I don't think there is a better way to spend a weekend other than with good friends and a mini vacation which is exactly what Andrew and i did for the first weekend of October. Our friends, Eric and Rachel, are great and they make amazing hosts; this is our second time visiting them in six months. Madison, WI is only about 6 hours from Omaha so we're able to make the trip for the weekend and still have plenty of time for fun!
This trip, we basically ate our way through Madison. Eric cooked a phenomenal dish one night which consisted of homemade spaghetti and meatballs, yum! The photo below really doesn't do it justice.
Some of the standout food items of the weekend included: amazing sushi from Red, steel pan pizza from Lucille's, and fried cheese curds from The Great Dane. It's an obligation that you have to eat cheese curds while in Wisconsin, I ate them twice.
On Saturday we visited the Wollersheim Winery. We were able to tour their brand new distillery and do some spirit tasting (not my personal favorite). The distillery was really neat but the tour guide was almost overly informative. If you are a brandy drinker, they do have three different types you can try. I also tried licorice absinthe...not my best idea. Let's just say I used the "pour bucket" quite a bit. I wasn't trying to be rude but spirits aren't my thing. The winery itself is absolutely beautiful! It sits on the hillside across from the Wisconsin River about 20 minutes outside of Madison. The winery originally opened in the 1840's but since the 1970's it's been owned and operated by the Wollersheim family. It won "Small Winery of the Year" in 2015 from the San Diego International Wine Festival. We chose to take the wine tour which gave us a bit more background on the property history and a different view of the grounds. We were also permitted to go into the original wine cellar which was very neat! I was surprised that my favorite of their wines were both whites and I'm usually a red wine drinker. The Prairie Fume and the White Riesling both impressed me. The Wollersheim Winery was a fun day trip for us!
Sadly enough, our weekend had to come to an end and we hit the road back home. Thank goodness for audio books! Until next time Madison, Peace!
Savannah is the oldest city in the state of Georgia and one of my favorite cities in the United States. While I was vacationing just an hour north of Savannah, a friend and I took a day trip into the city. Each year Savannah attracts millions of visitors to it's historic cobblestone streets and there are so many reasons why! We only had a few hours to spend in Savannah which means I had to choose wisely on how we spent our day.
If you've never been to Savannah before, let me clue you in on something: eating as much as you can is a must! This town boasts some of the best food I have ever tasted! I originally wanted to try a place called Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room which is only open for lunch Monday-Friday. Its southern style cooking and seating which means that you share a table with strangers and platters of food are placed on the table. The menu changes daily and it's a staple in downtown Savannah. I had heard so many good reviews about this restaurant so my friend, Erin, and I got there right after Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room opened and found the line was already out the door and almost down an entire block. I asked a lady at the front of the line how long she'd been waiting and she said at least one hour, which means she was there waiting well before the restaurant opened and she still hadn't been seated. I'm guessing the food is as good as everyone says; I wouldn't know as we didn't want to spend an hour or more waiting in line to eat. I didn't have a plan B on food but you really can't go wrong in Savannah so I did what anyone would do, I got out my phone and Googled! We ended up walking and eating at Clary's Cafe. Clary's Cafe is world famous; it serves breakfast all day but they also have a lunch menu as well. The food was stellar and the service was great as well. It had a very homey feel to it, I'd recommend this place to anyone and if you go, get the special of the day! After you've had your fill of southern cooking, you'll need dessert. You can't visit Savannah without getting a pecan praline. I'd recommend purchasing these treats at River Street Sweets. They make their candies right in front of you and give out samples! After you walk around on the downtown River Walk, you'll probably be tired, hot (depending on the time of year), and of course thirsty! Be sure to stop in Wet Willie's to grab a libation. You can enjoy people watching through their glass windows or you can leave with your drink and keep going. It is legal to drink alcohol on the streets in Savannah but it's illegal to "double fist" so make sure you have just one drink in your hand.
You'll find beautiful homes, parks, and churches in the historic district. Erin and I mainly walked around for a few hours just looking at the beautiful architecture of the city. We visited plenty of parks but my favorite and probably the most well-known is Forsyth which is the largest park in the historical district of Savannah. There were people in the park playing instruments and the fountain is magnificent. Both locals and tourists enjoy it's offerings. We also visited The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and my oh my were we impressed! The church is free to enter and is absolutely breathtaking! I was most impressed with the stained glass art. This Cathedral should absolutely be on your Savannah agenda!
With only a few hours, we managed to pack quite a bit into our little day trip despite all of the walking and near heat exhaustion.
