Tag: Animals

Lesson Learned: What 2020 Taught Me About Travel

Lesson Learned: What 2020 Taught Me About Travel

There is a wonderful children’s book called The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It’s a fantasy tale full of puns and cleverness. One of the places in the book is called the Doldrums. It’s a rather nondescript sort of place, generally bland and boring with overcast skies. The people who live there are called Lethargians — they do nothing all day, every day. Nothing ever changes in the Doldrums.

Overall, I feel like I have been visiting the Doldrums for the greater part of 2020. Thankfully, I did something in 2020 that I normally don’t do — I took a trip in January. Spain, you were amazing and I miss you even more than I thought I would!

Outside the Antigua Casa de Talavera in Madrid, where I spent too much money.

Six weeks after my return, the US went on lockdown and travel was pretty much forbidden. We thought it would be just a couple of weeks… but it ended up being months… and, in fact, it still isn’t over. Here’s what 2020 taught me about travel.

Lesson Learned #1: Embrace Being Home When You Aren’t Traveling

I’m not gonna lie. At first I thought it was kind of cool that I had to stay home. Suddenly, I was able to catch up – and stay caught up – on laundry. I got plenty of quality time with my family and pets. The busyness of life was pretty much gone. And when it occurred to me that with all of us at home, it was the ideal time to get a puppy – well, a miracle happened and somehow my husband didn’t object. Meet Chewie:

The day we got him! He’s 3/4 Corgi and 1/4 Elkhound… but he sounds like Chewbacca,
Chewie now. He will be one year old on inauguration day!

Lesson Learned #2: You Can “Travel” Without Going Very Far

After a while, though, even with a puppy to wreak havoc keep us busy, I grew tired of being home All. The. Time. When warmer weather came, I ventured out to my local beach. I enjoy being there – it’s peaceful, there’s a bountiful supply of sea glass, and I generally have the place to myself in the off-season. Once I learned that it was not closed to the public, I started going more often, usually once or twice a week. It was the only thing that kept me sane in those first few months. Also, I found a lot of sea glass:

This vase is about 18 inches tall and 10 inches in diameter.

The beach wasn’t far away or a popular spot, or even all that special (aside from the sea glass). But it was a much-needed escape and when you’ve been cooped up in your house for weeks, getting in the car and driving to a beach 30 minutes away kinda does feel like a vacation.

Lesson Learned #3: Travel Doesn’t Always Have to Mean Catching a Flight Somewhere

Summer came and restrictions started lifting. Hubs decided to buy us an RV. Driving around in a small house on wheels is not my preferred method of travel by any stretch of the imagination. When I brought up the puppy, he brought up wanting an RV. At the time I didn’t know how serious he was, so we sort of agreed to get both an RV and a puppy. Joke’s on me – he was very serious! Like, 32 feet long serious.

Chewie thinks the RV is pretty cool too!

While this isn’t my preferred method of travel, I have to admit, traveling this way does have its perks, especially during a pandemic. It’s all self-contained, so there is no need to worry about how thoroughly the place was cleaned after the last guests left. The only people staying there are you and your family with your own germs.

So, with the RV, that gave us a few options that we did not have before. And at the beginning of July we took it to Williamsburg Virginia for a trip to celebrate my husband’s birthday. We toured a winery, played a scavenger hunt, and visited the Virginia Aquarium. All activities featured masks and social distancing. It almost felt normal.

Lesson Learned #4: Visiting Friends Counts as Travel

For Labor Day weekend, we took the RV to another part of our state and met an old friend of mine there. (We’ve known each other since kindergarten!) We went to an all-outdoors sunflower festival which was really enjoyable. As my friend said, there’s something about sunflowers that makes everyone feel like a five-year-old.

Lesson Learned #5: Play the Game, then Walk Away (with money still in your pocket)

Back in the summer of 2019, Holiday Inn Vacation Club made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: Pay $250 and get a three-night stay at one of their properties PLUS $149 in cash after sitting through a sales presentation. I know plenty of people who have timeshares and have lived to regret it. One even paid someone else money to get rid of hers! So I was confident I could resist the sales pitch and I figured $101 for three nights was a good deal. I told them to sign me up and I later booked a trip to Orlando for April 2020.

But then, COVID. So I canceled and asked for an extension of the expiration date. Holiday Inn Vacation Club was very understanding and gave me an additional six months to take advantage of the deal.

(Side note: Spirit Airlines tried to give me a voucher for my canceled airfare that would have expired in September 2020. Armed with the knowledge that the DOT was requiring airlines to give full refunds for COVID-related cancellations, I pushed for a refund – and got it.)

So we rescheduled the timeshare trip for September, right around my birthday. And since at the time we thought our daughter would be away at college by then, we chose a different destination – Galveston, Texas. I was able to get a pretty good deal on airfare, so I guess that’s one positive thing that came out of the pandemic.

When it came time to go, I did not anticipate the stress caused by the people in the airports and on the planes not wearing a mask and/or not wearing it correctly. I also did not expect that the planes would have EVERY seat filled. By the time we got to Texas, I was almost certain we would be coming home with COVID.

The accommodations were nice enough. The sales pitch was as awful as we had expected.

THEM: This is an investment that you will own for the rest of your life!

US: We are 54. We are only going to be traveling for another 15 years or so. Twenty years at most. (Secretly hoping for much more!)

THEM: But you can will it to your kids when you’re gone!

US: Hah! They can pay for their own vacations!

Yeah, they kind of regretted the day they saw us in the lobby. And let me just say to anyone that is considering getting a timeshare: don’t do it. These people were offering us ten years of payments at 16-point-something percent interest. THAT IS NOT A GOOD DEAL. And then there are maintenance fees. Ask anyone you know who has a timeshare about their maintenance fees. Basically, a timeshare is paying a second mortgage on a property that you don’t really own and will only get to use a couple of weeks a year. Does that sound like a good deal to you?

Heck no.

As for Galveston, we didn’t really see or do a lot because (a) the pandemic had a lot of places shut down and (b) Hubs has an Army buddy who lives about an hour away from there, so we spent most of our time just visiting with him and his wife.

BUT! I did get a tip that the nearby Bolivar Peninsula (pronounced like Oliver with a B, not like Simon Bolivar) was a good place to look for sea glass, so we checked it out. I looked for a solid three hours and found plenty of great glass and shells. Then, at my very last stop, I found this beauty:

A sea glass stopper – a rare find!

Lesson Learned #6: Travel Can Be Just for a 1-Day Event

When I met up with my friend over Labor Day weekend we decided that we would go to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire together. The first date that we both had available was Halloween. So we planned on it, booked our tickets, and when the time came, we loaded up the RV and headed up to Pennsylvania for some costumed fun. We decided to go as pirates.


Lesson Learned #7: It’s Never a Bad Idea to Travel to that Place You’ve Been Meaning to Check Out

At this point, I could tell that our time of relative travel freedom would soon be coming to an end. It was starting to get cold. Outdoor events would become a distant memory. We debated whether to take a trip somewhere as one last hurrah before cold weather and the holidays hit. (Of course the answer was an emphatic yes!)

Since we wanted to (a) head south to minimize the risk of cold weather and (b) go no farther than a 5-6 hour drive away from home, we opted to go to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I have lived in Maryland my entire life and had never been to the Outer Banks before. Now, that may seem strange, but I have Atlantic beaches about 40 minutes from my house, and that’s not only closer, but it’s also easier to get to.

