Air and Space and the Natural History Museums. We walked to the Capitol and by the outdoor ice skating rink too.

Monday came and we woke to freezing temps! It was not only cold, but there was a wind blowing that put the wind chill in single digits. That didn't hold us back as we headed to the Capitol for a tour first thing. We did take a taxi up there since it was so cold. Things have changed a little since the last time I was in DC. There is now a nice Visitors Center that you enter before your tour. Security is run by some serious young service men as some people trying to enter the Capitol with their Starbucks found out. The Capitol, like most places in DC, had a coat check which was something new to us South Louisiana people. But such a nice thing to not have to carry it around with you while looking. The tour was nice. It gives a good overview of the building and it really is awe inspiring when you think of all the history in that one building. After the tour we went to the steps of the Capitol. Another change since last visit - you use to could climb the steps as high as you wanted. Now you are restricted to no higher than the first level. They didn't have it roped off, but have a more effective way as it is under armed guard.

It was still quite cold, but we decided to walk down Pennsylvania Ave to our next stop - lunch and then the International Spy Museum. The museum was ok - but nothing that I would put high on my list to go to. It was interesting to watch some of the videos, but you could probably catch those on the History Channel. Walking on from the museum we stopped by the Old Post Office. The fun thing to do in the Old Post Office is to go up the bell tower. Fun most days I'm sure but not so much when the wind is blowing cold and hard like it was that day. However we got some pictures and a very cold memory of it. We left the Old Post Office and went to the National Aquarium. In a summary - save your $5 and go to a pet store. Very disappointing. The one thing we did that I can say we will not do again.

Monday night was the night we had decided to go on a Grayline Moonlight Tour DC is really beautiful at night with the monuments lit up. However we chose the coldest night during our stay to go. Many of the fountains were off and there was ice in some of the ones that weren't. The bad part of it being so cold was that you didn't want to stay out too long at the monuments. The good part was that it was cold there weren't many people out. It really was a nice tour and we enjoyed it a lot.

Tuesday brought the day we had passes for a White House tour. I had thought we would not be able to do this as we booked our trip so late. Once again, things have changed and they recommend you request passes 3 - 6 months in advance for the security check. On top of that - it's Christmas time so I knew that would be a high demand item. The week we were leaving, Jack called Senator Landrieu's office who gave us the same spiel, but said they would try. The next morning, we had our passes! The plan was to go to the Washington Monument and then head over to our late morning tour of the White House. We got to the Washington Monument and they were old of passes so we headed back to the Smithsonians for some more time at the Natural History Museum. They had some award winning nature photographs on display that I loved seeing.

The White House tour was wonderful. All the rooms had Christmas trees in them. We got to see the White House gingerbread house which was a real treat to me. In our little group that was on the tour was a man in an Air Force One uniform. I made note of his name - Mark Tillman. Perhaps you've seen him too. He's this man. He seemed like a very nice man. The one downside to the tour is that basically you can take nothing in with you so no pictures.

After the White House, we headed out to Arlington National Cementery. We rode on the tourmobile so just hit certain parts of it. Being there at Christmas we saw one section covered in wreaths that a private citizen donates each year which was quite a sight. We saw the changing of the guard and of course the Kennedy grave sites. After the changing of the guard we saw a horse drawn casket on it's way to it's grave site. A very real reminder of the sacrifice made by so many for our freedom.

Wednesday we started out at the Newseum. This was a gem we found. We really didn't know what to expect and didn't think it would be much but we found it to be a great museum. So much so that we ditched our lunch reservations to stay there and see more. It doesn't sound like something dedicated to the news would be that interesting, but it was. There was a lot to see and do there. That afternoon we decided since it was Christmas eve we should do something joyful like go to the Holocaust Museum. This is a place that everyone should go to, but it is almost emotional overload. I will say it is the quietest museum I have ever been in and some of the things you see and read are almost unbelievable. Not a cheery place, but something we should all remember.

Christmas day we spent walking around the monument area of the National Mall. It was a brisk day, but nice weather for being out. There were a lot of people out - which I wasn't sure what to expect. When we got back to the hotel we watched a movie and then headed out to the Kennedy Center to see The Music of Andrew Lloyd Weber which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Friday we headed up to the National Cathedral. It is such an amazing place. The stained glass, wood carvings, stone work...everything is beautiful. That night we went to see a production of "A Christmas Carol." This is usually put on at the Ford's Theater but it was undergoing renovations so we went to the Lansburgh to see it. This was a wonderful show. Every aspect of it was entertaining. We saw it closing night I believe and the actors were all spot on. We all loved it.

Saturday was back to the real world as we headed home. It was a wonderful trip and a great way to spend Christmas. We're already talking about where to go next December. Any ideas?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Highland Pictures

Highlands Trip

Jack and I were able to take a run-away trip to Highlands, North Carolina last month. This is a wonderful place in the Blue Ridge Mountains - a couple of hours from Atlanta and Tennessee. Highlands is surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest. This is a rain forest so even in a drought, there was plenty of vegetation and waterfalls.

