Seven Falls; Colorado Springs, CO

Seven Falls, hiking, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Hiking with Kids

 

Hiking….

Hiking with small kids….

One of those sounds like a great thing to do in Colorado and one sounds like a death sentence? Right?

Just a few weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of going out to Colorado to not only see my beautiful sister tie the knot but also to spend some time hitting up sights I haven’t yet explored on my many trips to the home of the Rocky Mountain Range.

Seven Falls was one of those sights. During a family trip several years ago, we attempted to check out Seven Falls but the park was closed due to flash flooding type of weather. It had just down poured and the park was soaking wet; we were going to try it anyway because we were anxious to do some sight seeing but alas, we were denied.

This time around there was no flash flooding, monsoon type of weather to forbade us from entering the park so we set out one morning after breakfast (actually it was after a morning run (which was after breakfast) with my sis, her soon-to-be-that-very-day hubby, and friends and family for a pre-wedding run on the Santa Fe Trail).

Seven Falls is located in Colorado Springs, in the southern area of town. It’s also very close to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo so you should check that out as well. We did get to take in the zoo this time too and we were very impressed. I’ll fill you in on the ins and outs of the Zoo later.

A multitude of road signs and that ever blessed Map App on the iPhone led us straight to Seven Falls. However, when we got there, the 12 year old park guide (jk, he just looked 12; I’m sure he was every bit of 16.) redirected us down the road “about one mile” to the actual parking for the Falls, which has recently been relocated to the Broadmoor Hotel.

Large and frequent signage directed folks from the entrance to the Falls park to the actual parking lot where shuttle buses picked up attraction goers and drove back up the hill and through the curvy streets, to the park. I would venture to say that it’s a little further than one mile from the parking at the hotel to the actual entrance to the Falls. If you think you’ll just walk, you may want to think again. Especially if you have plans to do some serious hiking.

Seven Falls, tram, trolley, colorado springs, colorado, waterfalls

Once you enter, a tram (shown above) will drive you from the entrance to the actual base of the waterfall, as it’s a good maybe 3/4 mile hike up hill. For those not in good shape, handicapped, or just simply don’t like to get your exercise, feel free to tram it up. I’ll warn you that you will probably not take in the beauty of the entrance like we did though.

Our kids are now 2 and 4. Olivia, the 4 year old, is quite independent and did great walking on her own through our adventures in Colorado, with the exception of a few times when she needed a piggyback ride to rest her weary, little feet, to which I, of course, obliged. Easton is the “baby”. He does good walking for a bit but his short, stocky legs don’t bring him along very fast so we were thankful we picked up an Ergobaby at REI before coming out to the Falls.

Seven Falls, Colorado Springs, Colorado, hiking, hiking with kids

The shuttle driver was kind enough to give us a little background info of Seven Falls and of the Broadmoor Hotel, which is where we parked our car and the conglomerate that currently owns Seven Falls. The name so became because the waterfall itself actually has seven distinct “falls” from top to bottom. There are 224 stairs to get to the top. Of course you can stay at the base of the fall and simply take in the beauty but to get your money’s worth and to relish the full experience, you should climb the 224 stairs all the way to the top.

Seven Falls, waterfalls, stairs, hiking, hiking with kids, colorado springs, colorado, broadmoor hotel

 

The stairs really aren’t bad; a little nerve-racking trying to get your 2 and 4 year old up safely but not bad. Someone with a fear of heights (ahem, my hubby) might have a little trouble with the stairs but 224 goes by pretty quickly really.

Seven Falls, waterfalls, hiking, hiking with kids, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Broadmoor Hotel

Once you’ve reached the summit, you are rewarded with the options of several different hikes through the forest. But because this was the time that our kids started getting cranky and tired, we only got to walk through a very short portion of the forest hikes. What we did see was beautiful and peaceful. The trails are marked with signs so no worries about finding your way.

Seven falls, colorado springs, Colorado, hiking, trails, hiking trails, hiking with kids, waterfalls

Had we been at the Falls sans wee ones, we easily would have been able to spend at least a good half day roaming the trails and soaking in the pine forest beauty. However, we did have the littles and they do have littles-size attention spans so we were only able to take in about an hour and a half of Falls filled fun.

