Labor Day Weekend in St Charles, MO

I’ve had a hard time writing lately. Although I have been working on this story intermittently for months now, my heart just hasn’t had the time or effort to give this the attention it needed. Between starting a new job, my mother falling and breaking her hip, having surgery, spending a month in rehab, and then having another fall with a broken arm, surgery, and rehab, followed up by the stress of the holidays, I’ve felt a little less than write-y. And, I really haven’t gone anywhere worth talking about in quite some time.

Except way back over Labor Day (yes, I know that was months ago but like I said, I’ve been a little busy). I talked Robby into taking advantage of the long weekend. My old job allowed me to have (mostly) 4 days off each week so I could easily take long weekend trips. However, my new job is a Monday through Friday gig, which allows me stable hours that are much better for my family, but my long weekends are adios. So, you have to soak it up when you’re able, right?

We chose St Charles, MO because a) it’s not a far drive from home (1.5 hours) b) we had never been there before and c) it looks cutesy and quaint and I love little towns like that.

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We left on Friday evening after dropping the kiddos off at Grandma’s just before bedtime. We got to St Charles just in time to check in to our hotel and crash. We stayed at the Country Inn and Suites on Main St. I would have preferred a bed and breakfast but Robby isn’t really into bed and breakfast’s and he reserved the hotel so complain, I could not.

The Katy Trail sat just behind the hotel so that provided easy access for our morning bike rides. We started Saturday morning with just that and got our workout in for the day first thing.

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Contrary to the looks of the above picture, it was actually quite crowded on the Katy this particular morning. The trail starts off in the heart of St Charles, running alongside the buildings of Main Street. Eventually, it meanders parallel to the Missouri River (which provides for those spectacular cycling views), past the ball fields, past this extremely organized junk yard, to the fields outside of town.

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Once we turned around, we had gotten quite thirsty and stopped at the Bike Stop Café for an early morning sweet tea.

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The café sits just alongside the Katy Trail access and has a small menu, area for a bike workshop, and some other cool bike gear for the enthusiasts out there. We sat on the patio and soaked up the morning sun while chatting about how the rest of our day should go.

We dropped by The Old Millstream Inn restaurant for lunch, after cleaning up back at the hotel of course. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this spectacular little restaurant. We had a table outside on the brick patio, which was seated right next to a babbling brook. Yes, you read that right. There is literally a babbling brook here. The service was great and the food was even more wonderful. I had the chicken salad sandwich and a side salad which both had flavors that I have never had the pleasure of experiencing before.

Delish!

Delish!

Once we got to the point that we just couldn’t eat anymore food no matter how delicious it was, we sat off on foot to wander the walk-friendly streets of this little city. The brick lined streets reminded me so much of my hometown, Fulton, MO, that the nostalgia made it hard to not like the area. It was fairly busy because of the holiday weekend but still easy to walk up and down the streets, dodging in and out of the stores. I love locally owned stores like the ones here on Main Street because of their uniqueness. The things on the racks here aren’t something you can find in TJ Maxx. I’m not big on spending unnecessary money so I didn’t load myself down with shopping bags but I did manage to come across a few good finds (like a beautiful $5 scarf that I caught on sale). The best part of the shopping experience is looking at the architecture of these old buildings. One store still had the ladder on the rail and the original shelving, as it used to be the town’s hardware store. Stories like these are so fascinating to me. I love old buildings and when you can get a small story with it, it just makes it so much better.

The storefronts of the buildings along Main St used to be located on the back side of the buildings, which is located closer to the river and down quite a few more feet. Because of this, these buildings flooded a lot. To keep businesses open, they rearranged things and made the previous back entrances, now the front entrance of the shops on what is now Main St. The picture below shows cellar access right along Main St (which used to be the back but is now the front of this particular building).

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We took a break in the middle of the shopping and grabbed a cold drink at Llywelyn’s Pub. We sat on the patio drinking and people watching. The pub is right on Main St so the people watching is top notch. After we had hit all the stores that looked appealing to me, Robby convinced me to get a pre-dinner drink at Bella Vino Wine Bar. It was a busy weekend and hence it was quite busy in the wine bar. We managed to get a cozy table for two right along the front windows (once again, excellent people watching) and close enough that we could enjoy the music from the man at the piano.

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For dinner that night, we chose the highly recommended Tony’s on Top. Once again, this restaurant lies right on Main St and was an easy walk from our hotel. It was a beautifully hot weekend (my motto: the hotter the better), which we took full advantage of by choosing a rooftop, outdoor table. The food was good (although I don’t particularly remember what I had so I don’t think it blew my socks off) and the service was decent, even though it appeared the servers didn’t actually know who had which table. But we didn’t get ignored and that’s the important part.

Awe, aren't we cute at Tony's on Top?

Awe, aren’t we cute at Tony’s on Top?

After we got our bellies full and had a nice little after-dinner buzz, we headed down the street to meet up with the group for our scheduled ghost tour with St Charles Ghost Tours. Ghost tours are always my favorite. We’ve been to one in Charleston, Savannah, and a couple in Key West (Savannah’s was the best so far, by far). Dr Michael Henry is the owner and operator of St Charles Ghost Tours. He gave a nice little introduction of himself to start the tour off and lead the group of 15 or so around the local streets and alleged haunting sites of St Charles. Dr Henry is a decent story teller and he sounds like a man very well versed in St Charles history for sure. During the last stretch of the tour, he made the mistake of telling us how he purchases junky dolls from flea markets for a couple bucks, hangs them outside on his fence to weather (his poor, poor neighbors), and then sells them on Ebay for several hundred dollars with a made up ghost story! Oh my Dr Henry. See, there is this thing called credibility. And yeah, you just lost yours. He’s got a book if you’re interested….. Pssshhhhh.