We drove the RV down and stayed at Oregon Inlet Campground. It didn’t offer a whole lot in the way of amenities but it was just a short walk to the beach. On our first morning there, I got up early with Chewie and took him out for a walk to explore… and found a stunning Atlantic sunrise!

Needless to say, that became our morning routine while we were there! Because of the pandemic and also the fact that we were there in mid-November, our options for things to do in the Outer Banks were somewhat limited. We did a lot of walking on the beach – I found one piece of seaglass and plenty of well worn, beautiful shells. We also went to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, where Hubs had visited in his youth.

This little boy climbed all the way to the top of the dunes with us!

We also visited Bodie Island Lighthouse. Visitors couldn’t go inside, but we still enjoyed seeing it up close and taking photos of it.

I really enjoyed our trip to the Outer Banks, and I’m glad we went. Even though we didn’t get to go to all the cool places or see all the things we normally would have, I found it a place of beauty. In fact, it was quite different from the beaches that are close to my home. I’ll definitely go back at some point in the future!

In Summary

2020 had a profound impact on the ability to travel. But it did not kill it. My biggest lesson learned from the year was to be flexible and adapt to circumstances. Being open to traveling in different ways and to different types of places gave me a handful of experiences that I will cherish. 2020 also taught me just how vital traveling is to my psychological well being. It is certainly not something that I will ever take for granted again!

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Quirky Delmarva Festivals You Can’t Miss

Quirky Delmarva Festivals You Can’t Miss

Delmarva Festivals You Need to See to Believe

Within 80 miles of my home, there are several annual festivals that locals love. But if I’m being honest, people who are visiting here probably think they’re weird. Delmarva festivals – those on the peninsula of Delaware and the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia – provide quirky and traditional fun for locals and visitors alike. Here are some of the more unusual ones.

The National Hard Crab Derby

Claim to Fame: Crab Races
How Many Years Held: 70
Location: Crisfield, Maryland
Date: Labor Day Weekend, September
Average Attendance: ?

Delmarva Festivals: The National Hard Crab Derby takes place in Crisfield, Maryland over Labor Day weekend.
Photo via Flickr by Benjamin Wilson US

Every Labor Day weekend, people from all over the Mid-Atlantic region visit Maryland’s southernmost town to see some 400 blue crabs compete in one of the most celebrated crustacean events in America, the National Hard Crab Derby. It all started decades ago, when local watermen brought their feistiest live crabs to race in the street in front of the post office. That strange small town event has grown into a full fledged weekend-long festival!

Other events over the course of the festival week include a beauty pageant (the winner is crowned Miss Crustacean), a carnival, crab cooking and picking contests, live music, a boat docking contest and a skiff race. The event concludes with fireworks on Sunday night.

Apple Scrapple Festival – Bridgeville, Delaware (Oct)

Claim to Fame: Scrapple
How Many Years Held: 26
Location: Bridgeville, Delaware
Date: Second Weekend of October
Average Attendance: over 25,000

If you’ve never had Scrapple, you might be wondering what it is. Well, put as delicately as possible, it contains everything left from the pig after bacon, ham, pork chops, etc. are taken. Which is to say that it’s made of scraps… hence the name.

The pig scraps are boiled until falling apart, then finely cut up. The meat is combined with cornmeal and flour along with spices including sage, black pepper, thyme, and savory, then formed into loaves. Once cooled, you can cut off half-inch slices and fry them in butter until golden brown.

Delmarva Festivals: Head to the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville DE the second weekend of October for a celebration of this unique pork product.
A classic Scrapple sandwich. CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Personally, I can’t get past the fact that Scrapple’s main ingredient is offal, but most folks around here don’t have a problem with that and swear that it’s delicious. You will see Scrapple typically served as a breakfast sandwich on plain white bread. This is definitely a regional delicacy – Scrapple’s popularity doesn’t extend much beyond the mid-Atlantic states. The two most popular brands of Scrapple in this area are Habersett and RAPA, and both are located in the tiny town of Bridgeville, Delaware.

In addition to Bridgeville’s Scrapple industry, the Apple Scrapple festival celebrates apples, particularly those grown by local farm TS Smith & Son.

Festivities begin at 4:00 pm on Friday evening with the carnival, food court and street dance. Things start up again on Saturday morning with an all you can eat Scrapple breakfast from 7:00 to 11:00 am. The rest of the day is filled with carnival rides, kids’ games, Scrapple sling, Scrapple carving, live entertainment, a ladies’ skillet tossing contest, and more.

Crawfish Boil & Muskrat Stew Fest

Claim to Fame: Muskrat Cuisine
How Many Years Held: 7
Location: Cambridge, Maryland
Date: February
Average Attendance: 700-1000

Delmarva Festivals: Louisiana meets Maryland at the Crawfish Boil and Muskrat Stew Fest in Cambridge Maryland every February.

The Crawfish Boil & Muskrat Stew Fest is an outdoor event combining two distinctive cuisines: Louisiana Crawfish and Dorchester County muskrat. Yes, muskrat. Many people in this part of the country consider it good eating.

As the name implies, this festival is all about the food. Festival goers will find such delicacies as muskrat stew, smoked muskrat, muskrat gravy fries, and muskrat chili dogs. A variety of crawfish dishes are also available, as are raw oysters, burgers, and hot dogs. The festival also features a Muskrat Leg Eating Contest.

Live entertainment from a blues band generates a party atmosphere and keeps the fun going long after you’ve had your fill.

National Outdoor Show

Claim to Fame: Fun for Hunters & Trappers
How Many Years Held: 73
Location: Church Creek, Maryland
Date: February
Average Attendance: ?

Delmarva Festivals: In Dorchester County, Maryland, the muskrat is the centerpiece of the National Outdoor Show.
Illustration of Muskrat via Flickr by Boston Public Library

Dorchester County, Maryland is Muskrat Country: the heartland of sportsmen, trappers, watermen and wildlife. The National Outdoor Show aims to “share the unique spirit and character of the area’s hard working people, who keep one foot in a technologically savvy world, and the other stuck deep in our traditional old school ways.”

The event opens on a Friday evening with a pageant to name Miss Outdoors, followed by the world championship muskrat skinning semi-finals. Festivties continue on Saturday with Little Miss and Little Mister Outdoors, a game cooking demo, police K-9 demo, duck and goose calling contests, championship muskrat skinning finals, and more. A PBS documentary, Muskrat Lovely, featured the National Outdoor Show because of its focus on muskrats.

Chestertown Tea Party

Claim to Fame: historical reenactment of tax rebellion
How Many Years Held: 42
Location: Chestertown, Maryland
Date: Memorial Day Weekend, May
Average Attendance: 15,000

This tea party is not about frilly dresses and big hats. It commemorates the other kind of tea party – you know, like the famous one in Boston. When the citizens of Chestertown learned that the British had closed the port of Boston in retaliation for Bostonians dumping tea into the harbor, they issued The Chestertown Resolves. The Resolves stated that it was illegal to import, sell, or consume tea.

According to local lore, on May 23, 1774, the citizens of Chestertown gathered at the town center, marched down High Street to the brigantine Geddes, and tossed her cargo of tea into the Chester River. Every Memorial Day weekend, Chestertown residents not only celebrate the event, they reenact it.

