While in Key West, Andrew and I tried to eat and drink at some of its most famous places; always the food adventurers, we also wanted to try some local "hole in the wall" restaurants as well.
We made the drive from Miami to Key West and had to stop at The Hungry Tarpon on Islamorada Key to eat dinner our first night. You can't miss the Hungry Tarpon as it's in Robbie's Marina and there is a huge sign. The restaurant is directly on the water and offers beautiful views, great food, and a tropical atmosphere. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was so much fun! When you eat here, you're truly getting a taste of the Keys lifestyle. You can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the Hungry Tarpon while you watch the boats come in with their fresh catch of the day! We were here in the evening and got to see the sharks and tarpons being fed the leftovers from the days fishing trip. Another reason the Robbie's Marina area is famous is because some of the Netflix original Bloodline was filmed here. This is where the characters of the show spend a lot of time in boats and on docks. We're huge Bloodline fans and sought out as many filming places as possible in the keys (more on that in another post). Our first night in Key West we felt compelled to go check out the world famous Sloppy Joe's Bar. The official beginning of this bar was on December 5, 1993- the day Prohibition was repealed. Sloppy Joe's Bar has been through two name changes and one change of location but it has been at its present location since May of 1937. This Bar sits on the corner of Greene and Duval Street. This place is a staple in Key West and was once the watering hole of Ernest Hemmingway. Sloppy Joe's now also offers a food menu. Andrew and I enjoyed listening to a live band, having a cocktail, and eating a sloppy joe! If you're ever in Key West, even for just a day this is a piece of history you don't want to miss!
After Sloppy Joe's, we ventured over to Willie T's. We were immediately drawn in by all of the one dollar bills hanging up all over the place. There are thousands of them and we had to leave our mark as well! Willie T's had live music and its open air so it is a really fun place to stop.
During our second day in Key West we wanted to have a picnic on the beach so we went to a place called Blue Heaven Restaurant to pick up food to go. A local actually recommended it to us and the food was amazing! I had a huge grilled cheese with bacon and Andrew had a chicken salad sandwich. They even boxed the sandwiches up for us so we'd be able to carry them easily out to the beach. That evening we went and ate at Sara Beth's, which provides both indoor and outdoor dining and its building is a historic 1800s clapboard landmark building. The food here was delicious! We tried the velvety cream of tomato soup, the crispy calamari, and the shrimp and grits! The service was some of the best I'd ever experienced, even the host was top notch! Make a reservation if you'd like to eat here and I've heard brunch is awesome, I wish we would have had time to go back.
Our last night in Key West happened to fall on Christmas Eve. We didn't want to do the traditional Christmas food so we decided to do a traditional Key West spot called Schooner Wharf. This place has been voted Best Local's bar six years in a row. They have really unique nautical decor, live music, great food, and it's open-air. Schooner Wharf is located right on the Historic Harbor Walk. We tried conch fritters here for the first time. Conch fritters are to the Keys what hush-puppies are to the south. You can find fritters on the menu just about any place you go so we decided to give them a try and oh my, they were great! They even came with a Key Lime mustard sauce, it sounds weird but it tasted amazing! For our entree we shared the seared sesame tuna and oh my goodness was it fresh and so good! The entree came with seaweed salad which I have never liked any other time I've tried it but this place had the best seaweed salad ever! This was far from our traditional Christmas Eve dinner but you can't beat fresh seafood at an open-air restaurant, with a sand floor, watching yachts float by.
There are lots of good eateries in Key West. My major regret was that I didn't have time to try other places; however, I was really happy with our choices. I'd give all of the places listed five stars!
Andrew and I spent a few days in North Carolina with his parents, brother, and Louie (our child, um...dog). The area we visited in North Carolina is called Boone, where everything a person does is like one big adventure. Boone is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and is a place I would definitely return. We stayed in a truly magical little a-frame cabin called Chalet Alpine. My Mother-in-law found the cabin on VRBO and it was absolutely amazing! If you're ever searching for somewhere to stay in the area I'd highly recommend Chalet Alpine. We had such a blast on this trip and although I'm about to tell you in detail what we did the summation is this: hike, eat, hike some more, eat a lot, play games, eat, and hike.