We started Sunday off with a late breakfast at Bradden’s. Robby and I are really big on the atmosphere and experience of a restaurant. Bradden’s almost lost us when they mentioned  we were going to have to wait 20-30 minutes to order because the kitchen was busy. They were barely, just barely nice enough to let us sit down and all this for only a small handful of people on the patio. There was no way it was busy enough to not serve us. And we would have even been fine to wait had they offered us drinks but we had to fight to get a cup of coffee. The service was absolutely terrible but I will give credit where it is due and they served me a phenomenal French toast plate. “Thee” French toast is a deep fried concoction of delicious French toast heaven like I have never experienced before. Please, please, please if you go to Bradden’s, do yourself a favor and order the French toast. You can thank me later.

Holy. Moly. Deliciousness.

Holy. Moly. Deliciousness.

Robby arranged for us to have a tee time for my first ever golfing experience that afternoon at The Quarry at Crystal Springs. This golf course was about a 20 minute drive from downtown St Charles. Once again, it seemed pretty busy this particular holiday weekend but we had a pretty pleasurable experience. That is, after the first 9 holes when Robby kept getting so mad at me for taking an average of 8 swings for my club to make contact. Once he lightened up, we actually had a lot of fun and surprisingly I wasn’t near as bad as I thought.

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18 holes of golf takes a lot longer than I realized and after that and the hot, hot, super hot day, we were ready to get cleaned up and have a beverage or two. From our hotel, we walked just a block or two down the street to Trailhead Brewing Company. We chose the bar over a table just for the fun of it. I indulged in the Riverboat Raspberry brew and the Trailhead Nachos. Microbrewed beers are just our style and the place has a highly inviting atmosphere. I also ended the night with a margarita at the Trailhead Brewing Company which was delicious no doubt, but admittedly not the wisest decision.

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On Monday, we slept in a little later than normal (see above: margarita to end the night) and grabbed a quick breakfast in the lobby before heading back home. In parenthood, you always have the thrill of getting away but you are also always ready to come back home to those sweet-faced kiddos. St Charles was great for a quick weekend getaway and was just enough to get the reset that we needed.

 

 

Key West Beaches

 

Top Key West Beaches; If you are headed to Key West, be prepared by knowing which beach you should hit and which beach you should steer clear from.

I can’t stop myself. I have been back in Missouri for well over a month now and yet I keep dwelling on Key West. Well, I wouldn’t really call it dwelling. I would call it reliving my vacation to the best place on Earth over and over and over again and dreaming about when I can go back. It doesn’t help that it has rained nearly every second of every single day since we’ve gotten back. Uuuuggghhh.

Now, even though I love KW incredibly, I am willing to admit that it isn’t synonymous with fantastic beaches. If you’re in the states and you want a great beach you’ll probably head to Myrtle Beach, Outer Banks, Gulf Shores or Cali when you’re on the West Coast. But it’s not Key West’s fault. The Florida Keys are protected by the World’s Third Largest Barrier Reef, hindering the natural tides to bring sand up to the shores. Therefore there are no natural beaches in Key West, only man-made beaches.

I was more impressed with the beaches this time than either of my last two trips and chose a different one as my “fav” on the island than I had previously. Don’t let this deter you from vacationing here, it’s beautiful and fun and perfect and you’d be silly not to visit just because the beaches are not pristine. So go already!

SMATHERS BEACH

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Smathers Beach redeemed itself for me this trip. Both prior trips I had been pretty unimpressed but either my likings or the beach changed and I am officially announcing Smathers as My Favorite Key West Beach. The sand was clean and had the right amount of squishiness and warmth between my toes. The water was beautiful and had just the right amount of “kqeshhh” to it when it hit the shore. The only downfall is lack of concessions so BYOB to Smathers (I should technically tell you that there are signs posted for no alcohol on the beaches but I saw it happening and come on, you’re in Key West!). There are a couple vendors on the street selling snack-y type food and one of the watersports stands sold bottled water. The hubs and friends rented a volleyball and played a couple games with some folks while me and the gals got our sun on.

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FORT ZACHARY TAYLOR

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This beach is my old favorite on the island. I dubbed it my favorite because the views are great and there is a concession stand that sells beer and food. It’s been downgraded but still has good qualities that have their own place in my heart. Fort Zachary Taylor is on the southwestern tip of the island and is rocky as all get out. You should plan to wear some sort of water shoe even when you get in the water because it is unrelenting. Don’t get me all wrong here, there are still reasons to head there. From this beach we saw dolphins frolicking in the ocean. We had herons nosediving for food right in front of us. We waded in the water with thousands upon thousands of tiny minnows swimming all around us. So while the sand isn’t to my liking, the activity of marine life should be enjoyed. And, if you’re into forts, you can check that out while you’re there.

HIGGS BEACH

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Further down from Smathers Beach is Higgs Beach. We didn’t spend much time here but did bicycle by many times. It’s smaller than Smathers but looks pretty comparable in the areas of sand squishiness and water “kqeshhiness”. Watersports available. Sorry, no concessions here either except there is a restaurant, Salute! On The Beach, that we’ve heard is quite good but have yet to have personally tried it.