Snow, snow at seven falls, colorado springs, colorado, hiking, hiking with kids, waterfalls

Olivia was so happy to find snow in the Spring.

 

Seven Falls, waterfalls, hiking, hiking with kids, rock formations, colorado springs, colorado

There is a restaurant about halfway from the entrance to the base of the Falls. It has a great view so when you get hungry after the day’s hike, be sure to stop in there for some lunch or dinner. To check out more detailed information about Seven Falls such as prices and hours click here.

New Orleans at a Glance: Quick Review of my 4 days in NOLA

Carriages waiting for passengers

Carriages waiting for passengers

As most of you know, several weeks ago I ventured to the Big Easy to attend a conference for work. I was more than happy to go as I not only love learning but also love seeing new places. And surprisingly enough, out of all the places in the South I’ve been, NOLA wasn’t one of them.

We arrived around noon on a Monday and had pre-arranged the shuttle for our transportation to the hotel. There are cabs a-plenty in New Orleans however the ride to the hotel was about 20 minutes. It’d be best that if you’re staying down by the river or near the French Quarter, you arrange for another sort of transportation.

Historical Church in New Orleans

Historical Church in New Orleans

Our shuttle chauffeur was kind enough to give us lots of welcoming advice about NOLA, most of which I quickly jotted down in the notes app on my iPhone.

  • St Charles Streetcar (the green car not the red car)
  • Red Fish Grill
  • Oceanas in the French Quarter (they did serve us a great lunch!)
  • Cafe Beignet for the beignets
  1. Cafe Du Monde
The. Beignets. Oh my gosh the beignets.

The. Beignets. Oh my gosh the beignets.

We kept hearing about Cafe Beignet and had already been given a raving review about Cafe Du Monde, which also serves beignets. We were sure to dive mouth-first into the beignets right away and I was lucky enough to get two consecutive days of the powdered sugar mounds of deliciousness. Read about my trip to Cafe Du Monde here.

2. BB Kings Blues Club

After the first day of conference overload ended, we took our appetites down to BB Kings Blues Club in the French Quarter. We were relieved to see live music and even more relieved when we got served a heaping bowl of jambalaya, which was amazing. I always try to steer clear of the franchise-type restaurants but BB Kings had great food, southern hospitality service, and a great atmosphere that welcomed you to come in, pull up a chair, and have a drink. Which is exactly what we did.

3. The French Quarter

French Quarter

One morning on our walk back to the conference hall, we had some time to kill and decided to meander through the French Quarter more. I was impressed to see that the city literally washes, with soap and water, the streets every morning. Although after you witness the level of libations and the appallingly large population of homeless people, you understand why they need every last drop of that soap. That morning in particular we were pleased to find a pianist playing in the street, even at the 8:00 hour. It always makes me smile to see street performers.

Church in New Orleans

4. Creole Queen Paddlewheeler

All aboard!

All aboard!

Mid-week we boarded the Creole Queen paddlewheeler for an evening on the Mississippi River. Open bar, appetizers, jazz music, and fresh air are always a great combination. There’s a certain 1920’s feel that envelopes you when you step on a paddlewheeler boat that’s rocking out to some classic, live jazz. This proved to be an enjoyable, relaxing evening and I so enjoyed seeing the lights of the city from the middle of the Mississippi. 

5. St Charles Streetcar Line

St Charles Streetcar

The last day we were there, we finally had a chance to carve out some time to walk up to the bus stop on St Charles street to catch the, appropriately named, St Charles Streetcar Line. The driver had explained during the drive on Day 1 that this line (the green line not the red line) would take us through the historical garden district to see the old plantation homes. Of course, this got my attention as I am a die hard historical architecture lover and typically salivate when standing in Southern Plantation grandeur.

"Plantation" Homes

The green trolley was a good way to get a cheap ride through the Garden District but the “plantation” homes weren’t what I had in mind. They were beautiful homes, don’t get me wrong, but not the southern plantation homes one typically conjours in their mind, as they were packed like sushi for blocks on end. Still yet, this day in particular was raining and we got to stay dry and still got to take in some sightseeing.