In planning the trip I got on line and searched for places to stay. The only place I found that was up a mountain was Skyline Lodge. It looked nice enough on the website, but you never know for sure until you get there. We were not disappointed. While it is an older place - built in the late 1930's/early 40's, it was a nice rustic place. We stayed in the "Eagles Nest" which is their largest room. The evening we arrived the clouds were low so there wasn't much of a view. We checked in and then went to the restaurant where we sat in front of a roaring fire and enjoyed some wine. We had a wonderful meal there. With it being the off season, there were few people at the lodge which made it an even more personal experience.

The next morning we drove to Franklin. The main reason we headed that way was to drive through the forest and see some of the waterfalls and park areas. Once we got to Franklin, we ate at The Creekside Gazebo Cafe. This was a relaxing outdoor place to eat with good food. After lunch we headed back to Highlands, and then drove to Cashiers. There wasn't a lot to see in Cashiers, but on the way we discovered Whiteface Mountain. Since it was a little muddy from the rain, we decided to come back the next day to hike the trail. Since our journey to Cashiers was short, we headed back to Highlands. There we walked down Main Street and ended up at Buck's Coffee for a little afternoon indulgence. That night we went back to town and had a nice Italian dinner at Ristorante Paoletti.

The next morning we got up and ate breakfast at the High Country Cafe and then we headed to Whiteface Mountain. We hiked up which was not a bad trail but for low country people we were huffing and puffing at first. By the time we reached the top we had adjusted to the altitude. It was a pretty view up there. After taking some pictures we headed back down and then hit the road to Brevard. While on our way we saw a sign pointing the way to White Water Falls so we took a little detour. This was a beautiful waterfall and well worth the extra time and little hike. We got to Brevard and had a late lunch before heading into the Pisgah Forest to see Looking Glass Falls. There's a beautiful stream in this forest and I'd like to go deeper into it next time. After getting back to Highlands, we went to Buck's for our afternoon coffee. That night we ate bar-b-que at The Rib Shack.

We decided our last day would be a real lazy, kick-back kind of day. We started off with breakfast at the lodge restaurant. There I had the best stuffed french toast ever! Afterwards we drove down the road some and took in the views. We walked the main street of Highlands and then had lunch at Fressers Eatery. We headed up to the lodge then and just enjoyed the deck and the wonderful weather. Of course we had to hit Buck's for our last afternoon cup of coffee. A very relaxing wonderful day.

Highlands is a beautiful place. You can really see a range of sorts of the beauty of God's creation. It is a relaxing trip and Jack and I fell in love with the area. We can't wait to go back!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Last week was spent in Nashville while I attended the annual Christian Education Conference. I look forward to this time of learning, renewal and fellowship each year and this year did not disappoint. The conference rotates between 5 different cities. Each year we are given some free time in the mid-afternoon and the conference ends on Wednesday around lunchtime. Jack and I try to take advantage of the free time by taking in some of the city sights.

This year was a little different in that we drove up to Nashville on Saturday. Driving through Mississippi, we ran into this -

For those of you living in South Louisiana - yes, it's snow. It was probably only about 50 or 60 miles of it and the roads were never bad, but it did make me wonder about heading North.

Along the way we got off at Tuscaloosa for lunch. We ended up at Full Moon Bar-B-Que. It was a good meal even though we had to stomach having Alabama sports memorabilia all around us. Since we were close to the University of Alabama, we drove on campus, then headed back up the road.

We got to Nashville and checked into our hotel - the Downtown Sheraton. It was so bitterly cold that we were just glad to get in the warmth of our room. In fact the next morning I opened the curtains to see the state capital and found this inside our window -

Yes - it's ice inside the room!

We did get out and drive around a little to get our bearings of the town. We walked around downtown some too and ended up at The Old Spaghetti Factory for lunch. My conference started that evening. It was a wonderful time of song and teaching. Afterwards, Jack and I headed out to eat at The Sportsman Grille. This is located in the Vanderbilt area. Along the way we missed our turn so we were making the block to get back to it when we learned that they are serious about no turns on red. After a nice visit with a Vanderbilt policeman, we were on our way to eat. The food at the Sportsman Grille was really good. It is the type place that Jack and I like - basic menu, but with variety, cooked well and good service.

The next day I started my classes. We did have lunch time together and had a hard time finding a place open downtown since it was MLK Day. We ended up at a little place that looked promising. It was in an older building with charm, but I would not go back. The service was not good and the food wasn't much better. I can't remember the name - know there were numbers in it, but have no reason to remember. My classes that day ended a little late. Afterwards, Jack and I drove to the Parthenon. It is quite impressive. It was closed on Mondays, so we basically just saw the outside of it. We decided to head on out to Belle Meade Plantation for a tour. Not having Jack's Pilot with the GPS, we were back to the old fashion way of maps and directions. Let's just say that I'm not as efficient as the lady in the Pilot and we ended up turning on the wrong street. It was quite interesting seeing the houses in Belle Meade and eventually we arrived at the plantation - 5 minutes late for the last tour. So we headed out to see the Govenor's Mansion, which I know we passed, but didn't see. From there we went back downtown to the Bicentennial Capitol Mall.That night we wanted a good steak so we decided to check out Jimmy Kelly's Steakhouse. Another place with a good atmosphere - in an old house. We had good service, but the steak was a disappointment. It was a good cut and tender, but had no seasoning.