Andrew had a work conference in Orlando, Florida and of course, I tagged along! Fortunately, two of my friends were in town because their husbands were attending the same conference; therefore, we all got to spend time together. The three of us girls decided we wanted to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which means we'd be going to Universal Studios- Islands of Adventure. Granted, I would have gone to Universal Studios alone but it was much more fun with friends!
I'm a huge Harry Potter fan; I've read all of the books and some of them I've read multiple times. I was so ecstatic to visit the theme park! Walking through The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was like being in the movies. We rode all of the rides, tasted Butterbeer (get the frozen kind), and walked in all of the shops. The architects that design those theme parks are truly artists. I couldn't believe how well they captured exactly how J.K. Rowling describes these places in the books! We took time to walk around and ride rides in the rest of the park but found ourselves starting and ending the day in Hogsmeade. It was a magical day, I would have paid the park entrance fee just to go into Harry Potter World.
My three favorite things about the day were:
We chose not to buy the park-to-park pass so we weren't able to ride the Hogwarts Express over to Diagon Alley. We did get a picture with the conductor and he never broke character once! The entire experience was magnificent and I'm so glad I was finally able to visit!
Andrew and I have been wanting to travel to South Dakota ever since we moved to Nebraska and since we are so close we thought that it would be fun to make it a road trip adventure! Because Andrew's mom, Charlotte (all three of us pictured above), was on Spring Break, we invited her to join us and were please that she accepted! Although, we only had two days in The Black Hills, with my ninja planning skills operating at full capacity, we were able to make our adventures work!
We stayed in Hill City, SD which I would highly recommend. It was the absolute perfect location! South Dakota is a big state, as you know, and most of the things I'm going to mention were not close to each other. Hill City proved to be the most central location to all of the large attractions. We chose to visit South Dakota in the off season because we were told from May-August it's swarming with tourists! It was so nice to be able to take our time doing whatever we wanted and not have to fight the crowds. I'd highly recommend visiting in April or September if you're able. From what I understand, April can be a hit of miss as there might still be snow. We got really lucky because while we were there, it was mostly sunny and a comfortable temperature.
It was a bit chilly on our first day so we decided to do the activities that were for the most part, indoors. Early that morning, we drove to Jewel Cavern in Custer, SD. The cave is the third longest cave in the world with over 180 miles of mapped passage ways and more to be discovered. We chose to do the Scenic Tour which provides an opportunity to visit different cave chambers and see many of the "decorations" the cave has to offer. You will be walking up and down 723 stairs and a 1/2 mile in total so make sure you bring comfortable shoes and dress warmly. The cave temperature is always 49 degrees Fahrenheit. I've been inside several caves throughout my travels and this was by far the most diversified. It had very different formations than what I was accustomed. The tour is only $12 per person and totally worth it! You could pick a cold and/or rainy day to do this tour as it's all obviously underground. The next thing on our list for the day was Custer State Park. This was by far my favorite activity that we did in South Dakota. We chose to drive on the Wildlife Loop which travels through 18 miles of open grasslands and hills. This is where you have a chance to see much of the park's wildlife. You might see bison, pronghorn, whitetail and mule deer, elk, coyotes, burros, prairie dogs, eagles, hawks, and a variety of other birds. The wildlife did not disappoint us; we got up close and personal with some of the animals. The loop itself isn't long but we spent about two hours driving it because we stopped for so many pictures and to watch the animals roam. This loop gives a whole new meaning to "where the buffalo roam..." After our drive through the park, we drove back to our rental cabin on The Needles highway which is also a must do in South Dakota! The rock formations are insane and you might even see a mountain goat climbing to the top! We were really lucky and were able to spot a lot of wildlife. If you have binoculars, take them with you!