6. The French Market

I wish we would have had some time to hit up the French Market down by Cafe Du Monde. On one of our cab rides, we drove right past as some of the last vendors were putting away their goods. I think I could have scored some awesome items but then would have had to figure out how to get said items home. So, I guess it was meant to be. Or should I say, not be?

Pan’s takeaway from NOLA:

  • If you like to party, you’ll love NOLA.
  • If you expect to see Tara (as in Gone With the Wind plantation home), you’ll be disappointed.
  • Four days was plenty, and most of mine was even spent in a conference hall. I’ve seen all I need to of NOLA honestly.

Tell me, what are you thoughts on the Big Easy?

Cafe Du Monde; New Orleans

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling to New Orleans to attend a conference for work. I did not, however, have the pleasure of waking up at 2:30am on Monday to get myself to the airport for my flight. Ugh. I had never been to New Orleans and absolutely adore “The South” so I was really looking forward to seeing the town, even though I knew there wouldn’t be much time for sightseeing, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru style.

Once I picked up my co-worker-friend on the way and we got ourselves a space in Lot D at the airport, we waited in the bitter cold for a shuttle bus. Missouri, just so you know, it’s March. What happened to all that nice weather you gave us back in February!!!??? Come on already!!

We flew Southwest (which I have recently become more familiar with and am wondering how come nobody has told me how awesome Southwest is!) and thus had a longer shuttle ride than the rest. After most of the people had exited to their respective terminals, there were a few Southwest stragglers left on the bus. We had a little red eye small talk and divulged our destination to our fellow passengers. The man with the beard and tattoos sitting opposite from me told us that going to Cafe Du Monde for the beignets is a must. All the while I’m thinking, “What the heck is a beignet?” but I made a note in my phone none the less because I like reviews from people who have been-there-done-that.

Once we landed in the Big Easy and boarded the cramped hotel shuttle,the driver (we shall call him “tour guide” from this point on for that’s exactly what he was) ushered us along the highway giving us lots of local advice. Confusion set in, though, when he said that Cafe Beignet for the beignets is a must. We thought we heard the bearded airport guy wrong or something. But alas, there is a Cafe Du Monde and there is a Cafe Beignet and they both serve beignets!

IMG_1360

Since we had gotten a raving review about beignets from the bearded shuttle guy and our tour guide, we knew this was a must. Starting off Day 2 nice and early, my co-worker-friend and I set off on foot to Cafe Du Monde. It was a nice morning in New Orleans with sunshine that I hadn’t seen in Missouri for weeks so I was happy to stroll in lieu of cabbing it.

When we arrived at the Cafe (which is near the French Market), the line was intimidating, to say the least. We thought there was no way we had time to eat if that’s how long we were going to have to wait, however, the line moved very quickly so we decided to tough it out. We probably waited a max of 10 minutes and were lucky enough to score a table outside just as someone was leaving.

IMG_1361

The menu is basic to say the least. But it’s known for the beignets so I don’t know what else you would order anyway. So…. The Beignet. It’s a french doughnut. With a mountain of powdered sugar on top. Holy goodness. The tour guide did provide fair warning not to wear any black if en route to eat beignets. Now we know why.

IMG_1358-edited

At the risk of sounding politically incorrect (heck, what isn’t politically incorrect these days), there were an inordinate amount of elder Asian ladies running the joint. And don’t get me wrong, kuddos to them for working that hard to serve that many people a day! But I almost had guilt placing my order knowing our waitress was going to have to wade through the mass of customers back into the restaurant to get our order and then turn around and find her way back to our table.  And they were still a little difficult to understand. My co-worker-friend ordered a tea. She was served a coffee.