Tuesday was a wash out as I woke with a migraine - yuk! I spent the day recovering. That night we went back to a place we knew we could trust - the Sportsman Grille. Wednesday I felt much better and was able to go to my classes. After they were over we walked downtown and did the Ryman Auditorium and Country Music Hall of Fame thing. We ate lunch down there at Jack's Bar-B-Que - very tasty! We had a little time so we went to the Tennessee State Museum. Not much to see there that impressed. That night Jack wanted pizza, so we found the Nashville Pizza Company. Very thin crust, with lots of toppings.

Thursday we went back to Belle Meade and actually had a tour of the home this time. It is an interesting place as it is not a crop plantation, but a horse. After we finished there we headed towards Lynchburg. We drove through Shelbyville and Tullahoma. For lunch we stopped at the Downtown Cafe in Tullahoma. There we ate a plate lunch that was delicious and priced right. After lunch we finished our journey to Lynchburg where we toured the Jack Daniels Distillery. It was an interesting tour with a fun tour guide.

We had made plans to stay in Birmingham Thursday night at the Hotel Highland at Five Points. This is a nice little boutique hotel in downtown Birmingham - the kind we like. Of couse we had to do dinner and thought we'd check out some Tex-Mex. We were surprised to learn that there is a Superior Grill in Birmingham, so we decided to stick with something we knew and loved. The surprise was that the dishes aren't cooked like they are at home. They were good, just different. Our orginal plan was to stay in Birmingham some on Friday and check it out, but Jack had heel spurs, so walking was not a good idea. We came on home, got Trevor from boarding and stayed in while the rains poured.

This trip was different from how I had thought it would be. The temperature was extremely cold, we were both still fighting our colds and then with my migraine and Jack's foot, plans changed. But all in all it was a good trip that we enjoyed.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Houston Run-Away

A couple of weeks ago Jack suggested we take another little run-away, so Bekah, Jack and I headed over to Houston for some ballgames. (Justin had to stay and work so he missed out on the fun.) When I started to look for hotels, I knew we wanted to try to stay downtown. I first checked out the Inn at the Ballpark which is right across the street from Minute Maid Stadium, but they didn't have any rooms for 3 unless Bekah had wanted to sleep on the couch. Same story from the Magnolia Inn - where Jack and I had stayed when we went over for the LSU-Texas basketball game. So on hotels.com I found 2 downtown hotels that had rooms - the Hilton or the Alden. We chose the Alden and it was a great choice. We were 4 or 5 blocks from Minute Maid, just around the corner from Main Street and it was a very nice hotel. It is older and the room was smaller, but we managed. The beds were so comfortable. I usually don't sleep well at all the first night of a trip but both nights I slept like a baby. While it's an older hotel, they have contemporary decor and very updated bathrooms - granite, etc. All in all a great place to stay.

This was pretty much one of our typical Houston trips. Friday night we ate at Pappasitos. This has been a tradition of ours from way back it seems. Afterwards we went to the game and watched the 'Stros get beat by 5 runs. Our tickets for both games were in the outfield so we got to be part of the Luke Scott fan club. This was a new adventure for us as usually we are cheering against Luke. The outfield is a good place to sit, except you can't see the big screen so we missed out on replays, detailed batter information, etc. But we got a good view of the field and the people in the stands. It was also nice being able to just walk a few blocks to our hotel after the game - especially since it was raining.

Saturday morning we drove to Katy and went shopping at Katy Mills Mall. This was our first trip out there and while we found a few things, we weren't overly impressed. We are probably well known there now as there was something in Bekah's purse that was setting off the alarm into or out from almost every store we entered. The surprising thing is how the store employees just really didn't seem concerned at all. After shopping we made the Pappas brothers happy by eating at another one of their restaurants - Pappas Bar-B-Que. We've now eaten at 4 of the 7 "varities" of restaurants the Pappas own. They love to see us come to Houston!

After lunch we headed back to Minute Maid Park for an afternoon game that the Astros won. The afternoon game lowlight was the girl sitting in front of us wearing her shorts so low that you could see more than you wanted (think plumber). She did buy a t-shirt about half way through the game, so that helped. The highlight was after Luke made a good catch, one male fan yelling,"Hey Luke - will you have my baby?" Another fun thing was when the crowd opposite us started the wave (which I hate). One of the moms sitting in front of us told the young teen girls with them "The wave! The wave!" and pointed across towards it. To which the 2 girls looked around confused and then both gave "princess" waves to who knew who.

That evening Jack and I walked over to Main Street and ate at an Italian restaurant - Little Napoli. It was a nice little restaurant with good food. Bekah had a headache, so she missed out. We got up the next morning and headed home - after a stop at IHOP that is. Another nice little runaway.