DOG BEACH

Dog Beach from the pier

Dog Beach from the pier

Dog Beach is exactly that. A beach for dogs. It’s small but for the people who have dogs on the island or vacation with their dogs, there ya go. Annnddd, that’s all you need to know about Dog Beach. Moving on…

SOUTH BEACH

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South beach is located on the Southernmost end of Duval. It’s a small beach (I mean very small) but clean and nice for when you just want to relax and soak up some sun. There is a little walk-in only restaurant there, Southernmost Beach Cafe, which is perfect for grabbing lunch and drinks when you need. We walked down to the restaurant one morning and had a fantastic breakfast!

REST BEACH

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Rest Beach is at the southern end of White Street, sandwiched in between Higgs Beach and Smathers Beach. It’s a small beach with nice sand but the big draw is the super long, White Street Pier, perfect for fishing from.

PIER HOUSE HOTEL PRIVATE BEACH

Image thievery via Google

Image thievery via Google

Our first trip to KW, we stayed at the Pier House Hotel. It’s absolutely beautiful but the big draw is the private beach and bar. This beach isn’t advertised of course because of where it is and you have to be a guest at the hotel to use the beach. But I wanted to put this in the mix because I do know about it.

Happy Key West beaching!

Which Key West beach is your favorite? If you haven’t been to Key West, which beach in the US in your favorite?

Pan, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru

The Top 10 Reasons I LOVE Key West

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For anybody who’s perused through my blog and seen past posts, you’ve noticed that I’m just a little obsessed with Key West, FL. We just got back from our third trip last month and every time I go, I’m reminded all over again just why I love that tiny, southernmost US island.

I really don’t even know how I’m going to be able to sum up all the reasons why I love Key West into one blog post, but for you, I will try.

IT’S BEAUTIFUL, ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL

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Anywhere you go on the island is beautiful. Literally, anywhere. From the beaches to the streets of Old Town, I can never soak it in enough. I could bike or scoot over the island all day, everyday and don’t believe I would ever grow tired of the views.

Speaking of biking and scooting, the second reason I LOVE Key West is the ease of maneuvering the island.

BIKING OR SCOOTING: THE EASIEST WAY TO GET AROUND

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The first and second time the hubs and I went to KW, we rented scooters. This last trip we rented bikes because we went with a group and that’s what worked out better for the group. I was initially thinking that I wasn’t going to dig the bikes as much as the scooters but I had a great time cycling around the island just as well. Either way, DO NOT rent a car. KW is a small island and therefore has very limited space for parking. Which is fine. Like I said, the island is small which makes it ridiculously easy to get around with either the moped or the bicycle. And parking is free, HELLO!!! Plus, if you spend your nights libating, the bicycle is the safest way to get yourself back where you belong (besides a cab of course).

And the nightlife, dear Jesus the nightlife. You will have a good time in KW. Listen to me…. You will have a good time in KW. If you don’t, you’re a bump on a log, and that’s all I have to tell ya. There are bars amass in KW. What do you want? A live band? An intimate atmosphere? A topless bar? A bar with history? A strip club? I’m telling you, whatever you want, it’s there.

THE NIGHTLIFE

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THE BEACHES

Of course the beaches. Our prior trips, Fort Zachary Taylor was our fav beach. But after this last trip, I realize I didn’t have all my information correct. Smathers Beach is the way to go. Nice sand, nice beach, b.y.o.b.

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Now that I feel I know quite a bit more about the beaches of Key West, I will create a separate blog post specifically geared towards those. Stay tuned.

AMPLE TOURISTY THINGS

Yes, I’m that vacationer. The one who takes a ridiculous amount of pictures and has to visit all the top “Things to do” from TripAdvisor. KW has touristy things aplenty. The island is so rich in history that it’s only suiting to take some of it in. From ghost tours, to the Southernmost Point in the US, to Sunset at Mallory Square, to the KW Lighthouse, to the Forts there’s no excuse for boredom here.

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Don't judge: I was like 5 months pregnant at this point.

Don’t judge: I was like 5 months pregnant at this point.

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THE HEMINGWAY HOUSE

I’m not going to lie. I’m a little weirdly obsessed with the Hemingway House. I’ve been three times now and yes, I will probably go again the next time we head to KW. Prior to my first KW trip, I knew little to nothing of Ernest Hemingway. He spent a short time of his tumultuous life on the southernmost Key and the house has been preserved to a museum, offering tours for a nominal fee.

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When you arrive, wait for the tour guide who is an older gentleman (they all are) who has his grayed hair pulled back into a ponytail at the nape of his neck, wearing a ball cap. That man gave the most moving tour of the house yet. The other two guides were disappointing.

GREAT FOOD

Had you asked me about the food in KW after our first trip, I would have been inclined to tell you that the food was awful. Something’s changed in my palate or in the KW culinary scene but either way, they now have awesome food! We did not have one single bad meal the entire time we were there (6 days). We didn’t eat any place (except one) twice and left impressed each time (with stuffed bellies).

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THE COCKS AND THE HENS

I can’t get over how much of a kick I get out of seeing roosters and hens running all over the island. Even through the restaurants. I love it. It strikes some sort of pleasure nerve and I don’t know why, just know that it does.

Chickens run amuck on the island.

Chickens run amuck on the island.

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LIBATIONS: ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANY NIGHT

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Virgin pin~a: because I was pregnant.

Virgin pin~a: because I was pregnant.

Vacationing in Key West is meant for relaxation and to get a little drink on. Day or night, you can find a great drink anywhere you go.