Delmarva Festivals: Celebrating the rebels of the American Revolution at the Chestertown Tea Party.
Image courtesy of Chestertown Tea Party Festival

The festival opens on the Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend with a street party. Food trucks, live music, and games provide a fun but laid back atmosphere before the festival shifts into high gear on Saturday. A large colonial parade down High Street, featuring numerous fife and drum bands as well as marching Colonial and British reenactors, serves as the highlight of Saturday’s activities.

Throughout Saturday, visitors can enjoy walking tours of the historic district, demonstrations of colonial crafts, more than 100 craft vendors, children’s activities, local foods, a wine village and a wide array of musical entertainers. The festival concludes Sunday afternoon in the park with local wine and craft beer tastings, more entertainment, crafts and food. Sunday’s main event is the popular Raft Race. Teams compete to keep their home-made raft afloat for as long as possible in hopes of winning the coveted Tea Cup.

Chincoteague Pony Swim

Delmarva Festivals: The Chincoteague Pony Swim takes place every year in mid-July.
By United States Coast Guard, PA2 Christopher Evanson –  Link

Claim to Fame: feral horses are herded up and sold at auction
How Many Years Held: 93
Location: Chincoteague, Virginia
Date: mid-July
Average Attendance: 40,000

The pony swim has taken place since 1925 to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, but its roots date back to the 17th century. The event grew in popularity after its mention in the classic children’s book, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.

The Saturday-Monday before the swim, volunteers (known as “Saltwater Cowboys”) round up the 150 or so feral horses and 60-70 spring foals that inhabit Assateague Island and take them to a central pen. Then, on Tuesday, veterinarians examine them to make sure they are healthy.

Wednesday is pony swim day. The Saltwater Cowboys guide the ponies to Chincoteague Island by having them swim across the Assateague Channel. This is done at “slack tide” – a period of about 30 minutes between tides, when there is no current. As a result, it is the easiest time for the ponies to make the swim.

After the swim, the ponies rest. Then the Saltwater Cowboys “parade” the ponies down Main Street to the carnival grounds in preparation for an auction the following morning.

The auction serves two purposes. First, it helps control the size of the herd, keeping it from growing too large. In order to keep the herd at a sustainable size, most of the foals are sold at the auction. A few select foals, however, are buybacks, auctioned with the stipulation that they will be donated back to the Fire Company, then returned to Assateague Island.

Secondly, the auction is a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, who uses proceeds to provide veterinary care for the ponies throughout the year.


I hope you have a better idea of what this part of the mid-Atlantic is like based on our traditional festivals. Better yet, I hope you’ll attend one or more of them!  Please comment below if you’ve attended any of these, or tell me about the quirky festivals in your area!

Delmarva Festivals: A guide to some of the Mid-Atlantic's quirkiest events.
The Penguin Capital of the World (No, it isn’t Antarctica)

The Penguin Capital of the World (No, it isn’t Antarctica)

Where is the Penguin Capital of the World?

Information you might need for your next trivia battle:  There are 18 species of penguins in the world, and most of them do not live in Antarctica.

That’s right, Antarctica is not the penguin capital of the world. Believe it or not, that title belongs to the Falkland Islands, which roughly one million penguins call home. The Falkland Islands are perhaps best known as the site of a 74 day territorial dispute between the UK and Argentina in 1982. (The British won what is now referred to as the Falklands War, and they maintained ownership of the islands as they have done since 1833.)

The Falklands’ OTHER Claim to Fame

What makes this little group of islands the penguin capital of the world?  Well, out of the aforementioned 18 species, five of them have colonies on the Falkland Islands. Antarctica, on the other hand, is only home to four species of penguin.

Visitors to the Falklands may encounter one or more of the five penguin species who call the islands home:

1. King Penguins

These are the second largest penguins in the world, typically 28-39 inches tall and weighing 20-40 pounds. They can dive up to 1000 feet, and spend up to five minutes underwater. They do not make nests for their eggs, but rather carry their eggs around with them at all times by keeping the egg on top of their feet.

Penguin Capital of the World: King Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.

2. Rockhopper Penguins

Smaller than their King cousins, Rockhopper penguins only measure about 20 inches tall. Their distinguishing features are red eyes and pink webbed feet. They also have yellow and black spiky feathers on their head. Their Latin name, eudyptes chrysocome, means “golden haired good diver.”

Penguin Capital of the World: Rockhopper Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.

3. Gentoo Penguins

These penguins have a wide white stripe across the top of their head. They are the third largest penguin species, measuring 20 to 35 inches. They are the fastest underwater swimmers among penguins, reaching speeds of up to 22 miles per hour. Gentoos will not breed in ice-covered areas.

Penguin Capital of the World: Gentoo Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.

4. Magellanic Penguins

Named for the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who sailed around the southern tip of South America, these penguins. Their most distinguishing feature is that they have two horizontal black bands between the head and the breast. Magellanics always lay two eggs, and the parents take turns sitting on the nest and hunting for food during the 40-day incubation period.

Penguin Capital of the World: Magellanic Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.

5. Macaroni Penguins

These penguins, like their Rockhopper kin, have bright yellow-orange plumes on their head. Their name comes from the term used in 18th-century England to describe fashions with flamboyant or excessive ornamentation. A person who adopted this fashion was labelled a macaroni, as in the song “Yankee Doodle.”

Penguin Capital of the World: Macaroni Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.
Image of Macaroni penguin via Flickr by Liam Quinn.

What Else Is There?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Falklands don’t have anything to offer visitors except penguin sightings. This South Atlantic archipelago is teeming with other nature and wildlife. It also boasts an unpolluted environment with clear blue skies, vast open spaces and stunning beaches.

The Penguin Capital of the World: The Falkland Islands are made up of an archipelago of over 700 islands.
Map of the Falklands

There are over 700 islands in the archipelago, but the two largest are East Island and West Island. The capital city of Stanley, and the majority of the Islands’ population, are on the East Island. The islands vary a great deal in climate and wildlife. The western islands are drier and sunnier, while the eastern islands experience a lot of rainfall.

Besides penguins, there are many other unusual birds to see in the Falklands. For example, over 70% of the world’s black-browed albatross breed around the islands. You may also spot South American terns, striated caracara, white chinned petrel, imperial shag, and many others.

The Falkland Islands, Penguin Capital of the World, is also home to 70% of the black-browed albatross nest sites in the world.
A black-browed albatross. Photo via Flickr by blachswan

And the varied wildlife of the Falklands doesn’t stop with birds. There are some fantastic opportunities to sight marine animals too.  The Falklands are home to seals and sea lions, orca, whales, dolphins, and more.

Because of the islands’ sparse population and semi-remote location, there is a lot of unspoiled nature to enjoy, from beaches to mountains. The offshore islands in the west have jagged cliff tops and rugged peaks, some dropping steeply. Others sweep down to white sand beaches, inviting coves and boulder-strewn shores. West Falkland has a rock formation known as “Indian Village” because of its wigwam-like shapes. In contrast, the small islands to the east are flatter – but no less scenic – with open land and magnificent seashores.

The Falkland Islands are the Penguin Capital of the World, but they also offer visitors plenty of gorgeous scenery to admire too, such as Gypsy Cove.
Gypsy Cove. Photo via Flickr by nimdok.

So How Do I Get There?

Long story short: It isn’t cheap or easy. As with any island, you can only reach the Falklands by plane or boat. Flights to the Falklands depart year round from Santiago de Chile. Cruise ships, many of which continue on to Antarctica, visit the islands during the high season of December-February.

