Tag: US Travel

Water Park Fun in Ocean City, Maryland

Water Park Fun in Ocean City, Maryland

Fun for Everyone!

Businesses in the resort town of Ocean City, Maryland come and go all the time. However, a select few have been there so long that locals and visitors alike would be stunned speechless if they ever closed. Jolly Roger Amusement Park is one of those businesses, and for good reason. It’s one of the best things to do in Ocean City Maryland.

Things to Do in Ocean City Maryland: The Jolly Roger Amusement Park is a must for families visiting the beach resort.

Splash Mountain Water Park

One of the cornerstones of Jolly Roger’s business is the Splash Mountain water park, located at 30th Street in Ocean City.

Maybe, you’re like I was. For years and years, I refused to go to Splash Mountain. I thought that it would be silly and a waste of money to go to a water park in Ocean City. Why pay for admission when you are literally just a couple of blocks away from an ocean that is free to swim in? When I finally did go, I wished I had gone to Splash Mountain sooner!

The Park

Considering the number of people that go through it each day, Splash Mountain is an incredibly clean park. Everything looks new and in top-notch operating condition, which is definitely something you want to see in a water park.

I was impressed with the safety measures of the park. Lifeguards and other staff members stand at every ride and pool to ensure that no one gets on a ride if they do not meet its height requirements.  Life jackets are available (and sometimes required) for the littlest park visitors. Visitors who want to take a tube into the wave pool, may only use a clear tube. At first I didn’t understand that restriction, but it occurred to me that clear tubes will not prevent the lifeguards from seeing if someone has slipped under the waves and is struggling to keep their head above water.

The park provides fun options for every age and comfort level. From the three kiddie pools with a maximum depth of 2 feet and the Lazy River ambling through the park, to the Ragin Raft and Aqualoop, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

The Rides

There are so many fun rides to choose from! Here’s your guide to all the features at Splash Mountain:

The Lost Lagoon Family Pool

The Lost Lagoon is a pirate-themed pool adventure. Splash in the shallow pool or take your pick of slides as you race towards the water. The Lost Lagoon is conveniently located by the food stands and restrooms.

The Black Hole

Things to Do in Ocean City Maryland: Splash Mountain's Black Hole challenges riders to travel at high speeds through the enclosed slide, which is completely dark!

This mega-slide is not for anyone with a fear of the dark. Two of its three slides are completely enclosed and pitch dark, while the third slide is open for the faint of heart! Flashes of light, high-speed fun, and unexpected dips and turns will quickly reveal why this is a Splash Mountain staple for visitors.

The Aqualoop

Hailed as the #1 water slide in the country by Popular Mechanics, the Aqualoop is the only one of its kind on the East Coast. The state-of-the-art enclosed, 360 degree, semi-transparent, looping water slide begins with an anxiety-ridden countdown before the trap door opens and sends you plummeting down feet-first, Wile E. Coyote style, 480-feet before splashing in the water below.

The Stealth

Things to Do in Ocean City Maryland: The Stealth at Splash Mountain is the water park version of skating on a half pipe.

The Stealth is Splash Mountain’s first extreme water slide, and it combines the fun of skateboarding with the fun of a water park ride. The half pipe slide with its 45-foot tall vertical ramp will give you the adrenaline pumping thrill of a steep descent, then being shot uphill into the sky.

The Speed Slide

Race your friends down the six lane Speed Slide to see who can reach the bottom first! It’s a classic water park favorite, pitting you against friends, family and even strangers, as you race to the finish.

The Eye of the Hurricane

Things to Do in Ocean City Maryland: The Eye of the Hurrican ride at Splash Mountain Water Park. Locals call it the Toilet Bowl.

Nearly everyone I know calls this ride the Toilet Bowl because, essentially, that’s what it resembles. You travel down a chute slide, emerging into a large round bowl. You circle around and around and are then “flushed” out into the Lazy River at the bottom.

The Lazy River

This one is my absolute favorite. Grab a tube and float your way along the 1100-foot, slow-moving river. I could stay on this all day!

And if I may insert a small PSA here… please take your tube out of the Lazy River with you when you leave it. Empty tubes clutter up the river and disturb the flow of traffic. Thanks!

The Rain Forest

Things to Do in Ocean City Maryland: The Rain Forest at Splash Mountain water park is great fun for young and old alike.

The beautiful thing about the Rain Forest is that adults enjoy it just as much as young kids do. It’s the ultimate treehouse, complete with slides, rope walks, and plenty of water guns! Walk, climb, or slide your way around the passageways of this massive treehouse – it’s a dream come true for any band of shipwrecked voyagers. The pirate head at the top of the structure is a giant bucket that fills with water. Watch out when he gets full!

The Wave Pool

If you don’t want to deal with massive heights or fast speeds, you might enjoy the wave pool. Body surf, duck under the crashing waves, and swim the day away in the Wave Pool. It’s got all the fun of the ocean…minus the salt water and sand.

Kiddie Pirate Ship Pool

Things to Do in Ocean City Maryland: One of Splash Mountain's kiddie pools has a pirate ship theme.

One of three kiddie pools at Splash Mountain, the pirate pool has a ship to explore and three slides. The water in this pool is no more than two feet deep… perfect for toddlers and those who are just learning to swim. (My kids are far past this stage but I still like visiting the kiddie pool before hitting the other rides because the water is warmer there!)

The Master Blaster

My daughter and her friends have claimed the Master Blaster as their favorite ride at Splash Mountain. It’s basically a water roller coaster, and the park’s first water slide to go uphill.

 The Ragin’ Raft

Things to Do in Ocean City Maryland: The Ragin' Raft Slide at Splash Mountain is the only four person slide in the area.

I don’t know how I ever let my Girl Scouts talk me into going on this ride, which is the only four person slide in the Ocean City area. (I have a severe fear of heights and this slide is pretty darn high. Couple that with the fact that I was riding with three young girls much smaller and lighter than me, and I thought I was going to catapult off the raft. Thankfully that was not the case and it was over fairly quickly.)

The Rapids

The Rapids water slide is the closest thing you’re going to get to riding down white water rapids in Ocean City, Maryland. Hang on as you hit bumps, curves, and ramps as you speed down the slide. I haven’t gotten up the nerve to try this one, but I think it sounds like a lot of fun.