But this is no ordinary coffee. No no. This is a cafe au lait; coffee with hot milk. I saw many people dipping their beignets in the coffee. And while I’m normally a black coffee gal (specify clearly if you only want the black coffee; thank goodness I’m not picky), the cafe au lait was mighty tasty paired with the three tiered beignet special.

beignets al fresco

al fresco dining

The second time I went (Yes, there was a second time and while I would happily admit it was my choosing should this be the case, a second co-worker-friend was wanting to try it out as he had missed out the first day), it was before 8:00 am and the outdoor dining area was closed. Cafe Du Monde is open 24 hours a day so we found seating inside on this particular morning. The beignets this day were especially fresh and warm and even more perfect than the first round.

IMG_1359

They’re more specialized than the original McDonald’s menu and literally have a “factory line” type of system inside. The servers just move down the line adding how many plates of beignets and how many cups of cafe au lait have been ordered. Also, please note they only accept cash! No cards and no checks.

We were told by the bearded, tattooed man at the airport that the beignets are especially scrumptious after a night drinking in the French Quarter. I can’t attest to that as I was there for work and I’m older than I used to be and I can’t hang out much past 10:00 pm.

Has anybody checked out either Cafe Du Monde or Cafe Beignet? Tell me your thoughts!! Who has the best beignet in NOLA??

(Note: The waiting line outside the Cafe was three times as long as what we had when we arrived-see the picture above. This was probably about 10:00am. If you want to avoid the wait, hit it up as close to 8:00 am as you can.)

Blue Heaven; Key West, FL

IMG_0942

If you’ve read into my blog much at all, you’ll easily see that I’m just a little obsessed with Key West. We just got back from our fourth trip, so prepare yourself for another round of endless Key West posts;-) Don’t say I didn’t warn you……

Our first night on the island, we got in super duper late, or super duper early however you wish to think of it (2:30 am no thanks to American Airlines). We got up a little later than normal but felt refreshed by the salty, ocean air and hit up none other than Blue Heaven right off the bat.

If you’ve done any research into Key West at all, you’ll know that Blue Heaven is a must if you’re there; the “six-toed cats meow”, if you will. I know they’ve got a famous Lobster Benedict that so many rave about but I’m not a “benedict” kind of gal so I’ve steered clear from that.

We were lucky enough to get in without much of a wait. Last year we were told it would be a 45 minute wait but since we got there before the rush this year (and did this on Friday as opposed to the weekend) we only had about a 20 minute wait. Easy enough, as there’s a bar adjacent to the music stage where a four-piece band was cracking out the tunes bright and early.

IMG_0941

Waiting isn’t so bad when you have a cold beverage and live music, right?? So we saddled up to the bar, where Robby ordered his usual morning drink, a Bloody Mary. As much as I want to like the Bloody Mary (what’s not to like: tomato juice, celery, olive, spice) I just can’t. I try it time and time again hoping that one day my taste buds will properly develop into loving the drink that I know I should but as of this trip; nope, still not yet. My first indulgence was one of a Heaven’s Punch. Mmmm Mmmm Good.

IMG_0928

True to their word, we were beckoned to be seated right at 20 minutes where we were directed to our outdoor table. They do have inside seating but come on! You’re in Key West! You can’t eat inside!!

IMG_0931

I felt in the mood for a traditional breakfast and ordered the Rooster Special. Eggs cooked to order, bacon, breakfast potatoes, and two cakes. The pancakes were light and fluffy and perfect when topped with the fresh maple syrup. Robby ordered the omelet paired with a side of banana bread that he swears is the best banana bread he’s ever put near his mouth. I don’t know that I’d take it that far (he may have just been under the influence; everything tastes better in Key West) but it was quite moist and delicious.

IMG_0935

I couldn’t help but get into the Key West vibe and order another beverage to coincide with my coffee and breakfast; Mango Fandango was next on the list but not as pleasing and the former. This drink was more sour than the Heaven’s Punch and though all the ingredients sounded like the perfect blend, it just wasn’t what I was going for.

IMG_0933

Sour drink or not, the moral of the story is that if in Key West, one must eat at Blue Heaven. It’s the Southernmost Island landmark that you won’t regret visiting.

IMG_0932

 

 

 

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

IMG_4508

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.