Only one location on earth can boast that it's home to five species of penguins, and it isn't Antarctica. Click here to discover what's the Penguin Capital of the World.
Weekend in Chicago Itinerary – 48 Hours in the Windy City

Weekend in Chicago Itinerary – 48 Hours in the Windy City

What Can You See in Chicago in Two Days?

As it turns out, you can see quite a bit. We went to Chicago for my birthday last fall because it was a place I had always been interested in seeing but had never actually visited. Unfortunately, my birthday always falls the week before a major event at work that I am partially responsible for, so my trip couldn’t last much longer than a weekend.

We were able to squeeze quite a lot into just two days of touring. So whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or you want to extend a flight layover by a couple of days, you can see the city too.  Here’s our itinerary.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary – Day One

First Stop: Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago, a large and impressive building that contains both art school and museum. It was first built in 1893 as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Two huge bronze lions flank the main entrance, where banners also hang to announce the latest exhibits.  The Institute has expanded several times over the years, most recently with the addition of a modern art wing in 2009. That expansion brought the size of the Art Institute to almost 1 million square feet, making it the second largest art museum in the USA. (The first is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)

Normally, art museums aren’t high on my list of places to visit, but having read The 68 Rooms with my daughter a few years ago, I really wanted to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms in person.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago
One of the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. This is a shoebox sized rendition of an English cottage kitchen of the Queen Anne period (1702-1714). The blue plates are roughly the size of a dime.

I enjoyed that exhibit, for certain, but there were so many other wonderful things in the museum that I would definitely classify it as a must see in Chicago. They had a great exhibit on glass paperweights, which included this beauty:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - the Art Institute of Chicago has a beautiful collection of glass paperweights on its lower level.

Naturally, Hubs and I were drawn to the medieval and renaissance armor.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - the Art Institute of Chicago is a great place to visit, and includes a variety of exhibits, including one on arms and armor.

And there were some famous paintings there as well, like A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to visit the Art Institute of Chicago and see Georges Seurat's famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

and Andy Warhol’s rendition of the Mona Lisa:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to look for Andy Warhol's Four Mona Lisas at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Next Stop: River Cruise and/or Lincoln Park Zoo

We spent a big chunk of time at the Art Institute & Gallery. Afterwards, we explored the riverfront area and toyed with the idea of taking a sightseeing or architecture cruise. This would certainly be a good thing to do if you enjoy water tours and/or architecture. My daughter hates going on boats, however, so we did not.

Instead, we went to the north end of the city and explored Lincoln Park Zoo. Like the zoo in my home town, this zoo does not charge admission for visitors. Plus, they have polar bears, which are one of my favorite animals ever.

Unfortunately, we visited in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave with temperatures over 95 degrees. In late September! The animals were every bit as miserable as we were, and the polar bears looked shell-shocked. I felt so bad for them!

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Lincoln Park Zoo has free admission ... and polar bears!

That being said, the zoo was in a beautiful park setting and I would definitely like to visit it again in cooler weather.

Dinner: Pizza Pot Pie

Within walking distance of Lincoln Park Zoo, there is a restaurant called the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company. History buffs will appreciate that it’s located across the street from the site of the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre. Foodies will love the Pizza Pot Pie, their signature dish. It is full of cheesy goodness.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Dinner at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company is a must. Try the pizza pot pie!

How good was it? Well, I devoted an entire blog post to it.  It was also the first Chicago post I wrote when I returned. I had the pizza pot pie eight months ago and I still have days where I think I’d love to have it again. Yummm.

Tip:  Be at the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company when they open for dinner at 4:00 pm. It’s small and fills up quickly. Besides, you’ll want to have enough time to walk off some of those calories before dessert…

Next Stop: Millennium Park

I hadn’t intended to go to Millennium Park around sunset… it just worked out that way because we got out of dinner early. As it turns out, sunset is a pretty cool time to approach the park, because you can get a photo like this:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Arriving at Millennium Park late in the day provides some great photo opportunities.

Yeah, I know it’s a little off-center. I would have had to fight off at least four people with tripods in order to get a better spot.

But that’s not the reason we went to Millennium Park, obviously. We went to see “The Bean,” which is actually an art installation called Cloud Gate. This is one of those things that if you don’t do it, you’ll end up regretting it after you’ve left. It’s iconic, and you pretty much have to see it.  Besides which, it’s really cool.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to stop by Millennium Park to see Cloud Gate (better known as "The Bean").

The mom in me wants to know how it stays so clean and shiny.  Clearly, it’s not made out of the same stuff as my kitchen sink.

The photo above is the end of the Bean.  The sides have an indentation big enough to pass through it.  When you do, be sure to look up. You might not be sure what you’re looking at, because it’s almost psychedelic.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Walk inside the center of the Bean at Millennium Park and be sure to look up!

Explore the rest of the park too… it has many other great things to see in addition to the Bean!

Dessert: Smallcakes Smash

If you saved room for dessert, head on over to Smallcakes for a cupcake, ice cream, or the most decadent dessert in town. (You might want to take a couple of people to share it with you.)

Now, Smallcakes is a national chain, not a uniquely Chicago business.  However, it’s worth a visit because of their signature, over-the-top dessert called the Smallcakes Smash.

Choose a cupcake and one or two flavors of ice cream. There are at least a dozen of each to choose from.  Then, sit back and watch as they construct the “Smash” before your very eyes.

A scoop of ice cream goes in the bottom of the cup, followed by the bottom half of the cupcake. A second scoop of ice cream tops that, followed by some whipped cream and syrup in a complementary flavor. Then the whole concoction is topped with the remainder of the cupcake. It is a masterpiece!  Behold!

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Get a Smallcakes Smash at Smallcakes!

I recommend sharing one with a friend. It’s a lot for just one person!

Chicago Weekend Itinerary – Day Two

First Stop: Chicago Tribune Tower

In the morning, we walked over to see the Chicago Tribune Tower which is in the heart of downtown Chicago. Normally, I wouldn’t make a special trip to see just a building, but the Tribune Tower is a building like no other. Pieces of famous landmarks and buildings from all over the world are embedded in its walls.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary: Look for fragments of world landmarks at the Chicago Tribune Tower.

And I don’t mean a dozen or so… I mean almost 150. It was great fun to stand there looking for these special stones – we saw pieces of Westminster Abbey, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China, to name just a few.

Next Stop: Museum of Science & Industry (with Kids)

If you don’t have children with you, you might not enjoy the Museum of Science & Industry all that much. We only went because I’ve had a bit of an obsession with Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle for over 15 years, and it happens to be on display at Science & Industry. Otherwise, I would have found a different activity, such as the Field Museum, or one of those river cruises, or something else.

That being said, the Fairy Castle did not disappoint.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Families will enjoy a visit to the Museum of Science & Industry, home to Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle

I circled it three times and was constantly finding new details each time I looked inside the rooms. An audio recording plays while you are going around the castle, and it’s worth listening to, because it has some very interesting details. The castle is full of authentic items, some of them hundreds of years old. Other items are not as old, but are just as valuable, like the miniature chair that is made of platinum and diamonds.

We looked at a few other exhibits after the fairy castle, including one on bicycle design that Hubs found very interesting, and a mirror maze. But we still had more to see and do, so we didn’t stay too long.

Next Stop: Street Art & Lunch in Logan Square

Street art makes for great photo opportunities. I found out that there was a “Greetings from Chicago” style postcard mural and knew we had to get our pictures in front of it, so that was where we headed next.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - snap a pic with the Greetings from Chicago mural as your backdrop.