The Splash Pad

Things to Do in Ocean City Maryland: The Splash Pad at Splash Mountain water park provides young children a safe place to play while their parents lounge nearby.

Another area for younger children, this shallow pool provides plenty of fun with fountains and waterfalls. Lounge chairs are conveniently located around the enclosed perimeter, giving mom and dad a chance to relax.

The Extras

In addition to the water park, the same complex also offers carnival-style rides, 2 miniature golf courses, and 10 go-kart racing tracks. You can buy your admission for just the water park, or combine it with admission to the other areas of the complex.

Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit

I thought I’d offer a few pointers from someone who has been to Splash Mountain several times.

  • Get there as close to 10:00 AM as possible. Yeah, that’s early, but the park fills up fast and you want to get the best chairs/table location possible. (Also, it’s a lot more fun when you feel like you have the place to yourself!)
  • Splash Mountain allows you to bring a cooler, so if you don’t want to pay for concessions on site, you don’t have to. Pack a lunch and some beverages and head on in.
  • If you think you might want to sample the food they offer, bring some cash with you as many food vendors only take cash, not credit/debit cards.
  • Lockers are available and conveniently located next to the rest rooms. I’ve never used them, but I think there is a fee to use them.
  • If it rains, you will not get a refund or rain check. The only time a rain check is issued is if the park decides to close due to extremely inclement weather. Even if you’re told to get out of the water while a thunderstorm rages all around you, you’re not getting a rain check.  My best advice is to wait out the weather. You can either sit under the umbrellas (they do not offer 100% protection from rain, however), or leave the park and come back. As long as you are still wearing your wristband, you are able to reenter the park the same day without paying additional admission costs.
Things to Do in Ocean City Maryland: A review of Splash Mountain water park.
New York City’s Interactive Spy Museum

New York City’s Interactive Spy Museum

Spyscape Review: Espionage in NYC

When Spyscape opened its doors in midtown Manhattan earlier this year, it was publicized as an interactive museum. Now, there are varying degrees of interactive, and in my experience, in most instances it means that you can push buttons on a video display. Happily, Spyscape is very different. From the moment you walk in you feel as if you have entered another world… the secretive world of covert operations and espionage. It’s not only interactive, it’s immersive. Read on for my Spyscape review.

Welcome to the World of Spies, Double Agents, and Hackers

From the minute you enter the building, you can’t help but feel like you’re about to go into a secret place. It’s sleek and modern, yet eerily quiet. (I arrived there shortly after opening. It might not be as quiet at other times of day.)

At the lobby welcome desk, you receive a ribbon wristband with a small cardboard tag on it. It’s more than just a cheap souvenir – it’s your ticket to unlocking some of the most interesting interactive features of the museum. But more on that later…

The museum has a free locker area, so you can stow any items you won’t need and retrieve them at the end of your visit. What a great feature! After we stashed our stuff, we headed to a really big (room-size) elevator that played a video as we ascended to the upper level of the museum. I honestly can’t tell you what they said in the video because I’ve forgotten, but it really set the stage for our entrance into the museum proper. We were so overcome by the creepy-cool ambiance that we were almost afraid to go to the rest rooms, located past the gift shop and down a long, empty corridor.

And speaking of the gift shop… it was really cool and sleek too.

Spyscape Review: Even the gift shop was sleek, modern, and secretive-looking.

Encryption

Spyscape Review: The Encryption area of the museum explored ways to encode (and decode) messages.

The first area of the museum we explored was the Encryption area. We got to see the costumes that Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley wore in The Imitation Game, a movie about Alan Turing’s efforts to crack Nazi codes during Word War II.  Among the other displays relating to the movie was an actual Enigma machine:

Spyscape Review: The Enigma section of the spy museum included an actual Enigma machine from World War II.

We also had a few encryption exercises at a large illuminated table. We were given a statement in code that we had to decipher, and then a response that we had to put into code. At the time, I didn’t realize that there were actually several different tasks, so I only completed the first one and then moved on.

The encryption area led into a corridor that examined the life and espionage activities of double agent Robert Hanssen, who worked for the FBI and the KGB simultaneously over a period of 22 years.

Spyscape Review: Robert Hanssen was a double agent of the KGB and FBI for 22 years before he was caught.

Hanssen’s story made for the perfect segue into the next section:

Deception

Here we learned the nuances of lying. We learned about body language and certain “tells” that might indicate someone was not speaking the truth. Touching the nose, looking up and to the side, pursing their lips, and other subtle clues can help you discern if someone is telling the truth. But the question is, how observant are you?

Time to put our new knowledge to the test! We went into small dark booths, and watched short videos of people making statements. We decided whether they were telling the truth or lying. Happy to say that I aced this one with a perfect score!

Surveillance

Our next stop was the Surveillance room, a huge circular area surrounded by video screens. Visitors wore special head sets and were prompted to answer questions about people and activities on the screens. It was surreal, standing in that area and spinning around to look for specific details. I decided I definitely do not want to work as a security guard, ever.

Spyscape review: The Surveillance Room tests how quickly you can make observations from camera monitors.

We saw a lot of Edward Snowden items in this room. My daughter didn’t know who he was (she was 11 when he became a household name), so I filled her in on the basics and we watched the Snowden movie a month or so later. What followed were some thought-provoking discussions about personal privacy and government surveillance of its citizens.

Spyscape Review: Edward Snowden-related items were on display in the Surveillance room.

Special Ops

The next area was one that got our blood pumping. In Special Ops, we individually entered another small dark room. This one had light up discs from floor to ceiling on both walls, and green lasers criss-crossed paths from one side to the other. The object was to turn off as many of the discs as possible without bumping into one of the laser beams. It was surprisingly difficult! Here’s my daughter in action – I was watching on the monitor outside the rooms.

After the lasers were turned off, you had your second test, which was turning off as many discs as you could in a set period of time. Again, more challenging than you might think!

Hacking

In this day and age, espionage and technology go hand in hand. So naturally, hacking and cyber-security were a component of Spyscape. According to one exhibit in this section, the development of a computer virus called Stuxnet to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons program in 2005 was the beginning of the cyber warfare era.