IMG_4512

FORT ZACHARY TAYLOR

IMG_4505

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

IMG_4497

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

cimg2725-cropped

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

IMG_4606

IMG_4627

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

IMG_4570

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

IMG_4489

IMG_4568

IMG_4508IMG_4662

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

IMG_4606

297087_10150266790572648_6804783_n

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

IMG_4475

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.

IMG_4499

IMG_4512

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.

333819_10150268947257648_1560994_o

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

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

IMG_4553

IMG_4542

 

300515_10150267615852648_4784455_n

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.

296235_10150268623822648_2598718_n

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).

IMG_4518

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.

IMG_4661

IMG_4536

LIBATIONS: ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANY NIGHT

IMG_4474

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.**

IMG_4672

 

Family-friendly things to do in Nashville

Several weeks ago, I had an old friend ask me for some travel advice. Him and his fam were driving to Florida but planned on stopping in the country music capital, Nashville, for a night. He wanted to know some good things to do for a family-friendly, Nashville vacay. When Robby and I lived there, we were kid-free and we’ve only been to Nashville once with sweet baby O. I had to dig deep into the gray matter (aka brain) for kid-friendly attractions.

Here’s a short list that I put together for him:

1. TAKE IN A SHOW AT THE GRAND OLE OPRY

I will never forget my experience at the Grand Ole Opry. Robby bought us tickets on our first trip to Nashville. Carrie Underwood was surprised by Randy Travis, after she sang his famous song I Told You So, and invited by him to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry. It was awesome to witness this.

2. VISIT THE ATRIUMS AT THE OPRYLAND HOTEL

Hello! Gorgeous!

If you want to read more about our hotel stay inside the Opryland Hotel (which is completely gorgeous), you can find it here, here, and here.

3. HIT UP THE BARS ON BROADWAY

Ok, I know what you’re thinking. These are all bars and totally inappropriate for children. Well, yes and no. If you go during the day, there is virtually nobody in any of these places (the rowdy ones are still in their hotel sleeping off the hangovers). You can grab a pop and still listen to some live music, without putting you and your family’s lives in danger.

4. THE BELLE MEADE PLANTATION

You get a good history lesson and get to soak up this beautiful estate. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour. This is a good thing to do if you’re needing to fill a couple hours.

5. DRIVE THROUGH BELLE MEADE AND BRENTWOOD (SOUTHWEST OF TOWN)

Even if you don’t know whose homes you come across, you can imagine all the celebrities that it could be. These homes are absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous!

6. CHECK OUT THE PUBLIC BEACH ACCESS AT OLD HICKORY LAKE

When we lived in Nashville, I spent most of my days off soaking up the rays at this beach. Find the lake just north of Nashville, in Old Hickory/Hendersonville area.

7. THE OPRY MILLS MALL

Compare any of the malls in Nashville to the malls I’m used to here in Missouri, and it really puts them to shame. This mall is located just next to the Grand Ole Opry and the Opryland Hotel.

8. GET WET IN THE WATERPARK AT NASHVILLE SHORES

This nice waterpark is located just beside the Percy Priest lake, near the east side of town.

9. GO BOOT SHOPPING!

IMG_1271Pardon the horrible picture. Robby bought new boots on our last trip and Olivia was dying to try them on. Of course, no trip to Nashville would be complete without snagging a new set of kickers. (Inside info: There is a boot store on Broadway that sells 1 pair of boots and you get 2 free. Grab 2 other friends and you have yourself one heck of a deal!)

10. RYMAN AUDITORIUM

This gorgeous structure is located downtown. It is the original opry house that still houses the Grand Ole Opry shows during the winter months. Lots and lots of history are inside these walls.

If you have any more family-friendly things to do in Nashville, make sure and add them to the list in the comment section!

 

 

Just a touch of Key West

DSC01746

I have had Key West on my mind lately. With all the horrible weather Missouri keeps throwing at us, I find myself daydreaming about one of my favorite spots in America.

DSC_0243

I get moody when the weather is cold and dreary. Just like it’s been most of this year. We continue to get little teasers of what is to come, yet the sunshine hasn’t seemed to last anymore than a couple days at a time.

DSC_0251

 

I love this picture. All the ways one could travel, yet who wants to go anywhere else but this peaceful, tropical island.