The mural is located at 2226 N Milwaukee Ave, in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.  Nearby, we saw another great series of paintings titled “Never Give Up” on the side of a family dollar store.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - There are all types of street art to amuse and inspire you in Logan Square.

It had the stories of five famous people who had, at various points in their lives, encountered setbacks and failures. Despite those challenges, they went on to achieve great success.  It was a good reminder to hang in there when the going gets tough.

Logan Square is a racially diverse and artistic neighborhood with lots of beautiful architecture, great restaurants, and street art. Unlike some city neighborhoods I’ve visited, Logan Square seemed to have a strong sense of community. There are many great restaurants, bars, churches, and local is the key word when describing many aspects of the scene. Ingredients are sourced locally at restaurants; bars serve local craft brews; galleries showcase local artists; and concerts and street fests promote local, upstart bands.

There is no shortage of good restaurants in the Logan Square area, and in a wide variety of ethnic cuisines as well. We had lunch at the Logan Bar & Grill, which had an amazing outdoor seating area. I almost forgot that it was insanely hot while we enjoyed our burgers.

Feeling refreshed and at least a little rested (not to mention re-hydrated!), we got an Uber to take us to…

Next Stop: The Tower Formerly Known as Sears

As you may have read in my blog post about the Willis Tower, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of going to the top to see the views. But eventually I did make the decision to do it, because I figured it was another one of those iconic Chicago things, like The Bean.

I wish I had paid attention to the time when we first went in to see how long we waiting in line before actually making it to the Skydeck. It was at least an hour. It felt like two. Let’s split the difference and call it ninety minutes, waiting in line, moving at a snail’s pace through the basement of one of the most famous buildings in America.

By the time we got to the Skydeck, the sun was beginning to drop in the sky, and the Golden Hour was upon us.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Catch the view from the (Sears) Willis Tower Skydeck.

With the setting sun behind us, the shadows of the skyscrapers were cast across the city and the lake. It was stunning! Suddenly, I didn’t resent that two hour 90 minute wait quite as much.

Dinner: Deep Dish Pizza

You can’t leave Chicago without eating deep dish pizza at least once, right? Well, there is apparently some debate as to who has the best deep dish in Chicago. I’m not a big fan of deep dish style pizza, so I didn’t put a lot of effort into choosing a restaurant for this meal. The first place I saw a recommendation for was the lucky winner: Gino’s East.

I don’t know if Gino’s East has the best pizza, but it’s probably got the most fun atmosphere. The entire restaurant has been covered in graffiti from past customers.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Make one meal a deep dish pizza, the city's signature dish. Gino's East is one of the best, and has an interior that is completely covered in graffiti.

Our server was great as he welcomed us and explained the different options. When the food arrived, we dug in and managed to finish the whole thing, thanks to his recommendations on what size we needed.Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Deep Dish pizza is the Windy City's signature dish.

However, that being said, do be careful when ordering a deep dish pizza.  Because it is so thick, eating one slice is equivalent to eating two or three slices of regular pizza. I saw a lot of tourists walking around Chicago carrying pizza boxes because they didn’t take this into consideration. It’s much better to order the right size and not have to worry about leftovers.

Next Stop: Strolling the Magnificent Mile

After dinner we walked along the area of Michigan Avenue known as The Magnificent Mile. (Can you hear that in any voice but Oprah’s? I can’t.) There are loads of shops along this stretch of road, most of which I cannot afford. Still, it makes for good window shopping and people watching.

Between there and our hotel, we stopped at Eataly, which I’ve always been curious about but have never had an opportunity to visit. Then we returned to the hotel to pack our bags for the next morning, when we would wish a fond farewell to the city of Chicago. It was our first visit there, but we all agreed that we didn’t want it to be our last.

Summary Infographic:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary in list form

Chicago Weekend Itinerary at Travel As Much
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Feeding the (Sea) Monster:

My daughter has an obsession.  Well, several actually.  When she loves something, she tends to love it obsessively.  Such is the case with aquariums. I have no idea why she likes them so much.  For the most part, I find fish to be unattractive, uninteresting, and unappealing.

However, when planning our Thanksgiving trip, she requested that we choose a location that had an aquarium we could visit. It was her only request. Once we settled upon Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg as our destination, I booked tickets for us to visit Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.

Don’t let the name fool you

You may be thinking, like I did, that an aquarium run by Ripley’s probably has lots of plastic reproductions of fish, like the tallest man figure outside their “Believe It or Not” museums.  I thought that, at best, it would be kind of cheesy.  I knew it certainly wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to our semi-local favorite, the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Even my daughter, as excited as she was to be going to an aquarium, was skeptical when she heard it was a Ripley’s attraction.

Happily, we were wrong.  It is actually a very nice aquarium. So much so, in fact, that in this year’s USA Today Readers’ Choice Awards, it was named the best aquarium in the country.

Gatlinburg Aquarium Review - why Ripley's aquarium of the smokies is a must see
At Thanksgiving, when we visited, the aquarium is all decked out for Christmas.

Gatlinburg Aquarium Review

What follows is my review of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg.  But before I get to my specific experience, I want to share some of the facts and figures about the aquarium.  For starters, it’s home to over 10,000 exotic sea creatures in 350 individual species. The population of Gatlinburg is 4200, so that means there are more fish in the aquarium than there are people living in the entire town of Gatlinburg! But what are fish without water? The Gatlinburg aquarium contains 1.4 million gallons of water

Once we entered the building and started walking through the exhibits, the first thing we saw was a curious ray who kept coming over to the glass. Still skeptical, I thought he was one of maybe three or four rays at the aquarium.  How wrong I was!  But I will tell you more about that later.  The next thing we saw was a tank of piranhas:

Piranha at Gatlinburg Aquarium Review by travelasmuch.com

He didn’t look anywhere near as menacing as I have always imagined them to be.

From there, we moved through the Ocean Realm, and found this scorpionfish that almost looked like he was made from lace. This fish is a master of camouflage. Its frilly appendages help it blend in with its surroundings. Their dorsal spines are venomous and can be painful if stepped on.

Scorpionfish at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. Read my Gatlinburg Aquarium review at travelasmuch.com

The Tunnel

At another point we got to go through a tunnel that went under/through the aquarium’s largest tank.  This was an absolute high point for my daughter because it was a first for us – not even the Baltimore aquarium has this! I have to admit it was pretty darn cool.

Gatlinburg Aquarium Review - Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

When a Saw Nose Shark swam over us, we looked at each other and, in homage to a Doctor Who episode, shrieked, “Moisturize me!”

Yeah, we’re a geeky family.

Gatlinburg Aquarium review - Saw nose shark at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
The Saw Nose Shark, which looks a lot like Cassandra from Doctor Who.

The Penguins

There was an area called Penguin Playhouse. The African penguins there can be viewed inside the building or outside, below the water or above.  Very versatile!  My favorite feature was a tunnel that visitors could crawl through and pop up right in the middle of the penguin habitat:

Gatlinburg Aquarium Review - Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies - Penguin Playhouse

What a great way for little ones to burn off some energy and get an up-close look at the penguins! When I did it (you bet I did!), a penguin named Ricky stood right next to the observation tube. He looked like he was spilling the tea with the other penguin.

Gatlinburg Aquarium Review - Penguin Playhouse at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

The Highlight of the Aquarium (for me)

I was struggling to get a picture that showed just how big the giant Japanese crab actually was when my daughter came over and told me that there was a tank of cuttlefish nearby.  I immediately forgot about the crab and went over to see it.  You have no idea how fascinating I find these fish!