Last but not least…

ANYTHING GOES

Key West is all about having fun, kicking back, and being anything you want to be. There is some pure weirdness there, but that’s all part of the fun.

This guy and this dog were on the streets of Duval in 2011. Still there in 2015.

This guy and this dog were on the streets of Duval in 2011. Still there in 2015.

Happy Key West-ing!

Pan

**Disclaimer: All photographs above were taken by myself. Should you use them, please include a link back to my website and the associated blog post.**

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How to pack for Key West (or more specifically, how to cram everything you need into a carry on)

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How did our world ever come to this? Charging fees for our checked in bags?!?! It’s atrocious but I definitely don’t see it going away. So the world of travelers is just going to have to get used to it.

We just returned from our much anticipated trip to Key West several weeks ago. I was bound and determined that I was not checking my bag. I. WAS. NOT. Not only do you have to pay money to bring your luggage with you, the hassle of checking it in and worrying about the airlines losing said luggage was not something I wanted to start my trip with. And I knew once my feet touched the holy ground of Key West, I did not want to spend time waiting for my bag to unload.

First I laid out everything I wanted to take with me. Then I re-evaluated every item and really thought about how necessary it was to my trip. Here are the items I brought:

  • Camera phone and charger (I opted not to take my dslr camera because it is so big. I brought a small cross body purse that is easy to travel with and I knew I wouldn’t want to pack my large camera around the island. Plus iPhones take such good pics anyways.)
  • 2 sundresses (Small items like sleeveless sundresses take up such little space in your bag.)
  • 1 maxi dress (I ended up wearing this dress home because it was so comfortable but I also wore it out to dinner in the evening twice-best item I brought and probably could have used two.)
  • 1 pair of white pants (I wore these on the plane to Key West and again one evening and one day out. I get chilly very easily in the evenings when the ocean breeze kicks up.)
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 3 tank shirts
  • Small cross body purse (I only brought the bare essentials. Gum. Lotion. Germ-x. Small wallet with debit card, ID, and cash. EOS. It was so easy and light to carry day or night)
  • 1 pair of flip flops (I messed up big time here. I brought my $2.50 pair from Target. Listen closely, DO NOT BRING A CHEAP PAIR OF FLOPS THAT YOU PLAN TO WEAR DAILY IN KEY WEST. You will need a sturdy, comfortable pair. You will be doing a lot of walking/bicycling. I should have known better. I got a blister on the inside of my toe the first day. By the last day, my feet were screaming at me. Those flops are now in the trash can.)
  • 1 pair of wedges (You can skip the wedges but I like to wear mine some evenings out. I wore them on the flight there so they wouldn’t take up space in my bag.)
  • Running gear (I brought my running shoes, 2 pairs of socks, sports bra, running shirt and shorts. I went for 3 runs and Key West runs are the best. It also helps get your day off to a better start to go for a nice run.)
  • Beach mat (I bought a large 2 person foldable beach mat at Target before our trip. I only got to use it once because we didn’t have many good beach days. I thought it was useful but definitely not a necessity and it did take up a lot of room in my suitcase.)
  • Jewelry (A couple pieces that worked good with every outfit I brought.)
  • Swim suits (I brought two.)

The actual packing of the bag.

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Now, I also used a completely different packing method than my norm. You’ve heard of the roll method right? Rolling your clothes is supposed to take up less space and keep your clothes from getting wrinkled. I thought this trip was the perfect one to test this method. And survey says……..

Yes. This method works much better than the traditional folding system. I found there to be both less wrinkling of my clothes and much more space in my bag. I rolled my running shorts, shirt, and sports bra and fit those three items in my running shoes. I rolled my shirts, my shorts, my dresses-space saver!

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I also packed a large Ziploc with my liquids. I had my shampoo, conditioner, etcetera etcetera but I also brought a Tide shout out pen and 3 Tide travel packs in anticipation of doing hand washing for re-wear some of my clothes. Thank goodness the house had an unexpected washer and dryer! I didn’t have to hand wash at all but we did do quite a few loads of laundry after all.

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What you need to know about renting a vacation house in Key West…

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Congratulations!!!! You’re traveling to Key West. You’re about to embark on a grand adventure of sun and sea and the biggest party in the US. Listen, I’m here to help you on your journey. The hubs and I rented hotels during our prior trips to the United States’ Southernmost Island but this trip around, we’ve opted to rent a vacation house instead. We’ve got a crew of friends that are coming along for the ride and we thought it would be a lot more fun to rent a house together instead of getting separate hotel rooms.

I have headed up the trip planning and there is a lot more than I bargained for when researching for a vacation house in Key West. Here’s to hoping my hours and hours spent can benefit you:)

First things first. You need to start your planning early. I would say 5 months prior to your trip (at the very, very least) if you’ll be going during the peak season (the winter months). The off season (summer) is a lot more calm so you can probably get away with procrastinating a bit more. We’re planning our trip for April. I began our process the first week of January (I would have started earlier because I’m so dang excited but I thought I better let our friends get through the holiday season first). I really wish I would have started sooner though because there was about 5 weeks that I couldn’t get a definite “yes” or “no” from the group and this held things up. By the time we had all the commitments, most of the homes had already been taken for the dates we needed.

(Pan FYI here: We visited Key West once in September and I would strongly suggest against this month if you want to get the full Key West effect. October is a huge month of festivals for the island so a lot of the businesses close down in September for “vacation” and to prepare for October. I’ll let you know how April is. July was a perfectly good time to visit.)