On our second day we traveled to Mt. Rushmore which is about 20 minutes from Hill City. I've heard mixed reviews about the mountain, some people loved it and some people weren't as impressed. I'm going to say I was very impressed!!! We spent a total of four hours at the National Memorial. First, I'd recommend stopping at the book store (right when you walk in, to your left) to grab a map, then walk through all of the state flags where you'll come to the first viewing point of this amazing sculpture. Before you do anything else, you'll want to visit the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center to view exhibits and a 15 minute film describing the reasons for and methods used in carving Mount Rushmore. I highly recommend that you allow sufficient time in the Visitors Center to read about the exhibits. If you're there around the lunch hour, you should eat at the cafe, it's good food and allows you to spend more time on the mountain. Once you have a full belly and some extra energy you'll want to walk the Presidential Trail which is about 0.6 miles long. This trail allows you to get up close and personal with the mountain sculpture and possibly see some area wildlife. Are you noticing a wildlife trend?! If you visit May-September, then you'll get the chance to see the Sculptor's Studio, where Gutzon Borglum spent much of his time refining his scale model. After our walk, we went back to the cafe and got a very large ice cream treat! The entire experience at Mount Rushmore was amazing and I'd go back again and again as I'm sure I'd learn something new each time. We were on a high after this experience and wanted to continue the mountain sculpture theme. Next on our list was The Crazy Horse Memorial. This is a mountain monument under construction on private land in The Black Hills. It's about 15 minutes from Mount Rushmore. The sculpture depicts Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior. I am positive that when this memorial is finished it will be absolutely stunning; however, it has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion. If ever completed, it will become the world's largest sculpture. I hate to this but, I was not impressed. It cost $28 per car to get onto the property and there isn't much to see once you are there. If you're interested in Indian artifacts, then I'd say you should definitely stop by but if you only want to catch a glimpse of the sculpture, you can see it from the road and read all about it online. Before coming on the trip, I was told by numerous people that we had to stop here but I was seriously underwhelmed. I think I was disappointed because the chances of this memorial to be finished in my lifetime are slim-to-none. I will say, it's a site to behold as the memorial is massive and will truly be a masterpiece if ever completed.
Our last adventure in South Dakota was to The Badlands. We drove the 240 Loop Road which took us about an hour and a half. The Badlands is a place everyone should see at least once in his/her lifetime! I've never seen anything like it before, you truly feel like you should be on Mars when you're driving through the park. The Badlands draw visitors from around the world and the geological features are striking! Because ancient mammals such as the saber-toothed cat once roamed here, it's also one of the world's richest fossil beds. I can't explain the site here, it's something you need to experience for yourself.
Because we were driving to South Dakota from Omaha, Nebraska we were able to do a lot of extra stops on our road trip. We stopped at two total tourist traps: The Corn Palace and Wall Drug. Both of these places are now on the list of "I've been there but won't go again." Neither place is a must do but if you're already driving through you might as well stop. If you don't have the option to drive and you're flying from South Dakota I'd say you should stay in Hill City unless you're interested in good food and night life. Hill City has very few places to eat and nothing to do past 8 o'clock pm. Our family was totally fine with that as we had a hot tub at our cabin and plenty of board games to keep us happy. Additionally, we were so tired by night fall that we had no energy to do anything. If you're interested in staying for an extended period and you'd rather stay in a more happening place, I'd recommend Rapid City. If you choose Rapid City you'll be driving anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to do any of the things I've mentioned. Feel free to contact me about any questions from our trip or if you'd like the information about the cabin we stayed in. Also, I'd love to hear your commends if you've been to South Dakota before and agree or disagree about any of the adventures listed!
This winter my hubby and our friends, Rachel and Eric, and I wanted to seek warmer temperatures and escape the mid-west so we decided to go to Puerto Rico. None of us had ever been to this island; therefore, we were very excited to embark on this adventure! Jointly, we decided that we were going to do equal parts of relaxing and exploring. At the beginning of the week, we chose the excursions which were of interest: visiting the rain forest, snorkeling, and seeing the bio-luminescent bay. Thankfully we were able to fit everything in!
Yokahu Kayak Trips: This is a family owned company which provides multiple tour options, out of all the options, we wanted to do Bio-Bay kayaking. We got in our kayak in Fajardo, crossed a canal inside the nature reserve, and kayaked through the mangroves where we ended up in the "Big Lagoon!" We chose the 6 pm trip which I believe is better than the later trip because you kayak through the mangroves to get to the bio-bay when it's daylight. The mangroves are really neat and you can see a lot of wildlife! We saw three foot long iguanas and jelly fish swimming by. It was super creepy kayaking back through the mangroves after we left the bay to go back to where the kayaks dock. It gives me chills just thinking about it! I'll admit that I'm scared of the dark so kayaking through a dark ocean full of mangrove trees with three foot long iguanas wasn't my thing which explains why I'd go on the earlier tour so you can at least get the daylight version on your first pass through. Once you get to the "Big Lagoon," you get to see the glittering water made by tiny bio-luminescent organisms called "pyrodiniums bahamenses." They produce blue-green light every time you touch or move the water with your kayak! Unfortunately, the bio-luminescent was low on our trip because the water had been a bit cold which makes the organisms somewhat dormant but it was totally worth the money for the tour! I would do this tour again and I consider it a must do while visiting Puerto Rico. If you choose Yokahu Kayak Trips, you are guided by professional experienced tour guides who provide you with lots of cool information and a great time!