Spyscape Review: This infograph implies that Stuxnet opened the Pandora's box of cyber warfare which we continue to battle today.
Stuxnet opened a Pandora’s box of computer hacking that continues to evolve even today. There are white hat hackers, who look for weaknesses in computer systems so they can be fixed, and black hat hackers, who look for weaknesses in order to exploit them.

A display case of smirking Guy Fawkes masks worn by the hacking group Anonymous was an eerie reminder of how many people are actively working to hack into computer systems around the world.

Spyscape Review: Anonymous' Guy Fawkes masks, some of which were signed by hackers in the infamous group.

Testing Stations

This was not a specific room or exhibit of the museum. Throughout the building, visitors can test their skills in three areas: personality, brain power, and risk. All we had to do was step up to any kiosk and wave our wristband in front of the reader. Once it registered who we were, our name appeared on the screen and we could choose which assessment to take.

Spyscape Review: Visitors receive personalized test results.

Debrief

A former Head of Training at British Intelligence helped develop Spyscape’s profiling system, which takes the results of your activities and compiles them. From those results, it chooses your most likely espionage-related career.

My Spyscape Review

Our adventure at Spyscape was nothing short of fantastic! We had so much fun, and I couldn’t help but notice that it really could appeal to many groups. Since I’m a history geek, I found the evolution of espionage fascinating. Kids of any age will love the interactive, high tech elements. Even the two teenagers I traveled with (one of whom is staunchly anti-museum) loved it there.

My final word is that Spyscape is a great attraction for families who want to do something that everyone will enjoy. That’s quite a rarity, so be sure to check it out the next time you’re in New York City!

NB: This is not a sponsored post; I received no compensation. All of the opinions expressed above are my own.

Spyscape Review: Travelasmuch.com's review of Spyscape, the new spy museum in New York City
3 Must-Visit Attractions in Smyrna Georgia this Summer

3 Must-Visit Attractions in Smyrna Georgia this Summer

Summer Attractions in Smyrna Georgia

Situated 20 miles northwest of Atlanta, Smyrna is a vibrant suburb that has some of the best attractions in Georgia. Each summer, Smyrna hosts visitors from around the country who come to the city for its restaurants, bars, and activities. If you’re searching for an unforgettable experience, take a trip to the city for these must-visit attractions.

SunTrust Park

Attractions in Smyrna Georgia - SunTrust Park in Smyrna is home to the Atlanta Braves.
Image via Flickr by Counse

Built in 2017, SunTrust Park is Major League Baseball’s newest stadium and the home of the legendary Atlanta Braves. Constructed on a budget of $672 million, this state-of-the-art facility is more than just a venue for baseball; it offers a fan experience unlike any other. Monument Garden is the highlight of these attractions, honoring the Braves’ greatest players and the organization with audio, water, and light elements. The gems of the collection include the Braves’ World Series trophy, a statue of Hank Aaron, and authentic uniforms worn by the team from 1871 to present day.

The team has 81 home games per year, so if you’re visiting, check the schedule to see if your favorite team is in town. Whether you’re enjoying a weekend with friends or family, you can enjoy several hotel options in Smyrna that put you right near all the action for a three- or four-game home stand.

Six Flags Over Georgia

If you’re into thrill rides, family fun, or relief from the Georgia heat, you’ll find it all at Six Flags Over Georgia. Located just 10 miles outside of Smyrna, Six Flags features over 40 thrill rides, 10 roller coasters, a water park, arcades, games, and more spread out over 290 acres. Thrillseekers will love the Goliath and the Mind Bender, which both earned a Golden Ticket Award from Amusement Today magazine. The world’s first floorless freefall tower ride, Acrophobia, is another heart-pounding option that’s sure to make your senses freak.

On hot summer days, you might want to forego the rides in favor of the Hurricane Harbor Water Park. Covering 7 acres, the water park has four premier rides, a wave pool, slides, a water playground for kids, and more. When you’re trying to beat the heat, there’s no better choice around Smryna.

The Battery

Even if you’re not into baseball, a trip to SunTrust Park is still worth the visit. Surrounding the park, The Battery is an upscale development offering some of the finest dining, entertainment, and shopping in the Atlanta area. The Roxy Theatre is one of the most exciting venues, offering 4,000 fans the chance to see some of the best local, regional, and national artists on the main stage.

After the concert, hop over to the PBR Bar and Grill, the Terrapin, or Wahlburgers for some grub and an ice-cold beer that provides a brief respite from the summer heat. Once you’re recharged, check out some of the clothing stores or pick up a souvenir at the Mizuno Experience or Braves Clubhouse Store.

Like the summer heat, the attractions in Smyrna never seem to stop. Take advantage of the most exciting time of the year by seeing all this suburb has to offer.

Disclosures:
This post has been brought to you by Hotel Planner.
Header Image of jonquils via Flickr by Percita
Baseball cap header image via Flickr by GlobalGoodNetworks
Header image of roller coaster via Flickr by Amy Loves Yah

Must See Attractions in Smyrna Georgia - Travelasmuch.com
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
Ocean City Maryland’s Best Boardwalk Food

Ocean City Maryland’s Best Boardwalk Food

A Summer Tradition

Having grown up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, I have gone to Ocean City in the summertime as long as I can remember. There are so many great things to do there, from swimming and sunbathing to “walking the boards” and sampling all of the delicious foods sold along the boardwalk. Some of my favorites include chocolate covered strawberries from Candy Kitchen, Dolle’s salt water taffy, Dough Roller pizza, and caramel popcorn from Fisher’s. They’re all outstanding! But only one treat can claim the title of Ocean City Maryland’s Best Boardwalk Food – Thrashers french fries.

About Thrashers

The story of these tasty fries begins in 1929, when J.T. Thrasher proposed a unique business concept for the seaside community. He wanted to have a food stand that sold one product, and one product only: the French fry. With just one product for sale, he had to excel. Only the best would do.

Thrasher focused on three things: quality ingredients, hard work, and above all, attention to the perfection of each cup of fries. He discovered that the perfect French fries had to come from perfect potatoes, which meant buying potatoes from different regions at different times of the year.