Island vibe even in the kites.

Island vibe even in the kites.

Secondly, you need to use the right website for your search. There are multiple vacation rental sites out there but one size does not fit all, if you know what I mean.

1) Vacation Rental By Owner, vrbo.com, was by far, the most beneficial to me. There were tons of different choices (early on in the game) and lots of detailed information and pictures (which are a must!).

2) Airbnb.com: I am starting to hear more and more about people using this site, however for our purposes (aka Key West Adventure 2015!) there really weren’t many options. To be honest, I think they had maybe 3 or 4 rental properties for Key West.

3) Vacationrentalskeywest.com had a decent variety but I didn’t find a home that suited our needs.

4) Towards the end, I got really desperate. I mean I was cheatin’ the test ’cause I didn’t study kind of desperate. I really was sweatin’ it. So, I tried the good-ole’ Craigslist. Besides most postings hardly giving a lick of information, they all sounded completely sketchy and too good to be true. One person I was corresponding with had what looked like a magnificent home with all the trimmings for like $495 per night. After several back-and-forth e-mails, I realized that booking through that guy would be like playing with fire and our money and my dear trip just weren’t worth risking it.

So back to vrbo I went.

This is my Heaven right here.

This is my Heaven right here.

Thirdly, you need to have a budget in mind. If you’re renting a house, it’s most likely that you’re going with others, and the kind thing to do is find out what the people in your party are willing to pay. I sent out a group text regarding the prices of flights and what I was looking at for about how much per person per night the house rental would be. I did my best to keep everybody in the loop as much as I could so people could start saving accordingly. I found that $90ish per person per night is a good deal (could be a nice house, could be a mediocre house), $125ish per person per night is getting a pretty good house and you should plan for at least this much, $140ish and up is getting a really dang good house. My prices include the cleaning fees (almost all homes have them) and taxes and whatnot.

Regarding prices: Realize that some houses will require the full amount at the time of booking so be prepared to have the money at that time. Occasionally you’ll come across a home that requires half the amount at the time of booking and the other half “x” amount of time before your trip.

Chickens run amuck on the island.

Chickens run amuck on the island.

Fourth, know what part of the island you want to stay. Know what you’re going to want to do during your vacation so that you can find a home in the vicinity that fits your needs (or wants I should say). If you know you’re going to participate in Key West’s great nightlife, you’ll want a house close to Duval St. Trust me, all the houses that are close to Duval, will advertise that. You’ll see a lot of “Two blocks from Duval” and “Walk to Duval”. If you are more interested in having an ocean view, know that you’re probably going to be further away from Duval and the action of the island.

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Lastly, know your group dynamics and realize this has a lot to do with how the sleeping arrangements of the house should be. In our group, we’ve got 2 single guys, 1 single gal, and 1 gal who’s traveling sans-boyfriend, plus me and the hubs. I had to make sure that the guys each had their own bed and the gals each had their own bed. Most of the homes have a fold out sofa and the guys were willing to share a room, just not a bed so I had to make certain we had a room with twin beds. This was something I really had to pay close attention to. I would feel terrible if I had friends pay money for a trip I booked, only to be stuck in an uncomfortable sleeping arrangement. If you’ve got 3 or 4 couples, it’ll be easy-peasy for booking.

 

Perfection.

Perfection.

 

(Another Pan FYI: Most homes will have either a hot tub or pool. Lots of homes will have a “shared pool”. Know that this pool will most likely be close but not on site. A number of Key West vacation homes are owned by the same entity and so they offer a shared pool with multiple vacation homes. We luckily found a place with a private pool but that didn’t matter to me. My philosophy is that if I’m in Key West, I want to be on the beach and not at the pool but not everyone agrees that.)

Have you ever rented a vacation home in Key West? Let me know your experience.

Best Travels, Pan

 

An Adult Weekend Itinerary in Nashville

A couple months ago, the hubs and I were privileged enough to enjoy an adult-only weekend getaway to Honky TIMG_2913onk City, a former residence of ours. While it proved difficult (we always forget this part) to leave behind the kiddos, it allowed for some much needed couple-bonding time and relaxation without the worry and stress of keeping up with little ones.

 

We started the drive late on a Wednesday evening and stayed somewhere in Illinois. First thing in the morning, we left the hotel and continued the rest of our drive. We got into Nashville about 1:00 pm and immediately headed for our hotel. We stayed at the Hyatt Place, on 3rd St just a couple blocks off Broadway. Our trip almost got off on a really bad start. I made the reservations for the wrong dates! Who does that???. But thanks to Expedia and Ally at the Hyatt Place, our original reservations were able to be cancelled and Hyatt Place was able to find us a room for the nights we needed.  They even gave us complimentary parking (normally $20 per night) just because of all the stress we had endured so far.

After we settled into our beautiful, clean, comfortable room at the Hyatt, we moseyed down to catch some drinks and live music on Broadway. We hit Texas Roadhouse first then wandered through a few more bars before we grabbed a table at Rippy’s. It was a Thursday afternoon, but this place already had a mostly full house. A guy and gal were singing acoustic tunes and we were reminded how good it is to have live music so readily available.

