Christmas Season in Austin

Christmas day has passed, but you can still experience the joy that lights in the sky and bring smiles to families everywhere.  A favourite Christmas light festival is held yearly at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters in Austin until January 2, 2019.

Every year this local spot decorates their patio with 1 million lights and entertains the community with live piano music. I didn’t expect the place to be so busy. Parking was free at the Oyster Marina across the street and herds of families were coming and going from this venue. The line up inside coffee shop was likely a 30 minute wait and thankfully they had express stations set up in three other spots around the exterior of the property.  We got our hot chocolate and chocolate brownie from the express station and only waited 2 minutes.  With plenty of seating available on the deck, it was easy to find a place for two to sit right next to the marina-side.

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A Quick Guide For Your Visit in Austin

Visiting the capital of Texas is sure to leave you with a city and outdoor mixed lifestyle for experience.  Austin is known for its tech industry, SXSW, BBQ, and keeping it weird!  I have beed to this happening city three times and each time was short and sweet.  I’d like to offer you a quick guide to help you decide what to do when you visit Austin.  My most recent visit was in December, 2018.

Where to Stay: The Domain, Downtown, or South Congress.  if you want to the ability to keep your car parked and walk around an area filled with shops and restaurants (more on the upscale side) go with The Westin in the Domain area.  Like all Westin hotels it is extremely comfortable, convenient,  with a little bit of luxury.  If you do stay here, do make sure to take a trip to other neighbourhoods, because there is more to Austin than boutiques and brand name shops that you can find in any city.

Most recently I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott in South Austin of Interstate Highway 35 and although the distance to South Congress was only a few minutes, I felt this area was too isolated and a little industrial.  You can probably save a few bucks by staying in this area during peak season, but I think the prices are relatively the same.  I wanted to stay in a different area and thought this part of town might be worth exploring.  Big Fail!

Where to Eat: Greenhouse Craft Food, Round Rock, TX

Austin has an abundance of food selections and is popular for food trucks and bbq.  On our way in to Austin, driving from Dallas, we chose to dine in at Greenhouse Craft Food.  The chef crafted each item with the notion of farm to table making sure everything that is served is locally sourced and sustainable.  We ordered Texas chili, a grilled pimento cheese sandwich, a burger, and a side of fries.  Check out their menu. The environment is uber casual and since we were there on a weekday, it wasn’t too busy and our food was serviced within 15-20 minutes.   We did have the mindset of patience and could afford to wait a little longer if we had to.  Cook to order and farm to table is a specialty worth waiting for.

For Breakfast: Phoebe’s Diner

All the great reviews we read were really on point.  From the customer service, wait time, food prep, presentation, taste and quality, we were 100% satisfied.   We had the flapjacks, and omelette, two scrambled eggs, and hashbrowns and coffee all for only $24.00.  This new restaurants has a long and narrow interior with a 50s style diner feel.  You can sit at the bar, in a booth, or if you are a party of two, you will be seated at the side by side tables that are almost too close for comfort with people on your left and on your right. Headsup: There is barely any parking in their lot and you will likely have to park on one of the side streets nearby.

Where to Walk: South Congress and Lady Bird Lake

This area is a must on any day. Taking a stroll on this street is sure to give you that Austin vibe you have wondering about.  Here you will find tons of local coffee shops, antique and boutiques, restaurants, galleries and the picture postcard featured as our main image. Residential is mixed in this area and you will notice massive aloe trees on many of the streets too.

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I took this photo right across the street from the Greetings from Austin Mural.

 

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Lady Bird Lake

Only a few minutes from downtown and South Congress you can experience the outdoorsy lifestyle.  You can rent a bike or walk along the trail next to the lake, while you soak in the nature this city has to offer.

Take a Drive: Pennybacker Bridge aka 360 Bridge

If you thought Texas was completely flat, you have to experience the rolling hills on this scenic route leading up to this bridge (Hwy 2222). Once you get to the bridge, there are a few spaces to pull over beside the cliff and there is a pathway to hike up to the top.  The hike up is only a few minutes and can be done by all age levels as long as you have a bit of strength to step over and up huge rocks.  Take your time if you need to. I did see many elderly doing this walk up with help from their family.  Once you get to the top the view is spectacular and photos are a must!  Expect to spend 5-10 minutes here, unless you plan to meditate and do a complete photo shoot, but I wouldn’t leave my car parked for too long.  The area isn’t zoned for parking and it is obvious that car windows have been smashed because there was a lot of glass around the area.

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parking right before the bridge

Have you been to Austin? What do you recommend? Leave your comments below.

How to Make the Most of Jackson, Mississippi in less than 8 hours

Less than a full day is crazy short in any city, but still doable. Get a taste of a city you have never been to and call it a short and sweet trip.