The first day we arrived in Boone there was a torrential downpour. Everywhere we tried to eat was packed, the streets were flooding, and we didn't have umbrellas. We finally settled on Blowing Rock Tavern in Blowing Rock, NC. All of the towns in this area are within close proximity and it doesn't take long to drive from one little town to the next. The tavern's food was amazing and so was the service! The downtown area of Blowing Rock is very quaint with a lot of cute stores. You can shop for anything from fudge, to ski gear, to clothes. I scored myself an original 1993 Carolina Panther's shirt! Go Panthers!
Day two of our trip was absolutely beautiful; thankfully, the rain cleared. We drove on the Blue Ridge parkway to all of our hiking destinations. In case you aren't familiar with it, The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile scenic drive that follows the highest ridges between the Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains. It's designed especially for leisurely enjoyment which is exactly what we did; we enjoyed the wonders around us! On our first stop, we hiked Flat Rock Trail. The trail takes you to an overlook at an elevation of 3,987 ft. The views were absolutely breathtaking from the top! Next, we drove to Linville Falls. The hike was a bit muddy because it had rained the day before but it made the falls that much more beautiful! Linville Falls is a series of two falls, upper at 12 feet and lower at 90 feet. These plunge into the 2,000 foot deep Linville Gorge. This trail is a must do in the area and well worth your time. It takes about two hours to do the entire trail. On our last night in Boone, we ate at Proper which used to be an old jail house. Our family thought that was really cool. The food was some of the best I've ever eaten. Andrew and I shared a large helping of chicken and dumplings. Yummy!!!
On our last day, we visited the downtown area of Boone and the original Mast General Store. The store was established in 1883 and is definitely a sight to see! The old and young alike will have appreciation for this place. Residents can still pick up mail at the store and anyone is welcome to buy a tank of gasoline.
I don't think there are too many states like North Carolina left where you find century old buildings in the heart of the city and state government offices in renovated Victorian houses. In North Carolina you can still buy honey from a roadside stand, eat wonderful southern cooking, and sleep in inns where people in the history books once slept. I personally love this state and I'm so glad my in-laws live close! If you ever want adventure and relaxation all in the same get-a-way then this area is where you want to be.
I saw this sign in one of the stores and I thought it fit perfectly: "We aren't behind the times. It's just that we think there are times much too important to be left behind."
On Christmas Eve 2016, Andrew and I visited the Dry Tortugas National Park. We boarded the Yankee Freedom III Ferry in Key West to travel to Dry Tortugas. The National Park is made up of seven small islands but the main attraction is the historic Fort Jefferson, which was once used as a prison and blockade during the Civil War. I was surprised to find out it was a Union fort; because of its location I would have originally thought it was a Confederate fort. The Union used Fort Jefferson to block the Confederates from Southern shipping. It was also used as a prison for criminals and Union deserters during the war. The most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was imprisoned for his involvement in the assasination of President Abraham Lincoln. We were able to see the prison cell that Dr. Mudd was kept in. Though used briefly during both world wars, it has long since been closed. The actual island was discovered in 1513 and the fort was constructed in the 1800's. You can travel to the Dry Tortugas via the ferry, a charted or private boat, or a charted or private plane. If you can afford to take the plane out to the fort, that's what you should do! Doing so will allow you additional time to explore Dry Tortugas. We went by ferry and left the port at 8am and had to be back by 5pm so we only got to spend four hours on the island.
Here are some facts that I found really cool on Fort Jefferson: 16 million bricks were used, they had 420 heavy guns, 37 powder magazines, a moat, and casemates (gunrooms) form the backbone of the fort. Construction began on the fort in 1846, and although it was never officially finished, it remains one of the most historic places to visit in The Keys. When you travel to Dry Tortugas you have the option of going on a 40-60 minute guided tour led by one of their expert naturalists or you can download a self-guided tour and view it on your cellphone or other device. Andrew and I elected to do the self-guided tour so we could check out exactly what we wanted to see and spend more of our time doing other things on the island. If you're mainly going to see the fort then I'd recommend doing the guided tour. The fort was like nothing I've ever seen before, it was absolutley massive and took up almost the entire island. There was also a moat around the fort which was neat since the only moats I've ever seen are around sand castles!