Gatlinburg Aquarium Review - Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

That squiggly black line in the eye area is its pupil, and it is supposed to be shaped like that.  In addition to their W-shaped pupils, cuttlefish have a shell that you can’t see here because it’s on the inside of his body. They also have eight arms and two tentacles with teeth on them. It has three hearts that pump its blue-green blood.

But most fascinating to me is that small male cuttlefish who don’t stand a chance of fighting off a larger male for mating rights. A small male cuttlefish will actually disguise itself as a female in order to get close enough to the females to mate with them. They change their appearance by changing their body color, concealing their extra arms (males have eight, females only have six), even pretending to be holding an egg sack.

Cuttlefish, also called the chameleons of the sea, can change their color and the patterns of their skin to communicate – in as many as 75 different ways. The change in color is for camouflage and protection, of course, but it is also used to communicate with other cuttlefish.

Not only that, the color change can take place in just one second. And guess what else – cuttlefish secrete “ink” like an octopus would.  Not only that, sepia dye comes from cuttlefish ink!

Quite simply, cuttlefish are the coolest fish in the world!

Okay, so maybe my daughter isn’t the only person in the family who gets a little obsessed sometimes…

The Boat

The aquarium had a little boat ride that you could pay extra to go on.  It was called the Glass Bottom Boat Adventure, which is a bit of a misnomer because it wasn’t all that adventurous.

Gatlinburg aquarium review - Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies features a glass bottom boat ride that you can go on for a few extra dollars.

It’s a small-ish boat that has no engine. An aquarium employee pulls the boat around the shark lagoon by a rope system. It wasn’t as grand as it sounded, but it was pretty cool to look down on all the fish as they swam under us. In fact, the only time we saw the aquarium’s giant sea turtle was when he swam under the boat.

Everything Else … Or at Least Some of It

And of course the aquarium had jellyfish.  I don’t know what it is about these creatures – if I saw one at the beach I would run screaming out of the water, but in an aquarium I am just mesmerized.  Really, though, can you blame me?

Gatlinburg Aquarium review - jellyfish at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

The aquarium had a special exhibit on the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor which seemed really out of place.  But visitors who take the time to read the wall plaques in the exhibit will learn that Ripley was instrumental in spearheading the movement to create a Pearl Harbor memorial.

The last thing we did at the aquarium was to get up close and personal with the rays. They had a lot of them there, swooping and gliding through the water:

Gatlinburg aquarium review - there are so many rays at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. You can even feed them!

We were gazing at them when I heard an announcement that we could touch and feed the rays.  Well, we have fed a bear, a tiger, a zebra, and various other animals, so why not feed a ray, too? I went over to the young lady, gave her $3, and came back with a metal rod and three small fish.

One by one, we put a fish on the end of the rod and stuck it into the water.  A ray would come gliding by and grab the fish, pulling it off the rod, without so much as a pause.  It was a pretty cool experience, and I got to touch one of the rays as it swam by.  They’re a bit on the slimy side, and feel sort of like a hard boiled egg white.

All in all, the aquarium took us about three hours to go through at a leisurely pace, and we really enjoed it.  I highly recommend it.  If you’re in Gatlinburg, be sure to check out Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. And say hi to the cuttlefish for me.  😉

Remember to follow me on Instagram to see more pictures from the aquarium that are not included in this post!

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is located at 88 River Road in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  Telephone (888) 240-1358

Gatlinburg Aquarium Review - Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
Delaware State Fair Review

Delaware State Fair Review

Small Wonder

Even though I live in Maryland, I’m only about 10 miles from the Delaware border.  And Delaware is such a small state, it’s possible to drive from one end (Delmar) to the other (Beaver Valley) in just a little over two hours. Delaware has only three counties, and for a long time, its tourism tagline was “Small Wonder.”

But don’t let its size fool you.  Delaware has a lot of really great events – NASCAR races in Dover, Punkin Chunkin in the fall, the Rehoboth Sea Witch Festival in October, and the Delaware State Fair in late July.

The Animals

delaware state fair review cows livestock

One of my favorite things to do when my kids were younger was to go to the fair and look at all the animals that were there to compete. Horses, pigs, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens… several barns full of animals, and we could get fairly close to them.  The fact that it didn’t cost anything to see them was a big plus too.

Another free animal attraction is a fantastic petting zoo.  It’s probably the best petting zoo I’ve ever seen, with a wide variety of animals that you can feed and touch and interact with. Unfortunately, we got there kind of late and a lot of the animals were tired/inactive/asleep.  We saw two giraffes (one, in a nod to the Madagascar movie, was named Melman), some zebras, a highland cow, llama, alpaca, goats, sheep, and kangaroos.  In past years I’ve seen a zebu, a talking macaw, and some hyperactive ring-tailed lemurs. If you’ve ever referred to someone as bouncing off the walls… well, those lemurs actually did bounce off the walls of their cage! Here’s a shot of the llamas:

delaware state fair review llama alpaca petting zoo.

Or are they alpacas?  Despite having been to Peru twice, I still can’t tell the difference.  In any case, the sign said llamas, so if that’s not correct, I can blame someone else.

The Games

delaware state fair review games
Because who wouldn’t want to win a poop emoji pillow?

What’s a fair without games?  My husband is a champion Whack-a-Mole player, and almost always wins a prize.  We didn’t play this time as we were on the motorcycle and would not have had any room to carry prizes home.

(An aside:  if you arrive at the fair on a motorcycle, you get to park waaaaaay up front, near the entrance gates!)

The Rides

delaware state fair review ferris wheel

I confess, I’m really not much of a ride person.  I have a severe tendency to get motion sickness and a serious fear of heights.  So that eliminates many of the rides.  One year I did go one a water flume ride, and that was really enjoyable.  And I’ve always like the Himalaya. I would say that there is a good assortment of rides at the fair – something for everyone, even wusses like me.

The food

delaware state fair review deep fried oreos

What would a fair be without fair food?  Sure, it costs a bundle and most of it is really unhealthy, but where else can you get a plate full of deep fried Oreos like the ones in the picture?  But the deep fried fun doesn’t stop there! Here are some of the other deep fried dishes you can get:

  • Candy bars (I’m partial to Milky Way)
  • Reeses cups
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Twinkies
  • Pepper Jack cheese
  • Bubble gum, and
  • Lemonade.

No, I don’t know how you deep fry lemonade, and I wasn’t brave enough to try it.

Other fair foods include my favorite local ice cream, alligator meat (Chester’s Gators and Taters), and a doughnut burger – a cheeseburger with toppings served on two Krispy Kreme doughnuts instead of a burger bun.  Because why not?

The Music

I’m not sure why, but the Delaware State Fair gets some pretty big name bands to hold concerts there. In 2007, we saw Brad Paisley there.  He had two opening acts – one was Kellie Pickler from American Idol and the other was this chick I’d never heard of named Taylor Swift.  (We opted to walk around the fair rather than see Taylor Swift since she was a nobody. My, how times change!)

No concert for us this year, so here’s a pic I took of Brad Paisley in 2007:

delaware state fair review brad paisley

The concert lineup usually includes at least two country music artists, a Christian artist, and a comedian. There’s also a monster truck show and/or demolition derby event each year as well.

So there you have it. If you’re within driving distance of Harrington Delaware towards the end of July, check out the Delaware State Fair.  It’s a great spot for summertime fun!