El Yunque National Forest: The El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the national forest system. One morning, we visited and explored the rain forest where we enjoyed scenic views, waterfalls, and learned more about the ecological importance of conserving this area for the future. If you're visiting the rain forest, I would suggest you pay the $4 to go to the learning center first. There you will find a very friendly greeter that can tell you anything you need to know about the National Forest. You can also take a picture of the forest map which we found to be very helpful. Upon further inspection of the map, we planned to do two different adventures: the Ykahu Observation Tower and La Mina Falls. For the best panoramic views of the rain forest, the Ykahu Tower is a must do! Visitors climb to the top of the tower via a spiral stair case and are able to take in the scenery. Because the ocean, nearby towns, and the beautiful landscape of the rain forest can be seen from this vantage point, this is a great place for a photo opportunity. The climb to the top wasn't too bad, about 100 stairs in all. After your tower experience, you'll drive a short distance up the road to park before hiking to La Mina Falls. I would recommend taking the La Mina trail to the waterfall. The trail is about a mile long and is extremely beautiful. I'd rate the trail difficulty as moderate; there are a few steep places so you'll want to make sure your knees are in good working order! The hike to the waterfall is so worth it! The water cascades over a cliff into a crystal clear pool where I saw a few people swimming but I opted to just put my feet in as the water is chilly! If you want to swim in the water, just remember you'll be hiking back wet as there are no changing rooms. Not an ideal situation, I'll admit. If you choose to go to the rain forest there is plenty to do whether you go for an entire day or just a few short hours. There is no entrance fee for the national forest, only the visitor's center charges a fee.
East Island Excursions: East Island Excursions provides all day snorkel tours aboard its fleet of catamarans. You can visit a variety of islands and deserted cays off the east coast of Puerto Rico including Icacos, Palominitos, Culebra, Culebrita, Vieques, and St. Thomas, USVI. Our group selected the Icacos tour simply because it was the most cost friendly and you got the most time off the boat with this tour because of the proximity of this island to port. You'll depart at Puerto Del Rey Marina around 10 am and set sail for the small deserted island of Icacos. You can snorkel here, walk on the beach, swim in the crystal clear water, or enjoy your time aboard the boat. The snorkeling off Icacos is more for beginners as there isn't much to see but the water is calm and allows you to practice. I enjoyed relaxing on the boat as well as walking on the beach for this part of the trip. Lunch is served around noon and you don't want to miss this spread! The crew lays out local pastries, you can build your own sandwiches, and you'll also have fresh fruit and pasta salad! You're going to be hungry after your time in the sun and their lunch does not disappoint. After lunch, the catamaran moves off the island to a nearby reef area for more snorkeling. The fish in this area seem to be trained; they know the boats pulling up will have food and the day that we went, the fish weren't disappointed! The crew has to toss out the remainder of the lunch and the fish love it! The crew gave everyone a piece of bread and we were able to get in the water and the fish ate right out of our hands! It was a really cool experience and my favorite thing about the day! The reef at this stop is better than the first but it's very shallow here so beginner snorkelers/swimmers beware. Overall, the crew is very professional and you can't beat the bright blue water! At one point during the trip, we could see where the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean met, that was so cool! I would definitely do another excursion with East Island!
I hope you found these reviews helpful. Have you ever done these excursions and had a different experience? Are you going to Puerto Rico soon and have additional questions?! Comment below!
People are constantly asking Andrew and I where our favorite place is to travel especially in the U.S. and I must admit it's one of the hardest questions to answer. We both have a lot of favorite cities, some the same and some different. Below are a list of our favorite places in no order and a little blurb on why. These could change at anytime if we visit somewhere new that takes the place of an existing city.
-Charleston: It has a lot of great food and a historical downtown to explore
-Philadelphia: This place is the cheese steak capitol of the United States! I love walking around the same areas as Ben Franklin and several of our Nation's founders explored.
-Napa: I picked here because of the wine culture. North California is beautiful and it's close to the coast line.
-San Diego: I really enjoy the Southern California lifestyle and the excellent sea food and Mexican food.
-Chicago: The downtown of Chicago is a lot of fun because you get to experience the big city life and it's not too overwhelming.
-Charleston: I know I said these weren't in order but it's my #1! I love how this city feels, it's hip but still old timey.
-Las Vegas: No surprise here, this is the most superb place for people watching. You will never be bored in this city.
-Napa: I love wine just as much as I love my own bed at night. Napa is sophisticated and still cozy, you can't beat the Northern California scenery.