Andrew and I were completley in awe of the fort and were so glad we got to see it but the main things we wanted to do were snorkel, fly fish (Andrew), and relax on the secluded beaches. The water is crystal clear so snorkeling is a must! We took our own gear but the Yankee Freedom III provided snorkel gear to anyone that needed it. It depends on the way the wind is blowing which side of the island you'll want to snorkel on but I was able to see three barracudas, a moon jellyfish, and lots of other fish. Andrew didn't catch anything this trip but he did have fun fly fishing. I think it's also worth the trip out to the Dry Tortugas just for the beach. The sand is soft and powdery and the beaches are pristine. The only peope that stay on the island are the park rangers and the campers so it feels very private and secluded.
We really enjoyed our trip to Dry Tortugas and want to visit again. My only regret is that we didn't have enough time on this trip. I hope you enjoy these photos! If you've got any questions about our Dry Tortugas excursion commend below.
I'm sorry it's taken me so long to post about Andrew and my Thanksgiving adventures especially because Christmas is just around the corner! Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because I get to see my cousins who live all over the United States. This year, my grandparent's hosted Thanksgiving in Branson, Missouri where family members gathered from Arkansas, Tennessee, Utah, Nevada, Missouri, and Nebraska. It was a wonderful week with lotsof great food, board games, wine, conversation, and activities!
Branson offers an abundance of fun things for families to do together. Our activities included riding go-karts, driving through the beautiful Ozark hills to look for wldlife (we saw over 20 deer), shopping, and riding the Mountain Coaster.
The runaway Moutain Coaster was by far my favorite activity that we did this trip to Branson. If you're finding yourself asking "what is a mountain coaster?"... let me tell you! A mountain coaster is exactly as the name implies. It uses the outdoors and natural elevation to provide a really fun ride up and down the mountain! It takes about five minutes to get all the way up to the top and it's a straight shot. Once you're at the top, the carts are released to travel down and the best part is that the driver is in control of how slow or fast you go! You can go down slowly by pulling the break and enjoying the beauty around you or you can do what I did and never touch the breatk! My cousin's girlfriend, Madison, and I road together. We were winding down the hill at lightening speed! It was such a thrill and I'd do it again and again! The total experience lasts about seven minutes and costs $15 to be a driver and $10 to be a rider. I'd highly recommend this adventure if you're ever in the Branson area!
Although we did lots of exciting things the best part of Thanksgiving is spending time with family. I look forward to the holiday season every year! What are some of your favorite places to visit during the holidays?
Remember, always give thanks!
I have officially been to Las Vegas, Nevada five times now and I have never left that place disappointed. There is something for everyone to do there and although most of the town thrives on gambling, you don't have to enjoy that to have a great time!
Recently, I went to Vegas for work but I was also able to squeeze several fun things out of the trip! Thankfully, my husband and some very close friends also work for the same company as I do so we get to hang and have a blast while we're still "at work." This will come as no surprise to anyone that knows me well but I had to visit the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens two times on this trip. Once with my husband, Andrew and once with a friend who'd never seen "the gardens." I love a good excuse to go there! The best part about the gardens is that it changes at different times during the year, the display that's happening now (November 2016) is the Fall Harvest. I learned that a team of over 120 horticulturists take care of the gardens; man, that's a lot of people! While at the Bellagio you can't miss the spectacular fountain show! Vegas is all about catching your attention and the fountains definitely do that with their water show, lights, and music! If you've never caught one of the shows before, it's a must see. They go off every 15-30 minutes depending on the time of night. I've never actually stayed at the Bellagio before but it's one of my favorite hotels to visit... oh, and they have an amazing buffet!