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Once our hunger started creeping up on us, we walked back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. Thanks to some blogs I regularly follow (Camels & Chocolates), I knew we were supposed to make reservations if we wanted to eat at a decent time. We hadn’t done so for our first night but we were lucky enough to get to the The Southern Steak & Oyster (just down the street from our hotel, about a three minute walk), before the dinner rush hit. Once we got seated and ordered our food, it took about 45 minutes to get our meal. The waitress was very apologetic and apparently they had some “printer malfunction” but for my impatient husband, the damage had already been done. My steak was good (not great-especially for the price) and was actually a little on the cold side but the atmosphere was relaxing with it’s dim lighting and intimate atmosphere.

We were so excited to find The Listening Room Café just across the street from our hotel (found this gem on Camels & Chocolate and also in Southern Living mag) and ended our first night listening to originals by Nashville’s own. Because it was just a Thursday night, there was plenty of seating but once again, best to make a reservation.

My original plan for Friday was to meander down to the cutest town ever, Franklin, and do a little small town exploring. Robby wasn’t big on this idea and we were wanting to catch some rays that afternoon anyway, so instead we started the day checking out the new “it” neighborhood, 12 South. Of course we had to do some guitar shopping right off the bat. Not that Robby bought anything, but it’s always a fun thing to do in music city.

 

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I wanted to stop in White’s Mercantile (learned about, once again, on Camels & Chocolate). This eclectic shop boasts an entire store of items nearly all manufactured in the USA! Talk about falling in love! What a great concept. And the smells swirling around the store were heavenly.

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By this time, it was time to seek out something for lunch so we crossed the road and were lucky enough to get an outside table (hello perfect and completely unseasonable August weather!). Burger Up served us burgers that were not only delicious but were also more than plentiful. The beef was local farm-raised and once again, the atmosphere was so relaxing for an afternoon meal.

In an attempt to get at least some sunshine on our mini-vacay, we headed over to Nashville Shores on Percy Priest Lake and rented a tandem kayak. Robby did a little fishing while I caught up on my vitamin d intake. The fishing was good, the sunshine and Yuengling beers were even better. It only costs us $40 for 2 hours of kayak rental. And no, you do not have to purchase admission to the water park to get to the rental stand. Just tell the gate attendant that you are going to rent kayaks (or canoes or jet skis) and they won’t even charge you to park.

We had a reservation for the FarmHouse Restaurant on Friday night. I had made the reservation for 6:30 and we were able to be seated right away, even though we were 20 minutes early. Much to my dismay, I was unable to order a margarita because they only serve American drinks and of course tequila isn’t one of those. We started off with the deviled egg appetizer which was a very flavorful dish.  I had the catfish dinner and we had to try the cornbread I have heard so much about. The cornbread was absolute heaven, the entrees were good but a little too high class for mine and Robby’s simple palettes. The atmosphere was beautiful, the concept is phenomenal (all food comes from local farmers), and the service was outstanding.  Once again, this restaurant was basically just behind Hyatt Place. I couldn’t have picked a more convenient location if I tried!

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After our meal, we headed back down to the Listening Room for another songwriter night. The place was pretty well packed on Friday and we were just lucky enough to snag the last table. This night was probably our most enjoyable, as the writers were really feelin’ it and put on quite a show!

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(Note: the picture shown above was of our first night. The second night, Phil Barton (writer of Woman Like You sung by Lee Brice) was on stage and had me and Robby so pumped! He did an awesome job of entertaining!)

As the evening here abated, we headed back up to Broadway in an effort to listen to my fav Nashville bar band at the Trailer Park Bar. I was heartbroken to find that it was a whole different band so we stayed for a while but headed back to the hotel somewhat early, bearing my heart in my hands.

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Saturday morning we took off late morning and headed east towards Cookeville. When we lived here before, I read about a secret watering hole (in Southern Living) at the bottom of the most gorgeous waterfall. We were dead set on finding this spot again. Although we were relying solely on memory (of some 5 years prior), we were sure we’d be able to find it. After we drove around for some time, we realized that our “secret” spot had been turned into a state park and the parking lot was COMPLETELY PACKED. I was heartbroken once again but since we had already driven so far (about an hour and a half from our hotel) we thought we’d at least check it out. The park ranger on duty is a local and we got to chat with him about the way this area looked before it became state property, now known as Cummins Falls. It is about an hour walk/hike to get from the parking lot down to the falls. Several weeks before, I came up with a knee injury and this “walk” down proved to be pretty difficult for me. Some family even had their old granny out with them and she was all skinned up from where she had taken what looked to be quite the tumble. She was having the most terrible time trying to get back up the steep hill to the parking lot. FOLKS, DO NOT TAKE YOUR OLD GRANNY TO CUMMINS FALLS. NOT SAFE. There, my PSA for the day. You’re welcome.

Here is what Cummins Falls looked like on this particular summer day:

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This is what I knew Cummins Falls to be:

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LOOK AT THE GLORIOUSNESS (pretty sure that’s not a word but my blog, don’t care)  OF HAVING NOBODY AROUND! I’m so downtrodden this magnificent place is now a state park. So, while it remains beautiful. Be sure and go during the week and the time of year when school is in session. There looked to be a lot of college kids around. Trust me, it would be much more enjoyable.

We got back to the hotel that evening just in time for us to get cleaned up and go find some grub. I had started off the weekend by expressing that we were not going to be eating at any chain restaurants because there were way too many locally owned places that I wanted to try. However, we really had a hankering for some seafood and at a decent price so we walked down to Joe’s Crab Shack. Atrocious, I know. But I’ll tell you, I had a great meal, I got a full belly, and I got my seafood. Win, win, win. After dinner, we hit up Broadway for the last time and got tired quite early so we settled into the hotel at a decent time. (I can’t believe I haven’t yet mentioned how crazy comfortable the bed and the pillows were at Hyatt Place. CRAZY COMFORTABLE! Not exaggerating at all!)