I’ve heard many rumors about why Thrasher’s fries are so much better than others. Does Thrasher’s brine their potatos before frying? Do they fry in peanut oil? Do they fry their potatoes twice instead of just once? Speculation abounds!  Whatever their secret (and it is very much a secret!), Thrasher’s fries have been a local favorite through five generations and eighty years. And all that time without any deviation from original procedures or original recipes!

Get Your Fries & Eat ‘Em Right

Now, fair warning: in the height of the summer season, you may have to wait in a considerable line when you go to Thrasher’s. I’ve actually seen as many as 20 or 30 people in a line for these famous fries. In fact, if you happen to be walking past and by some miracle there is no line, go ahead and get some fries just on general principle.

When you get up to the counter, you can order one of three sizes  (16 oz, 32 oz and 53 oz). Yes, that’s right: the smallest serving you can buy is a pound. Regardless what size you order, you will receive your fries in a paper tub.

Ocean City Maryland's Best Boardwalk Food - Thrasher's French Fries

When you are handed your fries, do not make the mistake of asking for ketchup. They don’t have ketchup at Thrasher’s and they probably never will. These fries are not meant to be eaten with ketchup.

Instead, should you desire a condiment, you will find apple cider vinegar at the end of the counter. Sprinkle or pour it on, depending how much you like vinegar. Then maybe add some extra salt if you like salty fries.

Now you are ready to dig in to this golden delicious goodness:

Ocean City Maryland's Best Boardwalk Food - Thrasher's French Fries

If you’ve never had boardwalk style fries before, you may think that some of them are burnt because of the dark brown coloring. They are not. Some will be as crispy as a potato chip and others (particularly if you were heavy handed with the vinegar) will be almost soggy. But they will all be delicious.

Leftovers?

If your eyes are bigger than your stomach and you ordered way more fries than you can eat, don’t worry.  These guys love Thrasher’s almost as much as the locals do.

Ocean City Maryland's Best Boardwalk Food - Thrasher's French Fries. Even the seagulls love them!

That swarm of seagulls is fairly typical when you’re holding a tub of Thrasher’s. One time my husband and I had just gotten a tub of fries when a seagull swooped by, plucking a French fry right out of Hubs’ hand!  Thankfully, most of the seagulls are not that bold. If you don’t feed them, they will eventually lose interest and fly away.

Have you had Thrasher’s fries before? What did you think of them? Let me know below!

Header image via Flickr by m01229

Ocean City Maryland's Best Boardwalk Food
Surprise! A Dozen Amazing Things to Do in Baltimore MD

Surprise! A Dozen Amazing Things to Do in Baltimore MD

Things to Do in Baltimore MD

For decades, Baltimore has been seen as the ugly stepsister to Washington DC’s Cinderella. Many people consider it less attractive, less popular, and less interesting, with less to offer tourists. In the mid-1970s, then Mayor William Donald Schaefer wanted to come up with a catchy name or slogan to help improve the city’s image. Advertising executives met to discuss the idea and one of them came up with the following statement:

Baltimore has more history and unspoiled charm tucked away in quiet corners than most American cities out in the spotlight.

From there, the city’s nickname – Charm City – was born. The advertising campaign fizzled out not long after it was started, but the name stuck. Today you will still hear people refer to Baltimore as Charm City. While it might seem like a misnomer, there are dozens of great things to do in Baltimore MD. Here are a few of my favorites.

Catch an Orioles Game (April-September)

Fans of the Baltimore Orioles are a die hard bunch. The team hasn’t won a World Series since 1983, but hope springs eternal in Charm City. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the stadium (Oriole Park at Camden Yards) is one of the most beautiful in the country.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - Catch a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Built about 25 years ago, Camden Yards was the first “retro” design stadium. Before that, major league stadiums were symmetrical multi-purpose stadiums used for both baseball and football. Now, roughly two thirds of the major league baseball teams have followed suit, and built retro parks. The great thing about watching a baseball game at Camden Yards is that there really aren’t any bad seats. You’ll have a great view of the action no matter where you are.

Visit Not One, but TWO Free Art Museums

There are two top-notch art museums in Baltimore, and both have free admission.  The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) is home to an internationally renowned collection of art that ranges from ancient Antioch mosaics to cutting-edge contemporary art. The BMA has over 95,000 works of art, including the largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse.

Things to do in Baltimore MD - The Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum both have outstanding collections and offer free admission.
The Baltimore Museum of Art features the work of many famous artists, like Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. The Walters has a priceless collection of art from many countries and time periods, including this beautiful Faberge egg.

The collection of works at the Walters Art Museum includes masterworks of ancient Egypt, Greek sculpture and Roman sarcophagi, medieval ivories, illuminated manuscripts, Renaissance bronzes, Old Master European and 19th-century paintings, Chinese ceramics and bronzes, Art Deco jewelry (including Tiffany & Lalique), and ancient Near East, Mesopotamian, or ancient Middle East items.

Mt Vernon Neighborhood

While at the Walters, spend some time exploring the neighborhood outside, which is known as Mt Vernon. Designated a National Historic Landmark District and a city Cultural District, it is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and originally was home to Baltimore’s most wealthy and fashionable families.

Architecture enthusiasts in particular will enjoy strolling through the area. It’s not uncommon to find houses that date back a century or even two. Mount Vernon boasts examples of many different types of period architecture: Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Romanesque, Chateau, Renaissance Revival, Beaux-Arts and Classical Revival.

The Washington Monument – Yes, in Baltimore!

While you’re walking around Mt Vernon, check out the original Washington Monument, which is the first U.S. heroic and civic monument dedicated to George Washington. It predates the one in Washington DC by over 30 years.

Things to do in Baltimore MD - visit the original Washington Monument, built 30+ years before the one in DC

You can climb the Monument’s 227 marble steps for a great view of the city. Open Wed.-Sun. The Monument’s gallery with interactive exhibits is free; the climb to the top $6 for adults, $4 for children.