For this particular trip, my group stayed at the MGM Grand hotel. The rooms were decently sized, the staff was friendly, the casino was fairly clean (as clean as a casino can be), and the pool was excellent! The downfall to staying there was the location, nothing is really "close" in Vegas but this hotel is too far to the end of the strip. I prefer to stay in the middle of the strip where I can be in the middle of all of the action! The MGM Grand is home to one of the many famous Cirque Du Soleil shows called Kà. Andrew and I went and saw this our first night in Las Vegas, we didn't account for the fact we had traveled and worked all day so by the time we sat down for the show we had been up 18 hours. We were exhausted but this show woke us up! It's an epic production about an entire empire. The stunts and sheer talent of the people that perform during Kà is amazing! The MGM Grand also has several other perks: Top Golf, which is right behind the hotel and a really fun experience, Hakkasan, the night club inside the hotel, and the pool area has a lazy river.
After all of our work events had come to a close for the week, it was time to play! Andrew and I laid at the pool with our friends, Eric and Rachel, and enjoyed a sun shinny day in November! It was even hot enough outside to make you want to get in the pool! After our pool time we got ready for dinner and had an amazing meal at Gordon Ramsay's Pub and Grill in Caesar's Palace. The food there was so good and it wasn't too terribly pricey. My friend Rachel and I shared the beer-braised short rib and it practically melted in our mouths. I'd highly recommend it! Once we were finished eating we had a show to catch! We went and saw Absinthe which is a show right outside of Caesar's Palace. It was one of the funnier and most awesome shows I've ever seen! I do want to say this, if you are easily offended, even in the slightest then this show is not for you. The show is an acro-cabaret variety show and there is truly not a bad seat in the house. This show caught me off guard a bit as I wasn't sure what to expect, it was actually recommended to me by a couple of different friends. The host pulls the audience in and is very entertaining. You really can't take your eyes off of the world-class acrobats, singers, comedians, and dancers!
On our last day in Las Vegas we decided to venture to Fremont Street which is a five-block entertainment district in historic downtown Las Vegas. One of the first things you see when you get there is the Heart Attack Grill. If you weigh over 300 lbs (they have a scale outside) you get to eat there for free. We didn't eat there as we didn't want to have a heart attack so we went to The Smashed Pig Gastropub instead, which was amazing! I had lettuce wraps (which were the best I'd ever eaten) and hand cut French fries. After we ate lunch we walked around to some of the main attractions on Fremont street which included the million dollars at Binion's, the shark tank and the golden nugget at Golden Nugget, Vegas Vic and Vegas Vickie, and several street performers. Let's talk about the street performers for a second... Some were better than others and some weren't even performing but merely standing there in outrageous outfits. Unfortunately, I can't un-see some of the things I saw on Fremont Street. It's worth the cab money to have this experience!
We spent five days in Las Vegas some for play and some for work but in conclusion, it was a trip for the books! When you come home from Las Vegas, always remember to wash all of your clothes, soak your feet in warm water, and use your humidifier. If you don't know why you should do all of these things, then you've never been to Las Vegas!
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!
When most people think of Branson, Missouri I'm going to guess they think: Silver Dollar City, outlet malls, shows and more shows! However, if you are looking for something outside of the normal "Branson Box" start thinking about a visit to Adventure Ziplines of Branson where guests can sour high atop Branson getting a breathtaking view of the Ozark Mountains as well as the town! The attraction is located only three blocks off of the famous Highway 76 strip on 501 N Wildwood Drive.
I recently took a girls' trip to Branson and we were looking for something fun to do that was a little out of the ordinary. Adventure Ziplines "hit the nail on the head." We chose the earliest time possible since we were there in August and it was hot. I'd suggest choosing your tour time based on what time of the year it is. We arrived at the facility ten minutes early to sign a few waivers (standard procedure) and to go through the safety information. After the guides spend some time going over the rules, you load up into an ATV and ride to the first line which is meant for practice because it's very short and close to the ground. I've been ziplining several difference places and none of them had a practice line so I really appreciated this and so did my friend who had never done it before. After you practice, you climb lots of stairs to start your adventure. If you're out of shape, you might want to rethink if this experience is something you want to add to your "been there- done it" list. You will be doing some climbing and a brief bit of walking but for the most part, you're flying through the air. On the first few ziplines we all rode normally and got our bearings but by the end, we were going upside down, doing flips off the tower, and zooming in quick! This was such a fun experience for a girls' trip; I'd also recommend this for business groups, families, or even a date!