My 5 hours in Jackson kicked off like this:

First stop…

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Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

The Museum of Mississippi History.  Park outside of both museums and decide if you have time to see both this museum and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.  For lack of time and because we have previously visited the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, we chose to focus solely on the Museum of Mississippi History.  The artifacts found here go as far back as 1902 and cover the history from Native Americans, Black American, slavery, migration from around the world, the great Mississippi flood in 1927 right through to the current status of Mississippi.  Be curious and notice the innovation they have created to make this museum interactive and intuitive.

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Exhibit in the History Museum

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Old Capital Museum
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Mississippi Governor’s Mansion

Along Capital Street, you will pass by the beautiful Greek revival mansion.  Built in 1842, the architect, William Nichols was going fo plain republican simplicity.  Designated a National Historic Landmark this is the second oldest occupied gubernatorial residence in the USA. It is closed on the weekends, so we didn’t get a chance to tour the property.  If you arrive from Tues-Fri, between 9:30-11, you can tour for 30 minutes for Free.

As you drive around the city you will embark on The Mississippi Freedom Trail Markers.  Each site plays a pivotal role in the Civil Right Movement.  Grab a map or guide and plug in the addresses on your GPS.  We made a stop at Medgar Ever’s House.

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We noticed that Jackson seemed to be quite a depressed city.  We believe it is the city of soul, but it is very obvious that they are left behind in terms of care for the roads and infrastructure. It seems like a city lacking funds to take care of municipal requirements.  Most times, we weren’t sure if we were in a safe neighbourhood, but we took our chances and followed the GPS.

We went to a quaint part of town called The Fondren District.  This historic area is an eclectic mix of shops, cafes, galleries and charming homes.  You might want to stop here to eat or even just have coffee.

Every trip requires a comment about food.  A friend from Jackson, recommended a few places and we decided to go about 15 minutes outside of downtown and also quite a way from the Fondren District.  We wanted a place with the most highly favoured soulful experience, Bully’s Restaurant.  There is only one location for this specific restaurant and they have been serving soul food since 1982.  Driving up to this restaurant had us questioning if we were going the right way. It seemed like we were driving to a dead end.  Just as we thought the GPS was messed up, we pulled up to this little stand alone building with a very small parking lot.

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This dine-in soul food restaurant also completes take-out orders. In fact, we saw more locals coming in for take-out than dining in.  The longtime staff know their customers and greet everyone with the Southern hospitality we were looking for.  The menu includes everything we expected including chitterlings, oxtails, rice and gravy, turkey wings, neckbones, fried okra, mac and cheese, beef ribs, and a whole lot more.

We had the beef ribs, sweet potatoes, cabbage, and cornbread. The owners knew we were tourists, and went out of their way to greet us with joy and check on us more than once.  If you want a down to earth experience and nothing fancy, check out Bully’s.

There’s always more to do, but with so little time, that’s all we got to cover.

Have you been to Jackson?  What did you see and do?

 

 

California Sea Lions

San Francisco’s Pier 39 is a destination for everyone. As a local or a visitor, this is a great area to take a stroll, have lunch and experience a bit of nature along the Pacific Coast.

I was recently in San Francisco and although I have been many times, I decided to spend more time at time at the wharf.  This was my first time back at the Fisherman’s Wharf in 10 years.  I spent a few hours here, checking out the stores, walking along the pier and of course gazing at the sea lions at Pier 39.

The famous sea lions will always have a home at Pier 39.  Since the earthquake in 1989, sea lions arrived in San Francisco and docked themselves here and by 1990 they had claimed the site as their own.  With goodwill, the Marina Staff sought the advice of the Marine Mammal Center and after extensive research it was concluded that these sea lion be welcomed in their newfound home.

A few facts on California sea lions:

  • Intelligent, playful, and have a very noisy bark
  • They can bite, so do no provoke them
  • Male sea lions can be as large at 7ft weighing in at 850 lbs and the Females can reach 6 ft in length and 220 lbs.
  • Sea lion have external ear flap and seal do not
  • You can find Sea lions across the Pacific Coast, including Vancouver, BC
  • In California the Marine Mammal Protection Act has made it illegal to for visitors to feed or harass the sea lions

 

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Visit the local shops and restaurants. My favourite store was the The Spice & Tea Exchange.
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The population of sea lions vary depending on the time of year. It looks like there were about hundred on this day, but there can be thousands at times.

 

Have you been to Pier 39?  How was your experience?