Peabody Library

Also in the Mt Vernon area, the George Peabody Library is a must see for bibliophiles. The library’s collection dates from the founding of the Peabody Institute in 1857. In that year, George Peabody, a Massachusetts-born philanthropist, dedicated the Peabody Institute to the citizens of Baltimore in appreciation of their “kindness and hospitality.”

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - the gorgeous George Peabody Library.

The library contains five floors of ornamental cast-iron balconies, which rise dramatically to the skylight 61 feet above the floor. It houses 300,000 volumes, mainly from the 19th century, with strengths in religion, British art, architecture, topography and history; American history, biography, and literature; Romance languages and literature; history of science; and geography, exploration, and travel.

It’s such a beautiful building that it also serves as a venue for weddings and private events.

Eat in Little Italy

Baltimore’s Little Italy is an old quaint Italian neighborhood in Baltimore City that has survived and thrived for several generations. Its original residents emigrated from Italy from the mid-1800s into the early 1900s. By 1920 the neighborhood was 100% Italian. It boasts century-old row homes, family-run restaurants, bocce courts, cultural learning center, Sons of Italy lodge, and much more. Lovingly nicknamed ‘The Neighborhood,’ Little Italy is a tight-knit Italian community that today includes residents of other ethnic backgrounds as well. Have dinner at a great restaurant like Amicci’s, but don’t get too full.  You’ll want to be sure to stop by Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop for dessert!

Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry was the focus of the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Over a 27 hour period, the British fired 1,500 to 1,800 cannonballs at the fort. What’s worse, they did so from just outside the range of the fort’s cannons, so they could not be bombarded in return.

On the morning of September 14, 1814, the regular flag at Fort McHenry was replaced with a larger flag, signaling American victory over the British. The sight inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Later, the poem was set to music and become known as the “Star Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote our national anthem.

Every September, the City of Baltimore celebrates Defenders Day in honor of the Battle of Baltimore. It is the biggest celebration of the year at the Fort, with programs, events, and spectacular fireworks. But Fort McHenry is worth visiting at any time of year for its historical reenactments, exhibits about the War of 1812, and more.

The Inner Harbor

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a hub of activity. In just a few city blocks, you can unearth dinosaurs at the Maryland Science Center, get a history lesson at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, pay respects to pop culture at Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, or submerge yourself in exotic sea life at the National Aquarium. Other attractions include the American Visionary Art Museum, the Babe Ruth Museum, and the Port Discovery Children’s Museum.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - The Inner Harbor is full of unique and interesting opportunities for visitors to Charm City.

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has loads of restaurants, pubs, hotels and shops. The Water Taxi will take you from the harbor to surrounding neighborhoods, and the free Charm City Circulator provides daily bus service through several downtown routes.

Visit the National Aquarium

The National Aquarium was the crowning achievement in Baltimore’s urban renewal during the 1980s. Today, some thirty-five or so years later, it still is a favorite attraction for crowds of all ages. The National Aquarium houses several exhibits including the Upland Tropical Rain Forest, a multiple-story Atlantic Coral Reef, an open ocean shark tank, and Australia: Wild Extremes, which won the “Best Exhibit” award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2008.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - check out the National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor for a full day of fun.

The aquarium also has a 4D Immersion Theater and a marine mammal pavilion, which holds seven Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.

The National Aquarium has timed admission, so it’s wise to purchase your tickets in advance rather than at the door.

Maryland Science Center

Located not too far from the Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center was another establishment that brought tourism to the Inner Harbor area. It includes three levels of exhibits, a planetarium, an IMAX theater, and an observatory. Definitely worth a visit if you’re traveling with school aged children.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - the Maryland Science Center is a must-see for families with school age children.

The modernized hands-on exhibits include more than two dozen dinosaur skeletons, as well as physical science, space, Earth science, the human body, and blue crabs, which are native to the Chesapeake Bay.

And Speaking of Crabs…

No list of things to do in Baltimore (or most of Maryland, truth be told) would be complete without the mention of steamed blue crabs. Served with generous helpings of Old Bay seasoning, this crustacean is a tasty treat. Pick your own or, if you prefer to keep your hands clean, order a delicious crab cake. If you go to Baltimore and don’t eat crabs, that’s akin to visiting Chicago and not eating deep dish pizza, or going to Philadelphia and not getting a cheese steak. ‘Nuff said.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - Local cuisine features steamed crabs with Old Bay seasoning

So, when traveling in the mid-Atlantic region, don’t overlook Charm City. It’s a great destination!

Things to Do in Baltimore MD on Travelasmuch.com
Washington DC’s Best Pubs

Washington DC’s Best Pubs

Drum roll, please!

These are the best pubs in Washington, DC.  And as luck would have it, there are exactly seven… so you can try one each night for a week!

The seven best pubs in Washington DC
The seven best pubs in Washington DC
Are You Being Spied on When You Travel?

Are You Being Spied on When You Travel?

Just Imagine This:

Say you go on vacation and later discover, to your horror, that there is a hidden camera in your hotel. Most recently, it was an Airbnb lodging that had a hidden camera in the smoke detector. But it could just as easily happen in a hotel room. Just ask Erin Andrews, the Fox Sports reporter who was secretly filmed through her hotel room’s peephole.

hidden camera
Photo via Flickr by Monchoocnom

Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent being spied on when you travel. Here’s how.

1. Know Where to Look – Which Room?

There are basically two reasons why someone would use a hidden camera. Either they want to make sure you don’t steal anything, or they want to catch you naked. If it’s the first option, you should be looking for cameras near items of value (high end electronics in the living room, for instance). If it’s the second, the bathroom and bedroom are the most likely locations.

2. Know Where to Look – Where Is It Hidden?

There are a million different ways/places to hide a small camera. Some examples of everyday objects that could be hiding a camera are a hidden camera wall charger, a clock, a pen, a light bulb, a smoke detector, a key chain, a clothes hook, and a picture frame.

It’s easy to slide from “protecting my privacy” into full-fledged paranoia when you think about all of the places they could be. But take a deep breath and approach it rationally. Here are a few pointers on where and how to look for hidden cameras. First, remember that a hidden camera cannot work without an exposed lens. So look for anything that might conceal (but not cover) a small lens.