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If you’re in the market for some weekend getaway ideas to Music City, shoot me an email, or post your questions here. Enjoy!

 

 

Floating the Meramec River

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After much anticipation, we finally dusted off our old kayaks and broke in the new ones this past weekend. On Saturday morning, we made the hour and a half drive down to Sullivan[ish], MO to take our virgin Meramec River float.

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Robby and I have had kayaks for years. They mostly just take up space (that we definitely don’t have right now) in our garage but we keep them in the hopes that the older our kiddos get, the more use the kayaks will get. This year we even went so far as to buy two more to add to the collection, so that we could bring friends along with us.

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We decided on the Meramec River because it’s supposedly an easily kayakable waterway, it’s not too far from home, we had never floated it before, and we were close to Meramec State Park (we wanted to camp in a state park as opposed to the private campgrounds where rambunctious crowds frequent).

Our plan was to leave Jeff City by 7:30am, but because we had to drop off both children that morning, and of course because we’re us, we were late. I don’t think we left until about 8:30 or 9:00ish. You’ll find that this was actually detrimental to the trip. Read on…..

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We took two separate vehicles which I think is just nearly necessary. You will need one vehicle at your put-in access and one vehicle at your take-out point.

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Photo credit to my good friend and kayaking buddy, Zach Paul

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We put in at the Blue Springs Conservation Area in Bourbon, MO. From here, it is a 10-mile trip to Meramec State Park. Literature I’ve read shows a 10-mile float will take 4-6 hours. Unless you’re our crew. Then it takes 8. Prepare accordingly. Also, this was detrimental to the trip. Read on…..

 

Take Highway N, south for 2.5 miles to Blue Springs Rd

At the Bourbon, MO exit, off I-44, take Highway N, south for 2.5 miles to Blue Springs Rd

 

The access point is at the end of Blue Springs Rd

The access point is at the end of Blue Springs Rd

Two of us stayed at the conservation area with the kayaks, while the others took the vehicle with the trailer to leave at the campground. This took them right around an hour to do. Like I mentioned already, having two vehicles really is necessary but the time it took them to go to a check-in and vehicle drop off, and then returning to spot #1, was detrimental to the trip. Read on…

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I agree with the aforementioned literature (I use that term loosely mind you) that this particular river is a great float. The steepest I found it to be was probably about 5-6 feet. There were many gravel bars along the way and it wasn’t crazy busy like you’d find on the Current, Huzzah, or Niangua Rivers.  The views were great, lots of bluffs lining the river and an awesome cave that everybody but me played in (Um, there’s darkness and bats and the unknowing in there!). The river wasn’t dirty but the water wasn’t clear either which was slightly disappointing but not a deal breaker.

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Because we had so many setbacks (and because we goofed around A LOT) we didn’t hit the state park grounds until about 8:00pm. It’s getting a little dark around that time and of course the THUNDERSTORM OF THE CENTURY SHOULD HIT AT THIS EXACT TIME RENDERING YOU HELPLESS TO THE ELEMENTS.

This happened. On us. Photo credit to my good friend and kayaking buddy, Zach Paul

This happened. On us. Photo credit to my good friend and kayaking buddy, Zach Paul

Literally, as soon as we saw the take out access, the clouds opened up and dumped massive amounts of rain on us. We took cover (barely, just barely) under a state park signage post. This kept only our heads a little dry. Standing in the rain, in your swimsuit, freezing, and not being able to do anything about it is a terrible way to end such a great day. My poor, poor Robby had to walk through the pelting rain to seek out our truck. Which was a feat in and of itself since Meramec State Park is so ginormous that he didn’t even know where his truck was in relation to where we were at that time. Thank the good Lord above, he found the truck and came to rescue us. We were a sopping, wet mess and all in quite a mood by this time. We laughed about our misfortune the next morning but there was lots of silence in the truck that night. To top it all off, we obviously couldn’t set up our tents in this nastiness and the closest hotel that wasn’t booked full was 45 minutes away in Rolla! What a drive after all this nonsense we just went through! And we were all so looking forward to camping! But we made it in one piece, it was quite the experience, and we’ve lived to tell about it. Although, I’ll be okay if I never have another one like it.

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Tell me, what’s your favorite stream or river to float on?

The Hartsburg Grand: Quite possibly, my new fav eatery.

The older I have become, the more picky I have gotten about where I go to eat out. Chain restaurants like Chili’s and Applebee’s were the usual picks when I was a young, unknowing lass in my 20’s. I now crave dinner out at a place that has character and appeal.

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And boy oh boy did I find the perfect place. The small town of Hartsburg sits just off Highway 63 between Columbia and Jefferson City. The old town feel of this tiny dot-on-the-map drew Robby and I so much that we’re building a house there now. So imagine my utter delight when we came across my new favorite restaurant just a mile from our future house!

When you step over the threshold, the history of the building totally envelops you. It has an air of being a fancy-pants dining joint but the staff assured us that they love having Katy Trail cyclists (and of course, anybody and everybody else) come on in.

The Grand staff is one big, happy family. No-really. The mother and son man the kitchen, the dad tends the bar, and the daughter and daughter-in-law serve. What a great way to spend time as a family and ensure you give the highest quality service because they all have a vested interest in their success.