 

Walk Across the Sydney Bridge for Free

One of the greatest once in a lifetime experiences in Sydney is the $200 Sydney Harbour Climb.  I remember watching Oprah and a crew of people, harnessed up to walk across the famous steel arch.  Last December, I remember my husband and I having the thought of whether or not we wanted to embark on this thrill, gut wrenching experience. It was almost an automatic no for me, but I wonder if my husband would have opted in if he was with his pals.  The experience is far too scary and unnecessary for me.  I much prefer the more predictable and free option!  After walking in The Rocks area we reached the entrance for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

 

The Rocks

Looking for gorgeous views of Sydney on a clear sunny day? Then you must put walking across the Sydney Bridge on your list of free things to do.

 

Let the views begin and don’t take the engineering of the bridge for granted.  Take your time and appreciate this distinctive landmark.

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The bridge connects two major commercial areas, The CBD of Sydney and Milsons Point.  When you get to the other side you will be in Milsons Point.  I’m not sure if the vendors are always set up at the foot of the bridge on the Milsons Point side, but if they are be sure to stop and look at the handmade crafts, antiques, and fashion from local artists.

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After walking across the bridge, you might want to take a break under one of these trees or chillax on the benches before hopping on the train to get back to CBD.  Alternatively, you may want to continue exploring the Milsons Point area.

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Get an Opal Card and load up as you go.  We bought our card when we arrived at the airport and loaded up the card as necessary throughout our stay.  Taking the transit in Sydney is super simple.

A Piece of Arkansas in a Day

What comes to mind when you think of Arkansas?  From Little Rock to desegregation to Bill Clinton to the Arkansas Razorbacks, this state is known for its friendly people and Southern hospitality.  We experienced the love at every stop we made.  Our top 3 sites to see in a short and sweet timeframe are The Little Rock Central High School, River Market District, The Bill Clinton Museum and the Big Dam Bridge.

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Many years ago I heard Minnijean Brown speak during a Black History Month event in Vancouver, BC, which is where she currently resides.  Minnijean Brown is one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African Americans who challenged racial segregation.  At the time I heard her speak, I didn’t imagine I would one day experience the city and see the high school with my own eyes.  You too, should make a stop at Little Rock Central High School and the museum to embark on a a piece of land with so much history.

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A visit to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum is a must.  The Clinton library is filled with archives, including the daily agenda for each day of Clinton’s time in office.  I enjoyed the short film, looking at all the memorabilia from his election campaign and even items from his childhood.  The museum also has a wide collection of exquisite art, classified as the White House Collection of American Crafts.  These pieces are the exact items that were used to decorate the White House in 1993.  A guided tour of the museum is available at 9:30am, 11:30 am, and 1:30pm.  We preferred the self guided tour and spent about 2 hours here.  Make sure you see the replica of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room.  Cost to enter is $10 for Adults.

 

 

Before or after you finish the Clinton Museum, take a walk through the River District and check out the local restaurants and shops.  You can also take a walk along the many pathways in the area.  Arkansas is very green and has a diverse landscape with some of the nations largest parks.

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Big Dam Bridge – longest pedestrian bridge in North America

Make your way out to the longest pedestrian bridge in North America, the Big Dam Bridge.  This bridge is 4,226 feet in length and has never been used by trains or any vehicles.  The bridge isis reserved for pedestrians and cycling and is often used for cycling races.  The region expects to have healthier people and an improved economy.

Have you been to Little Rock?  What did you see and love about the city?

For more gems in Arkasas, check out this blog.

 

 

Three Sites for Everyone to Experience in Atlanta

No matter what your style or scene is, these top three highlights of Atlanta are sure to make for a good time for anyone.  There is a mix of history, broadcasting, good food, and a sensational museum to be enjoyed at all ages.

We spent 2 days in Atlanta and here is what we covered and highly recommend for you:

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  1. CNN Tour.  We paid $15 for an exclusive behind the scenes glimpse of what happens in the news room at this CNN Headquarters.  We were able to ask all the questions that we wanted.  I’m sure there is a lot of sensitive information that wasn’t shared, but the overview on production and what takes place during breaking news moments locally and globally was still interesting.  The whole experience was about 1 hour and we finished at the gift shop where it was possible to buy souvenirs, including a picture of yourself as a reporter (for a fee).  If you’re hungry, there is a food court in the atrium with typical fast food and some healthier options.

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2. Sweet Auburn Historic District.  The story of MLK is more than Black American history. His story is global and for all humankind.  MLK was born in Atlanta.  Along Auburn Avenue, you will embark on the home MLK was born in, the church his father pastored at, which later became the church he pastored at as well.  MLK is also buried here and there is a memorial site with a couple of museums all within the same two blocks.  Be sure to catch the two mini film documentaries in the museum, one which is the virtual tour of the interior of the home he grew up in and the other film is about MLK’s life.  You might think that you know all there is to know about him, but I’m sure you will discover something new here. Estimated time to spend here: Minimum 1 hour, but plan for 2.5 hours.