Also, if you’re renting a home, check anything that looks like it was accidentally left behind by the owner. I’ve seen cameras concealed in water bottles and coffee cups. Did the owners leave a gym bag out? How about a shirt with buttons? Tissue boxes and pens are another likely spot.

Consider the placement of a camera when looking. It will most likely be on the periphery of a room, facing the center where people will be spending time. Or it may be facing a mirror that will capture the events of a room. If you see a mirror hanging in an odd place, that would be a good area to examine.

hidden camera

3. What to Do When You Aren’t Sure

If you can’t rely on your eyes to spot a camera, try your ears. Many cameras have motion detectors, and are dormant until someone or something moves in front of them. In an absolutely quiet room, you may be able to hear a click or whir sound as the camera activates.

Some people recommend using the flashlight of your phone to look for hidden cameras. Because camera lenses are glass, they will reflect light. Shine your flashlight around a dark room very slowly and look for the glint of a reflection.

4. Fight Fire with Fire (or Tech with Tech)

If your accommodation has wifi, you can use a network analysis app to see how many devices are connected to the network. If there’s no hidden camera installed, you should only see the router and your phone listed. If you see more than that, there is a possibility that a hidden camera is installed on the property. Something listed other than the router and your phone could be another “smart” device in the household, so keep that in mind before jumping to conclusions.

If all of this just sounds like too much work, I’m inclined to agree. After all, who wants to spend precious vacation time looking for something the size of a screw head? Not to mention being paranoid about the possibility of overlooking one.

Fortunately, there is a gadget that will help you find any hidden cameras in your lodging, and they aren’t expensive. I recommend this  Hidden Camera RF Signal Detector, which is in the $15-$20 range. For a professional grade device, you could get this Anti-Spy Amplification Signal Detector instead or about $80. In both cases, you don’t have to do much more than turn the gadget on.

Even cheaper is an app for your phone that will detect hidden cameras. There are many available, for both iPhone or Android, and they run $2-$5.

5. Okay, I Found One… Now What?

First and foremost, take pictures of the hidden camera and its location. Report it to management (hotel desk or Airbnb, whichever the case may be.) Then contact local authorities, as secretly filming someone in a private residence may be illegal in that location. If you’re really angry about it, you can use social media or place a call to local reporters. Third, find yourself another place to stay.

What not to do:  Do not destroy the camera. Do not angrily confront the property owner. Do not stay there after discovering the hidden camera.

If you’ve ever found a hidden camera in your lodging, I want to hear about it.  Leave a comment below!

 

Hidden Camera
5 essential tips for making sure you are not being secretly filmed in your lodging when you travel.

Disclosures:

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Pinterest image via Flickr by kimubert.

Titanic Museum – Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Titanic Museum – Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Spoiler Alert: The Boat Sank.

I am one of those rare women who, as an adult in 1997,  had no desire to see James Cameron’s cinematic masterpiece, Titanic. My reasoning was that I knew how the movie would end (the boat sinks… duh!) and, therefore, whatever story it had to tell could not possibly have a happy ending. Life is just too short to watch movies that end in tragedy, particularly romantic ones.

I still haven’t seen the movie. Not even via Netflix.

The Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge

Normally, I wouldn’t have thought twice about going to a museum dedicated to a disastrous loss of life. There are plenty of things for foodies, shopaholics, and nature lovers to see and do in Pigeon Forge. Unfortunately, however, there isn’t much tailored toward history geeks like me.

Determined to get some history in on this trip, I booked tickets for the Titanic Museum. I didn’t even realize that the museum looked like the ship (albeit only half the size)!

The exterior of the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that! We went up to the main entrance where we were greeted by costumed staff and handed boarding passes.

Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge - Boarding Pass

You see, each boarding pass had the story of a real Titanic passenger – man, woman, or child – printed on the back. Mine was Bridget McDermott, a 31 year old Irish woman who sought a better life in the United States. The brief bio said that she had been heading for the lifeboats when she decided to run back and get her new hat. I couldn’t believe that anyone would have been that foolish, and figured that surely she must have been one of the many people who didn’t survive.

Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge Boarding Pass for Bridget McDermot

The outside of the Titanic Museum, combined with the general Pigeon Forge vibe, made me think that this could be a real cheesy tourist attraction. Happily, it was anything but. The Titanic Museum is the real deal, even endorsed by the Titanic Historical Society.

It holds the largest display of genuine Titanic artifacts anywhere, valued above $4 million. Not one has been altered, forged, stolen or looted, and not one was retrieved from the wreck site on the floor of the North Atlantic. Every item on display, including those on loan from private collectors, either was carried off the ship and into a lifeboat or was recovered from the floating debris field after the ship sank.

The Tour

We entered the museum and began looking at the exhibits. Among the first we saw were those that detailed the design and construction of the massive ship. A costumed guide spoke about the timeline of events for the Titanic‘s maiden voyage. It took two hours and 40 minutes for the ship to sink after that initial impact with the iceberg. This may sound like a long time, but when you think of how large the ship was (882 feet long, 92 feet wide, and 104 feet high) and how many people were unable to get off the ship before it went under (a thousand or more, mostly men and crew members), you realize that it happened rather quickly.

The ship’s lookout called the control room and notified them that there was an iceberg straight ahead at 11:39 pm on April 14, 1912. Orders are given for the ship to turn, which it does. The maneuver was too late, however; 37 seconds later, the Titanic struck the iceberg, and began to flood immediately.

Prior to that moment, the passengers on board were traveling in style, cruising the ocean in the lap of luxury. We saw artifacts from the ship’s cabins and dining areas – silver tea services, fine china plates, even plush carpet fragments.

A dining service from the RMS Titanic, on display at the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge.
A dining service from the RMS Titanic, on display at the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge.

The Titanic Museum even contained a replica of the ship’s Grand Staircase:

The Grand Staircase (lower level) in the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge.
The Grand Staircase (lower level) in the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge.

On the lower level of the Grand Staircase, a costumed staff member told us that no expense had been spared when the Titanic was being built. (Even the replica cost over $1 million to build!) He noted the milk glass dome above us and the genuine gold leaf elements on the stair’s railing. But most expensive of all, he noted, was the flooring on which we stood. He said it was more expensive than granite or marble in the 1910s, and asked us to guess what it was. I had no idea. Imagine my surprise when he revealed that it was linoleum! Apparently, it was a relatively new material in that day, and therefore very expensive. What was remarkable was that the tour had us walking up the stairs, just like Titanic passengers would have.