Key West is laid back, just like most islands are. It’s hard to worry about much while you are drinking in the Florida sunshine. Bills? Eh-who cares?! Kids at home? Eh-who cares?! Work not going well? Eh-who cares?!

The island that holds the southernmost point doesn’t have the poverty of the Caribbean islands and is still in the US so it’s easy to communicate. Most tourists rent scooters or bicycles while they’re on island time, making it ridiculously easy to maneuver the streets.

DSC_0310

 

Even though I was 4 months pregnant and wasn’t able to participate in the nightlife of this party town, I thoroughly enjoyed every sun-bursting minute God gave me. The beaches really aren’t anything to write home to Mom about but eh-who cares?!

DSC_0337

 

Hemingway’s House proved to be such a gem, we’ve been twice now. It’s a typical (but fancy) island home that was home to Ernest Hemingway for a time. The space out back where he kept his office remains unchanged still to this day. It’s definitely worth the time to get a little history lesson.

DSC01768

 

Here I am in May, sitting in my office space with my house slippers and jacket on because of the chilly temps. Looking at these pictures keep me longing for another trip to my favorite of the Keys islands (to be fair, this is the only island I’ve spent time at, but it still counts as my favorite).

DSC_0375

 

So much color! Even in the mundane things.

IMG_1113

 

Until next time, Key West. Stay Sunny!

Pan, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru

 

 

Opryland Hotel: Things That Totally Perturbed Me About Our Stay

IMG_1223

Okay. I’ve told you about the majesty of the Opryland Hotel. I’ve detailed the beautiful atriums, the entertaining water shows, the comfy bed, the fancy room…..

I just don’t think I’d be doing justice to the purpose of my blog if I didn’t tell you about all the times I wanted to yell at the staff like a mad, Mid-Missouri banshee.

The resort is huge. I mean, 600,000+ square feet of huge. Huge on the inside and huge on the outside. It’s kind of like herdin’ cattle just to get your vehicle in line for the “check-in”. But wait, poor, young lad standing in the pouring down rain. What’s that? We now have to drive all the way to the other side of the property to the Delta Portico to unload our luggage? Then drive to tim-buk-two to find a parking space. THEN, haul ourselves through the madness to the check-in area, wherever it may be by that time??!? Ugh.

So, the hubbs followed the signs leading us to the Delta Portico. The wet boy out front told us there would be a bellhop there to bring our luggage to the appropriate area. There was nobody. Nobody! No luggage cart and a big fat nobody.

Guess where to now? That’s right. Back in the cattle herdin’ line. $20 to self park and $26 for valet parking. Hold up. I’ve just spent $320 to stay the night in your fancy hotel and now I’ve got to give you an extra $20 to allow MYSELF to park MY CAR. Are you kidding me?!?!?!

Mind you, we STILL have Sweet Baby O and luggage with us. After we finally find a parking spot on the back 40, we load ourselves and Olivia up and trek through the great unknown to the check-in.

That gal was friendly. I’ll give her that. We told her about the Delta Portico incident. She apologized. We were given a map and directions on how to get to our room.

We walked through the atrium to the elevator. Up to the 6th floor. Down the corridor towards the room number. And we walked and walked. Wait. We’re going the wrong way. Crap. Turnaround.

Of course we’re still packing all of our junk. I finally figured out that each atrium has themed carpeting and that made the place a little more navigable.

IMG_1215

Garden themed carpet for the Garden atrium. Get it?

Garden themed carpet for the Garden atrium. Get it?

We had booked a balcony suite in hopes of getting a suite. With a balcony. We got a suite with a window. Definitely not what we were wanting but the hotel was full they said that’s all they had left. Our room was completely gorgeous, and clean, and spacious. Still, I wanted to drink my morning coffee on my balcony overlooking the atrium! Oh well, maybe next time.

Even poor baby O felt trapped by the window.

Even poor baby O felt trapped by the window.

DSCN0158

There were so many people at the hotel that particular weekend. Prom-goers had completely permeated the premises. Now, I did enjoy seeing all the pretty dresses and everyone’s excitement but having to constantly dodge Mom’s fancy camera started to get a little annoying.