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We started off with the  ___________ appetizer. Talk about flavor doing a tap dance across your palette! Oh my gosh the fresh taste of this dish was impeccable. Fresh basil was placed on top and I didn’t even know how a-maz-ing fresh basil was until it greeted my mouth with open arms right from the first bite.

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The last piece. None was left. I’m telling you, none. It was that delectable.

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Robby ordered the fish tacos. He ordered this dish the first time we dined here and was so wowed that he didn’t even think about ordering something else. “The flavors. Just, oh my gosh. The flavors of this!”…….Mutterings from the hubs in between each savory mouthful.

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I had the oven-baked chicken parmesan. When this plate was sat in front of me I’ll admit I thought I didn’t think it looked like much but there were roasted new potatoes piled underneath that massive piece of farm-raised chicken. That’s right! FARM-RAISED CHICKEN! Get out! I love it! By the end of dinner I was so satisfied from my meal and from soaking up the gorgeous scenery. I oogled in wonder at things like the battered but timeless wooden plank floors and the original look of the tall ceilings.

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The pictures don’t do justice to the work the family has put into such a great dining establishment. Hit ’em up, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

FYI: The Hartsburg Grand is open seasonally (closed in the winter months) and closes at 9 pm (7pm on Sundays, although we were here later on a Sunday and they didn’t shoo us away). Join them for a meal shazam! on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and visit their website here.

 

Pics from JC KidsFest

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This year was our first to attend the JC Kidsfest downtown. It was a beautiful day and I’m always desperate to find something fun for my toddler to do (especially if it’s something outside).

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There were apparently a lot of parents thinking the same thing. Several blocks of High Street were crowded with folks and their kiddos. Booths lined both sides of the street and some of the side streets as well.

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Our local law enforcement were offering “self-guided tours” (aka letting kids run amuck) through their official vehicles.

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There were two bounce houses but I was disappointed that were no set age requirements for each (none that I saw anyway). There were “big kids” in both and I while I knew Olivia would have had a blast I was unwilling to let her get plowed over by the bigger kids.

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There was hula hooping, kettle corn, face painting, and sand bag throwing to name a few.

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Olivia was a bit too young to really enjoy most of the activities offered but as we were leaving, we happened upon the petting zoo. And that was the highlight of the day. (For Olivia and for Mommy; I so love baby goats!)

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Confession: This post was pretty well nothing but self-promotion of my adorable little girl (and my little buddy) and I’m not ashamed to admit it:)

 

 

A Random Hermann Outing

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If you live in Missouri and have never been to Hermann, well, shame on you. This fantastic small town plays host to eleven different wineries. Nestled on the banks of the mighty Missouri River and tucked into miles of rolling hills, the views, the beauty, and the quaintness of it all make Hermann one of my favorite Missouri small towns, indeed.

Last weekend was Memorial Day weekend and we’re starting a trend of completely choking when it comes to that particular holiday planning. Last year we were going to go to the Pedaler’s Jamboree and this year we were going to take our boat out for it’s 2014 maiden voyage but neither of those things happened. As many of you know, dreary weather was all that was in store for us on Saturday so I finally talked Robby and our friends in to changing our plans and taking off for Missouri Wine Country.

Our first stop was Adam Puchta Winery. Located just off Highway 100 on the southern end of town, you can feel the worries fly away with each tire spin closer to this winery you get. Just as you turn off, a view of green vineyards fill your windshield. It’s absolutely beautiful and was a perfect start to our day.

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Rustic and weathered buildings outside house areas for wine tastings and food. We opted out of the $5 wine tasting since it was already 4:00 in the afternoon and there were plenty of people in line. Their extensive wine menu explained the flavors of each wine so we simply ordered what sounded tasty.

Robby and I opted for the Traminette. A fruity flavored white wine, this was just a touch sweeter than I normally go for but we enjoyed it none the less.

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Our friends chose an oakier red bottle, Hunter’s Choice. This seemed to be more what everybody at the table was looking for. After we were about to close out our time here, a staff member presented us with another bottle of the red because a lady thought we had told her she left her purse. To that lady I say “thank you”, but you have the wrong people. She had already left the winery so we had no choice but to keep it. Disappointed, we were not.

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Our next stop was Tin Mill Brewery. We have been here before and always seem to enjoy ourselves.

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This time was no different except for a horrible little man, who was a staff member, that totally flipped on me because I took a blurry picture of the back of his shirt. The back had a saying which I thought hilarious at the time but after his over-the-top rude demeanor leading to me deleting my two blurry pics, I can’t even remember what it said. But him, him I will remember. Another employee did apologize for his terribleness and gave some lousy excuse about him having a bad day. But I rose above his nonsense and bought my little sampler tray of delicious microbrewed beer.

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I couldn’t remember which brew from Tin Mill was my favorite so the sampler tray was nice to get a little taste of each. Which in the end turned out to be plenty of brewsky for me. The weather of the day had turned pretty nice by this time and we were able to sit outside on the large patio for the rest of the evening. Fun was had by all.

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If we had planned better, we would have taken the train from Jeff City. We did that a couple of years ago and it makes the trip feel more relaxing yet when you don’t have to employ a sober driver and everyone can let loose a little. Plus the train ride along the Missouri River has excellent views. The trolley will pick up at the train station and shuttle you to the different wineries for a nominal fee. Also, there are several little cabins for rent in the town (I know Hermannhof Winery has some that are supposedly quite lovely) that you could book if you planned your trip ahead of time.

For those of you that have been to Hermann, which winery is your favorite?