-San Diego: I feel like it's always a sunshiny day in San Diego. They also have the best sushi I have ever tasted!
-Lake Tahoe: Either side, Cali or Nevada. This is the prettiest place I've been in the U.S. so far. You can do so many outside activities here!
There are so many other places we love but didn't quite make the top 5: Fayetteville, AR, Asheville, NC, New Orleans, LA, and Park City, UT. Maybe next time we'll do a bucket list post for places we still want to visit. I've added some of my most memorable pictures from our favorite cities. Where are your favorite places to go in the U.S.?
I've done a lot of cool things but THIS. IS. THE. COOLEST! While Andrew and I were in St. Martin with friends we decided to go on a private boat charter to St. Barth. It's pretty close to St. Martin, only about a 45 minute boat ride. We snorkeled in a cay on St. Barth and I saw this turtle. At first, he was feeding on the sea weed below and then I guess he needed to come up and get some air. So what did I do?... I just swam with him! I didn't get a picture when I was right beside him because I was enjoying the moment way too much! I was close enough to this magical creature to touch him, I'd say he was less than a foot away from me. It was by far one of the best experiences in the wild I've ever had! What an absolute treat!
When I got back on the boat our first mate was astonished that the turtle let me get so close. She said most of them are scared of humans and shy away. I also learned I was at the right place at the right time as turtles only have to come up for air every 2-3 hours. In case you weren't aware, sea turtles are on the endangered species list. Andrew was able to see one last year in the BVI that I didn't get to experience but I think my experience was much cooler! (Sorry Andrew!)
At the end of every July Andrew and I travel to South Carolina to do our annual family vacation; Andrew's parents live in South Carolina. They live in a perfect location, they are 3 hours from the beach and 3 hours from the mountains... very nice! We always go a little early and spend time at their house and then travel to Hilton Head Island. It's so fun vacationing with their family because they have traditions they've been doing for years. I think family traditions are so fun and important.
We always leave from their hometown on a Saturday morning. Packing the cars is quite a process luckily, Andrew is an expert packer so he's got it down! We always stop in Columbia, SC and have lunch at Five Guys. Andrew and I treat everyone to lunch. If you have never eaten at a Five Guys, you are sure missing out! After we arrive in Hilton Head we pretty much beach it every day! There are a few other things that we do every time such as: have a "Rita's" (or 2, or 3, or 4), go shopping, do a night bike ride, go to Sea Pines, play games, and cook a Low Country Boil.
Check back soon for more on our trip, these posts will be located under the Hilton Head tab.
XOXO, Sun Kissed Ragan
Andrew and I just returned from the British Virgin Islands! If you'd like to read all about the trip from a day by day account please see the Caribbean page on this blog. I wanted to share with all of our readers the best pictures from the trip in a quick slide show. You can leave a comment with any questions you might have. Thanks for reading and enjoy the beauty in the pictures!
Hi followers! I apologize for my lack in writing but we've been on vacation and I have had limited access to the internet. This post is entitled "Here chicken, chicken" for good reason... When we arrived in the Caribbean I saw a sight that I wasn't expecting. drum roll.... CHICKENS! If you will remember, I was a little leery about all the iguanas we'd be seeing on the Caribbean islands. Well, that is certainly not the case. I never saw one iguana. I saw lizards but never an iguana but boy oh boy did I see some chickens! The hens and rosters run wild around the islands. I guess if people ever get stranded they won't go hungry, right?
Andrew and I arrived at our check in destination 6 hours early because we didn't want to miss the ferry over to the
BVIs. Anyways, we get to check in and they tell us we can't board our boat until 5PM but the manager said he could take us to a sports bar to hang out in the mean time. We were okay with that; it was better than hanging out at the dock. We get to the sports bar and grill called Mulligan's and it's the only place opened on the island because it was raining (that's right, if it rains nothing is open). We sit down to order our food and notice a Momma hen and her 2 chicks (pictured). Neither of us felt right about ordering and eating chicken in front of them so I got pizza and Andrew got a burger. His burger was one of the
biggest I've ever seen.
We stayed at Mulligan's for 5 hours because there was no place else to go. We ended up playing card games and dominoes. In fact, we played "chicken foot" in our dominoes game. Andrew beat me which is a first and I'm still pretty upset about it.
Check back this week for daily posts about our trip, you can find the updates in the British Virgin Islands tab.
A southern girl trying to make my dreams come true. My husband and I love to travel and go on new adventures--We love Jesus and the blessings He provides!