The Grand Staircase (upper level) in the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge.
The Grand Staircase (upper level) in the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge.

At the top of the stairs we went into a very luxurious room, which was a replica of a first class state room. Talk about traveling in style! It was gorgeous!

A first class State Room in the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge.
A first class state room in the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge.

Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to really take in all the details. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but almost as soon as I entered that room, I was overcome with nausea. Fearing that I could be sick right then and there, I told my family to keep going and I would catch up with them. I left in search of a rest room. I didn’t find one, but eventually the nausea passed, and I backtracked to find my family.

A mirrored hallway connected the first class cabin with a formal room containing exhibits about musicians on the Titanic. A shiny grand piano dominated the room full with portraits of the men who entertained passengers aboard the Titanic. I was reading about some of them when I head a booming voice in the adjacent room say, “Well, you know, you just can’t shut a Baptist up.”

I wasn’t born into a Baptist family, but I am a Baptist now by choice. Needless to say, this statement got my attention. I went straight in there to find out what, exactly, was being said.

The room was a simulation of the ship “bridge,” or command center.

The captain's bridge in the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge.
The captain’s bridge in the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge.

A tall man with white hair and beard, dressed in a naval captain’s uniform, was telling the story of the Titanic’s last hero, Reverend John Harper. It went something like this:

In the moments after the ship struck the iceberg at 11:40 pm, panic ensued and people frantically tried to figure out what to do, but not John Harper. He placed his six year old daughter in a life boat, and promised he would see her again. He then turned back and made his way up the deck yelling “Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!” When the ship began breaking in half, many people thought that the loud noise they heard was an explosion.  They jumped off the decks and into the icy, dark waters below. John Harper was one of these people.

That night, 1528 people went into the frigid waters. John Harper swam frantically to people in the water, to check on their spiritual status. One young man had climbed up on a piece of debris. Rev. Harper asked him between breaths, “Are you saved?” The young man replied that he was not. Harper then tried to lead him to Christ, but his efforts did not meet with success. John Harper then took off his life jacket, threw it to the man and said, “Here, then, you need this more than I do…” and swam away to other people. A few minutes later Harper swam back to the young man and, this time, succeeded in leading him to salvation.

Of the 1528 people that went into the water that night, six escaped by the lifeboats. One of them was that young man. Four years later, at a meeting of Titanic survivors, this young man stood up and tearfully recounted how John Harper had led him to Christ. Mr. Harper had tried to swim back to help other people, but because of the intense cold, had grown too weak to swim. His last words before going under in the frigid waters were “Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”

What a powerful story!

We thanked the Captain for his time and moved out onto a room that looked like the deck of the ship.

The deck of the Titanic as it would have appeared the night it sank - Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge Tennessee.
The deck of the Titanic as it would have appeared the night it sank.

A jagged wall of ice represented the iceberg, and visitors were encouraged to reach over the deck rail to put their fingers in the icy cold water. The water was 28 degrees Fahrenheit when the ship began to sink. The room was as dark as it would have been that fateful night, with light only provided by ship lanterns and distant twinkling LED stars. Nothing brought the point home as much as feeling it ourselves.

The Captain

The man who told us the story of John Harper was Lowell Lytle, affectionately referred to by museum staff as “The Captain.” He bears a striking resemblance to the real captain of the Titanic, Edward J Smith.  See for yourself:

Captain Edward J Smith of the RMS Titanic, and Lowell Lytle, who portrays the captain at the Titanic Museum Attraction.
Captain Edward J Smith of the RMS Titanic, and Lowell Lytle, who portrays the captain at the Titanic Museum Attraction.

Not only does he bear a resemblance to the real captain of the Titanic, he is also one heck of a storyteller.  And not only is he a terrific storyteller, he is also one of the few people who has gone to the ocean floor to see the wreckage of the Titanic in person.

Back in 2000, he told us, he managed to convince the owners of RMS Titanic, Inc. that he should be allowed to go on an expedition to salvage artifacts from the sunken ship. At 6′ 4″ and 68 years of age, he was not the ideal candidate for spending half a day inside a tiny submersible on the ocean floor.  He says he is the oldest and tallest person to dive to the Titanic.

Since 1998, Lytle has played Captain Smith for audiences all over the world. He has researched the passengers’ stories, memorized the captain’s last speech and even met some of the survivors. He has written about his experience, including playing the captain and traveling to the wreckage site, in Diving Into the Deep. I bought a signed copy at the museum and I’m thoroughly enjoying it! You can buy a copy here, if you would like to learn more. (Affiliate link – I get a tiny kickback if you purchase):

The End

The last museum exhibit we saw was the listing of who had survived and what became of them afterward. A larger list detailed the names of those who died in the tragic incident.  Bridget McDermott, the passenger listed on my boarding pass, was a survivor.  (Presumably, so was her hat!)  My daughter’s boarding pass person was also a survivor.  This is largely due to the fact that they were both female.  Women and children really did receive preferential treatment in evacuating the ship. My husband’s designated passenger, did not survive, perishing in the cold water of the Atlantic.

The Effect

I thought about how the passengers aboard that ship must have felt at the beginning of their journey.  Excited, anxious, looking forward to a dream vacation or, as in the case of Bridget McDermott, a new life full of opportunities in another country. No one would have thought for a moment that anything would go wrong or that their journey across the ocean would be anything but fabulous. I feel that way myself when I’m about to travel someplace new.

I now have a new appreciation for how unpredictable life can be. The bottom line is that none of us knows which “goodbye” will be our last.

And in Case You’re Wondering…

Yes, I will watch the Titanic movie sometime very soon.

====================

About the Images in this post: The Titanic Museum Attraction doe not allow photography inside the building.  The photos in this post are either photos that I took outside the museum, or they are media photos used with permission of the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge.