Adventure Ziplines of Branson really took care of us, made sure we were safe, and that we had fun! I'd love to visit next time I'm back in Branson!
Running a successful travel blog isn't easy but I'm giving it my best go! Most bloggers do not blog as a career (I wish I did!) so we must hold the role of photographer, writer, editor, web development, office therapist, coffee intern, etc. It took me too long to understand the importance of asking for help; although I can't afford to hire someone at this time, I have the best editor there is and she's free! I'd like everyone to meet my Mamaw (that's a word us southerns use to describe our Grandmothers). Her name is Gordene and she's my editor. She's the smartest woman I know and she loves to travel, just like me! I thought it would be super fun for my readers (and me) to get perspective from someone who has been traveling over 3/4 of her life. I've compiled a list of questions for her to answer for us. I hope you enjoy!
Ragan: How many states have you visited and do you have a favorite?
Mamaw: I have visited 48 states. I would say because I know most about it, that the state I live in, Arkansas, is my favorite state. I like it because it is so diversified. The scenery ranges from the flat lands in the delta to the mountains in the Ozarks. I'm lacking Indiana and Delaware.
Ragan: How many countries have you visited?
Ragan: If you had to give up your passport and get another country's passport, what would you pick? Why?
Mamaw: Because I speak the same language, I would get a British National passport. I know I could communicate fluently.
Ragan: If you couldn't ever travel again but could pick any city to be confined to, where would you pick?
Mamaw: Once my son asked me if I had to be put in a nursing home what city did I want him to put me in and I said, just leave me in El Dorado, which is where I live now.
*I would like to point out that this answer really surprised me!
Ragan: What was the first trip you took as an adult?
Mamaw: In 1957, I took a trip out west and went to Salt Lake City, Utah where I visited the grounds of the Mormon tabernacle and heard a noon organ recital.
Ragan: If you could be transported to one place at one time, what would it be and why?
Mamaw: I would like to go to New York City in the late 1950s or the 1960s because at that time I feel that safety wasn't as great an issue as it is now. NYC even in the 50s and 60s had a lot to offer!
Ragan: What is one thing that is too large or impractical to travel with that you wish you could bring with you when you travel?
Mamaw: That question has almost stumped me because I've got what I take with me down to a "fine tooth comb." A lot of times I wish for my friends to go but I can't afford to take them or they can't get off work or they're obligated to other things.
Ragan: For you, what are the most and least livable cities you've visited?
Mamaw: The city that I have really thought that I would like to live in is San Diego, California, principally because of it's climate. The least would be McAllen, Texas. I found it to be undesirable because of crime and uncleanliness.
Ragan: What is one food you could never eat in your home country again because you've tasted the original version in its country of origin?
Mamaw: I've eaten some strange stuff. I know what my husband would say, it would be pineapple right out of the field in Africa but I haven't been there. It's difficult for me to select some fruit in the United States after eating fresh coconut, pineapple, and banana from Jamaica.
Ragan: Tell me the one piece of advise you have for a beginner traveler? For a seasoned traveler?
Mamaw: For a beginner traveler I would say, one of the most important pieces of advise I can give is to learn to pack minimally. For a seasoned traveler I would say, never pass up seeing something you really want to see thinking you can come back because it might not be in the cards for you to make that trip again.
I hope you learned something from my Mamaw, I know I did!
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.
I made a personal bucket list over two years ago when I started writing this blog. I wanted to re-share that list as well as update it and make some additions. This list includes some top travel destinations, personal wishes, and goals. Any of the items you see in bold, I have already completed.
I've got a lot of work to do! What's on your bucket list?!
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!