One of the big reasons we wanted to stay at the Opryland Hotel is that we knew we could show Olivia around and hopefully keep her entertained inside the resort. The paths through the atriums are NOT AT ALL stroller or handicapped friendly. Or accessible. It’s a little ridiculous. Would it kill you to put some ramps in???

Stairs, as far as the eye could see.

Stairs, as far as the eye could see. Please pardon the blurry photo. My camera was having an “off” day. 

The signs inside were about as clear as mud relaying directions. I don’t know how many people we encountered that said, “Man, it feels like you just keep walking in circles around this place!” Well, if they’d put up some better signage, maybe people wouldn’t have to spend all day deciphering “Left?” or “Right?”

For breakfast, there was only one restaurant in the whole resort open. When you book your stay, you can have an additional fee of $30 added for breakfast. We thought that was nonsense. $30 for breakfast? Well, they got us because that’s exactly what we paid. They have a buffet, which was actually very tasty and had a good selection of food. We were thankful we got in line at a good time with only a 20 minute wait. We got our number and walked around a bit. When we came back, they were telling folks the wait was up to one hour! Since they only have the one restaurant open, they sure don’t leave you much option now, do they?

Breakfast Buffet

The breakfast buffet was located in this area the next morning. 

There. I’ve gotten it off my chest. I do feel better, thank you.

All in all, we really did enjoy our stay. Our room was completely gorgeous and comfortable and spacious. And of course, the gardens are just so breathtaking that we’d do all this nonsense again. I do recommend this hotel. Even if you aren’t staying the night, if you’re in Nashville, it’s a great site (or sight? Hmm. Either way, I guess) to see.

DSCN0145

Such a beautiful room. Pre-family arrival.

I don't always wear my fake smile. Only on special occasions.

I don’t always wear my fake smile. Only on special occasions.

 

If you see that drenched boy out front, would you please pass along the word that THERE IS NOBODY AT THE DELTA PORTICO TO HELP US WITH OUR LUGGAGE!

What’s been your greatest pet peeve relating to a hotel stay?

Pan, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru

Our Suite at Opryland Hotel: Nashville, TN

One weekend ago, we had just departed from our super, luxurious suite at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN.

The hubby and I had meandered through the gorgeous atriums of this high class resort several times before but we had never gotten the chance to actually be a paying customer.

We decided to go all out and get a room with an atrium view.

The view from our suite

The view from our suite

DSCN0148

We checked in early afternoon and were excited to get to our room so we could enjoy the balcony overlooking the greenery. We were saddened to find our room on the 6th level (the very top), which meant we had beautiful windows but no open balcony.

IMG_1224

Wouldn’t ya know the 6th floor is the ONLY floor that DOESN’T have a balcony?!?! Just our luck!

DSCN0137

We walked into our room to find this crisply made, king-size, come-hither bed. We were impressed at first sight. Wait……. What’s that?

DSCN0145

 

Holy smokes! When we reserved a suite, they really gave us a suite! We thought the high dollar price tag was simply for the enjoyment of the view. Oh no, friends. We got a room with 2, count them TWO, full bathrooms. A kitchenette, full living room, and a separated sleeping room.

Hey there handsome, what's to drink?

Hey there handsome, what’s to drink?

Cozy and clean. What more could one ask for?

Cozy and clean. What more could one ask for?

Where's Sweet Baby O? Where is she?

Where’s Sweet Baby O? Where is she?

DSCN0143

Both bathrooms have vanities conveniently located outside of the toilet/shower area.

DSCN0117

Baby O getting settled in. This pic is blurry because at 18 months, this sweet girl is ALWAYS on the move.

 

The hot shower felt so good after spending all weekend in the rain.

The hot shower felt so good after spending all weekend in the rain.

Couffered ceilings. Gorge.

Couffered ceilings. Gorge.

Of course one never spend too much time in their hotel room while traveling, still yet, we enjoyed our gorgeous views, inside and out, of our suite at Opryland.

Have you ever been to the Opryland Hotel?

Pan