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Embassy Tours – A Cultural Tourism Annual Event

Embassy Tours – A Cultural Tourism Annual Event

Foreign Embassy Tours

Every year at the beginning of May, Cultural Tourism DC hosts an event called “The Around the World Embassy Tour.”  I have been lucky enough to go in the past, and I went again this year.  I think it is probably one of the coolest free events I’ve ever been to, with the possible exception of the Ceremony of the Keys in London.

On May 6 of this year, 43 embassies representing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America opened their doors and invited the general public in to learn more about their culture and heritage.  The European Union embassies will follow suit and host an open house on May 13.

To give you a better idea of what it’s like, I took a lot of pictures.  Our first stop was the Embassy of Peru.

Peru

Inside, we got to see beautiful Peruvian hand crafted items, sample some Peruvian chocolate, and we got to see the ambassador’s office and conference room.  Peruvian food was available for purchase both inside and outside the embassy, including Pisco sours, empanadas, and Alfajores cookies.

embassy tours peru
Some of the handicrafts in the Peruvian embassy.

Then, outside the embassy, we experienced music and Latin dancing.

embassy tours peru dancers
The dancers outside the Peruvian embassy.

From there we walked up Massachusetts Avenue, aka Embassy Row, and marveled at the beautiful buildings now serving as embassies. The Colombian embassy was ROCKING. Loud party music and bright colorfully-clad dancers attracted everyone’s attention. It also had a line of people that went down the street and around the corner. Having already gotten a late start, we decided to visit the embassies that seemed to have little to no wait to enter. Otherwise, we would have probably only seen two!

The first one we happened upon was Indonesia.

Indonesia

I am not exaggerating when I say it’s the most beautiful house I have seen on this side of the Atlantic. When we walked in, the first thing we saw was the grand entrance.

embassy tours indonesia
The foyer of the Indonesian embassy

(I don’t know about you, but every time I see a place like this, I imagine myself in an evening gown and lots of diamonds, slowly gliding down the stairs to the tune of dramatic-yet-elegant music.  No?  I’m the only one?)

As it turns out, the building is also known as the Walsh Mansion, and it Dates to 1903. At that time, it was the most expensive residence in the city, with a construction cost of $835,000.  The original owner, a Thomas J Walsh, came to this county from Ireland without a penny to his name in 1869. Over the next 25 years, he built up a small fortune through his business pursuits, then lost nearly everything in the Panic of 1893.  In 1896, he took his family to Colorado, and purchased a mine that most thought was of no value. However, it wasn’t long before mine workers struck a massive vein of gold and silver, making Walsh a multi-millionaire.

Walsh’s daughter Evalyn married into the McLean family, which owned The Washington Post.  In 1910, her husband bought the Hope Diamond for her at a cost of $180,000 (that’s $4.6 million in today’s economy).  Over time, rumors developed that the Hope Diamond had a curse on it.  Evalyn Walsh McLean’s first son died in a car accident. Her husband ran off with another woman and eventually died in a sanitarium. The Washington Post went bankrupt, and eventually her daughter died of an overdose, and one of her grandsons died in the Vietnam war. Evalyn never believed the curse had anything to do with her misfortunes.

In 1952 the government of Indonesia purchased the mansion for use as an embassy. Thankfully, they have preserved the beauty of the historic home, including this very large and ornate organ:

embassy tours indonesia
Upper part of the massive pipe organ in the Indonesian embassy.

The pipe organ’s wind system and some of its pipes were located in the basement, making this a two-story pipe organ.  I don’t know what it sounds like, but based solely on its appearance, it is impressive!

The painted ceilings and crystal chandeliers are probably very much like they were before it became the Indonesian embassy.

Embassy tours Indonesia
A doll on the mantle in the Indonesian embassy

A small glassed in walkway connected the residence portion of the house with the offices, which were more modern.  As you enter the office area, you pass by a huge gold bird, the heraldic symbol of Indonesia.

embassy tours indonesia

Our next stop was going to be the Chilean embassy, but the line was incredibly long, so we wandered up the street a little farther and found a performer outside the Korean embassy.

Korea

Just above the heads of the people gathered around to watch, we could see a man walking a tightrope while making jokes via an interpreter. There was also this little statue:

embassy tours korea

This is a Dol Hareubang, which means Stone Grandfather.  They are from Jeju, a small volcanic island off the southern coast of Korea.  Dol Hareubang is a guardian deity, and the people of Jeju erect these statues to ward off danger and harm.

Right next door to Korea was the Kyrgyz Republic, or Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan

I’ll be honest.  I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan, other than that it’s a relatively new country.  It was a very enlightening visit.  First, I learned that Kyrgyzstan shares a border with China. As we made our way through the embassy and looked at the displays, I learned that many people of Kyrgyzstan live in yurts.  We saw scarves and slippers and multiple other woolen items, beautifully made. But their talents do not end there. I thought this painting was just adorable:

Embassy tours Kyrgyzstan

They were also offering shots of a cognac from their country. Nearby, these lovely ladies in traditional native costumes greeted and posed for everyone.

Embassy tours Kyrgyzstan

Haiti

The Haitian embassy was all about art.  Every room we entered had beautiful, brightly colored paintings done by Haitian artists. The one hanging over the fireplace was especially striking.

Embassy tours haiti

And in the back of the house, just before we stepped outside, we saw a beautiful collection of bottles covered in sequins.  Then we exited the house and stepped out onto a gorgeous patio. The biggest wall had an arrangement of metal decorations that was pretty incredible.

Embassy tours Haiti patio

There were tin lanterns hanging all over the place, with designs of dragonflies, and other small animals.

By this time the event was coming to a close, so we started walking back toward the Metro station.  On the way, we passed a stunning display outside the Guatemalan embassy.

Embassy tours Guatemala

 

The white parts were rice, and we guessed that the colored bits were dyed sawdust.  From a distance, it looked like a rug.

After that, we followed the sound of music until we happened upon the embassy of the Dominican Republic.  There were people everywhere – some were in line for food but quite a few were dancing.  It was such an awesome display of living in the moment, anyone watching couldn’t help but smile.

I cannot recommend the Around the World Embassy Tour enough. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about other cultures and see some magnificent art and architecture.  If you’re ever in D.C. on a Saturday in early May, check it out!