Delaware State Fair Review
Cusco Bus Tour & Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary

Cusco Bus Tour & Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary

On our first full day in Cusco, Peru, we went to the Plaza de Armas and decided to tour the Cathedral of Lima. We had no sooner stepped out into the sunshine than we were approached by a young man who wanted us to take a bus tour. We declined, but he continued to talk to us, mostly about Donald Trump (“Did you vote for him?”) and Rocky Balboa (“He’s the greatest fighter in the world!”).

Before long, he asked us about the bus tour again. He showed me a brochure and pointed out all of the places the bus would go. A few were ones that I wanted to see (Sacsaywaman, Cristo Blanco, Puca Pucara, etc.), and there was also an animal sanctuary. He told me that for most of the places, we would only be able to take a few photos from the open air seating on the top of the bus.  We would not be getting off of the bus and walking around at each site.

I was warming to the idea. Between the altitude and a persistently sore knee, the idea of sitting on a bus to see the sights sounded pretty good. Certainly better than walking around on uneven cobbled streets that went up and down the hills of Cusco.

I booked us on a tour for the next morning and paid roughly $10 per person. Although he didn’t say so, I knew Hubs thought that we had just handed over our money for a tour on a bus that would not actually show up.

Happily, he was wrong.

We boarded the bus the next morning and went up to the rooftop seating.  It took a few minutes for everyone to get settled, but once they did we took off and headed out of the historic section of Cusco. If the young man had neglected to mention that we would not be stopping at the historic/traditional sightseeing locations, I would be writing a much different post. The bus stopped on the side of the road so we could take pictures but that was all.  And since we would be seeing the most magnificent and famous Inca ruins in a couple of days, I didn’t feel a strong need to get out and explore other Inca ruins.

cusco bus tour sacsaywaman
A view of the Inca ruins at Sacsaywaman, as seen from the tour bus.

We traveled through the countryside around Cusco, which both my husband and I found enjoyable, especially after being in the city, which felt so over-crowded to us.  After driving a while, we stopped at the Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary and got off the bus for a tour.

The first animals we saw were vicuñas.  Our guide told us that they were probably the meanest animals at the sanctuary.  What a shame; they are so pretty!

peru travel CCOCHAHUASI ANIMAL SANCTUARY cusco vicuna

From there we saw an Andean Mountain Cat.  I thought we would be seeing some puma-like creature.  Imagine my surprise when said mountain cat looked very similar to my own spoiled tabby, and not much larger!

peru travel CCOCHAHUASI ANIMAL SANCTUARY cusco andean mountain cat

Because he reminded me so much of our cat,  I called, “kitty, kitty, kitty.” He responded with a pitiful high pitched sound that I can only describe as half of a meow.

Interestingly, the only evidence of this cat’s existence prior to 1998 was two photographs. In 1998, a man sighted and photographed one of the cats near the Chile-Peru border. The species is considered to be endangered.

From there we moved on to the Condors.  It is important to note that these birds are very special to Peruvians.  In fact, they are one of three animals revered by the Inca as holy.  In ancient times, the Condor represented the heavenly/spiritual realm for the Inca. The Puma represented the earthly/physical realm, and the serpent represented the underworld.

Andean condors are the largest flying bird in the world by combined measurement of weight and wingspan. Their wingspans can reach close to 11 feet across!  However, the condors we saw were just kind of sitting around, minding their business.  Not very impressive.

But then the guides told us to take a seat at the opposite end of the enclosure.  While we watched, they climbed up to where the condors were hanging out and shooed them.  The next thing we knew, the condors were flying straight for us.

peru travel CCOCHAHUASI ANIMAL SANCTUARY cusco condor in flight
One condor flying toward us (center) with three more waiting in the background).

It was amazing to see a condor in flight.  Even more so considering he flew right over our heads and landed on a stone column next to the area where we sat.  We were able to get pretty close to him afterward.

peru travel CCOCHAHUASI ANIMAL SANCTUARY cusco condor
Andean Condor. No zoom lens, no cropping.

The guides referred to the condor as “Number Four,” and said that it would not be much longer before they released him into the wild. There was also a llama, of course, and an alpaca.  The llama was especially interesting because it had blue eyes.

peru travel CCOCHAHUASI ANIMAL SANCTUARY cusco llama

Following this, we saw two monkeys – a spider monkey and a capuchin monkey.  They were having a lot of fun alternating between interacting with us and playing with each other.

From there we moved on to the non-animal part of the sanctuary, where we got to see a native woman weaving in the traditional manner.

peru travel CCOCHAHUASI ANIMAL SANCTUARY cusco traditional weaver

There was also an exhibit about dyes – the natural sources that Peruvians have been using for their textiles for years, and the colors they produce.  Our guide showed us a tiny little parasite that is found on cacti.  It’s a whitish-gray on the outside, but when you smush it, it produces a bright purple-red color used for dye.

The natural dyes used in Peruvian textiles.

After that, we had a few moments to mill around, use the restrooms, or visit the snack bar/gift shop.  There was no pressure to buy anything.  In fact, most of the shopping areas appeared to be unstaffed. We boarded the bus and headed off again, retracing our route until we stopped at Cristo Blanco.

Cristo Blanco is a white larger-than-life statue of Jesus that overlooks the city of Cusco from a nearby mountain top.  You can see it from the Plaza de Armas if you know where to look.

Cristo Blanco was a gift from Arabic Palestinians who sought refuge in Cusco after World War II. At 26 feet high, it is much smaller than the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro (125 feet).  But that does not make it any less impressive!

Also impressive were the views we had of the city of Cusco from where we stood.

cusco peru travel plaza de armas
Cusco as seen from Cristo Blanco. Can you see the Plaza de Armas?

All in all, I found the bus tour to be very enjoyable.  It gave us a chance to see more than just downtown Cusco, without walking all over creation.  The price, about $10 per person, seemed quite reasonable for a three hour tour.  If you need a break and want to get out of Cusco for a little while, I’d recommend looking into one of these tours.


60+ Washington DC Free Attractions

60+ Washington DC Free Attractions

Anyone who has been to Washington DC knows that it can be a pretty expensive city to visit.  Most studies rank it somewhere in the top ten list of the most expensive American cities. For someone who is making a non-DC salary and visiting the nation’s capital, the expense of everything can be daunting.

Fortunately, Washington DC free attractions are plentiful.  Here are over 60 places you can explore without paying for admission, listed by neighborhood:

The National Mall Area

Washington DC Free Attractions

  1. Abraham Lincoln Memorial
  2. World War II Memorial
  3. National Museum of American History
  4. National Air & Space Museum
  5. Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden – modern art
  6. National Museum of African Art
  7. National Museum of Natural History
  8. Smithsonian Castle
  9. Washington Monument – currently closed for elevator upgrade – check before you go
  10. National Archives
  11. National Gallery of Art
  12. Multiverse Light Sculpture between National Gallery East & West Buildings
  13. Freer Gallery – Asian art (closed until October 14, 2017)
  14. Sackler Gallery – Asian art
  15. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  16. Korean War Veterans Memorial
  17. Vietnam War Veterans Memorial
  18. Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  19. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  20. American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial
  21. US Holocaust Memorial Museum – free but requires timed tickets March through August
  22. National Museum of the American Indian
  23. National Museum of African American History & Culture
  24. Albert Einstein Memorial
  25. Bureau of Engraving & Printing (free, but reservations required through September 1)
  26. National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden