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3. Coca Cola Museum.  Besides the amusements parks I have been to as a child, I don’t think I have seen so many happy faces in one place at the same time.  Coca-Cola has always been sensational with their marketing.  They really are putting smiles on people’s faces.  Upon entry, we were given a small can of coke before we entered a room with a ton of artifacts, including the first fountain that was used to dispense the cola.  Our tour guide told stories, shared facts and figures and even hinted at giving us the recipe.  Throughout the entire experience we were teased with the notion of getting the recipe. At one point, I thought we were actually going to walk into a vault with a variety of concoctions.   I found this museum to be quite fun because the design continued to heighten our senses with the use of images, collectors items, movies, samples, and interactive displays.  Estimated time to spend here: 1.5-2 hours

If you have enough time, you can fit in a visit to the Aquarium.  I hear it is one of the best experiences of all aquarium visits in North America.  The next time, I visit this city, I’ll have to check it out.

Have you been to Atlanta? What would you say are the top 3 things to do?

World Tourism Day 2018

In support of world tourism, September 27th has been marked as World Tourism Day to promote growth of international travel and inclusiveness.  This year UNWTO (UN World Tourism Organization) is focusing on innovation and digital advancements in the tourism industry.

Technology has certainly helped me travel with more ease.  I have been booking flights online for more than ten years and only used a travel agent to help with making more grand arrangements for my wedding guests and celebrations.  Planning a trip is quite an enthralling experience and the tourism industry is constantly changing.  Booking last minute travel and finding deals has become easier.  Navigating through cities using google maps has made getting lost in a city a less risky experience.  Using apps like Yelp and TripAdvisor make planning the agenda super easy.  I often refer to blogs and instagram photos to map out must see places in a city.  I even find the best doughnut shops with Instagram!

Traveling through security has also seen a ton of advancements.  From automated bag check in processes to automation at the security check to boarding passes scanned on mobile devices to TSA Pre-check and now most recently something call CLEAR.  Everything is about speed.

Connecting with people across the globe continues to get easier and safer.  Don’t let language be a barrier.  Google translate and other devices can have helped me connect with people and move around with more comfort than travelers did 20 years ago.  My Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese are very weak and while in Colombia, Brazil, and Japan, I did my best to speak their local language and people always appreciated my efforts.  Thank you Google for the help!

Traveling to many cities internationally will you give you a real perspective of what problems exist and the gaps from country to country.  We are witnessing countries create smarter cities and others that are still dealing with simple issues like lack of safe drinking water.  The Smart Cities Council has a vision to use technology to improve livability, workability, and sustainability across the globe. I look forward to more positive environmental impact that digitalization will have on all countries across the globe.

“Harnessing innovation and digital advances provides tourism with opportunities to improve inclusiveness, local community empowerment and efficient resource management, amongst other objectives within the wider sustainable development agenda”, said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.
Photo credit: Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels

1 Day in Denver

If you have a layover in Denver you can easily head into the city for a few hours by train.  The ride to Union Station is 45 minutes.

Here’s how we spent a few hours:

Union Station – This award winning historic landmark deserved at least a few minutes of our time before we took on the rest of this trendy city.

 

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If you’re hungry there are 10 chef-owned restaurants all ready to welcome you in and around this building.  We heard about a brunch spot called Snooze, but the wait was an hour, so we moved on and stumbled upon a new spot called Milk Market.  Arrive early enough and you can secure a Bingo card to get in on the game action while you eat.

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16th Street Mall – Walk and shop along this popular tree lined street while you also get up close and personal with skyscrapers of this Mile High City.  There is a free shuttle that runs along this street, but we chose to walk. Be sure to look down some of the alleyways to see the murals (street art) and a random happy face.

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The day we visited there was a free food festival with music, vendors and obviously tons of food in the Civic Center Park. Everything was very close together and this is definitely a walkable city. We went to the State Capital and a County Building in the Civic Center Park.  From far we took in views of the Denver Art Museum, however I was not able to get a good picture because there was too much sun from the angle I was standing. Do stop by the Denver Art Museum as the design is quite fascinating.

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Colorado State Capital

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Civic Center Park, Denver

We took in some of the county tunes in the park!

 

Tattered Book Store – Our final stop before getting the train back to the airport was at the Tattered Book Store.  At a time when people are buying more books online, it is always refreshing to walk into a indie book store that still feels original.  The owner of this retail chain is an advocate for readers in America and freedom of speech.

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Have you been to Denver?  What did you do while you were there?

 

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