Brookland Area

Washington DC free attractions in Brookland area

  1. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
  2. Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America


Capitol Hill

Washington Dc free attractions capitol hill

  1. National Postal Museum
  2. Library of Congress
  3. US Capitol
  4. US Botanic Garden
  5. Folger Shakespeare Library
  6. Historic Congressional Cemetery


Capitol Riverfront

Washington DC Free attractions capitol riverfront

  1. Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
  2. National Museum of the US Navy
  3. Yards Park



Washington DC Free Attractions Anacostia

  1. Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
  2. Anacostia Community Museum


Upper Northwest

Washington DC Free Attractions Upper Northwest

  1. National Cathedral



Washington DC Free ATtractions Georgetown

  1. C&O Canal Paths
  2. Old Stone House (the oldest home in DC)
  3. Theodore Roosevelt Island
  4. Rock Creek Park


Penn Quarter/Chinatown

Washington DC Free Attractions Penn Quarter Chinatown

  1. National Portrait Gallery
  2. Smithsonian American Art Museum
  3. Lunder Conservation Center
  4. Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site
  5. Archives of American Art Gallery


Dupont Circle

Washington DC Free Attractions Dupont Circle

  1. Anderson House


Woodley Park

Washington DC Free Attractions Woodley Park

  1. National Zoo


Foggy Bottom

Washington DC free attractions Foggy Bottom

  1. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts (free tour)
  2. Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center (free performances)



Washington DC Free Attractions Donwtown

  1. White House Visitor Center
  2. White House tour (request through Congressional representative at least 3 months in advance)
  3. Renwick Gallery – American contemporary art



Washington DC Free Attractions Shaw

  1. African American Civil War Memorial
  2. African American Civil War Museum


H Street NE

Washington DC Free Attractions H Street NE

  1. US National Arboretum
  2. National Bonsai & Penjing Museum – inside National Arboretum


Arlington, Virginia (technically not DC, but just across the river)


  1. US Air Force Memorial
  2. US Marine Corps Memorial (aka Statue of Iwo Jima)
  3. Arlington House, former home of Robert E Lee
  4. Arlington National Cemetery
  5. National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial


As you can see, there are plenty of Washington DC free must-see attractions… and a few that are a little off the beaten path.  With so many choices for things to see and do at no expense, Washington DC can be an affordable vacation destination after all.


The Enchanted Forest Reborn

The Enchanted Forest Reborn

I will never forget the times that my parents took me to The Enchanted Forest, an awesome fairy tale theme park near Baltimore. The park was full of amazing scenes from fairy tales and other stories brought to life. It was my Disney World.

Sadly, The Enchanted Forest closed in 1989. But thanks to some wonderful people with fond childhood memories and a lot of land, you and your children can kinda-sorta visit The Enchanted Forest today.

Clark’s Elioak Farm has lovingly restored many of the original items from The Enchanted Forest and put them on display for this generation of children to enjoy. The restoration continues on, so there are plenty of new attractions not covered in this post.

From the moment you arrive, the magic begins. Rapunzel leans out of her castle tower to greet you.

enchanted forest rapunzel
You can see such beloved characters as Mother Goose (which is also a toddler size sliding board):

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Mother Goose
Take a peek inside the Three Little Pigs house. You can’t see it in this photo, but there is a wolf-skin rug on the floor.

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm 3 Little Pigs
Disney immortalized Sleeping Beauty in the film of the same name, but I find this version just as enchanting. Who wouldn’t want to sleep under a golden blanket?

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Sleeping Beauty.jpg

Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub:

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Three Men in a Tub

You can catch Goldilocks in the Three Bears’ house:

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Goldilocks

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe (another sliding board):

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Old Woman in Shoe.jpg

Hey diddle diddle, the cat & the fiddle, the dish ran away with the spoon.

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Hey Diddle Diddle.jpg

And finally, Jack & the Beanstalk:

enchanted forest Clarks Elioak Farm Jack and Beanstalk.jpg
These are just some of the attractions, and as mentioned above, the proprietors are adding more every year. The site also features farm animals that children can see up close, pony rides, and a pumpkin patch in the fall. If you have young children and are near Clark’s Elioak Farm, treat them to a day there… they will love it and so will you!

Clark’s Elioak Farm is located at 10500 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, MD 21042. Telephone 410-730-4049. Hours vary by day and season, so check the web site or call when planning your visit.

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Why Wales?

I have wanted to go to Wales ever since I saw Hugh Grant’s movie The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain. In fact, the trip that I’ll be taking next month originally started out as an England & Wales combined trip. Unfortunately, time constraints prevented us from doing both, and Hubs was pretty adamant that he wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall.  So Wales is pretty high on the list of future vacations.

I did a lot of research about Wales back when I thought we would be able to do both. Here are the top ten things I can’t wait to see when I go to Wales.

1. Hay-on-Wye.  This tiny village (population 1600) is known as a book town. In fact, it’s the world’s largest second hand & antiquarian book center. You’ll find book stores on every corner and you’ll even see unmanned shelves of books with an honor system for customers. The largest of the “honesty shops” is a row of shelves lining the castle wall.  Castle + books = I could spend days there!

wales top ten hay on why castle bookshop

2. The Straining Tower at Lake Vyrnwy.  It looks much more romantic than it actually is. Its purpose is to filter or strain out material in the water with a fine metal mesh, before the water flows along the aqueduct to Liverpool. The tower rises 104 feet above water, and is topped with a pointed copper-clad roof with a light green patina.

wales top ten straining tower lake vyrnwy

3.  Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.  The town with the longest name in Britain – 58 letters! (Oddly enough, it is not the longest name in the world, though; that honor belongs to a place in New Zealand.) The name, translated from Welsh, means “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave.” I just want to go get our picture taken under the name sign and buy a souvenir tee shirt.

wales top ten longest town name

4. Castell Coch.  This Gothic Revival Castle was built in the late 19th century as a country residence.  It is often referred to as a fairy tale castle because of its round towers.  And while the exterior of the castle appears medieval, the interior is high Victorian.

wales top ten castell coch

5. The Doctor Who Experience.  You get to see what it’s like to be inside the TARDIS, for goodness’ sake.  What else could you want?

UPDATE:  The Doctor Who Experience is no longer open. 🙁

wales top ten Doctor Who Experience

6. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  You can ride a boat or walk across the aqueduct, which is the highest and longest in Great Britain.  It is 126 feet high and 336 yards long.  From what I’ve read, the views from there are outstanding.

wales top ten Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

7.  Tintern Abbey.  Thanks to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, Abbey ruins are all over the British Isles.  I’ve seen photos of many different abbey ruins, and I think Tintern has one of the loveliest sites.

wales top ten Tintern Abbey

8. Pembrokeshire.  This area of Wales reminds me so much of Cornwall (my happy place). There are many beautiful beaches and small harbor towns.

wales top ten Pembrokeshire

9. Skomer Island.  It is the world’s largest puffin colony.  And, as if that weren’t enough, there are also stone circles and the remains of prehistoric houses.

wales top ten skomer puffin

10. Gladstone’s Library.  It’s a residential library, possibly the only one in the world. Bibliophiles like me can look at books all day, go to sleep when we can’t hold our eyes open any longer, then wake up and look at books again.  Yay!  As an added plus, the room rates are some of the cheapest I’ve seen in the UK.

wales top ten Gladstone's Libary

So, there you have it: my next European adventure, already planned.  I can’t wait to see these Wales top ten places in person!